Busy Bee

What, it’s already September? Yes… and gorgeous here in Seattle as summer wanes, with a hint of fall in the crisp morning air. We’ve been busy with a new baybee and the day job, plus bicycle-delivering to our CSA subscribers, prepping hives for fall and winter, and extracting honey.

Our way of extracting dates from the 1860s… with movable frames (via Langstroth, 1851), and a centrifugal extractor (Francesco De Hruschka, 1865). We uncap the frames (see pix), then put them in a big steel extractor which flings the honey out. Then we bottle it—that’s it. Wow, techniques that are 150 years old!

That’s all well and good, but there are older and simpler ways… check out this Kattunayakan boy from Southern India, with his giant honeycomb… it will be crushed and strained of honey. (We came to this link via the excellent Ethnobeeology page.)

So when will our honey be available? Soon, very soon. We are bottling now and will have news on CSA enrollment, the new salve, and more. Stay tuned, and enjoy the sunshine!


City of Roses, City of Bees

A couple readers have inquired about beekeeping resources in Portland, Oregon. And despite Seattle Magazine’s Portlandia vs. Seattle throwdown (it even featured our own—and very real—bicycle honey delivery vs. Portlandia’s fictional bicycle moving company), we figured there have to be some urban bee happenings in PDX.

Turns out there are resources–lots of them!

  • First, starting at the state level, try the Oregon State Beekeepers Association. Their website features info on regional branches, month-by-month reminders for beekeepers, resources for those looking for pollination, swarm collection, and more.
  • On the city level, beekeepers can connect with the Portland Metro Beekeepers Association. Monthly meetings happen in Oregon City, about 15 miles south of downtown. PMBA also has a Facebook group you can join.
  • The Xerces Society (named for an extinct butterfly) is a forty-year old non-profit organization dedicated to the conservation of invertebrates. Among many outstanding programs, they recently launched the “Bring Back the Pollinators” campaign–which promotes not only honeybees but all kinds of pollinators and pollinator-friendly plants. Having attended workshops and read books by the Xerces Society, we can’t say enough about the high quality of their work and their national impact. If you live in Portland, it bee-hooves you to find something Xerces is doing locally and take advantage of it.
  • Livingscape is an interesting-looking garden/kitchen/outdoor store on the edge of North Portland by Emmanuel Hospital. They sell bee clothing, hive components and tools, and offer classes and gardener resources.
  • Bee Thinking is a top-bar specialist store and company, the brainchild of Matthew and Jill Reed. If you keep bees for more than a season or two, even if you start with the traditional Langstroth hive, you will inevitably consider the affordable and versatile top-bar hive. Portland joins other beekeepers like Sam Comfort and his Anarchy Apiaries in New York, or Ashland, Oregon’s own Kat Nesbit (Bliss Honeybees)—advocates of top-bar, natural beekeeping. More on that in a later post.
  • Ruhl Bee Supply is a complete bee supply store in Gladstone (you can stop there on your way to the PMBA meetings in Oregon City), just south of Portland. A full-service store, they offer classes and some good online resources including information about Urban Beekeeping and hive management.
  • While we’re talking about stores, Glory Bee Foods in Eugene should be mentioned. They have a superb online and retail store, with very helpful staff, speedy delivery, and good inventory.
  • Bee Local hosts hives and collects honey by neighborhood (a lot like Urban Bee Company here in Seattle). Run by Damian Magista, Bee Local has absolutely gorgeous packaging and website (including a beautiful video), and offers honey from four Portland neighborhoods, in addition to offering classes too.
  • Portland filmmaker Taggart Siegel produced and directed Queen of the Sun, which played the Seattle International Film Festival in 2010, preceding a theatrical release that fall. In Portland, Queen of the Sun’s release was the occasion of the Honey Bee Week, which featured a costume contest, tour of bee hives, and many other festivities. The movie was beautiful to watch, informative and inspiring, and the filmmaker offers an educational curriculum and additional resources online.
  • Another name that keeps popping up is Glen Andresen, beekeeping veteran of 30 years. He teaches workshops and lessons on beekeeping, particularly treatment-free, natural beekeeping. Isn’t it interesting (though not particularly surprising) how people keeping bees for a long time advocate the “less is more” approach? Glen sounds like something of a local treasure.
  • Portland, being Portland, is full of additional happenings and resources. Just this February, for instance, Shining Star Waldorf School hosted a “Festival of the Bees” with all kinds of demonstrations of bees and hive products, as well as opportunities to learn more about Waldorf (an educational practice founded by Rudolf Steiner, who wrote and lectured on bees in the 1920s).

Even though I live in Seattle, my wife is from Portland, and we visit family and friends in the area regularly. An uncle-in-law keeps bees in Oregon City, and a cousin-in-law is thinking about starting something up in Forest Grove. We look forward to checking out some of Portland’s finest beekeeping resources in person.

If you’re there now, count yourself lucky and make your own bee story!

We ♥ Mason Bees

Orchard mason bees, also known as blue orchard bees, are prodigious pollinators, native to the Pacific Northwest. Smaller than honey bees, mason bees are solitary bees that don’t generate honey. Having no large stores to defend, they rarely sting. They nest in cracks in wood and other small spaces, and create individual spaces for each bee larva, separated by mud (hence “mason”).

They are dark-colored (hence “blue”) and with a foraging radius of about 300 feet diameter from the nest, they work very well in contained gardens and orchards (hence “orchard”).

Mason bees are under extreme duress just like honey bees, also suffering from loss of habitat, pesticides, new diseases and pests and other stressors. People like Missy Anderson are working to build populations of mason bees in the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere.

Keeping mason bees can involve a bunch of work: they don’t require inspections like honey bees, and overall are less labor-intensive: but the cocoons do need to be checked for disease and cleaned, refrigerated overwinter (the bees won’t emerge if the temperature isn’t right, and this guarantees they won’t come out on a warm day in December), and situated properly in the spring.

You want some mason bees for your garden and don’t want to deal with the maintenance (and a bunch of extra stuff in your fridge all winter)? Missy makes it easy: rent the bees! You can rent them direct from her; all you have to do is pick them up, hang the nest of bees, and bring them back at the end of the season. We can also do it for you (costs more than going direct to Missy).

The bees are in the big tube (shown on top). In the spring, the box of nesting spaces (empty paper straws or a block of wood with empty spaces, both shown) is nailed to the house or hung on a tree (something that won’t shift) and the big tube is placed inside. The bees emerge, mate, and then the queens lay eggs in the nesting spaces (one queen per space), sealing each egg with mud and a little pollen. The eggs pupate and become cocoons, staying that way all winter until spring comes around again.