The difficult quest to breed a winter-hardy bee for Alaska

August 7, 2012 

Honeybees cover a wood box holding the queen bee.

BOB HALLINEN / ANCHORAGE DAILY NEWS Buy Photo

The Anchorage Press reports on efforts by a few Southcentral beekeepers to breed a honeybee that can better withstand a too-long Alaska winter -- to save them the cost of importing bees from California every year, but also to spare them the chore of having to euthanize their colonies at the end of the season. Some beekeepers do go to the effort to maintain colonies through winter, but hives are weakened and many bees still die anyway.

Honeybees in Alaska have a short working season. The nectar flow (the period when most flowers are blooming and the weather is right for bees to collect nectar) ends in late July. That's when Alaskan beekeepers harvest their honey and decide what to do with their bees - keep them for the winter, give them away, or euthanize them.

"Oh, it's just horrible," [Brian] Thompson said about killing the bees at the end of the season. "It's always an awful day, and we know when it's coming. We just try to make it as swift and as quick as possible. ... You have to do it quickly and try to keep your emotions out of it. It's difficult. ... But, up here in Alaska, if you don't tend to them and make that commitment to tend to them, they starve to death or freeze to death. And that's even more cruel."

Enter Keith Malone in Mat-Su, who's breeding "small cell" bees that he thinks will be more easily adaptable to long winters.

Read more at the Anchorage Press: Snow queens

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