Thursday, February 23, 2017

Honey Bees

We now venture into uncharted territory. Facilities Manager decided it's time to bee. I didn't realize one just went out to the store to "get some bees" but, this being Portland, one can go "get some bees" if that is what one wishes. FM wished and so on a heavy rain Friday, we went. Join us. Let's go visit the amazing enterprise Bee Thinking in SE Portland that is all things bees, mead, and honey.

Facilities Manager had done a little online research regarding buying a hive and setting it up. He found this wonderful store and since we were in the neighborhood shopping for plants (of course) we stopped in without expectation. We had not yet 100-percent decided when to bee, but we were close.

The window displays looked promising. A couple of hive styles, a swanky outfit and books. Looks good to us. Books, bees, white suits; How could you go wrong?

For being located in the heart of SE Portland, this store is quite large. We were impressed. The front of the store is bee-related product and mead, the back half is where the serious bee-keeping adventure occurs. You can witness FM in the red jacket back there considering hive types. Hmmm.

Honey, mead, beeswax and other bee-related items wait to be explored. The bar for draft mead is also pictured here, to the right. More on this in a moment. First, though, let's talk bees.

 That's a good question. Why should we keep bees? For us, there are several reasons. One is honey. I love honey. FM is my honey. (heehee) Another is to help pollination. We are planning a rather large vegetable garden and small orchard, after all. We love nature and plan to do right by our (future) bees. Bees are, as most of you know, in a state of decline. For example, the rusty patch bumble bee was declared an endangered species just last month. We still raise mason bees, which are native, wonderful pollinators. We are also providing habitat for native bumble bees and other pollinators. But the honey bee is in a state of decline, so hopefully by raising bees in the healthiest manner possible, we can positively impact the bees' life cycle. I think since FM is embracing the idea of keeping honey bees this is more than anything his project. I just enjoy the benefits and be around these amazing little creatures. And, in the future, some yummy honey.

Full confession: Neither of us know anything about keeping bees. But you have to jump in at some point. OK, we took a class a few years ago and have maintained a genuine interest in them, but our hands-on experience is zero. We received the basic tutorial at this wonderful store, more to come as there are classes in our future. Pictured above are the three basic types of hives: the top bar (center), the Warre (right) and the Langstroth (left). Which one to choose?

FM had done some research and decided the Langstroth is the one for us. In case you were having trouble deciding, this handy flow chart breaks it down. FM here: As beginners I think it best to go the standard route with the Langstroth. Millions and millions of bees can't be wrong. And, I want the look of a classic hive out on the property. I promise not to paint it green.

Each hive comes with a few basics. You can choose the kind of wood you want, cedar or pine. Cedar is the longer-lived of the two. You can also choose the roof type - wood, aluminum or copper and the bottom type, either wooden or screened. They are all hand-made in Portland and available to ship around the world.

This top bar hive is ideal if you cannot lift more than 40 pounds. They are the oldest style of the three and have a few advantages. They require no heavy lifting, combs are easy to remove, the honey harvest is easier and there's a very large observation window in front. The disadvantages are that since they are less common, components might be more difficult to find. They require more frequent monitoring and the combs are more fragile. For more information, here's a link to their page all about top bar hives.

The Warre hive has advantages and disadvantages. The advantages are that it's best for the hands-off approach, the boxes are lighter than other styles, it has no foundation and you can harvest entire boxes at once. Disadvantages are that the combs are more difficult to remove and since boxes are added on the bottom, that can be a challenge when it comes time to add more. It's also not that common, so components might be challenging to find. For more information, here's a link to their page with a short video.

Here is an example of a Warre hive. One interesting option is windows so you can spy on your new flying buddies.  

This is the one we went for. These are stacking rectangular boxes, basically. They are also the most popular and therefore readily available components. You can mix and match with other suppliers' components as there are industry standards for this type of hive. The combs are much more stable because they are built on rectangular frames rather than just a top bar. Disadvantages are that the boxes can become quite heavy if you go for the large ones. The wood is thinner to match industry standards and is therefore less insulating in winter. Ours will be made of cedar, no window for us but that is an option if you wish to inspect your bees without disturbing the colony. Here's a link to more information about the Langstroth hive.

The Lanstroth is the one on the left.

All manner of hive accessories. Today I don't know what all of these are used for, but I'm sure in a couple of months we'll be back to shop this section.

There are beekeeping starter kits available. The smoker is of course a tool to puff smoke at the bees to calm them down when you need to handle them. 

Ooooh, fancy bee suits!

Isn't he lovely? It's a fit. He now proudly wears this around the house. The Bengals tend to run and hide! Oh, no, Daddy has the smoker out again!

ANYWAY, so we purchased the hive, the kit and the pretty outfit. The bees? Not yet. The hive is being built and will be ready for us in a few weeks. There is a bit of a backlog as we're apparently not the only ones interested in bee-keeping, I am happy to report. When we have the hive and the classes under our belt we will order a bee-population with a queen and introduce them to their new home...which of course we will document. First things first. about some benefits of bee-keeping: Sugar and alcohol!

Mead is a honey based wine or drink. This place is also a "mead market" and it delivered.

A very extensive collection of mead.

AND they have it on tap! You can drink here at the bar or get a growler to go. 

We were treated to a flight of mead - they were all surprisingly different and some not sweet at all, rather dry. It's a whole new alcohol to explore! I for one am excited about the possibilities.

FM wonders how they squeeze the alcohol from the tiny sacks on the legs of the honeybees.

Would you like rosemary, cinnamon or original dry? 

Now for the sugar. Honey and its products.

More local honey.

Or bulk honey. I went this route. The biggest jar available.YUM!

Glasses, beeswax, candies, it has everything.

There's a blacksmith nearby that makes these wonderful tools as well as items for keeping the hives in top shape.

Bee-friendly products, too. Seeds, hummingbird feeder (but NEVER give honey to hummingbirds), candles, garden ornaments and more. They also carry mason bee supplies, so if you're not ready for honey bees or don't have the room, gentle native mason bees are wonderful pollinators to add to any sized garden.

Books and resources. That movie Queen of the Sun is very interesting. If you are interested in just learning about the struggle bees and beekeepers have faced with colony collapse disorder, this is an informative and interesting film. 

Ooooh, I love this idea! What a wonderful gift for a child. Or me.

The wonderfully warm scent of beeswax cannot be beat.

Information in the window! Oh, yes, if you see a swarm, someone will be happy to take it off of your hands. They are very gentle when swarming so no need to be scared and call an exterminator. Believe me, we need the bees, we cannot afford to kill them. If you are scared, call 1-844-856-BEES or go to for help, they will take care of everything and relocate the swarm for you. It's a national hotline, too.

Yes, Oregon loves bees. We all love bees! If you like food, you should love love triple love bees for they are the chief pollinators of the world's food sources.

I love this chalk drawing at their store. They are all valuable pollinators.


So at this point we await our hive. Then we bring in the bees and go from there. FM dedicates this adventure to his father, Ray, who loved honeybees and would let them crawl along his hands and fingers when he was out in his garden. Ray's touch was soft and organic and loving. We'll do our best to honor his love of nature and gentleness with our future bee family.

That's it for this week at Chickadee Gardens. As always thank you for reading and until next time, happy gardening and bee-keeping!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

A Winter Visit to Portland Nursery

Visiting garden centers mid-winter is vital to keeping me sane. I recently made the trek to one of my favorites, Portland Nursery where I have spent many hours of my life gleefully shopping. I used to live a few blocks away from one of their locations, and, boy, was I spoiled. Now, an hour's drive away, I savor every moment. Not expecting a lot in terms of selection this time of year, I was pleasantly surprised. Let's look around.

 Hamamelis were nearly all in full bloom. Here, Hamamelis intermedia 'Orange Beauty' mingles with Hamamelis intermedia 'Arnold Promise.' More witch hazels in a moment.

As garden centers go, Portland Nursery serves a huge population of gardeners in the Portland area, especially with two rather large locations. They have just about everything garden-related from edibles, fertilizers, tools, mason bees, bird supplies, gifts, house plants, seasonal items, pottery, books, advice, bonsai, statuary, fountains, compost, seeds, plants, classes and more. Oh, and a coffee cart. This is Portland, after all.

While the bulk of the plant material will arrive in a few weeks, their evergreen shrub selection was quite colorful.

 What colors! One could arguably garden with only shrubs and still have a fantastic variety and texture.

This day I visited had rare sunbreaks amid scattered showers. I'll take whatever sun I can get. This was paradise believe it or not after the weather we've experienced lately.

Many Asian-themed elements can be found throughout the Pacific Northwest, and garden centers are no exception. Japanese-style gardens fit right into our climate.

Cheerful heathers blooming a crisp white caught my eye.

Portland Nursery has a large selection of dwarf conifers and bonsai plants and accessories. Perfect for the smaller city garden.

Here is Pinus contorta 'Chief Joseph', a rare dwarf evergreen conifer from Oregon. And expensive. The needles take on this golden color in winter, turning to a deep green for the remainder of the year.

Fatsia japonica (possibly 'Spider's Web') and Hellebores make a lovely container planting for shade.

Another conifer that caught my attention was Sequoia sempervirens 'Albospica', an 8 - 10' tall by 4 - 6' wide shrub with lovely creamy new growth contrasting with blue-green older growth.

Even in the heart of winter there is still a section for native shrubs. 

As I mentioned, Portland Nursery supplies information and classes. It's great to see this, free information and booklets helping to illustrate great plant choices for our area.

Also brochures about a wide range of topics. As the sign says, "These and many other handouts are available though our website:"

Many seed-starting and propagating supplies.

Gifts for the playful gardener. Or just about anyone, actually.

Fun containers and updated gnomes.

Even though I do not have children, I love seeing this. Encouraging young gardeners to explore and learn about the natural world is wonderful. They are our future, after all.

I was meeting my friend Amy Campion of The World's Best Gardening Blog this day, hey...there she is! Hi Amy!

For a bit of information about this genus, here's a great link to an article by Pacific Horticulture. They are wonderful deciduous shrubs/small trees with winter interest and often fragrance, coupled with amazing fall color for many of the cultivars. I wanted to take them all home as they bring such cheer this time of year. But at an average price of $100 (very large plants), it was out of my budget. I can admire them for free. Pictured here is 'Jelena', one of my favorites.

Hamamelis x intermedia 'Arnold Promise'

A detail of Arnold Promise.

Hamamelis x intermedia 'Orange Beauty'

One of my favorites and difficult to find, Hamamelis x intermedia 'Aphrodite', but at $124.99, sadly I had to pass. 

The majority of plants were in a semi-protected indoor area. Here a Valentine display shows off festive colors.

It's also camellia time around here.

Lovely red hellebore, perfect for a Valentine.

A bit of drama never hurts!

Primroses, daffodils, bergenia and candy tuft all mean one thing: Spring!

A zingy color combination. Not so much my taste but I appreciate the color variations.

Fun moss mushrooms. What would you do with them?

This display has such soothing colors, I like the contrast in textures, too.

This is the kind of display that gets me excited. Tray after tray of selection - pick your favorite.

I've seen these types of plantings around lately, I think they are a new trend, kokedama. There's a local garden center in Portland called Pistils that has a tutorial how to make these. You can read it here.

Portland Nursery always has a choice selection of bulbs and tubers. The begonia selection is vast. There were more than what is pictured here.

The reason I came to Portland Nursery in the first place. Asparagus crowns. They had a few to choose from as well as onion sets, potatoes, seeds, blueberries, raspberries and so many other edibles. 

This bonsai is labeled as "Pre-bonsai Larix Kaempferi"

Here's a detail. It reminds me of Hamamelis petals. Priced at $299.99, I had to wonder why so much? I know nothing about bonsai, perhaps this is a very hard-to-grow tree. Feel free to chime in if you have information.

This was a curiosity. This is a manzanita branch (Arctostaphylos sp.) - just a branch in a stump as a decorative element. Labeled as a "cut floral arrangement" it was priced at $49.99. I will never compost my manzanita branches again...I will make them into valuable items for sale! I kid, but really, it is cool. Just a little spendy in my mind.

Trees! Shrubs! Take us home!

Year in and year out I count on Portland Nursery to be there, to have what I am looking for (mostly) and to entice me with colorful items I must have but just didn't know it. It's therapy. Portland Nursery has a super-friendly staff and is open year-round.

Having worked the last couple of years in the industry I can honestly say that most people in it are in it for the love of plants and the plant community and not to get rich. In other words, we rely on the community to keep us going. Portland Nursery has been a stalwart of the garden community in Portland, and for that I thank them. So yay for your local garden center and for supporting them. We couldn't do it without you!

That's it for this week at Chickadee Gardens. As always, thank you for reading and happy gardening!