September 01, 2016

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When and How to Feed Your Bees

To feed or not to feed? Arguably one of the toughest questions to answer as a beekeeper, but fear not! We’re ready to share a wealth of information that should help you navigate this tricky topic.

Feeding is a somewhat controversial topic in the beekeeping field. A natural beekeeping philosophy does not support feeding your bees at all. This would cause bees with weak genetics to die out over the winter and be replaced by a strong colony splitting in two in the spring. That being said, there are some extenuating circumstances that may leave beekeepers with no choice but to feed. For example, if a summer forest fire wipes out bee forage for the season, an otherwise genetically-strong colony would not have the resources to make enough honey stores for the winter. When these circumstances arise, beekeepers who would not otherwise feed may choose to do so to support the survival of their bees.

How do I know if I should feed?

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. There are so many factors to consider when making this decision! Climate, honey-to-brood ratio and your bees specific strain will all affect whether or not they’ll be able to survive off their honey stores. In general, we like to say that your colony should have honey stores that are about equal to their brood stores, but of course this depends. Read up on the specific strain of your bees to learn more the climate they were bred for and how this will affect their behavior. Italian bees, for example, are bred for short winters and thus, tend to eat through their honey stores too quickly when living in a colder climate. Read up on your bees’ specific strain, factor in your climate, and talk to other local beekeepers to create an effective plan.

When should I feed?

If you decide to feed your bees, you will need to do so before winter arrives, because bees will not drink liquid feed when it is below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Don’t forget that you can also support your bees’ diet by providing plenty of late season foraging, which we discuss in more detail in our Late Season Planting for Pollinators video and blog post. Being proactive is important!

How do I make feed?

At this time of the year, you’ll want to use two cups of sugar for every one cup of warm water. Remember to use white granulated sugar, not brown or raw sugar. Bees cannot properly digest dark sugars! You can also add a pinch of a crushed up Vitamin C tab to the mixture, because nectar is naturally more acidic than simple sugar syrup.

What kind of feeder should I use, and how do I use it?

There are many different types of feeders to choose from, and different hive designs require different feeders. Here at Bee Thinking, we offer a double jar feeder, an entrance feeder, a round hive top feeder, and a gallon hive top feeder.
In a Langstroth Hive, place your inner cover over the top-most box that your bees are occupying. Set the feeder over the hole in the inner cover and surround it with an empty box followed by your outer cover. Alternatively, you can use an entrance feeder by sliding it into the entrance of your hive. While you can use any of our feeders for a 10-frame Langstroth, the gallon hive top feeder is too wide for an 8-frame hive.

In a Warre hive, cut a flap in your separator canvas the size of your feeder. Put it back in place on your top bars and fold the flap back. Place the feeder over the cut-out you made. Enclose the feeder with an empty hive box, and put your quilt box and roof back in place. For Warre hives, you can use a double jar feeder or a round hive top feeder.

In a top bar hive, place the feeder in the empty cavity of the hive body. You can prop the divider board up with sticks, or drill cork-sized holes in the bottom for your bees to crawl through. Place the feeder in the bottom of the empty cavity and place empty top bars back on top. You can use a double jar feeder or an entrance feeder.

No matter what type of feeder you choose, deciding to feed your bees in the late summer could ultimately save the colony. Good luck!

For even more information, check out this video we made as a part of our Overwintering Series:

July 26, 2016

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Wedding Gift Ideas for Beekeepers and Bee-Lovers

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.

  • The Fresh Honey Cookbook


  • 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!


  • Raw Honey


  • 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 Gardener’s Gift Set


  • 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.


  • Beeswax Candles


  • 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.


  • Top Bar Hive Starter Kit


  • 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.

  • Bee Thinking Gift Certificate


  • 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!

    November 06, 2015

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    Winterizing Your Bee Hive

    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.

    August 13, 2015

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    The Mysterious Bee Escape

    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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    August 04, 2015

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    Checking Hives with the Rauchboy Smoker

    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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    May 14, 2015

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    Bee Day

    If you’ve never seen the Live Animal arrivals terminal at an airport, let me tell you—it’s a fascinating place. The live animal area at Portland International Airport has seen everything from purebred puppies to steel-caged cheetahs, and yet our packages unnerved them:

    “You’re kidding right? You’re telling me 800,000 bees are coming off that plane?”

    No kidding! Last weekend Bee Thinking co-founder Matt Reed and I traveled out to PDX to pick up nearly 80 3lb packages of Russian-Carniolian bees from our preferred supplier, Honeybee Genetics in Vacaville, California. We like Russian-Carniolans for their hygienic behavior, and we work with Honeybee Genetics because they share our commitment to treatment-free beekeeping. If you're new to beekeeping, these 3lb packages are one of the standard ways new beekeepers purchase bees to start a colony. The boxes typically include about 10,000 workers and one queen in a special queen cage. For more information on packages and installing bees, check out our Youtube page!

    apparently it takes a while for bees to deplane…

    Read more...

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    July 02, 2014

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    Did Pesticides or Starvation Kill Those Bees?

    Dead bees on a bottom board

    Almost two weeks ago on the sunny morning of June 19th I visited Dena Rash Guzman's beautiful 60 acre organic farm where she keeps, among other things, her honey bees that make up Lusted Road Honey Company. I was there to aid in the inspection of her colonies housed in a variety of hive designs -- Langstroth, Warre and horizontal top bar hives. She told me she was particularly concerned about the Warre hive, as in the past day or so she's seen a tremendous number of dead bees suddenly appear on the bottom board. 

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    February 02, 2014

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    Top Bar Hive Plans

    Top bar hive plansThey are finally finished! It took a few months longer than expected, but the plans to make our top bar hive are ready for purchase and immediate download from this page: http://www.beethinking.com/products/top-bar-hive-plans

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    June 21, 2013

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    Top Bar Hive Nucleus Box

    Earlier this month we finally completed our first run of top bar hive nucleus boxes. They are a wonderful addition to the apiary of any top bar beekeeper! Perfect for swarm catching, splitting colonies, and overwintering small nucs. Conveniently sized, we carry them in the back of our cars and trucks at all times so that we're always ready for the next swarm call!

    They are constructed from the same beautiful kiln dried Western Red Cedar used on the rest of our top bar hivesWarre hives, and Cedar Langstroth hives. They feature 7 top bars and 1 divider, and a roof covered in sheet metal to keep out the elements. Pre-drilled and easy to assembly in a few minutes. $99 with free shipping to the lower 48 states.

    Top Bar Hive Nucleus Box Lid On
    Top Bar Hive Nucleus Box
    Top Bar Hive Nucleus Box Lid Open
    Top Bar Hive Nucleus Box Open