For part II of our visit with Dundee Hill wineries, I visited Winderlea Winery and Vineyard. Winderlea stretches 20 acres across a stunning hillside and produces around 5000 cases of wine per year. The vineyard has employed Biodynamic agriculture practices since 2009 and is currently working on becoming Biodynamic certified. They have been a certified B corporation since early 2015.
Owner, winemaker, and Warré beekeeper Bill Sweat joined us to discuss the role honeybees play in his vineyard ecosystem and show us his hive.
How did you get started beekeeping?
Beekeeping, I guess, is a generous term for what we do. I’ll fold it in with our goal of sustainability. We farm biodynamic here; we’ll be biodynamic certified here in the next year, but we’ve been farming biodynamic since 2009. Early this year we became a certified B corporation and we’re tying to be sustainable across all our business practices. We think of [beekeeping] as another piece of that. It’s a small vineyard here and we don’t have a lot of animals on the property. We try to pick little elements here and there that can add a little bit of diversity. We have some chickens, and we’re also concerned about bee die-offs so decided to put a colony on the property. We’re not in a big beekeeping area, so we thought we could contribute. We do almost nothing to manage the hive— it’s just there so the bees have a place to live. We haven’t taken honey from the hive yet, but we probably will this year. By and large it’s been a very passive endeavor for us, just to try and keep bees in the area. We use no chemical treatments of any kind so it’s a very natural colony—they’re getting along on their own with very little human intervention.
That’s very interesting. We notice that there are more beekeepers than you’d expect who manage their hives that way. The reputation of beekeepers is that they intensively manage their hives, but there’s a sizable portion that just let their bees do what they need to.
That’s good to hear! I was feeling like a slacker.
What kind beehive design do you use, and how did you decide?
First of all, you guys have a great website and it’s very easy to get around and learn different things. I don’t remember who told me about Bee Thinking…we started doing research online, and we knew it would be a hands-off endeavor; we wanted to create a passive environment for the bees so we use a Warre hive. For us, it felt like a good way to create an environment that’s as natural as a man-made structure is going to be.
How do see your bees fitting into the broader landscape of the vineyard?
Part of the requirement for a lot of sustainability programs involves trying to avoid monocultures, and a vineyard is a monoculture— you plant a vine and it’s there for fifty years or more. There are things we do that are temporary, like cover crops, that are attractants for different kinds of insects and things, but then we mow them down. We try to create these buffer areas with [more diversity] and we try to stay away from them, so part of keeping bees in the environment is the same kind of thinking. How can we, in our small 20 acres piece, which is planted wall-to-wall to vineyard, create these little pockets of diversity within the site? How can we respond to a problem that exists in the world with colony collapse? We think of bees in this way, and similarly with bringing chickens on to the farm. They did an awesome job cleaning out our raised beds this year. If we can find little things we can do here and there to add an element of diversity, our hope is that over time we’ll build a more robust and balanced environment for our vineyard.
Do you have any advice for beginning beekeepers?
For me, I suffer from something a lot of guys suffer from, which is that it’s hard for me to do things I’m not an expert in. We make things overly daunting for ourselves, so just find a place you can go whose goal is to educate people on the thing you don’t know. Bee Thinking was perfect for us because we could go and sit in a seminar among a bunch of other people who were experiencing the same quandary we were experiencing. When you have this fear of not being an expert you spend all this time reading but you get no reinforcement of those ideas.
Do you have a favorite part of beekeeping or beekeeping experience?
Every morning we go out and feed the chickens, and my wife and split that job, and generally on the way back I’ll go over and check on the beehive to see how much activity there is. That always raises questions for me, because I’m not an expert yet, so that’s a routine I enjoy doing.
Hives from Bee Thinking have made long journeys to beekeepers in Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, and beyond. They appear on the roofs of hotels, at schools, and increasingly at wineries and vineyards.
With the heat of summer settling in around Bee Thinking Headquarters here in Portland, I decided to escape the city and head west into the Dundee Hills American Viticultural Area, a lush landscape of rolling vine-clad hills, distant forest ridges, and picturesque tasting rooms. Along the way I visited some well-known wineries that also keep bees in Bee Thinking hives.
Sokol Blosser Winery began over 40 years ago and has developed a reputation for world-class Pinot Noir, among other varieties that they produce. The property stretches over 120 acres and includes a small apiary. Their landscape artist and beekeeper Jason Anderson generously sat down with me for a quick interview.
How did you get started beekeeping?
So, it’s a crazy awesome story: before I got this job I was working in sales and not necessarily enjoying it—at least not what I was selling. This job came about, which was an awesome blessing, and it really sent me back to growing up in Jamaica where my dad was a commercial beekeeper and managed a fish hatchery. The hatchery was set up exactly like [the crops are] here: there were acreages of ponds, offices, and plantings. One day here I driving around with Alex Sokol Blosser and it really reminded me of my childhood, so I asked him: would you ever be interested in having bees here? He told me that his cousin [Bee Thinking co-owner Matt Reed] is a beekeeper and used to have hives here but lived in Portland and but now didn’t have time to drive out and manage the bees. He asked if I wanted to take a class, and I ended up taking the Beginning Beekeeping Class at Bee Thinking.
There’s so much to know and class is only three hours, but it was a really awesome experience that inspired me to seek out more education. That was the beginning of my new passion and love for beekeeping.
What kind of beehive design do you use, and how did you decide?
Initially I associated bees with honey, for obvious reasons, and I decided to use Langstroth hives for better honey production. In learning more about bees and how much they’ve become a commodity these days, I like the idea Bee Thinking as a company because they approach beekeeping with a more minimal approach, as far as using foundationless frames, natural comb, and I like that idea. I still hope to get honey from the bees. If it’s not this year that’s fine, and I mostly want good healthy hives.
Sokol Blosser has a strong environment focus and LEED certified buildings, how do bees fit into the larger vision for the vineyard ecosystem and business?
The overall vision, from my perspective, is for Sokol Blosser to be a good steward of the land. We’re certified organic and that takes a whole difference approach from vineyard management to how they handle the wines in production. I don’t know everything about [wine production], but I definitely think being a steward of the land also involves combining what we grow on the landscape and what introduce as a far as animals and insects to create a balance.
As for honey and business, as a beekeeper there are so many different directions you can go—whether it’s using propolis, using leftover wax, or honey extraction. We have a restaurant and culinary specialist here on site that uses honey; it would be nice if we could provide our own. We have packaged fruit, jams, nuts, and why not honey?
Do you have any advice for beginning beekeepers?
Definitely take classes before you start beekeeping. I would never jump into beekeeping without education or mentorship because you’ll learn the hard way, and you may lose bees; if you bought a package, then that means losing money. Join your local beekeeping club and attend the meetings. If you really want to dive into it, I would join the master beekeeper program at Oregon State University. It’s been an excellent resource to head in the right direction for managing your hives.
Thanks for that advice! Do you have a favorite part of beekeeping or beekeeping experience?
Oh yeah! My favorite thing is catching swarms—I’m sure everyone’s is. My funniest memory…I’ve been catching a lot of swarms this summer for friends, and one of them was at Anderson Family Vineyard. I wanted to get in there really quickly and I wasn’t wearing my veil. It was an easy, low swarm and I thought “I can just shake them into the box, no problem”. I sprayed them down really well with sugar water and sure enough, I got stung in the neck. My neck got so swollen I looked like I had a really long face. Now I don’t care how tough I think I am, I will always wear [protective gear] when I’m catching swarms.
Any other message you’d like to share with our readers?
Everyone should start beekeeping! Work towards keeping healthy bees and being an advocate for bees. It’s amazing how beekeeping changes your perspective. I think it really adds character to a person and it connects you to nature.
**this post begins a series of interviews and conversations with beekeepers and Bee Thinking hive users on keeping bees, making the most of your hive, and bees in the landscape**
If you’ve never seen the Live Animal arrivals terminal at an airport, let me tell you—it’s a fascinating place. The live animal area at Portland International Airport has seen everything from purebred puppies to steel-caged cheetahs, and yet our packages unnerved them:
“You’re kidding right? You’re telling me 800,000 bees are coming off that plane?”
No kidding! Last weekend Bee Thinking co-founder Matt Reed and I traveled out to PDX to pick up nearly 80 3lb packages of Russian-Carniolian bees from our preferred supplier, Honeybee Genetics in Vacaville, California. We like Russian-Carniolans for their hygienic behavior, and we work with Honeybee Genetics because they share our commitment to treatment-free beekeeping. If you're new to beekeeping, these 3lb packages are one of the standard ways new beekeepers purchase bees to start a colony. The boxes typically include about 10,000 workers and one queen in a special queen cage. For more information on packages and installing bees, check out our Youtube page!
apparently it takes a while for bees to deplane…View full article →
We're very excited to announce that we're going to be on ABC's "Shark Tank" on Friday, April 10th at 9:00PM. It's been a long, arduous process, and we've had to keep it all secret until now.
We're thankful for the opportunity to educate the world on the importance of honey bees and other pollinators, as well as the dire situation many of them face. Educating about pollinator decline is a task we take very seriously and learning about CCD is one of the main reasons we were inspired to start our business.
Over the past months our team has grown from just a few, to 13 fantastic employees. We just rolled out our new website on Saturday, and we're in the process of adding dozens of great new products so there should be something for everyone who visits.
Please watch on Friday night and spread the word to all your friends and family!View full article →
Almost two weeks ago on the sunny morning of June 19th I visited Dena Rash Guzman's beautiful 60 acre organic farm where she keeps, among other things, her honey bees that make up Lusted Road Honey Company. I was there to aid in the inspection of her colonies housed in a variety of hive designs -- Langstroth, Warre and horizontal top bar hives. She told me she was particularly concerned about the Warre hive, as in the past day or so she's seen a tremendous number of dead bees suddenly appear on the bottom board.View full article →
In the Pacific NW, whether you are a seasoned beek or a novice, your bee season has already begun. Packages (of bees) and nucleus hives have arrived, swarms have started, but this isn't a normal season already.
The Portland Urban Beekeepers (PUB) estimate hive losses in the area last year at a troubling 45%. Researcher Dr. Dewey Caron estimates local losses at 70%.View full article →
It's been a long couple weeks, but we (and 1.2 million honey bees) survived! This year we brought 120 Russian-Carniolan hybrid bee packages from Vacaville, California to rainy Portland, Oregon. They were created on the afternoons of Thursday, April 24th and May 1st, given some fondant for the trip (no liquid feed allowed on airplanes), taken to Delta and loaded as cargo.
The first week went splendidly. The bees made a detour to Atlanta (apparently no direct cargo flights to Portland) and then arrived on the morning of April 25th. We immediately whisked them from the tarmac to our truck, sprayed them with syrup to replenish them after a long trip. They looked fantastic; the strongest packages we've seen! They were taken to our store where they huddled together on a couple pallets until 50+ customers arrived in waves on Saturday morning. I gave install tutorials to customers who needed it, and others checked in, took their packages and left.View full article →
They are finally finished! It took a few months longer than expected, but the plans to make our top bar hive are ready for purchase and immediate download from this page: http://www.beethinking.com/products/top-bar-hive-plansView full article →