By J. Michael Kearsey
In anticipation of a Scandinavian-themed Christmas dinner last year, we stopped by the Mead Market to find the honey wine drink of old Europe.
We found so much more.
Tucked behind Castagna on Hawthorne Blvd. is an innovative company providing the tools of the trade for the important and growing group of people who take care of honeybees of the Northwest.
Bee Thinking is a shop that makes beehives, has bee-keeping supplies, sells honey, beeswax, candles, books and offers bee-keeping classes. From their busy store they ship worldwide.
We also found three tasty bottles of mead for our feed.
Bee Thinking’s owner, Matt Reed is a man determined to help bees and give beekeepers the best possible hive designs to bring back colonies all over the world.
Honeybees (Apis mellifera) are pollinators that keep plants of so many kinds reproducing year after year. Agriculture depends greatly on honeybees for pollination as they account for 80% of all insect pollination.
Without such pollination, a significant decrease in the yield of fruits and vegetables would be noticed. According to recent reports, honeybee deaths in the US have fallen but still remain very high.
“I had been working an IT job at a software company,” the affable Reed recalls,
“When I came home to see a honeybee barely moving on my window sill. I brought it some honey and nursed it back to life. When it flew off, I did not expect to see it again, but soon a bunch of bees returned for more honey. That changed my life.
“Eventually I was working my day job and spending the rest of my time creating a colony by my house, learning as much as I could about bees and their lifestyles. I learned right away that the one bee I saved headed out to do a special dance in front of its colony that led them back to me in search of nourishment.”
Matt was consumed by his new passion and, with his wife, Jill, launched a retail website for an E-Commerce business in Sellwood. He created and began marketing the first new hive design in years.
His foundationless design is wholly made from kiln-dried Western Red Cedar from the Pacific Northwest, rather than pine–cedar, being a wood that can survive our wet winters and last much longer than most other designs. He now employs a mill in North Portland to make his hives, six hundred at a time!
In medieval times and beyond, there were many hive designs. By 1900, however, only one design, the Langstroth hive, had survived for commercial and hobbyist use.
Matt and Jill Reed are now manufacturing and shipping a choice of designs from those older days along with their own. The bulk of the business is in the Northwest but they ship hives and related items to all fifty states, Europe and Australia.
Their moved their store to Poplar Ave, on the edge of Ladd’s Addition, in April of 2012, during the busy spring season when new colonies are being formed, beekeepers are working to keep hives healthy and bees are collecting their pollen.
That was followed by a quieter time that brought up the idea of bolstering a slower summer/fall with mead sales and tasting sessions for the public beyond beekeepers.
“Honeybees come from Europe and back in the 1700’s and prior to the use of cane sugar from the new world, honey was the only sweetener around,” added Reed noting a few tall racks of bottled brew. “And honey was the one of the three ingredients in the fermented alcoholic beverage, mead.”
Bee Thinking’s on-location venture, Mead Market, has brought a new awareness of the drink to Portland. Weekend tasting sessions have brought further bee awareness to folks who are just fascinated by the act of drinking the drink of King Arthur’s day.
Mead-making classes are taught by expert wine and mead makers, Phil and Nick Lorenz of Nectar Creek Honeywine. There is a kit provided to make your own version, as so much of the bouquet and flavor depends on the source of the honey and they types of flowers and plants they pollinate in their hive’s ecosphere.
Matt Reed also teaches “Beginning Beekeeping” classes Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6 pm. He’s out in the community removing hives and swarms of bees, found anywhere from a tree limb to your mailbox.
Stating their philosophy at www.beethinking.com, the Reeds emphasize avoiding use of chemicals in their work.
Despite the Portland Urban Beekeepers (PUB) estimate hive losses last year at a troubling 45%, Bee Thinking keeps things simple.
“We are focused on giving the bees a healthy environment, and promoting healthy genes. In our own apiaries, colonies that succumb to Varroa (mite) or other pests and diseases are not increased the next season. Those that survive, we split from and increase our stock. Bees have been thriving without human intervention for thousands of years.”
We should all raise a glass of mead to that!
Bee Thinking and the Mead Market, 1551 SE Poplar Ave.
877.325.2221. Hours are Mon-Sat: 10 am-6 pm and Sunday 12 pm-5 pm.