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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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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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.
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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 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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
**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**
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…View full article →