There’s a reason for the term busy bee! Bees forage for pollen and nectar all spring and summer in order to produce brood and store enough honey to survive the winter, often literally working themselves to death. The good news? You can avoid this while also adding color and beauty to your late summer garden!
Providing late-blooming flowers can immensely help honeybees with food scarcity they may encounter in late fall. Although you always have the option to feed your bees if they don’t produce enough honey, fresh nectar is a far healthier choice than sugar water, which is tough for bees to digest. (We'll be going over when and if to feed in a later installment.) For now, just remember that it's always better to plant than to feed when possible.
Here are some planting for pollinator tips:
By growing a variety of plants that bloom from early spring until late fall, you will provide a consistent nectar flow for your bees to produce as much honey as possible before going into winter. Try to grow a variety of flower sizes to appeal to all different pollinators in your area. Even if it's too late to plant flowers in your area, you can still plant a variety of cover crops. Cover crops protect your soil and are great for foraging pollinators. In the Northwest, these include legumes such as vetch, clover and field peas. Mustard plants and buckwheat are also great options!
Late season planting for pollinators can be easier than you think. Letting “weeds” like clovers or dandelions grow provides a great food sources for bees. In the Pacific Northwest, milkweed and yarrow weeds are plentiful and we have no intention of yanking them! Also, letting spring greens and herbs go to seed is an great and easy option. Finally, you could plant a second round of classic flowers like sunflowers.
Not only does our Langstroth Living Roof add a beautiful, lush finish to your hive, but it can be a great resource for pollinators! Place it atop your hive and plant sedum or any other type of plant. We choose sedum because it’s a hardy, succulent plant that’s particularly good for bees because it blooms in the fall. Not looking to give your hive a face lift? You don't have to put the living roof on a hive. It could go anywhere in your garden for increased pollination power. Bees from your hive may not forage right on top of their home, but other pollinators will. Attracting these other pollinators will help the plants your bees do forage on to flourish. Isn't the circle of pollination beautiful?
There are a ton of resources for figuring out exactly what to harvest and when. The Xerces Society has a great website with lists of what, and when, to plant for early and late seasons in different regions of the country. These lists are also in Xerces’ Attracting Native Pollinators book.
Be sure to stay tuned for next week’s story on honey harvest dos and don'ts and remember to subscribe to our Vimeo or Youtube channels to watch the entire overwintering series.
Summer is a busy time for our bees, but also for love-birds tying the knot! Wedding season is in full swing, and you may find yourself heading to one wedding after another. Finding the perfect gift for the happy couple can be a challenge. However, whether they have green thumbs, their own backyard hives, or are lovers of honey and wax, we have wonderfully unique gift ideas that go above and beyond yet another toaster that they don’t actually need.
Written by chef and beekeeper, Laurey Masterton, this cookbook is full of new and innovative ways to use nutrient-rich honey in your next meal. Help the newlyweds avoid take-out every night of the week with some sweet meal-time inspiration. Examples of recipes included are: grilled honey pineapple, baby back ribs with sage honey, and strawberry-rhubarb ice cream. Yum!
Either paired with a cookbook or as a stand-alone gift, a jar of raw honey is as tasteful as it is delicious (see what we did there?). What makes this such a special gift is its uniqueness: each jar of honey has its own signature taste, depending on the region and flower species that the bees collected nectar from. Truly one of a kind!
The perfect combo pack for the couple with four green thumbs! This gift set is specially curated to help anyone’s garden bloom by attracting local pollinators to your garden and yard. Includes a pollinator seed pack, flower windmill, bear-shaped hummingbird feeder, cedar songbird house, and a copy of Attracting Native Pollinators from The Xerces Society.
Did you know that beeswax candles actually purify the air while they burn? Our long-lasting beeswax candles are made from treatment-free wax and are a sophisticated way to decorate and brighten the newlyweds’ home. You can even mix and match a variety of shapes and heights to fit any room’s style.
Beekeeping is an exciting hobby that does a lot of good for pollinators and plants alike. Our top bar hive, precision-milled from Western Red Cedar, is an excellent hive model for beginners as it requires no heavy lifting for inspections. Even better is that hive inspections can easily be a partner activity: One person can hold the comb while the other inspects it. Our starter kit has absolutely everything a first-timer needs to start their beekeeping adventure.
Are you heading to a beekeeper’s wedding, but you’re unsure what’s already in their toolkit? Give them the gift of choice with a gift card! This way, they can easily shop online or stop into our store for a new hive tool, smoker, or honey harvesting system. Voila!
There you have it: Five simple yet thoughtful gift ideas for the newlyweds in your life. Next time wedding bells start ringing, remember all the ways you can celebrate while also helping our critical pollinator populations!
While the blackberries hit the height of bloom and we move into high bee season in the Willamette Valley, this is the time of year I start to find myself in many of the same, very valuable, conversations with curious, researching, potential beekeepers who missed the window for this year and are planning to join the ranks come next spring.
Here are a few pieces of advice I always share:
Research, thoroughly, before starting.
Read as much material and watch loads of YouTube beekeeping videos. After a dearth of beekeeping resources through the 1990s until recently, so many insightful new books have recently been published targeting backyard and hobby beekeepers. Read as many as you can.
Join online beekeeping forums and just read through the topic and comment threads for months before even developing your own questions. In doing so, you will soon discern how your own management philosophy is shaping by how it agrees with and differs from other, more established beekeepers, and how to identify what you want out of beekeeping by considering the different benefits and drawbacks of each available hive type.
Take classes, too. There are classes available through local beekeeping groups, retail stores such as our own, and state beekeeper associations. You will want to have a hive in place and line on bees by winter so that once spring arrives, all you need to do is pick up your bees and install.
Let the bees teach you.
You don’t know better than they do. You don’t know what they need more than they do; they’ve been doing this for millions of years. Sit back, watch your hive entrances, and listen to the sounds coming from the hive. By doing so, you will learn more than you do almost every time you open a hive to manage it.
Bees need less management than you think they do.
Way less than chickens, way less than cats. Most beekeeping management is done in order to make sure the colony has enough space to keep building and filling comb, and to be certain a queen is laying eggs. If you have a foundationless hive, depending on the type, you will also be keeping an eye out for any comb not being drawn straight so you can fix it right away.
Propping up a weak colony with treatments and feed every year is just delaying the inevitable.
I might raise some eyebrows for grouping feed into that statement, but I generally find it to be true. Of course, if you buy a package of bees and they arrive while it’s still raining or snowing in your area, you’ll absolutely need to feed. If, however, you catch a swarm of bees, rarely do you need to feed. If the blackberries are blooming in the Willamette Valley, you should still be feeding. To treat or not can be a hard decision. As beekeepers, we of course want to set our bees up for success. It can be difficult to navigate when we are helping our bees with our efforts and when we are hindering them and their long-term colony health or survival.
To this end, if you can afford to do so, start two colonies versus one. Bees are (sadly) good at dying. They face a host of problematic issues ranging from chemical pesticides applied to forage to varroa mites and other honeybee pests and diseases. There is no worse feeling as a new beekeeper than losing your one and only hive in the first year of beekeeping. Having two colonies housed in the same hive type allows a beekeeper to have interchangeable parts and to be able to take brood or honey from one and share it with the other if need be.
Being a good beekeeper means being a responsible beekeeper.
By that I mean being responsible to your community with regard to keeping your apiary tidy so that it doesn’t attract pests and managing for space regularly so that you deter excessive swarms. One primary swarm per year we find to be ideal; it propagates more bees into the environment, and coming from a strong colony that overwintered, those are generally strong genetics. It also means being responsible to your bees, managing them regularly, but not excessively. Every time you open their hive, they cease production. Let them do what they naturally do.
You will make mistakes.
Beekeepers don’t like to talk about their mistakes because it’s upsetting and is admittance that despite our best intentions, we are all going to lose bees and mess up from time to time.
Mistakes and large-scale losses, like the high colony losses from two winters ago in the Willamette Valley, generally make beekeepers want to work harder and more for their bees. Colony losses are generally not decreasing or getting better, and it’s possible that maybe, just maybe, the methods and bees we are working with as backyard and hobby beekeepers will aid researchers and local bee populations in bouncing back and increasing survival rates over the seasons to come. And that is a worthy enterprise, well worth the learning curve.
It’s always important to remember that beekeeping is agriculture, subject to the whims and moods of nature, as well as environmental factors. There can be a lot of loss in beekeeping, and a lot of humbling. It’s equally important to remember that honeybees are a superorganism; individual bees cannot survive without the colony. As pet lovers and members of a culture that generally values mammals, new beekeepers often bring an attitude that honeybees are companions versus a single-minded colony that requires good stewardship.
You will get stung.
Most budding beekeepers realize this, but it’s sometimes surprising how often I still hear this questions. It’s important to remember that stinging is generally a last resort for a honeybee that feels threatened or perceives a threat. Honeybees don’t want to sting, as their barbed stingers mean that they perish, unlike many more common types of wasps that can sting repeatedly.
What potential beekeepers often don’t realize is that each colony has a different character, and all colonies go through cycles based on the season. Sometimes an aggressive hive, often called a hot hive, can be made more docile by splitting the hive or replacing the queen, but by and large a hot hive will be found next to a docile hive, which is next to an even calmer one. As a beekeeper you will come to know your hives and which you feel most comfortable wearing full gear to work with and which might require simply a veil and gloves.
Similarly, seasons will affect your colonies. The focused bees of spring are often disinterested in the beekeeper, intent only to forage and produce honey. Thus, it can be a surprise in autumn when a usually calm colony will fiercely defend all of their hard work and guard vigilantly against robbers.
Beekeeping can be addictive, therapeutic, and rewarding. Thankfully there are many resources for backyard, rooftop, hobby, and sideline beekeepers; far more than there were even five years ago. If you are considering becoming a beekeeper, find a buddy who has bees and spend time in and around the hive with them. It is great to have support and encouragement, especially in the first years of beekeeping when the learning curve is largest.
Preparing to winterize your hive can be a daunting task, even for an experienced beekeeper.
If you’re working with Langstroth and Warre hives, you’ll want to remove surplus boxes that could potentially become dead space for cold air, robbing valuable heat from clustered bees during winter months. Also, if you’re using screened bottom boards, closing ventilation inserts will help to trap heat inside the hive. Bees expend an incredible amount of energy over the course of the winter to maintain a consistent 90-degree temperature inside of their clusters. Help them conserve as much energy as possible is crucial.
At the same time, it is also important to create a way for any excessive moisture to leave your hive. Because bees generate heat with the beating of their wings, that heat will rise and form condensation when it mixes with the cold air at the top of the hive. While some condensation is important — offering bees an important water source when they can’t leave the hive and offering insulation — excess moisture can become a challenge for colonies who are already struggling. However, condensation tends to get a needlessly bad rap, but as Dr. Thomas Seeley has cited, bees in natural cavities have a warm, somewhat moist environment in the winter months.
Moisture enters the hive a number of ways. Leaks in the hive roof, between rickety boxes or inadequate ventilation are potential issues to pay close attention to. When working with a Warre hive, ensure that your quilt box material is dry and lofted in order to allow for proper ventilation. If you have a Langstroth hive, you might want to consider propping the inner cover up slightly to allow for excess moisture to be released.
If you live in the extreme north and feel there may be a need to add batting to the exterior of your Langstroth or Warre hive to fend off the encroaching cold, consider wrapping your hive with tar paper or a heavy construction paper. If you’re working with a top bar hive, consider filling cavity space with straw, hay, or even an old woolen blanket to create a thermal barrier. However, be careful of over insulting. Too much insulation could block the heat of the sun. An overly warm hive could also increase bee activity, which would then increase honey consumption. David Heaf points out that the minimal use of honey stores occurs at 41 degrees Fahrenheit. “Either side of this temperature honey consumption arises.” (Heaf 83)
Having a wind barrier or wind break is also something to consider when preparing your beehives for a long winter. Bales of hay provide a nice natural way to limit the impact that icy winds can have on a hive. Be careful though! Michael Bush points out in his Practical Beekeeper series that hay bales are nothing more than “a mouse nest waiting to happen.” (Bush 421)
With all hive types; helping bees protect their stores is crucial going as move into the colder months. Mice, wasps, and even other bees can be predators looking to invade your hive. Preventative measures like mouse guards and entrance reducers can help restrict larger predators from entering the hive, as well as allow your bees to mount a formidable defense by limiting critical pathways to honey stores. Additionally, ensuring that boxes with larger stores of honey are not at ground level is also another good way of helping bees defend what they worked so hard making all spring and summer.
If you have been using a queen excluder during the spring and summer months, removing that tool is strongly encouraged during the winterizing process. Bees will migrate throughout the hive during the winter months as they continue to utilize honey stores. By removing the queen excluder, this ensures that the colony will not have to make the tough decision of following the food, or keeping the queen warm. Ultimately, it allows for more flexibility to let the bees do what they would naturally do.
Some final best practices that beekeepers should consider are periodic visual inspections throughout the course of the fall and winter months. However, avoid upsetting the hive during the winter. Opening or disturbing the hive could put a significant amount of stress on the colony, causing bees to rapidly deplete their food stores in a way they might not otherwise. A beekeeper may want to invest in a stethoscope to listen to your bees without disturbing the hive. Also, keep an eye out for signs that predators have been trying to access the hive. Lastly, pay attention to the hive entrance and make sure that the front door is not blocked by dead bees or debris, restricting access to vitally important airflow.
Few of our beekeeping supplies can seem as perplexing to new beekeepers as the 8-way bee escape. On its own, the yellow plastic bee escape hardly looks intuitive (is it a hummingbird feeder? A water trough? A Frisbee?). Once mounted to a Langstroth inner cover or other exit board, however, the bee escape board becomes a beautifully simple honey-harvesting tool.
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As busy beekeeping equipment suppliers and hive builders, own beekeeping adventures often happen in the early hours. With the morning sun soaring upwards, two of our staff beekeepers and I packed coffee and breakfast out to our apiary. We wanted to check up on a few hives, and we used the opportunity to field test our new Rauchboy Smokers. The smokers recently arrived from Germany, and we're excited to become one of the only US retailers to offer the Rauchboy.
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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.
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