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KNBA News - Beekeepers prepare summer harvest of honey to sell at Alaska State Fair in Palmer

Aug. 27, 2015
By Joaqlin Estus, KNBA 90.3 FM

Over the next week and a half, about 300-thousand people are expected to visit the Alaska State Fair, which kicks off in Palmer today [Thursday]. Fair activities range from carnival rides, exhibits of giant vegetables, and face-painting, to live entertainment. Vendors will be selling food -- sweets galore -- as well as art, clothing and much more. Steve Victors, of Big Lake, owns Alaska Wildflower Honey. He’s president of the Southcentral Alaska Beekeepers Association which met Monday night to talk about their booth at fair.

The booth will be stocked with honey, honey combs, pollen, beeswax, and honey sticks – that’s a straw filled with flavored honey – all from different hives. After the meeting, talking in the parking lot of the VFW hall in Eagle River, Victors explains that the quality, color and flavor of honey from every hive reflect the quality and types of plans and flowers in the area surrounding each hive.

“There's the unique flavors that we have in Alaska,” said Victors. “I think that some of the things that are also of unique mention would be the wild aspect, the pure aspect, that we don’t have a whole lot of pesticides and  contaminants up here in the state that some of the other states have problems with.”

Michael Mott lives in Anchorage. His bees produced 19 gallons of honey this year:

“We’re selling some of it. We sell it; we give it away; we barter with it. It’s a lot of fun, especially bartering. We get things we don’t have and people get things that they don’t have, which is the honey,” said Mott.

When asked if sales could ever cover costs, Mott said, “Yeah, the initial expense of the equipment is the big one but that you reuse that over and over,” he said. “So if you have to buy bees, that gets a little expensive. It’s about 150 a package so each hive is about 150 dollars. But we’re working on getting them to survive the winter. So that’s the hurdle.”

Elena Hinds, of Anchorage, said keeping bees alive over the winter gives the queen a head start laying eggs and leaves the other bees in place to start collecting early nectar and pollen. And, she said, it saves buying new ones in the spring, bees who arrive needing some catching up.

“New bees from the lower 48 they have to get established,” said Hinds. “The Queen has to start laying. So there's kind of an adjustment. They're stressed from the travel,” said Hines. “If you successfully over and they're healthy, they start producing at least raising the bloom at least very early.

Jack Anderson of Anchorage owns Alaska Bee Wrangler, and runs the association’s state fair booth. He said the booth has brought in as much as $20-thousand dollars, which gets divided up among the people whose honey was sold.  He said most of the six or seven-hundred local beekeepers have hives just for the fun of it.

“It’s really more of a backyard hobby. What they get in the opportunity with the booth is it's a ready-made market so they can feed their habit,” said Anderson. “So they can buy bees for the next year and buy new equipment. So it's actually a hobby that can support itself if you give it a good enough try. It might take two three years to get it going.” 

Tom Ryan, of Wasilla, said his three hives last year produced about 270 pounds, or a little over 20 gallons of honey, which he said was great, but even better, he said, is the effect the hives had on his backyard garden.

“Because of our bees, our garden and raspberries have gone crazy. Yeah, our crops have doubled. Our raspberries have like quadrupled,” said Ryan. “Just because the bees are pollinating. It makes a big difference. It makes a really big difference.”

Ryan said his wife worried about bee stings and opposed beekeeping until they helped another beekeeper extract honey. But, so far, he says, there haven’t been that many bee stings.

“In the family, there's been a total of seven stings,” said Ryan. “One on my daughter, my ten-year-old, and six for me, in eight years, so that's not too bad.”

The state fair opens this morning at 10 a.m. Entry is $10 dollars for youth and seniors, and 15 for adults. The fair continues through Sept. 7.