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Extreme winters

Hello! I am applying for an ag grant in Alaska to start keeping bees. I am trying to learn all I can, but I am admittedly confused about the best setup for bees in a very northern climate. Many beekeepers here do not even attempt to overwinter, though some have succeeded in doing so. From what I’m seeing on forums here and elsewhere, I should expect to harvest honey my first year. But if there’s only a slim chance of my bees surviving over winter, how would I ever harvest honey if I have to start from scratch each year? If we have a very short harvest season, do I plan on just 1 brood box so I can actually get honey? Or do I go with 2 brood boxes, assume no honey the first year, cross my fingers they survive winter and possibly get honey year 2? I’m running into conflicting advice and could use some feedback from people who have flowhives in harsh winter climates.

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Hi and welcome to the Flow forum! :blush:

Alaska is a huge state, so I think the answer will depend partly on where you are. When I was studying for my US citizenship exam, I learned that it also the state that extends the furthest west (not even Hawaii can beat that). Pretty amazing size!

We have beekeepers in Canada, who may have a similar climate to yours, depending on where you live. @Doug1 in particular has a lot of experience (some of it at commercial level) of keeping bees in a cold climate and overwintering.

I have not done this myself, but I have the following observations from interactions with those who have:

  1. It is possible, but it isn’t easy
  2. Beekeepers in Canada and Finland have been successful, so you have a chance too
  3. Highly insulated hives do better over winter. That includes constructing a “bee house” like @Doug1, or using polystyrene hives which have superb insulating properties. You could still use a Flow super for extracting honey when the weather is warmer. Not pretty (the poly hives are a bit thicker than the Flow super), but it should work.
  4. If you can find a local bee club on Google, they will tell you the real deal for your climate. Don’t mention Flow though, just say you want to start a Langstroth hive, which is what the Flow hive is really. Traditional beekeepers can be very suspicious of Flow hives, and given the conservative nature of Alaska, you might find hostility toward Flow.

Hope that gives you a start, and I look forward to hearing what you decide. Please ask more if we can help further.

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Hi @Dani ,

It was some discussion about keeping bees in extreme climates.

You have a couple of options, depending on how many hives you planning to keep and what you already have at the moment. If it is couple of hives and you have some structure where temperature does not drop too much and not higher than 3-4°C in winter time, you can keep them there.
For larger operation omshanik could be an answer. Underground version probably the best and cheapest option if soil is stable and ground water table is deep enough.

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To address your above statement…the amount of research and experimenting with honeybees to arrive at the best setup for bees in a very northern climate could take a lifetime.

But you do have a very important option and that is to replace winter attrition of honeybees colonies with new 4 lb packages…and that is the approach I would favor for the first several seasons of beekeeping in your area.

As has been mentioned, your location is important. You could meet with more success near a maritime climate…my climatic location in northern Canada would be similar to Fairbanks as opposed to the Kenai Peninsula. That inland low ambient air moisture content during winter usually proves fatal to the colony.

You have some good resources up in Alaska…but perhaps you could spend some time this summer with people such as Donna Victors and others…they post regularily on FB…
Southcentral Alaska Beekeepers Discussion.

If you are experienced, eventually you can make various brood box configurations work…single, double, a Langstroth full depth with shallow/medium as Eva uses, and vertically stacked 4 or 5 frame nuc boxes. If you start out with a 4 lb package, by winter you should have ample bees to fill 2 standard Langstroth brood boxes which would likely then require a lot of sugar syrup to be fed to them for winter survival. I would still favor starting fresh with 4 lb packages each spring…much less disease, parasite issues. and queen issues.

Your main nectar source will be from fireweed…which when pure doesn’t granulate…so this will help out with the Flowhive design of frame drainage. This is a premium grade honey and brings a premium price in Alaska. You will have to make the decision whether that premium honey stays on the hive for winter feed or you extract it and supplement feed later in the season.

Good Luck!

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