People are often surprised to hear that Alaskans can and do keep bees. What can be even more surprising is that it’s even possible to overwinter bees here in the Last Frontier. We spent this past weekend tucking our bees away in our Bee Barn. Here’s how we are overwintering bees in Alaska.
Preparing the Bees for Winter
Once summer came to end, we started to get the hives ready for winter. We reattached the insulation to the outsides of the boxes. These are simply pieces of 1″ foam wrapped in duct tape.
The white buckets contain a 2:1 ratio of sugar water to feed the bees. Using a top feeder like these instead of a feeder inside of the box allows us to keep all ten frames in the boxes, giving the bees more room. After we pulled the honey frames for extraction, we condensed the hives down to one box, which will make it easier for them to stay warm during the winter.
The Bee Barn
We were fortunate enough to be given an old, insulated chicken coop. We have turned it into our official Bee Barn, as we call it. This saved us from having to build a structure to house our bees during the winter.
We only needed to make a few adjustments to get it ready for the bees. First, we insulted the floor with 2″ foam and covered that with 1/2″ plywood.
Next, we made sure to cover or fill in the windows and any cracks. It’s very important that absolutely no light gets into the building or the bees will be attracted to it. We covered the coop window with plywood and repaired the weather stripping around the door.
The next step was to install 6″ ducting with multiple 90 degree bends and black matte spray paint to keep any light out. We installed two of these. One is an intake and one is an exhaust using 6″ inline fans. The purpose is to control the temperature and to help control the humidity. They are also tied to a thermostat to turn them on if the temperature increases above 43 degrees F.
Moving the Hives
The weather determines when the hives get moved to the Bee Barn. It’s best to leave the bees out as long as possible to allow them to make cleansing flights. Because it started snowing this past weekend and the temperature had dropped into the teens, we decided it was time to tuck the bees in.
This process is fairly quick and easy. We cover the entrance to the hive to keep the bees in while we move them. Then they are carried to the bee barn which is on the other side of our property.
We have six hives so we are able to have three boxes on each side of the Bee Barn. The door is closed tight and we will only check on them periodically. This involves using a red light and checking at night. Bees see the color red as black so it won’t disturb them if we go in.
Overwintering bees in Alaska involves a lot of preparation but it can be done. We love our bees and their delicious honey so for us, it’s worth the extra effort.
You can read about how we check on our bees during the winter in this post.