Words and photos by Ryan Chernikoff
Spenard resident Terry Holtman has been keeping bees for over 20 years.
“It’s a hobby of love,” Holtman said from the front porch of his Spenard home, surrounded by stacks of multi-colored wooden boxes containing thousands of European honey bees.
Holtman first became interested in beekeeping in Wisconsin before moving to Alaska in 1989 for work. It was around 1997 that his interest in beekeeping became a reality, but that really wasn’t without its trials and learning experiences.
“The first hive I had died,” Holtman said. “Then, I got another hive, and that was semi-successful, the next year I got two hives, then four hives.”
Now, Holtman has 14 hives placed in various locations across Anchorage, including Rabbit Creek, Tudor and Minnesota, and two hives behind the Anchorage Baptist Temple in East Anchorage he calls “the baptist bees”. The honey-yield from the 14 hives he actively manages can range from seven gallons to 35 gallons, depending on the weather that season.
“Sunshine can make a big difference,” Holtman said.
Holtman enjoys passing on his knowledge of beekeeping.
“Maybe I can create a spark, an ‘ah-ha’ moment for them to go do their own bees,” he said.
One year when Holtman had amassed a total of 20 hives, he discovered that his operation had become a bit too much to tend to on his own. It was around that time that a coworker expressed interest in learning beekeeping. Soon, word spread and more people began approaching Holtman wanting to learn about his hobby.
“People told me, ‘wow, this is kind of cool,” Holtman said.
Every spring, when Holtman receives his packages of bees, he has those interested in learning beekeeping install them. He said that having people help has motivated others to start beekeeping.
“It’s kind of like the running of the bulls, they want to install the package of bees to see what that’s like. The guy down the street has a couple of hives, and a few others have also been inspired [to keep bees],” Holtman said.
Holtman has received considerable attention in recent years for his contribution to beekeeping in Alaska. He says that one of the high points of his life was being featured in the “We Alaskans” section of the ADN in 2017.
“I’m an Alaskan now,” Holtman said with a smile.
Despite all the attention Holtman has garnered over the years, he still speaks with a calm humility about his passion for beekeeping and the lessons he has learned from it.
“Bees are like people,” Holtman said. “Every hive has its own personality.”
Every Sunday, a group meets at Holtman’s house to assist in tending to the hives that are placed around Anchorage. Those interested in tagging along can reach Holtman via his Facebook page: www.facebook.com/terryl.holtman.