With summer quickly approaching, crisp and sparkling beverages seem to be on everyone's mind. Portland's Fringe Meadery is leaving an impact on the tastebuds of local beer and wine enthusiasts alike, and in celebration of the coming summer days we decided to interview their founder and owner, Nathan Mattis.
What initially drew you to mead?
Mead came into my life while I was attending school at UC Davis for winemaking. My roommates and I would brew nonstop in our kitchen, and one day we tried making mead.From that point on I never really stopped making it, although it took me a while to actually start brewing for other people.
How did Fringe happen?
Before college, I had previously worked in the software industry writing stock market code. It just so happened that the stars aligned. My boss was planning to turn a building she owned into a vodka distillery and offered me a job as head distiller. I spent over a year doing this, although mead was always in the back of my mind. My ‘aha’ moment was when I was tasting mead with some friends, and one of them was blown away and told me that I should be selling it. In that moment I was like, “Huh. I really should be”. After the distillery closed, I decided that it was time to make a meadery happen. I partnered with Ken Bonnin, Jr. of Hi-Wheel Wine Co. to open a winery space where we could co-exist together, and Fringe was born. Production started in 2014--it’s hard to believe we’ve been open for a year and a half already!
Where does the name “Fringe” come from?
I’ve always liked the word, and always felt that I was kind of “on the fringe”. The mead industry is definitely on the fringe. Plus it’s a fun word to say everyday (laughs).
What types of mead do you make?
The original goal was to make mead like wine, using the same aging process and alcohol content. A really fun part of making this happen was getting to know all the different honey varietals and flavor notes. I actually have more than thirty types of honey at home now!
The first three meads that we released were created in a wine-strength style, though wine bottle shops don’t usually know what to make of honey wine. When I could get them to try it, they loved it every time. But mead is new to so many people that we decided to start playing with sessions to help bridge the gap.
The goal is to create whimsical, clean session-style meads that will act as a gateway for newcomers to the world of honey wine. New Seasons was blown away, and we’re excited to make this new venture happen!
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned working in the mead industry thus far?
The business skills I’ve learned are invaluable. I really enjoy playing all the different roles that business ownership requires. Besides that, I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that you really have to take a wholesale approach to make a meadery a business that sustains itself. For me, it’s about finding a balance between what the general consumer might want and retaining the quality and soul of my own personal vision. I’ve also been very surprised by how similar honey and grapes are--the flavors vary significantly based on varietal, seasonality, terroir, and yearly changes.
If you were a type of mead, what kind would you be?
My oldest mead is a 5 year old blackberry called Black Frankenstein. I kept trying this one, and now there’s just one bottle left in existence. If I could be any mead, that would definitely be the one.
Besides making mead, what do you like to do for fun?
I really enjoy live music, especially at smaller venues around Portland!
“Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them.”- A.A. Milne
Photo from realnatural.org
The dandelion has classically been considered a weed but, unbeknownst to many gardeners, these sweet yellow flowers are some of the first food of the year for bees. Their blossoms are often the first to appear when spring has arrived, and they can be found growing almost anywhere that humans thrive in North America. Bees have no problem finding beneficial uses for this underrated plant and, given the health-boosting properties dandelions can have for humans, it seems that we should take a tip from them!
Photo from plantcurator.com
From the flower to the roots, every part of Taraxacum officinale can benefit the health and vitality of humans. Dandelion leaves are a top-notch digestive bitter, so feel free to toss them into that spring green salad for digestive support. Their roots detoxify the liver and, when roasted, make a delicious tea. Their flower heads, besides serving as great source of nectar for bees, can also be harvested to make delicious homebrewed dandelion wine. For the dandelions that you don’t harvest, we encourage you to allow these sunny flowers to flourish for the bees until they turn into fluffy wishes!
A bee friendly reminder: never use herbicides. These toxins are part of the reason why honey bees and native pollinators are struggling for survival. Either let them grow wild and free or pay that neighborhood kid a buck to weed them for you.
We imagine that Ralph Waldo Emerson penned the famous quote, “The earth laughs in flowers” while sitting in the midst of a brilliantly blooming pollinator garden. As the cherry blossoms are starting to flower in the Pacific northwest, we are getting excited to share along in the laughter this spring by planning out our beautiful, buzzing pollinator-friendly gardens.
If you’ve ever wondered which plants you can cultivate to attract pollinators, this blog series is perfect for you. Planting for Pollinators is your monthly guide to building out beautiful pollinator gardens according to your region, following the natural duration of the honey bee foraging season from March to October. We will post different varietals native to your region each month, according to the seasonal timing in which they should be planted. Our goal is for you to look out across your pollinator garden on the cusp of fall and feel satisfied with all the flowers and pollinators that have come and gone.
The following flowers are planted in March to bloom in April and May.
Nootka Rose. Photo from www.nwplants.com.
Wooly leaf mountain lilac. Photo from www.calscape.cnps.org.
Texas prickly pear. Photo from www.swtreesandturf.com.
Sego lily. Photo from commons.wikimedia.org.
Texas blue bonnet. Photo from www.edenbrothers.com.
Butterfly weed. Photo from commons.wikimedia.org.
Green milkweed. Photo from www.prairiemoon.com.
Pink mimosa. Photo from www.discounttreesofbrenham.com.
Eastern red columbine. Photo from www.delawarewildflowers.org.
Lance leaf coreopsis. Photo from www.discoverlife.org.
Planting for Pollinators’ Regional Key
2015 was a heart-swarming year for bee health advocates and beekeepers around the world. While bee colony populations in the United States still remain in great peril, progress is being made on a legislative level to help increase healthy habitat for honeybees.
While much progress was made in reducing the use of pesticides, there is still a lot of work to be done. Backyard beekeepers, urban farmers, and concerned gardeners are making a continued effort to restore bee populations and maintain healthy ecosystems for both bees and humans alike.
Here's to pollinator health and continued progress in 2016!
Written by Vin Gast, edited by Mahala Ray
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.
Colony hierarchy: Warehouse Associate
Are you a beekeeper or a bee lover?
Bee lover, of course!
What initially interested you most about the company?
I’m very interested in saving the bees. I’d heard a lot about colony collapse disorder and, although I’m not a beekeeper, felt this was a good way to help the cause. I also really enjoy working in a warehouse full of cedar. I’m used to it now, but when I first started it was super strong--I love the smell!
How much honey do you eat every week?
Probably about a tablespoon, it’s perfect as a light spread on my toast!
Who’s your favorite queen bee?
Madonna has always been my main girl. I really appreciate how influential she has been in modern culture, especially in the realm of female expression. I definitely feel more empowered because of her.
What do you enjoy about working in the warehouse?
The work environment is awesome. The collective group has a positive energy, and everyone gets along really well.
What fascinates you most about bees?
How they all work together! Scout bees are particularly fascinating, the way they work together to find new things to forage. They make a great family.
What do you do for fun outside of Bee Thinking?
Netflix and chill, for sure. I also enjoy reading fantasy and science fiction.
What do you think bees dream about?
Making their queen happy [laughs].
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.
Spring will be here before you know it, and whether you’re a master beekeeper or just starting to explore your newfound love for bees, here are some helpful tips for spring preparation.
For the beginning beekeeper:
Now, if you’re saying “All this is great, but I’m a veteran”...
We at Bee Thinking are so grateful to be constantly surrounded by passionate and world-wise beekeepers like yourselves, and we are truly looking forward to waggling through 2016 with you!
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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