The Spring Creek Farm on APU’s Kellogg Campus is doing some great work towards local, sustainable agriculture. They collaborate with Alaskan beekeeper Ian Williams. The bees benefit from nectar from the pesticide-free flowers on the farm, and, in turn, naturally pollinate the plants. Ian is currently working on creating a bee population that can survive through the winter. He explains more about his work in the interview below!
Q: You are working towards creating a hearty bee colony that can last through Alaskan winters, is that correct?
A: Yes. I want to improve overwintering success for beekeepers in Alaska. I hope to do this by: 1., introducing stocks that are better acclimatized to northern region (as opposed to the California derived stock traditionally used), 2., developing a locally adapted stock by breeding from successfully overwintered local colonies, and 3., refining the methods used to prepare colonies for winter.
Q: Do the bees continue to produce honey during the winter, or do they go dormant?
A: Honeybees can only produce honey when nectar is available. Locally, they can only forage nectar between the months of May (dandelion bloom) and August (when the fireweed goes to seed).
Q: What do you consider to be the greatest obstacle bees face during the Alaskan winter?
A: The length of winter places stress on overwintering bees in Alaska. They can be confined to the hive for long periods, and may not undertake a cleansing flight for six months or more. These long periods of confinements can lead to poor health and symptomatic dysentery. They can actually deal with low temperatures fairly well, but care must be taken to reduce moisture buildup within the hive
Q: What have been some successes thus far? Any things you want to improve?
A: A Carniolan (a sub-species of of honeybee) stock I acquired last summer from a New York state source is showing promise. These might provide breeding stock for this year if they survive. I will introduce additional genetic lineages to overwinter next year. It will be a slow process, but with time we should see improvements. Part of the challenge will be to control the mating of locally raised stock, so as to reduce infiltration by “southern” sources genes..
Q: How long have you been collaborating with Spring Creek Farm?
A: The 2016 season will be my third year at Spring Creek
Q: Sustainable agriculture relies on bees and other pollinators, how does your collaboration with Spring Creek Farm benefit both the bees and the farm?
A: It is quite simple really. The bees get to forage on pesticide free sources of nectar and pollen, while flowering crops can get well pollinated due to the high pollinator density
Q: What can Alaskans do to support local beekeepers’ products, such as your own, and local agriculture?
A: My focus is not entirely on honey production, but I do produce some for market to help supplement this venture. There is a certainly a market for local raw honey. I am hoping that a proven Alaska Hardy bee will be sometime soon available to Alaska beekeepers. The current model is unsustainable and expensive. I founded Interested the Alaska Bee Initiative last year in an effort to connect local beekeepers with similar interests ( see alaskabeeinitiative.com.). In addition, you can read more about this work by visiting my personal website at alaskanorthernbees.com.