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Harvesting Alaska: Backyard beekeeping all the buzz in Southcentral

By Shannon Ballard Photojournalist: Ken Kulovany - 10:32 AM May 1, 2017

As people work toward self-sustainability, backyard livestock, like chicken coops, and backyard honey bees are becoming more popular. That’s the buzz at Windy Willow Farm in Palmer.

Dena Tanguay started keeping bees 6 years ago when she first heard local honey could help with her allergies.

“I’m allergic to just about everything,” Tanguay said.

Now, she can’t seem to kick the habit.

“I literally love these girls. I love them,” Tanguay said while tending to her backyard hives.

April is the start of honey bee season in Alaska. This year Tanguay is hiving more bees than ever — about 50,000 of the brazen buzzers.

She isn’t alone in her passion for pollinators. Concerns about the nationwide plight of honeybees due to chemicals used on crops has sparked a surge of interest in backyard beekeeping.

Tanguay says people know bees are in danger and want to do their part.

“Here’s a way where we can kind of help out. You get the benefit of the honey as a side effect but you are also helping bees,” Tanguay said.

She’s even turned her garage into a distribution site for the Southcentral Alaska Beekeepers Association (SCABA).

Each year the group’s presidents says they transport about 22 million honeybees from Northern California to the Last Frontier.

Justin Jacobs stopped by Tanuguay’s home in early-April to pick up his share.

“I’m trying to get the kids into it. Gives them something to do in the summertime and we like honey,” Jacobs says.

In just the past decade, the SCABA membership has grown from dozens to hundreds.

Tanguay says that’s a good thing because bees are tremendously important to Alaska’s agriculture and the food we enjoy.

“Pretty much everything we have in the grocery store requires a pollinator and often honey bees are the pollinators,” Tanguay said.

Beekeeping in Alaska takes hard work over a short season, and wintering the insects is no easy task.

The bottom line, according to Tanguay — Alaska needs bees.

It won’t be long now until bees in Alaska start producing the sweet stuff.

Honey harvest usually takes place in early-August.

Last year, Tanguay says she collected 65 gallons from nine hives.

Harvesting Alaska is a featured series exploring all the ways Alaskans live off the land — from growing and foraging to fishing and crafting.

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