Here at Bee Thinking and Mead Market, we take pride in supporting fellow local small businesses. Both our Southeast Portland shop and online store are stocked with products made by local craftspeople, including gorgeous drinkware from Portland-based business Bread and Badger. We sat down with Amanda Siska, the creator of Bread and Badger, who does all her own designs and sandblasting. Stop into our shop or visit our website to pick up one of Amanda’s bee-adorned coffee mugs or wine glasses.
Can you talk about how Bread and Badger got its start, and where your name comes from?
I’d been selling shoes for a number of years before I decided I couldn’t take it anymore and I needed to draw full-time. I learned about glass etching in 2005 and I’ve been scratching surfaces ever since. Originally, I wanted to be a tattoo artist, but I found that glass engraving with a rotary tool was similar in technique, without the sterilization and possible regret.
In 2008, demand for my hand-carved designs became too high to fill, so my husband, Sean, quit his day job to help me transition to sandblasting. We now sandblast all our glassware and ceramics in our Portland studio, using top-notch professional equipment.
The name comes from the term "bread and butter," because this is our family's main source of income, but I chose the word "badger" because I was inspired by an article in National Geographic about honey badgers. Honey badgers are fearless creatures that will not back down from a fight, and are impervious to venom. They can kill animals many times their size and they eat bees and poisonous snakes. Quitting my job and starting my own business has been one of the hardest things I've ever done, and I am inspired by those tough little creatures every day, which can take on so much that other animals fear.
Anything that can be sandblasted, pretty much! We focus on drinking vessels, so we have an assortment of glass cups, barware, growlers, and ceramic mugs, which all feature my artwork. I like to draw happy things, so there are a lot of cute animals, and graphics that I think are symbolic of different interests (sugar skulls, knitting, constellations, trees, etc.).
Where do you find inspiration for your original designs?
I mostly look to nature these days, since I don't ever get enough of it in my busy life. I've been inspired by outer space, plants, and unusual animals. I'm also trying to think about icons that people in specific locations relate to, like the desert or the ocean.
What techniques do you use to craft your products?
We sandblast all our own products now, though I sometimes enjoy hand-engraving a very special piece for fun. We also carry some laser-engraved wooden items (magnets and holiday ornaments), and acid-etched brass pendants, which feature my artwork.
Do you have any advice for someone thinking about starting their own small business?
Do your research, find out if your idea is viable, and then jump right in! I think a lot of people overthink things too much at the beginning and never really get started. Also, you won't really know if you'll enjoy your business until you get into the thick of it, so just go for it. Everything is a learning experience.
The Langstroth hive just got a facelift. We took the same expert design principles we used to design the Warre hive roof to craft a 3/4" thick, kiln-dried, Western Red Cedar peaked roof available for either the 8-frame or 10-frame Langstroth hive. And bonus: the Langstroth peaked roof is 15% off today as part of our Independence day sale! While the telescoping lid has it's advantages, this newly designed peak roof may be a much better option for a lot of Langstroth users. Here's why:
Help your hive weather the storm in style! The attractive peaked design of the roof allows for rain to roll off and away from your hive, protecting it from moisture-related issues. Unlike other lids, this roof stays secure during gusts of high wind. Keeping your hive dry is a key aspect of overwintering and this roof is an essential tool for doing just that.
We've always used Western Red Cedar on our hives, largely because of its advanced insulation power. It's low density and high proportion of air space make it the number one insulator of all the soft wood species. Between all the different components of your hive, insulation is most important for the roof. Since heat rises, a well-insulated roof ensures that heat will stay trapped in the winter and out in the summer.
The roof works well on it's own, but pairing it with the Langstroth insulation box makes for an insulation power team! The Langstroth insulation (or quilt) box works by wicking away the moisture that rises within the hive. The cedar shavings that fill the insulation box absorb that moisture. Pairing it with the peaked roof ensures your hive stays at a stable temperature and humidity level.
Beekeeping is not only fun, but beautiful too! This roof gives your Langstroth hive a lovely, polished look and feel. Perfect for the beekeeper who aims to keep their backyard looking exquisite.
Simply remove the inner cover of your hive and place atop your upper-most super. It was crafted to last many seasons to come. Simply treat with tung oil to protect it and give it a rich color with out any chemicals or additives.
Being the premiere mead retailer in Portland has its perks, our favorite being that we get to try a lot of different meads. Our ever-expanding mead library inspires a lot of adjectives. You may see a staff member take a sip and follow with, "light citrusy body, mild viscosity, and is that finish reminiscent of cotton candy?"
We decided to catalog these taste observations for some of our favorite meads whose meaderies will be pouring in our new space this weekend in celebration of Tour de Hives. Tour de Hives is a self-guided tour for bee-curious Portlandians of backyard apiaries and bee trees, a Portland tradition celebrating backyard pollinators.
Stop into our new, evolving SE Hawthorne space for a refreshing sip of mead between tour sites or to end your day. You'll be able to enter to win a Mead Market branded growler when you do!
Why we love them:
Former lawyer Brooks Cooper wanted to bring a new take on mead to the people of Portland and beyond. We're grateful he did! Stung's meads are reminiscent of beer, but still showcase the honey base that distinguish them as mead.
Standard (red cap)
Yeasty and hoppy with a pilsner or pale ale aroma. Earthy flavor and high carbonation. Light viscosity. Pairs well with a lamb burger and truffle fries.
Why we love them:
Nectar Creek is a leader in session style meads using Oregon honey. These refreshing session meads are perfect for a warm day’s picnic or a backyard barbeque. Nectar Creek also offers delicious single varietals once a year; each one a special testament to their commitment to craft.
A berry nose, sweet-tart candy flavor, mild cranberry tartness up front and a lingering strawberry finish. Pairs well with roasted turkey, pesto pasta and goat cheese.
Why we love them:
Ethereal’s meads come from a deep love of what the Pacific Northwest has to offer. Drawing on inspiration from the land, Gary Gross, Ethereal’s founder and meadmaker, uses local honey and fruits to make meads that remind him, and us, of what it’s like to stroll in the woods of this beautiful part of the world.
The nose is reminiscent of overripe berries, freezer jam or berry syrup. Carries through to palate with slight acidity and faint honey finish.
Why we love them:
Holding a Masters in Vinology from UC Davis, Nathan comes from many years of experience making wine, transferring his fermentation skills to mead to create complex varietal meads with a dry finish, alongside well-crafted, non-traditional session varieties.
Tart, limey, and oaky undertones on the nose that carry through to the palate. Lots of acidity and very, very dry.
We're fascinated by all pollinators and this week we are focusing on the mighty, mighty mason bee! Read on for what it is, what it does, and how to keep them.
About our Mason Bee House
We designed our mason bee house similarly to our beehives: with the species in mind. The house is constructed of Western Red Cedar and features a shingled roof. The house includes tubes that are the optimal size for nesting. They are made of a breathable cardboard which can be replaced each season. This is much more conducive to bee health than plastic tubes which contain chemicals, cause mold and can cause disease to spread more easily. The clean lines of the house and rich cedar texture make the house a visually pleasing ornament to any garden. Shop it here
What is a mason bee?
Mason bees (and leaf cutter bees) are solitary, tunnel nesting bees. Similarly to honey bees, the female does all of the nesting and foraging to care for the young. Although they are considered solitary because they are not part of a superorganism, mason bees are gregarious! Multiple mason bee "families" will often inhabit the same home without working together.
What does the mason bee lifecycle look like?
Male mason bees emerge from their cells first, only after there have been three consecutive days above 55 degrees. They leave the home to forage for nectar and then return to wait for the females. When the females emerge, mating occurs immediately and the males die. Females then forage for nectar and pollen and bring it back to their tube to groom the pollen off their bodies and into a sticky ball with nectar. She then lays an egg on the food ball, and seals that cavity of the tube off with mud. She does this about 6 times in a tube that is 6 inches long, and a minimum of 5/16" in diameter. After she caps the tube with mud and finishes laying her 6 eggs, she dies.The eggs hatch and larvae eat the food left by mom, and pupate (form cocoons) inside the tube, where they will hibernate until the next spring when the cycle repeats itself.
How do mason bees find these tubes to nest in?
Mason bees do not have drilling mouth parts to make their own holes, so in the nature, they inhabit holes made by carpenter bees, or woodpeckers. Humans can also make their lives easier by providing an already-made home. Many people simply drill holes in a block as mason bee houses. This is less than ideal because they get re-used and spread disease. The better idea is to use paper tubes, or reeds because they can be replaced by fresh ones. The cocoons can be removed from the tube, cleaned, and stored in the refrigerator for the winter.
Why keep a mason bee house?
Keeping a mason bee house in the garden is ideal for those who aren't ready for the commitment of colony beekeeping. Although keeping mason bees is a low maintenance hobby, there is a huge pollination payoff! Since mason bees are native pollinators, they are experts at pollinating native plants. While honeybees have a 5% efficiency rate when it comes to pollination, mason bees are 95% effective at pollination! They are dynamic at pollinating the immediate area surrounding their nests, which make them perfect for your backyard garden and fruit trees. Lastly, they don't sting and they're cute!
Tips for keeping a mason bee house
We take pride in the hives that we build and are dedicated to offering exceptional support for our customers. However, neither of these things would be possible without each and every worker bee in our hive. In this Hive Highlight, meet Emma. Not only is Emma our principal beekeeper in our apiary in Southeast Portland, she also works in our retail space and teaches classes through our education department, spreading bee knowledge and fun wherever she goes. Thank you for all you do, Emma!
Are you a beekeeper or a bee lover?
What kind of hive do you mostly work with?
Warre & Top Bar Hive
How would you describe your beekeeping philosophy?
I lean towards a minimal intervention approach in the apiary. Honeybees have a far greater understanding of the inner workings of their hives than I ever will, and I think that we are currently seeing the consequences of too much human intervention over the past century. I am a proponent of allowing bees the opportunity to find a balance in the world again, and I think that requires us to take a step back and focus on creating an environment that is healthy and safe for our bees.
What initially interested you most about the company?
I was very drawn to the Bee Thinking culture, which is centered around providing the community with the education and resources necessary to support our struggling pollinators and impact the world in a positive way. It takes a lot of work, but everyone here is passionate about what we’re doing, which makes it a lot of fun, too.
Emma spreads the laughter while teaching our Beeswax Beauty and Wellness class
How much honey do you eat every week?
None! I actually don’t enjoy eating honey, which gets me a lot of weird looks... I do use it in skin care and medicinal recipes frequently, though!
Who’s your favorite queen bee?
My favorite queen bee would have to be my mother. She has always been so supportive of my interests and dreams, and I don’t think I would have ended up where I did without that constant encouragement. She also is a fiercely independent and hard-working lady that keeps life exciting - just like any good queen bee should.
What do you enjoy about working in the apiary and the retail space?
They are both so wonderful in very different ways! I adore working in the retail space, because I get to spend my time with people who are excited to learn about the thing that I love the most. It’s fun to share their excitement and help get them established in beekeeping. I obviously love the apiary, because I get to hang out in a gorgeous location full of honeybees, observing their life cycle and participating in it, as well. It is endlessly fascinating to watch them grow through the seasons, tough it out through the winter, and then begin again in the spring.
What fascinates you most about bees?
The idea of a superorganism is amazing to me. There are all of these tiny, individual parts that come together and operate as a single-minded whole. Thousands and thousands of bees have to be in agreement at all times about where to establish a hive, when to swarm, when to raise a new queen, what kind of brood and how much needs to be raised, and on and on and on. It’s pretty cool.
What do you do for fun outside of Bee Thinking?
Explore Oregon with my husband, work in my garden, play my cello, experiment with skin care formulas, binge watch Game of Thrones, binge read sci-fi series, play Neopets, win unofficial beer pong tournaments.
What do you think bees dream about?
Flowers! Those must be the most beautiful dreams ever.
Here at Bee Thinking, we love connecting with local beekeepers and bee lovers right in our own community. We were thrilled when Alexander Howitt, owner of Portland’s One Twenty Apiculture, walked into our shop and introduced himself. We’re excited to carry Alexander’s raw, wildflower honey in our shop.
How long have you been a beekeeper?
I’ve been a beekeeper for a little over eight years. The first four of those years was for two different commercial beekeeping companies in New Zealand, which is where I’m from. I learned hard and fast from them during those years. I remember watching the beekeepers for a whole week before I was allowed to get into a beehive by myself. During that time I learned a lot of respect for beekeeping. I also learned a lot from the commercial beekeepers’ mistakes and shortcuts that they were taking. They were always harsher with the bees than I wanted to be, what with moving them around a lot and feeding them crappy sugar syrup. I learned that, when I started beekeeping myself, I wanted to do it completely differently.
After that, I traveled around Southeast Asia and worked with different small beekeeping organizations. And now I’ve been beekeeping here for two and a half years.
How did you initially get into beekeeping in the first place, with the commercial beekeeping companies?
A family friend asked me to come out and work there one summer when I was 16. The first week I got stung about 100 times, and I worked day and night moving bees around the east cape of the north island in New Zealand. I kind of fell in love with the craziness of it: the bee stings, the challenge, getting stuck in the mud and having to get out before the sun came up and the bees started flying. It was always really challenging and demanding of my body, and I kind of enjoyed that challenge.
And what made you move from New Zealand to Portland?
Well, my partner got relocated for work, so I kind of just got dragged along. *Laughs* It ended up being a good thing for both of us. I really enjoy Portland, it’s quite similar to New Zealand. People here like being outdoors: hiking, camping, barbequing, that sort of thing. I’m into all of that kind of stuff, too.
How many hives do you have now?
I have about 40 hives right now, scattered around Portland and all of Oregon, actually. I have a couple out on the coast in Manzanita, a couple over in North Portland, and then I have some pollinating an organic blueberry farm in Sherwood. Those are pollinating blueberries for Our Table Cooperative, and they sell blueberries to New Seasons Market, which is pretty cool.
All of the hives stay in their spot all year round. If I were to rent a hive for a certain period, I would then leave that hive there all year round so the hives only get moved once per year. Because I’m not capitalizing on pollination like a lot of the bigger guys are, I have to find another angle. I also do consults and sell local honey to get some more revenue.
All of my hives are 10-frame Langstroth, but I also help clients manage Top Bar and Warre hives, as well as some home-built hives.
What’s your favorite part about beekeeping?
My favorite part is the feeling I get every time I go beekeeping. I could be having the worst day or something else could be going on in my life and I can go beekeeping. Yes, it’s hard work and occasionally you get stung, but there’s something sort of meditative about it that just calms you down and resets you. Being around the sound of the bees and just being constantly in awe of their abilities, and what they can do as a collective colony, I think it’s really unique. They keep surprising me year after year and I keep getting more and more involved.
And then for my logo, there are three parts: There’s the zip code bubble from where it’s made, then the bee’s wings, and then the honey droplet. The logo was designed by Kyle Lindell, a local graphic designer. They’re printed locally as well, which is just another way I try to keep everything local. The honey is usually produced, extracted, and bottled on site or within that zip code. I’ll travel with my equipment to process the honey and ideally sell it in the zip code that it was produced in to keep it local and reduce the carbon footprint.
Shop his honey here