Alaska Honey

Honey bee Pollinating Fireweed
Honey bee pollinating fireweed in order to produce fireweed honey

Stephen Peterson, an apicultural consultant and Alaska resident documented the history of beekeeping in his state in a 2-part series. Peterson found a notation in one of the appendices of the 1900 Annual Reports of the U.S. Department of the Interior. In Appendix 1, a Greco-Roman priest from Sitka, Alaska, reported purchasing two hives from Seattle on May 31, 1900. 

The priest also noted that Alaska was home to an abundance of nectar-producing plants that should provide sufficient food for the bees. He observed that during hot summer days, the bees were even more productive than the bees of St. Petersburg, Russian – a region where beekeeping is more highly developed.

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    How Much Honey Does Alaska Produce?

    Because of the short season in Alaska, and since most beekeepers cannot overwinter their bees, Alaska is not a large honey producer compared to other states.

    The USDA doesn’t list it separately in the agency’s annual report of honey yields by state, so there’s no published information about how much honey is produced each year.

    However, it’s estimated that the average colony of managed honey bees should produce about 45 pounds of extracted honey.

    Wildflower Honey
    Wildflower honey is the most common type of honey produced by Alaska honey farms

    What Are the Main Types of Honey Alaska Produces?

    Most of the local apiaries and other honey sellers produce wildflower honey because there’s such a variety of wild plants, and honey is a product of the nectar bees collect.

    But there’s another common honey variety available in Alaska – Fireweed honey.

    Fireweed isn’t a weed, but an invasive species that’s often the first plant to sprout after a destructive environmental event like a forest fire.

    It does well in cleared areas because no trees block the sun or weeds taking up the soil’s nutrients. Once the plant is established, it spreads quickly and can take over the area.

    Is Alaska Honey Produced Year-Round, or is it Seasonal?

    With bees arriving in April, it’s unlikely for a honey flow to occur before late June or early July. After that, honey production slows down and usually ends mid-August.

    Although other cold regions of the country can overwinter their bees, Alaskan winters are about two to three weeks longer than in those other cold states. It’s that final stretch that’s just too much for the bees. But it’s not entirely an issue of keeping warm.

    Bees can store bodily waste inside their guts up to a point where there’s no more room, and they must clean it out. They usually reach their storage limit when winter ends in most cold-weather regions and thus can fly outside of the hive to cleanse themselves.

    But Alaskan winters last longer, and it’s too cold for the bees to leave the hive when it’s time to cleanse. Thus, they’re forced to clean while inside the hive, and that can quickly spread disease.

    So, it’s not necessarily the inability to keep warm, but the higher probability of disease that makes overwintering bees problematic in Alaska.

    Which Bees Create Alaska Honey?

    Because of its cold and wet climate, most Alaskan beekeepers cannot overwinter their honey bees. Therefore, they must import their bees each year.

    They choose to buy a variety of different bees because some are better adapted to the Alaskan climate.

    Carniolan (Apis mellifera carnica) and Buckfast (Apis mellifera buckfast) bees are bred for more frigid and precipitous weather conditions, so they are popular in the state.

    Buckfast Honey Bees
    Buckfast honey bees
    Carniolan Honey Bee (Apis Mellifera Carnica) Resting Inside A Parnassia Palustris Blossom
    Carniolan Honey Bee (Apis Mellifera Carnica) resting inside A Parnassia palustris blossom

    The other imported honey bees include Italian (Apis mellifera) and Caucasian (Apis mellifera caucasica) bees and Russian bees that originated in the Primorsky Krai region of Russia.

    Russian bees are often selected because they are known to be resistant to deadly mites that can wipe out a honey bee colony.

    Close Up Of Western Honey Bee (Apis Mellifera) Pollinating
    Close up of Western Honey Bee (Apis Mellifera) pollinating

    Benefits of Honey?

    Healing Wounds and Burns There has been positive effects of using raw honey on wounds & burns reported.
    Reducing The Duration of Diarrhoea According the NCBI consumption of raw honey has been shown to reduce the severity & duration of diarrhoea.
    Preventing Acid Reflux Research has shown that with honey lining the oesophagus and stomach, it actually can reduce the upward flow of undigested food and stomach acid.
    Fighting Infections Scientists in 2010 reported that honey through its protein (defensin-1) has the ability to kill bacteria.
    Relieving cold and cough symptoms Its been proven that honey may prove beneficial in relieving cold and cough symptoms. The World Health Organisation actually recommend honey as a natural cough remedy.
    Rich In Antioxidants High quality raw honey contains many helpful antioxidants. These include phenolic compounds like flavonoids and organic acids.
    Can Lower Triglycerides Triglycerides are associated with insulin resistance and are a major driver of type 2 diabetes. Multiple studies have linked regular honey consumption with lower triglyceride levels, especially when it is used to replace sugar.

    This is based on raw honey. Filtered or pasteurised honey will break down and diminish these benefits.

    Which Honey Bees and Nectar-Producing Plants Are Native to Alaska?

    Alaska does not have any native honey bees.

    All of its bees are imported each year, usually during the month of April.

    Much of the honey produced in Alaska is sourced from wildflowers, so many native plants contribute to the state’s crop. Nectar-producing plants in Alaska include:

    • Alaska Spirea
    • Arnica
    • Fireweed
    • Indian Paintbrush
    • Labrador Tea
    • Monkshood
    • Northern Geranium
    • Violet
    • Western Columbine
    • Wild Raspberry
    • Wild Sitka Rose
    • Yarrow
    Bees Pollinating Fireweed
    Fireweed is one of Alaska's native pollinator-friendly plants

    Are There Any Major Honey Farms/Apiaries in Alaska?

    The website localhoneyfinder.org includes listings for honey suppliers in every U.S. state. In Alaska, the best-known honey producers are:

    • Alaska Honey
    • Olga’s Alaska Honey
    • Lingonberry Farm of Alaska
    • Sarah’s Alaska Honey
    • Stoked Beekeeping Company
    • Alaska Wild Harvest
    • Alaska Wildflower Honey
    • Grandma’s Alaskan Honey
    Buckfast Honey Bees Entering The Hive
    Buckfast honey bees entering the hive

    What Sort of Environment is Necessary to Produce Honey in Alaska?

    Bees will produce honey if the local conditions are favourable – and that means proximity to flowers and a water source, as well as placing hives a reasonable distance from pesticide use.

    Alaskan beekeepers must contend with weather conditions that don’t support overwintering their bees. It’s colder and wetter in Alaska than in many other honey-producing states, so beekeepers may try to include species that are better adapted to the climate.

    Carniolan and Buckfast bees do better in colder, wetter weather, but it’s still a huge challenge for them to survive an Alaskan winter. One beekeeper in Juneau said that it’s not only the weather that can cause problems for Alaskan bees – bears are also a threat.

    Unlike beekeepers in most other states, Alaskan beekeepers typically kill their bees before winter.

    They do so by pouring them into soapy water, as the soap causes them to drown shortly after they’re exposed to it. It’s a more humane way to kill the bees because it’s quick; if beekeepers didn’t euthanize their bees, they would slowly starve during a winter season that’s much longer than in other regions of the U.S.

    Every spring, beekeepers receive new packages of bees that they’ve ordered during the previous fall. Because of the short season, beekeepers must make sure to hive their bees early enough for the bees to produce enough surplus honey for collection.

    It’s not likely that local plants are blooming when the bees arrive in April, so beekeepers must feed a sugar solution to their bees until the flowers are ready for foraging.

    Five to seven days after the bees are settled and fed, the beekeeper must search for the queen. Once the queen has been located, and bees become active, weekly hive checks should be sufficient for a productive honey season.

    All beekeepers in Alaska – even amateurs – must register with the state, and the various municipalities each have their own rules about how many hives can be kept, and they mandate specific distances from property lines.

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