Yesterday was my son’s 7th birthday. It is also the day that average temperatures in Anchorage start to slowly climb back up again. I say average. In reality, I’m guessing we are still due a really cold spell, because we haven’t had one yet. Our lowest low so far has been about 10 below F, and that was back in November. December and January have been surprisingly mild, and it is only about 25 F/-4 C right now – toasty, really. The weather almanac predicts a cold snap in the second week of February, with a warmer than usual March, but with a cool spring and summer. Last year a cool, long spring was predicted, but instead the whole spring and summer was warm, sunny, and amazing. Who knows.
Which makes it easy to dream of spring. It was time to order bees, so I sent in my check to a local beekeeper who makes a group order. I decided on 2 4-lb packages of bees with carniolan queens. They are supposed to respond better to temperature changes and be a bit better adapted to colder regions than the standard italians, though I did consider trying a hive of each to compare. I am a rebel, and instead of ordering 2 hives worth of standard Langstroth hives, I am planning to use the old cedar fence boards I have to build 2 Warre hives. One main difference is that the Warre’s have top bars on which the bees have to build their own comb from scratch, instead of a full frame with pre-cast wax foundation to start with. They will need to spend some extra energy on comb building, but they can then chose their own comb cell size and other things to best support them (some evidence shows fewer disease problems with smaller than standard cells, which the bees build themselves when given a chance). There are lots of other points to be made, but I am still researching, and a quick google search will set you off too, if you are interested. I am also, crazily, going to try to overwinter them. Crazy, because that is hard to successfully do in Alaska, and it is my first attempt at beekeeping. My plan is to leave them all their honey – not harvest any – feed them more if they need it, keep the hives in the back of my back lean-to shed with an opening to the outside, and insulate with blue-board in the winter. I will likely have spent $230 on bees, a bit more on other equipment and get no honey and two dead or barely surviving hives for the next year. So why do this? To pollinate my fruit trees better. To observe bees and learn what pollen and nectar sources are in my neck of the city. To learn a bit about bees. To show my son beekeeping. To experiment and learn, so the next time I have better information. And even if the bees eat all their honey and then starve to death in the comb, I should be able to harvest the wax, or perhaps save some to start the next package of bees on (although the building of fresh comb in Warre hives is seen as a good and natural thing I think.)
I have also ordered an ungodly amount of vegetable and herb seeds, and I am nowhere near done with that. I will soon have an unruly indoor garden of starts. I am not that great with seed starting, and the ones that need special conditions often don’t sprout, so we’ll see how I do with some more esoteric things. Of course I have tried to concentrate on any perennials that should make it through the winter here, and good bee plants, plus things we like to eat. I have yet to order the few bushes and trees I think I still have room for – a couple of improved rowan (mtn ash) berries, a sweet cherry for near the house, some cold-hardy grapes, some more of the safer bets like raspberries, currants, gooseberries, etc.
I have given up, for now, on the projector to watch movies on – winter seems to be psychologically nearing its end now, and I can save my money until next year, and get it before December when the long nights encourage massive video viewing. I am also holding off on lasik eye surgery – money flow has been mostly out lately, and I need to have good stores to make it through summer construction season, when I will be insulating the upper stories of the house. My mood is sunny and robust and future-oriented. But we have 3 months to go before real spring, so I’m sure there will be some dips in there.