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

 

 

 

August 11, 2016

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Why Do Honey Varietals Have Unique Tastes?

The content for this article was provided by Hillary Bergh of foodheals.net. Hillary Bergh is a 5th generation chef with a passion for kitchen play. Growing up in the kitchens of her family’s multiple restaurants gave her a solid foundation that was then developed further while working as a manager at Bouchon Bakery, chef and wine club manager at Swanson Vineyards, and executive chef at Google with Bon Appetit Management Company. She holds two culinary certifications along with a nutrition certification and is currently earning a bachelor of science in healthcare management.

Honey tastes like honey. Or does it?

Similar to wine or high-quality chocolate, honey is affected by terrior. Bees forage from the plants within a three to five mile radius of their hive and those plants draw character from the soil and climate, which is ultimately translated into their nectar. For example, apple blossom honey from Washington will taste slightly different than apple blossom honey from Vermont. At the same time, both honeys will have very similar and identifiable taste points of apple, quince, and mild rose.


Other contributing factors are the length of blooming period and the seasonal evolution of certain plants. For example, clover has a long blooming timeframe, so clover honey can be harvested at multiple times. However, because of seasonal evolution, clover honey harvested in the spring will have a bright and fresh quality, while it will have a more robust depth when harvested later in the summer. And yet, regardless of the season, clover honey will always have notes of grass, fresh wax, and butterscotch.

Apple blossom and clover are both examples of single varietal honeys. Beehives placed in an area with multiple plants that bloom in rotation of seasonal timeframes can be harvested individually at the declining point of nectar flow. For example--because they bloom at different times--dandelion, apple, rose, and blackberry can be grown in the same field and then harvested at strategic points in the season to isolate their unique honey profiles. Beehives placed in a monoculture field can also be identified as single varietal, but areas with rotational crops are preferred by most pollinators.

If you've ever hosted a wine or chocolate tasting party at home, now is the time to do a honey party! A flavor wheel is a great way to help participants identify different flavor notes. We offer a wide variety of different honeys as well as a four-flight set on our website, or you can visit your local farmers market to select three to five varietals. Try to choose honeys with different colors, as those will offer the most variation in taste. To round out the tasting, offer an assortment of cheeses, roasted and salted nuts, and strawberries or apple slices.

Current favorites in our retail store include the Bee Raw Oregon Meadowfoam honey with notes of creme brûlée, walnut toffee, and vanilla marshmallow or the Old Blue Clary Sage showcasing flavors of floral blackberry, cassis, and fresh wax.

Do you have a favorite varietal honey? Tell us about it in the comments!

But wait, before you go! You may still be wondering about crystallized honey. Variation in the ratio of sucrose/glucose/fructose along with temperature will cause some varietal honeys to crystallize faster than others. While some people prefer their honey to be viscous, others enjoy the crystallization to allow for spreading on toast.

If you need to de-crystallize your honey, simply place the closed jar in a pan of hot water and stir every 15 minutes or so until it reaches your desired consistency. Another option is to store your jars of honey atop your fridge, as the residual warmth will keep it from crystallizing. Boiling and microwaving honey can destroy the health benefits and is not suggested.

Happy honeying!

August 05, 2016

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The Origins of Medicinal Honey Use

This is the first blog post in a series discussing the medical benefits of honey. Over the coming weeks, we will be addressing the history of medicinal honey and the folklore surrounding it. We will also discuss the scientific evidence associated with medicinal honey and its practical uses. Lastly, we will theorize on the future role of honey in modern medicine.  

The medical use of honey has been debated for thousands of years. The antiseptic and antimicrobial properties of honey have been explored and documented in numerous cultures throughout history.

The first recorded reference to medicinal honey dates back to the Sumerians at around 2000 BC. Archaeologists discovered a clay tablet in the Euphrates Valley containing the recipe for a wound treatment that included honey as an ingredient. From this point in history, applying honey to wounds as a topical healing salve or balm became the most commonly documented medicinal use of honey in cultures throughout the world.


Honey could have a longer history yet. Bees were frequently depicted in Ancient Egyptian papyruses and in the hieroglyphs found on tomb walls, including the famous tomb of Tutankhamun. The “Smith Papyrus” from 1770 BC and the “Ebers Papyrus” from 1550 BC are two exceptional examples of early prescriptive honey use. These ancient documents contain nearly 150 prescriptions, recipes, and case studies using honey, everything from wound and sore healing to indigestion and conjunctivitis treatment.

The Ancient Greeks were firm believers in the benefits of consuming honey. Ambrosia, the fabled food of the gods, was rich with honey. Early philosophers like Homer, Aristotle, and Hippocrates (considered the father of modern medicine) all believed in the healing abilities of honey, and constantly used it in the form of salves, pills, jams, or other electuaries.

China has its own rich history of medicinal honey use. Traditional Chinese Medicine views honey as important due to its balanced character, containing neither “yin” nor “yang,” known as Feng Mi. The Compendium of Materia Medica, one of the most important books in traditional Chinese medicine, was written during the Xin Dynasty and recommends honey be taken daily to maintain internal and external vitality.

Honey, nectar, and bees are also deeply rooted in India’s history. Ancient Indian texts, such as the Rigveda and Upanishads, go into great detail about the mutual relationship between bees and humans, but none go into as much depth as the texts of Ayurvedic Medicine. Ayurvedic scriptures refer to honey as madhu, which means “the perfection of sweet.” Ayurvedic medicine liberally prescribes honey for use in treating countless ailments, including eye diseases, vomiting, cough, thirst, asthma, phlegm, hiccups, worm infestation, blood in vomit, leprosy, diabetes, diarrhea, obesity, healing wounds, and more.

The Qur’an, the central religious text of Islam, has a section dedicated to honey bees. This section is called Sūrat an-Naḥl and it speaks directly to the bees, instructing them to scour the earth for nectar and to take up residence in the mountains, trees, and other manmade structures (early hives), for “...from inside them comes a drink of varying colours, containing healing for mankind.” This reference to honey implies not only an early recognition of the symbiotic relationship between man and bee, but also clearly identifies honey as a healing tool for man, setting the stage for its inclusion in modern medical practices.

Next week we’ll be going deeper into the folklore surrounding medicinal honey, specifically Chinese and Ayurvedic Medicine.

July 29, 2016

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Overwintering Series: Planting for Pollinators

There’s a reason for the term busy bee! Bees forage for pollen and nectar all spring and summer in order to produce brood and store enough honey to survive the winter, often literally working themselves to death. The good news? You can avoid this while also adding color and beauty to your late summer garden!

Providing late-blooming flowers can immensely help honeybees with food scarcity they may encounter in late fall. Although you always have the option to feed your bees if they don’t produce enough honey, fresh nectar is a far healthier choice than sugar water, which is tough for bees to digest. (We'll be going over when and if to feed in a later installment.) For now, just remember that it's always better to plant than to feed when possible.

Here are some planting for pollinator tips:

1. Variety is key


By growing a variety of plants that bloom from early spring until late fall, you will provide a consistent nectar flow for your bees to produce as much honey as possible before going into winter. Try to grow a variety of flower sizes to appeal to all different pollinators in your area. Even if it's too late to plant flowers in your area, you can still plant a variety of cover crops. Cover crops protect your soil and are great for foraging pollinators. In the Northwest, these include legumes such as vetch, clover and field peas. Mustard plants and buckwheat are also great options!

2. Let the weeds grow free


Late season planting for pollinators can be easier than you think. Letting “weeds” like clovers or dandelions grow provides a great food sources for bees. In the Pacific Northwest, milkweed and yarrow weeds are plentiful and we have no intention of yanking them! Also, letting spring greens and herbs go to seed is an great and easy option. Finally, you could plant a second round of classic flowers like sunflowers.

 

3. Invest in a living roof


Not only does our Langstroth Living Roof add a beautiful, lush finish to your hive, but it can be a great resource for pollinators! Place it atop your hive and plant sedum or any other type of plant. We choose sedum because it’s a hardy, succulent plant that’s particularly good for bees because it blooms in the fall. Not looking to give your hive a face lift? You don't have to put the living roof on a hive. It could go anywhere in your garden for increased pollination power.  Bees from your hive may not forage right on top of their home, but other pollinators will. Attracting these other pollinators will help the plants your bees do forage on to flourish. Isn't the circle of pollination beautiful?

4. Take advantage of resources!


There are a ton of resources for figuring out exactly what to harvest and when. The Xerces Society has a great website with lists of what, and when, to plant for early and late seasons in different regions of the country. These lists are also in Xerces’ Attracting Native Pollinators book.

Happy planting!

Be sure to stay tuned for next week’s story on honey harvest dos and don'ts and remember to subscribe to our Vimeo or Youtube channels to watch the entire 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!

    July 22, 2016

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    Let the Overwintering Series Begin!

    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:

    • Late season planting for pollinators
    • The dos and don'ts of honey harvesting
    • When and if to feed your bees
    • Weatherproofing and insulating your hive

    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!

    July 21, 2016

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    Hive Highlight: Hillary

    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.

    July 14, 2016

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    Designing the Perfect Birdhouse

    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!
    July 14, 2016

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    July 07, 2016

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