The Bespoke Guide to

SPRING BEEKEEPING

make the most of your season with these tips

Courtesy Emily Parker


Start in the Garden

Support Native Pollinators and Honeybees

The first step in helping honeybees and native pollinators is by planting a garden that will offer the pollen and nectar that help them thrive! Ideally, you'll want to provide plants that flower at different times throughout the spring to keep the nectar flowing steadily.  

You don't have to have a massive yard for your pollinator garden to be beneficial; even small areas planted with the right flowers will become a buzzing ecosystem of pollinators. Your backyard, community garden, window flower box, or that little bare patch in your neighborhood are all great places for a pollinator garden.

Here are some things to consider when planning your pollinator garden, from our friends at Oregon State Beekeepers Association:

Use Local Native Plants

Native plants are four times more attractive to native bees than exotic flowers; heirloom varieties of herbs and perennials can also provide good foraging.

Choose Several Colors of Flowers

Colors that are great for bees include blue, purple, violet, white, and yellow.

Plant Flowers in Clumps

If you plant the same species in groups next to each other they will attract more pollinators instead of spreading them out. If you have enough space, clumps of four feet or more are best.

Include Flowers of Different Shapes

Different types of bees are different sizes and feed on different shaped flowers; the more diverse your flowers, the more likely to meet the needs of many different bees.

Have a Diversity of Plants Flowering all Season

Bees fly at different times in the season; support them with multiple plants that flower throughought the season.

 


Improve Your Skills

first-time beekeeper or experienced veteran? Now's the time to learn more.

Take a Beekeeping Class

Whether you are a just getting started and need some tips or you are a veteran looking to brush-up on your skills, taking a class is a great way to boost your beekeeping season. If you are local to Portland, our friends and educational partners Bee & Bloom are the best around. Take a look at their class schedule.

If you aren't from Portland, search your area for a local beekeepers association -- if they don't have formal classes, often other beekeepers will be willing to give you some pointers or work with you as a bee mentor.

Read One of These Beekeeping Books

We recommend starting with "The Practical Beekeeper," by Michael Bush. There are three volumes that are essential reading for those who want a more natural style of keeping bees. Bush promotes a practical system that does not require treatment for pests and diseases, and only minimal interventions.

Another absolute must-read for all levels of beekeepers is "The Beekeeper's Bible," by Rhys Jones and Sharon Sweeney-Lynch. This book covers all things essential to beekeeping and incorporates a handbook, a cookbook, and beekeeping history.

To complete the trifecta of beekeeping books, we recommend new beekeepers read "The Backyard Beekeeper," by Kim Flottum. This is truly a beginner's guide with practical, hands-on tips to getting starting and having a successful beekeeping season. This books makes starting beekeeping fun and approachable.

Check out These Wesbites

Bee Source is an online community for beekeepers of all levels with over 28,000 active members. It's the perfect place to learn tips and tricks, ask questions, see different apiary projects, and read articles. If you have a very specific beekeeping question and don't know where else to go, likely this is the place to find the answer.

Similar to beesource, Reddit has its own dedicated beekeeping forum and is the perfect place for a beekeeper to get lost in an abundance of beekeeping information. Go here for beekeeping quetsions or advice, or jsut to peruse through other users' pictures and comments.

For amazing beekeeping and pollinator information, check out Bee and Bloom. They have established themselves in Portland as the go-to experts and are constantly producing meaningful content on their blog to share insights with beekeepers all over the country.


Upgrade Your Hive

Set yourself up for success this beekeeping season

Looking to expand your apiary or start from the beginning? We've got you covered. The first step is choosing the right hive type:

Traditional Langstroth Hive

Langstroth hives are composed of stackable rectangular boxes filled with removable frames that bees build their wax comb in. It is the most common hive style in North America, and due to high honey yields and ease of transport, it is the hive of choice for the commercial industry.  Check out our Langstroth.

The Horizontal Langstroth Hive

This unique hive design combines the ease of access and minimal disruption of the top bar hives with the comb stability of a full Langstroth frame. The Horizontal Langstroth hive consists of an 18-frame box that is just long enough to contain the brood nest and all the honey stores they need to survive the winter. Once they fill the hive cavity, a honey super can be added during the nectar flow for a later harvest.  Check out our Horizontal Langstroth.

The Top Bar Hive

Inspired by natural fallen tree-hives, top bar hives are composed of a long cavity with bars laid across the top for bees to build their comb from. This horizontal hive expands and contracts with the use of a moving wall, rather than stacking boxes vertically. This hive is a favorite of backyard beekeepers with a bent toward natural beekeeping management.  Check out our Top Bar Hive.

Still unsure? Check out our comparison:


Consider the Wood

Choosing the right wood species can be as important as the hive style itself and is worth some consideration. At Bespoke we use only premium, locally-sourced wood species and make our hives in three variations:

Locally-Sourced, FSC-Certified Sugar Pine

Sugar Pine is a great economy choice; it looks great at an affordable price. It doesn't quite have the weather-resistant qualities of Western Red Cedar and Redwood, so it will need a bit more maintainence to keep it looking great. We recommend using our 100% natural tung oil, or an environmentally friendly paint to keep it protected. It is lighter in color, with white and yellow hues.

Locally Sourced, FSC-Certified or Salvaged Western Red Cedar

Western Red Cedar is a great choice for the outdoors because it has superior weather and rot resistance. It weighs less than Sugar Pine and has a much more aesthetic grain pattern and a darker brownish red hue. Becasue it lasts so long outside, many garden structures, decks, pergolas, etc. are made from cedar. Becasue of our strict environmental standards, it's more difficut to get and therefore a bit pricier. We still recommend coating it, but use a clear coat, like our 100% natural tung oil so you don't cover up the beautiful grain.

Locally-Sourced, 100% Salvaged Redwood

Redwood is the ultra premium option on this list. It has a truly one-of-a-kind grain pattern and color with bright red and pink hues swirled with white and grey. It is slightly more durable and weather resistant than Cedar and our source of Redwood is 100% salvaged, so all of our hives come from trees that have fallen down due to weather or old age. Like the others, it's still best to clear coat this hive using our 100% natural tung oil.


Get Local Bees

Populate your hive with packages, nucs, or swarms

There are multiple ways to populate your hive with bees, but the most important thing is to try and use local bees. Local bees are better acclimated to your region and therefore much more likely to survive as a colony beyond the first year. We've broken down a few different ways for you to get local bees:

Buy a Bee Package or Nuc Box

Buying a bee package or nuc box is one of the best way that you can ensure success in populating your hive with a colony. Bee packages are typically three pound boxes with thousands of bees and a queen that are in a box ready to be essentially dumped into a hive. For more on populating a hive with a bee package, check this out. You can also buy a nuc box, which allows you to transplant built-out comb on frames into your hive. A colony transplanted from a nuc box has a head-start on building comb and, therefore, have a slightly better chance for success.

Looking for locally-raised bee packages with Oregon-mated queens in Portland?

Attract a Colony with a Bait Hive

Another option for getting bees is to use a bait hive and try to catch a colony that is looking for a new home. When honeybees outgrow their space, they will raise a new queen and old queen will leave with a portion of the colony in search of a new home. This is your opportunity to create a home that is enticing enough for them to move in!

To best persuade a colony into your bait hive, use a small box -- just enough for 4-5 frames -- then drip one or two drops of lemongrass oil right by the entrance and place some old brood comb inside the box. Lemongrass oil smells like their pheromones and the brood comb smells like home; this combination will make your bait hive seem like a cozy, furnished home for them to move into.

Take your box and hang it at least 6' off the ground, but typically the higher the better -- just be safe if you are using a ladder! Many beekeepers will attach it to the side of a tree or on top of a post, but you can also use the side of a building like a shed, a fence, or any other structure you may have to get your bait hive off the ground.

Just remember that this is not a guaranteed way to get bees; it's possible that you may not get a colony into your bait hive - it just depends on where you live, if there are other bee colonies around, and sometimes it's jsut random. What many beekepers do is pre-order a bee package and then try to catch a swarm while waiting for their bee package to be ready. Then if you catch one, many bee package providers will be willing to let you cancel your order.

If you need a new bait hive, we've made one with functionality in mind:

Go Swarm Hunting

If you don't have any luck with attracting a colony into your bait hive, don't worry -- you can still catch a feral swarm! While the swarm is out looking for a home, often they will collect in a ball around the queen on a tree branch or eave of a house. The discerning beekeeper can catch this swarm and take it home to populate their hive!

The best way to increase your odds in finding a feral swarm is to get on your local swarm hotline; many communities have a ist you can put your name on to get a call if someoen spots a swarm. Check in with your local beekeepers association first -- they are usually the facilitators of this list.

If you get the call and are ready to go capture the swarm, you need to bring a small box -- you can use a Bespoke Swarm Box or even jsut a cardboard box -- and you want to deposit the swarm ball into your box. You can do this by shaking the tree branch with the box underneath or by gently grabbing the swarm and lowering it into your box. The goal is to get the queen into the box; if you aer successful then the other bees will continue to go into the box, if you aren't succeessful, the bees will immediately leave the box to find their queen.

Once you think you have the queen in the box, then close it most of the way, with just a small gap left open. Let the box sit for multiple hours and if possible wait until after dark to come back and get it. This gives the other bees time to go into the box, so you can get as much of the swarm as possible.  

Now, just like populated your hive with a bee package, dump the bees from your swarm box into your hive!


Keep Mason Bees

NOT QUITE READY FOR HONEYBEES? MASON BEES ARE A GREAT, GARDEN-FRIENDLY ALTERNATIVE.

Courtesy Emily Parker

Solitary nesting bees are the blue-collar workers of the family Megachilidae. They do their jobs relatively quietly with little fuss, all while receiving a sliver of the fanfare that their sisters, the Western honey bees, receive.

What mason bee keepers know, and what others, might not, is that these little pollinating troopers are fun and easy to keep, are a fraction of the cost of keeping honeybees, and end up pollinating nearby gardens much, much better than honeybees.

Keeping mason bees comes down to four basic steps:

  • Provide a home
  • Plant or attract your bees
  • Harvest or protect your cocoons for winter
  • Get ready for next year

You can be as hands-on or off as you prefer; unlike honeybees, mason bees aren't affected by varroa mites (so there's no need to play bee doctor), don't produce honey (no honey harvest, fewer pests), and don't sting.

Unlike honeybee colonies, which require active management and monitoring to ensure success, solitary tunnel nesting bees are almost entirely hands-off. Provide them with a covered home (we like our Bespoke Bee Supply Mason Bee Apartment, but you can also build your own), some tubes in which to live, and you're pretty much set until it's time to prepare for your next generation of bees!


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