September 23, 2016

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What Sustainability Means to Us

The word sustainability is often used vaguely, and with so many murky definitions, it can be hard knowing what’s really intended. Here is what sustainability means to us here at Bee Thinking.

It’s paramount that in our work of crafting hives that we aren’t causing harm to forests while helping bees, and we know our customers feel the same way. We take concrete steps to source wood that is FSC certified and responsibly grown and harvested, and now we are the first hive producer to become FSC certified.

Our passion for bees is as immense as is our concern for the environment and nature. That’s why we source wood that won’t harm our forests. Here are just some of the ways that we aim to nurture the balance of our ecosystems, support the bounty of our beautiful land, and encourage beekeepers to join us in our mission to promote pollinator health.
Since 2008, sustainability has been at the forefront of our minds. In fact, the first wood we ever sourced was salvaged western red cedar—trees that had fallen in storms or had been harvested due to disease. Even though we have outgrown that wood source, we haven’t outgrown our commitment to using local and sustainable materials.

We believe that beekeepers care about the environment and are committed to doing their part to help. We think beekeeping suppliers should do the same. 

After plenty of careful research, we decided to source our wood from forests certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. FSC is a highly respected, third party certification that currently sets the bar for defining sustainable forest management. FSC is an international organization that provides principles and audits with the strictest requirements to ensure lumber comes from forests that maintain natural integrity, protect indigenous rights, and support surrounding communities.

As a result, FSC wood often commands the highest market price because of its quality and because it is harvested with minimal impact to the environment and the surrounding communities. We believe that by supporting the demand for sound forestry practices in the construction of long-lasting bee hives and woodenware, we benefit honeybee health by producing a beehive that is truly sustainable and considers all of nature. Not only is our wood FSC certified, but it all comes from sustainably-managed forests in Oregon and Northern California, reducing the carbon footprint tied to transportation, and helping the local economy.

Here at Bee Thinking, we use two types of wood to make our beehives: sugar pine and western red cedar. Sugar pine grows in southern Oregon and northern California. They are the largest of the pine trees, and John Muir called it the "King of the Conifers" for that reason. Sugar pine trees grow very straight, are dimensionally stable (meaning they resist warping, shrinking), and process beautifully through our machines with minimal tearing or cracking, making it the ideal pine species for bee hives.

Western Red Cedar is the premier beehive material. Native to the Pacific Northwest, Western Red Cedar is rot resistant, stable, lightweight, has tight straight grain, and insulates better than pine. It is revered for its beautiful grain and coloration, and due to its decay resistance, doesn't require paint in the elements. Our cedar is harvested within a couple hours of our Portland location.

We work extremely hard to use every scrap and shaving left over as we create hives. We use these pieces to produce birdhouses, mason bee houses, wooden feeders, and extra cedar shavings for quilt boxes both on our website and in our retail shop. We are always working to develop the new products and accessories our customers ask for, in a way that utilizes every bit of the wood we’ve brought in and in keeping with the design aesthetics we are known for.

Our efforts don’t end with wood sourcing, but apply to all aspects of our business. Each year we ship thousands of hives to our customers all over the world. To mitigate the environmental impact of shipping, we invest in carbon neutral offsets through our shipping providers whenever possible.

We hope this helps to make clear what we mean when we say we are committed to sustainability in every aspect. If you want to hear even more about our sustainability philosophy, check out the below video with our co-founder, Matt!

September 09, 2016

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The Comb Joint

Honoring tradition, while maintaining modern aesthetic and design practices, is what we do best. That’s why we designed our unique comb joint, an upgrade from the traditional finger joint traditionally used to make hive boxes. Our signature comb joint makes for stronger, more efficient, and more striking hives. We’ve been so excited to share the news; you may have already heard about our new and improved joinery. Let’s get down to what makes this joint so special.

One of the biggest components that makes our boxes and joinery so special is that they are made using a CNC machine, which is a state-of-the-art piece of milling equipment that is far more accurate than a traditional hauncher. “CNC” stands for Computer Numeric Control. This means the machine’s movements are operated through specific numerical commands entered into a computer, as opposed to manually controlled wheels and levers. This level of precision allows us to get the perfect cut every time, meaning our boxes fit together easily and securely. We know that most of our customers buy our boxes unassembled, and this kind of precision makes assembly a cinch. 

The new comb joint also has 9% less exposed end grain in comparison to a standard finger joint. If you’ve never heard of end grain before, end grain refers to the end of the board where the wood was cut. It’s also where water could seep into your hive and cause damage. 9% May not seem like a lot at first glance, but considering there are four corners per box and multiple boxes per hive, this 9% can make a big difference. This significant decrease of exposed end grain makes for a more weather-resistant hive, meaning it will last you and your bees for many more years to come.

Lastly, bees inspire us every day, including when we hit the wood working table. We designed this semi-hexagonal shape to mimic a comb cell—a shape bees instinctively employ for its strength and efficiency.

Don’t forget that our 20% off Hive and Harvest Sale is still going on! Additionally, our pine hives are 25% right now! This is the best time to get your own box with comb joints and see our new and improved joinery for yourself.

Watch below to learn even more about the comb joint from Bee Thinking co-founder, Matt Reed!

September 07, 2016

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Safe for You, Safe for Your Bees: 100% Pure Tung Oil

Along with our precision-milled beehives, our tung oil is one of our most-beloved products—for good reason! There are many benefits that make our tung oil special.

100% Pure Tung Oil

Many other tung oils are filled with chemicals and solvents. Our tung oil is 100% pure and all natural with no additives. To us, it makes sense to use an all-natural finish on our beehives because it really allows us to stay true to our natural, treatment-free beekeeping philosophy. The absence of solvents also means our tung oil is more concentrated. It takes a little longer to dry, but in the long-run this makes for a more durable, highly water-proof hive so you can feel confident heading into the winter months!

Long-Lasting

Unlike other surface treatments, tung oil actually bonds with the wood to make it waterproof and lends protection from the elements for years to come. Buying a beehive is an investment, and having to replace it every few years just doesn’t make sense! Applying a simple coat of tung oil once a year (summertime is ideal!) is a great way to keep your investment protected against extreme weather. You can use it on either your Western Red Cedar or Sugar Pine hives.

Easy and Versatile

Applying tung oil to your beehive is a simple, three-step process:

  1. Using a smooth cotton cloth, old t-shirt, or paper towel, apply one thin coat (about a tablespoon) of tung oil to your hive. Make sure to spread with the grain, from side to side.
  2. Wait 3 hours, then remove excess oil. Patience is key!
  3. After 24 hours, repeat steps 1 and 2. Once it dries, you are all ready to go!

      Additionally, 100% pure tung oil is food safe and therefore incredibly versatile. It’s not just for your hive! You can also use it to treat wooden cutting boards, furniture, and birdhouses.

      Beautiful

      While some choose to paint their hives, we prefer admiring the natural beauty of the wood itself. Pure tung oil enhances the natural color of the wood and leaves a satin finish. Check out these before and after photos below to see the difference that a couple coats of tung oil can make:

      Check out the video below to learn even more about tung oil, including a demonstration of applying it to your Bee Thinking hive:

      Click here to get your own bottle of 100% pure tung oil, now 20% off during the Harvest Sale!

      September 02, 2016

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      Leave Them Bee: New Windows for Langstroth Hives

      Bees are fascinating creatures—but we don’t have to tell you that. All their hard work is manifested within the hive, through beautifully drawn comb, plenty of brood to keep the colony going, and sweet honey stores to survive the winter. One of the most exhilarating parts of the beekeeping experience is sitting back and watching your bees work.  

      That is why we are excited to announce that we now have Langstroth hive boxes with windows. Now beekeepers everywhere can enjoy watching their bees work without disturbing them, regardless of their hive style. We want to give every beekeeper the chance to observe, marvel, inspect and even learn from their bees!

      As you may know, these are new for us. Up until this point we have only had observation windows available for Warre and top bar hives. But, we listened to what our customers want, and you want to see your bees! So we started our careful planning and design process, and here we are.

      Perhaps the best part about this new development is that observation windows allow for you to check on your bees without disrupting them. Since there is a window on either side of the hive, you can get a clear picture of the entire box without ever opening it. This was important to us as we designed these boxes. We wanted you to be able to see as much bee action as possible!

      And observing from a distance isn’t just courteous, it’s practical. Especially as temperatures fall, opening your hive can put your bees at risk by disrupting the methods of insulation they have put in place. With windows, however, you only need to remove the small cover to make sure your hive is alive and well. We can already hear your bees thanking you!

      Our new windows come with a wooden, easy-to-remove cover, so insulation is not compromised. Even better, the window cover comes adorned with a CNC precision-milled bee design, with hollow wing cutouts as handles. Now you can show off your love of bees while adding a unique touch to your hive and apiary!  

      To see our new windows in action, check out the video below:

       Finally, don’t forget our Harvest and Hive Sale is going on right now! This means that you can get your brand new boxes with precision-milled windows for 20% off in premium Western Red Cedar, and 25% off in sustainably harvested Sugar Pine. We hope you are as excited as we are about this exciting new feature leaving our Portland mill.

      August 27, 2016

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      Sustainable. Quality. Valuable. Introducing Sugar Pine.

      After years of searching for a sustainable source of pine, we've found material that's not only suitable for the bees, but is responsible to the environment, handsome, and available at a great value. As always, we are committed to bringing you the highest quality products while staying true to our core values of using sustainable, local materials.

      We are excited to announce that we will now offer our Langstroth hives using sustainable Sugar Pine sourced from FSC Chain of Custody suppliers in the Pacific Northwest. Here’s why we are thrilled to be offering Bee Thinking pine:

      View full article →
      August 17, 2016

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      Introducing Our New Comb Joint

      There’s a reason we included “thinking” in our company name. Since day one, we haven’t stopped thinking of ways to design the strongest, smartest, most beautiful and efficient beekeeping products available. This means sweating the small stuff, including the joint that holds our boxes together.


      So we listened to a lot of customer feedback, and did our own research. We examined all kinds of existing joints,
      looking back over hundreds of years of woodworking techniques throughout the world. We ultimately took inspiration from the bees themselves to make a strong and efficient joint that we think you’ll love. Since the very beginning, our boxes have used interlocking finger joints; the industry standard for hive construction. This makes sense! Finger joints are strong, attractive, and suitable for most woodworking endeavors. But we couldn’t help but to explore any possible modifications to make our joints even better. 

      Our new Comb Joint includes everything we love about the typical finger joint but is also specially designed to be sleeker, stronger, easier to assemble, more efficient, and longer lasting. Our new Comb Joint features interlocking semi-hexagonal pieces similar to honeycomb. We used this shape for the same reasons bees do: it’s highly efficient and it’s strong. The inset frame rest leaves no weak points, making for an incredibly strong box from top to bottom.

      With approximately 9% less end grain exposed compared to a traditional finger joint, there's less area for wood to seep in and damage your hive.

      The joint is milled using a CNC machine, which is five times more accurate than a traditional hauncher, allowing us to get the perfect cut every single time. Assembly of our new boxes is quicker and simpler with miniscule opportunity for error. We want beekeepers, novice and experienced, to spend less time setting up and more time keeping bees!

      Finally, we know that appearance matters with any addition to your home or garden, and we take that seriously! Our new design is sleek, compelling, modern, and completely unique. It is sure to add something special to your yard or apiary.

      We have spent endless hours in our workshop and are extremely proud of what we designed. We will continue to invest in our mill, using the latest woodworking technology to craft products that make the beekeeping experience even more special. We’re confident that you, too, will love the latest generation of precision milled joinery leaving our mill in Portland, Oregon.

       

       

       

      More about the comb joint below

       

       

       

      July 14, 2016

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      July 07, 2016

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      July 13, 2015

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      Vineyard and Apiary: Part II

      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.

      Winderlea bee thinking blog front sign

      View full article →
      June 30, 2015

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      Vineyard and Apiary: Part I

      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 bees in the vineyard

      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.

       

      Sokol Blosser vineyard

      View of the dundee hills

      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.

       Beekeeper Jason Anderson

      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?

      bees flying into sokol blosser Langstroth hive

      Closeup of Jason Anderson keeping bees
       

      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.

       Bees building new comb

      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.

       

      Jason Anderson Portrait beekeeper

       

      Sokol Blosser vines closeup

      Warehouse at Sokol Blosser

      **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**