By Dave Smith
21st Space Wing Public Affairs staff writer
CLEAR AIR FORCE STATION, Alaska — Clear Air Force Station is a remote location tucked back in the wilderness of central Alaska. Finding diversions and activities to keep busy can be a challenge for personnel stationed there. However, there is a quite a buzz about what one Airman does to occupy himself.
Tech Sgt. James Campbell, Alaska Air National Guard 213th Security Forces Squadron, is a beekeeper. He joins about 50,000 others in the U.S. who keep fewer than five hives. Campbell’s hives are located among the fields of Fireweed, a sought after flower for making honey, on the grounds of Clear AFS.
Campbell became interested in starting his own apiary about six years ago when family history, and the fact he was going through a lot of honey, combined to pique his interest.
“My great grandpa had a farm in central Minnesota and he had 23 hives,” Campbell said. “Growing up I always heard mom and my grandpa talk about it.”
He took a class on the subject and soon put together his first hives.
“That first year I got it all wrong, but I was ecstatic about it,” said Campbell, “The next year I got 12 gallons of honey and I was hooked.”
He was the first beekeeper to put hives on the base, but now there are a handful of others who have their own bees nearby. Campbell lives about 300 miles away in Anchorage. Putting his bees at the installation allowed him to tend to them after work while he was staying on base. Having the other beekeepers there allows for them to keep an eye on each other’s hives while the hive owner is not there.
“I had to have something to do after work for relaxation,” Campbell said. “And there are more wildflowers at the base so the honey is lighter, sweeter and cleaner.”
He found an area of the base where the forest was clear-cut for fire safety and environmental reasons. There are a lot of wildflowers, especially Fireweed, known for making a good quality of honey. While the flora is optimal, the fauna is a different story.
Some of the biggest challenges Alaskan beekeepers face are wildlife-related. Bears, for one, are notorious for their love of honey, but there is a smaller pest that is a bigger problem.
“It’s ants,” he said.
Ants like to steal some of the honey so beekeepers take special measures to prevent them gaining access to the hives, such as placing cinnamon around the hives.
Other attempts to curtail ant access to the hives don’t work as well. One method ended up working against the beekeeper, Campbell said.
A fellow Clear beekeeper came up with the idea to stand his hives in containers filled with vegetable oil. The idea was that ants could not get through the oil and into the hives. The plan may have worked against ants, but not bears.
“We had a (black bear) sow and three cubs that went through the hive area and did not touch any of the hives, but they licked the oil clean,” Campbell said. “They knocked over the hives (standing in oil), but did not bother the other hives.”
Alaskan beekeepers usually destroy their hives at the end of each season because it is too difficult to keep them going through the harsh, Alaskan winter. This year Campbell beefed up his hives with extra insulation and said he is going to keep his apiary going through the winter.
“I can’t take as much honey because they need it to keep up their energy, but I am going to give it a try,” he said.
With more than 120,000 bees in his two hives, Campbell has plenty to keep him busy after work while he is on base. If things go as planned, it will be a honey of a deal.