When the sun is shining and the days are long, it can be tough to think about winter. For bees though, winter preparations began in spring. As a beekeeper, you will want to begin preparing now. Why? Over 44% of honeybee colonies didn't survive the U.S. winter last year. Some areas saw losses of over 65%. This is why overwintering is such a crucial subject to all beekeepers. Bees work hard to keep warm and ration food stores in cold months. As beekeepers, it's important to help make these processes be as seamless as possible.
So what exactly is overwintering? The term encapsulates multiple systems and processes. Essentially, overwintering is helping bees prepare their hives for the harsh, cold months to come. We're located in the Pacific Northwest, so we'll be using this region as an example, but it will be important to remember that all timelines and practices we provide are completely dependent on your climate. We always encourage connecting with other beekeepers in your area to learn more about overwintering in your specific region.
Let's start with what our bees are up to right now. During mid-to-late summer months, the queen and worker bees scale back brood production. In a way, they're doing math! They will maintain the optimal amount of brood for the overwintering cluster to generate heat that can survive on their available honey stores.
It's important to remember that no bee is created equal. The brood-to-honey-store ratio is variable due to the climate the bee strain (or breed) has adapted to. For example, Italian bees have large brood clusters since Mediterranean climates have short winters. When Italian bees are kept in cold climates, they often eat through their honey stores too quickly and don't survive the winter.
When you conduct your mid or late summer hive inspections, you'll want to make sure your bees are slowing brood production and storing more honey. If they're not, you'll need to consider some of the techniques we go over in this series to aid in their survival.
Another point to start considering is keeping your bees warm throughout the often chilly late summer nights. As a rule, when the temperature drops below 55 degrees (f), do not break the propolis seal on your hive. Your bees created this seal for insulation. Breaking it allows cool drafts into the hive that make it much harder for them to keep warm. This is why you need to be setting your hive up for winter before the temperature drops, ideally in August.
We'll be covering a series of important topics in more depth in the weeks to come. These topics include:
In addition to this blog series, we will release corresponding videos for each topic that show these overwintering processes in action. The videos will feature our staff entomologist and Education Coordinator, Rebekah, who is a proud beekeeper and ready to teach you the very best overwintering practices. You can check those out on either our Vimeo or Youtube channel.
Welcome to our Overwintering Series, and bring on the winter!
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 Hillary. Not only is Hillary an integral part of our retail staff, she is also a fifth generation chef and nutrition coach for people struggling with food allergies and autoimmune diseases. She has a unique perspective on the role of bees in personal nutrition, and is sharing this expertise in a honey tasting and appreciation class at Bee Thinking this July. Thanks for being a part of our team, Hillary!
Are you a beekeeper or a bee lover?
Both! I actually find myself frequently speaking to the girls I see out foraging nectar while I'm out meandering through my neighborhood or out on hikes.
What kind of hive do you mostly work with?
Each style has its pros and cons! For five or six years I had 8-frame Langstroths, because that is what my mentor had. After learning more about other hive styles, Warre and top bar hives are my preference because they take a more natural approach and I can easily lift and maintain them. I keep a Warre on my partner's property, mentor a few people who have various styles of hives, and I help with the assortment of hives belonging to Bee Thinking as often as possible.
How would you describe your beekeeping philosophy?
I try to not interfere too much and instead let the bees do their thing. Sometimes they need a little encouragement to boost hive health, production, or grooming habits, though. I'll do what I can to help the girls out.
What initially interested you most about the company?
After relocating to Portland, I was thrilled to find a place where I could chat with likeminded folks about bees and other pollinators as well as the health benefits of honey and the excitement of mead. It has been great expanding my own knowledge in all these areas and becoming part of the greater beekeeping community.
How much honey do you eat every week?
Well, I take a tablespoon each morning with apple cider vinegar for the health benefits. Sometimes for dessert I'll drizzle honey over yogurt or ice cream or have a dollop with cheese or cashew butter and fruit. I also brew (and drink) jun, a cousin to kombucha, and it thrives on honey. So I guess in total I consume close to 2 cups of honey each week!
What's your favorite dish to make with honey?
It’s hard to choose one favorite... Right now I'm making a number of salad dressings and sauces with honey. I recently made a honey mustard with loads of fresh dill for a chicken salad that was amazing. The extra is going on some grilled veggie kabobs tonight. Earlier this year I was eating roasted artichokes with garlic honey butter. With autumn approaching I'm already thinking about honeyed cashew butter and fresh apples.
Who’s your favorite queen bee?
My mom JanyRae! She is an inspiration for many facets in my life and has earned the title of queen. Plus, she regularly rescues bees from dire circumstances and has set up a drinking pond in her backyard for the native bees and pollinators in her neighborhood.
What do you enjoy about working at Bee Thinking?
Being part of a happy hive! It’s great to work with a group of people who have similar interests and truly care about the future of our honeybee populations. Another awesome part is being able to educate our customers about the importance of pollinators and the potential health benefits of honey. And of course getting to dream up fun food pairings and recipes for the meads and honeys! So far one blog post with a recipe has been featured but there are many more to come.
Hillary swirling a glass of traditional Tej mead to appreciate the bouquet.
What fascinates you most about bees?
Their methods of communication and navigation abilities. While I love being an independent thinker and choosing my own course in life, there have certainly been times when it would be handy to be able to tap into a "hive mind" and choose a course to better all life on our planet. Using an internal guidance system to navigate around and simply knowing where to go rather than relying on my phone would be pretty awesome.
What do you do for fun outside of Bee Thinking?
I go to the coast or Columbia River as often as possible. Something about getting my toes in the sand really lifts my spirits. I also really enjoy digging in the dirt and caring for my little herb garden as well as my partner's rose garden. As a fifth generation chef, playing in the kitchen is another fun activity for me and I enjoy experimenting with botanical infusions, ferments, and making magic with our region's amazing seasonal produce selection.
What do you think bees dream about?
I think bees dream about being able to swim! Foraging on the flowers of the sea sounds pretty romantic and wonderful to me.
There are infinite models of birdhouses on the market these days, but very few are researched and designed with the birds’ needs in mind. We did the leg work! The development of our Cedar Songbird House began just like our other pollinator homes: by asking questions. What does this creature’s natural habitat look like? What size does this species become when it’s wings are extended? What behaviors does this species exhibit that we can accommodate? And finally, how do we design something this species will be attracted to while also adding beauty and charm to backyards and gardens?
By the end of our research and design we came up with an attractive, innovative bird house that will keep your songbirds singing. And of course, we used the highest quality materials available, including Western Red Cedar that is precision-milled right here in the Pacific Northwest.
Below are the top five aspects we considered while designing our bird house. Bird Thinking, anyone?
1. Keeping Birds Dry
In the Winter, birds can face some seriously cold and wet months, depending on where you live. Don’t let your bird house turn into a swimming pool! Our bird houses utilize sloped roofs to support water runoff, along with a recessed floor inside to wick water out of the nest.
2. Temperature Regulation
Our cedar walls that measure ¾” thick provide optimal insulation of the nest, especially accompanied by four ⅜” ventilation holes to assist with proper airflow.
3. Keeping Out Predators
Sure, perches have become a classic component of most birdhouses, but they actually tend to attract more predators by giving them a convenient landing spot! For this reason, our birdhouses are perch-less, and also have keyhole notches on the back for you to securely hang the house out of reach of ground predators.
4. Entrance Hole Size
Our Cedar Songbird Houses are built to specifically accommodate chickadees, wrens, nuthatches, and swallows. These birds thrive with an entrance hole ranging from 1 ⅛” to 1 ½” in diameter. Our bird house also comes with an optional, poplar fitted entrance reducer for adjusting the entrance hole size for the birds in your region.
5. Rough Interior Walls for Climbing
The inner wall below the entrance is sanded down and has shallow grooves in the wood to help fledglings climb out of the nest.There you have it: Five species-first considerations we made when designing and building our beautiful and effective Cedar Songbird Houses. Be sure to check back soon so you don’t miss out on what comes out of our workshop next!
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.