We’re Growing!

Hard at work in our wonderful new kitchen space!

Hard at work in our wonderful new kitchen space!

We are very excited to have moved into a new certified commercial kitchen space! We have been hard at work all winter converting this former Mexican restaurant kitchen into our amazing apicultural apothecary! We’ve got more elbow room while we bottle honey, make herbal tinctures and oils, and whip up salves, lip balm, and honey scrubs. Later this year, we hope to add a couple hives of bees to the roof of the building 🙂

Supplies and tools

Supplies and tools

We have also hired a new employee to help with our growth! Kate Malone, M.S., and Registered Dietician, brings a wealth of skills and knowledge to our company, and we are so happy to have her aboard!

Our products are available at a growing number of retail locations in the Portland area, and stay tuned to find out where we’ll be during this year’s bustling farmer’s market season.

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BeeNourish

Introducing Mickelberry Garden’s wellness blog…BeeNourish: Nutrition from the Hive

Honey: A Cough Soothing Option for Kids

Ever wonder if bees cough? Since they lack a throat and lungs, coughing is not an option for our honey-making friends. But is it ever for us non-insects! While coughing is necessary for clearing mucus and infection from our bodies, it can spread germs, cause fatigue, disturb sleep, and make socializing a lot less enjoyable. Luckily, the honeybees at Mickelberry Gardens are here to help.

For generations and across cultures, adults and children have used honey for cough relief. Honey soothes cough by coating the back of the throat and promoting mucus clearance. Since the nerves that make us cough and the nerves that help us taste sweet have a close relationship, honey may also suppress cough by working with our nervous system. Additionally, honey’s antioxidants may help fight infection.

In 2008, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued the following statement: “Over-the-counter cough and cold medicines do not work for children younger than 6 years and in some cases may pose a health risk.” Researchers today have demonstrated that honey may help soothe coughs due to colds in children over the age of 1. According to Ian Paul, MD, honey doses of 1/2 teaspoon for 1-5 year olds, 1 teaspoon for 6-11 year olds, and 2 teaspoons for ages 12 and up can be repeated every few hours as needed for relief of pediatric cough.

Some kids will tolerate plain honey. Others like it stirred into a warm tea. Adults may find that honey relieves their cough, too. Woo hoo! Kids and adults also love the taste of Mickelberry Gardens Throat and Cough Honey Therapy. One teaspoon of Mickelberry Gardens Throat and Cough Honey Therapy contains 3/4 teaspoon honey and a powerhouse blend of other delicious cough and sore throat relieving ingredients. Throat and Cough Honey Therapy can be enjoyed plain or mixed into a tasty tea.

So, next time your under-the-weather coughing child cries, “I want some honey!,” lend an ear…and perhaps a spoon. The whole family may benefit.

Finally, during your next trip to the library or bookstore, pick up a copy of “Do Bees Sneeze? And Other Questions Kids Ask about Insects” for a fun sick- or healthy-day read.

Is your throat sore and dry from coughing? Try our Honey Propolis Throat Spray to moisten and sooth your tender respiratory passageway.

Question: How have Mickelberry Gardens’ products helped you and your family?

PLEASE NOTE: Honey is generally regarded as safe for children over the age of 1. Honey should never be given to children under the age of 1 due to the risk of botulism, a potentially life-threatening toxin. If you are allergic to honey products, do not use honey or honey-containing products as a cough suppressant. If a cough persists or worsens, consult your medical provider.

The information provided on this page is for educational purposes only and is not meant to be used to diagnose, treat, or cure any disease. These statements have not been approved by the FDA.

Resources:

• Bastyr University: http://www.bastyrcenter.org/content/view/2022/

• Eccles, Respiratory Physiology & Neurobiology (2006)

• Mayo Clinic: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/honey/AN01799

• Oduwole et al., Cochrane Database Syst Rev (2012)

• Paul, Honey: Research You Can Use, presented on February 28, 2012

• Shadkam et al., The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (2010

• University of Maryland: http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/cough-000042.htm

• Vernacchio et al., Pediatrics (2008)

• Do Bees Sneeze? And Other Questions Kids Ask about Insects by James K. Wangberg  (1997)

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Vibrant Regional Food Systems Support Pollinator Health

In the past century, farms in the United States have grown enormously in scale, tending towards mechanization, monoculture, and application of petroleum-based fertilizers, pesticides, and chemical insecticides. One consequence of this spread of monoculture and pesticide use across our agricultural landscape is a vast lack of suitable habitat for both pollinating insects and soil microorganisms. It has also increased modern conventional agriculture’s dependence on managed pollination by honeybees. Truckloads of millions of hives of honey bees are unloaded from semitrailers to pollinate crops because modern industrial scale agriculture has reduced the area of habitat to support the bee species that are native to the area. The honeybees must also move when the bloom of a particular crop is over, due to a lack of forage.

Migratory Beekeeping

The reason for this change in how we do agriculture is largely a result of Green Revolution policies beginning in the 1930s, and the effects of seed-patent technology, monoculture, petro-chemical and fertilizer application. This trend towards mechanization initially reaps surplus in agricultural yield, but has far-reaching consequences for ecological health. It has brought us to a political-agricultural climate of former Monsanto executives holding important agricultural positions in government, as well as government subsidization of farms that use these methods to produce the ingredients for heavily processed foods containing white flour and high-fructose corn syrup. This is partially why processed foods are the cheapest and often most abundant option on grocery store shelves.

Green Revolution

Rudolf Steiner, the visionary German philosopher and inventor of biodynamic farming and Waldorf education, predicted in a series of lectures in 1924 that we would start to see a decline in honeybee populations in the next 50-80 years. he warned  of “the consequences of mechanizing the forces that had previously operated organically in the beehive.”

Rudolf Steiner

 

Scientists have been documenting with particular alarm the dramatic declines in populations of bees  and other pollinating insects in recent decades. Colony Collapse Disorder of the honeybees has received widespread media attention, and has placed a spotlight on the honeybee’s importance in our modern agricultural paradigm. Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD, could perhaps be viewed as similar to AIDS in humans, where the bees are suffering severely compromised immune systems. It is likely that the cumulative effects of pesticide exposure, poor nutrition from corn syrup feedings, and a general exhaustion from being shipped all over the country have compromised honeybee’s immune systems, leaving them susceptible to all manner of bacteria, fungi, virus, and parasite.

The economic value of insect-pollinated crops in the US in 2003 estimated to be between $18 and 27 billion. If this calculation is expanded to include indirect products, such as the milk and beef from cattle fed alfalfa, pollinators may be responsible for more than twice this amount. Approximately one in three mouthfuls of food and drink requires the presence of a pollinator.

Four factors account for most of the declines in populations of bees and other pollinators:

1. The loss and fragmentation of habitat

2. The degradation of remaining habitat

3. Pesticide poisoning – herbicides, insecticides, systemic insecticides, insect-resistant GM crops, herbicide-resistant GM crops

4. The spread of disease and parasites  – which can happen to native bee population via spreading from commercially reared colonies

(Source: Xerces Society Guide).

In china’s Sichuan Province, one of the largest apple-producing regions in the world, farmers perch on ladders in mountainside orchards to pollinate the blossoms by hand. The farmers have adopted this practice because wild bees are now absent in their area, and honey beekeepers refuse to bring in their hives due to excessive pesticide use in the orchards. It would be an impossible feat for humans to take on the role pollinating our  food crops on a worldwide scale, because we did not care for the pollinating insects who perform this service for us.

The loss of pollinators provides a chilling preview into additional massive species loss: birds, lizards, spiders, and animals that depend on insect pollinated fruits and seeds. Pollinators are a keystone species group; the survival of a large number of other species depends on them. They are essential to most flowering plants, and support plant populations that animals and birds rely on for food and shelter.

A movement towards a more sustainable agriculture that limits the use of pesticides and favors the smaller scale, diverse farm creates valuable habitat and forage for both honeybees and native bees year round, and also improves regional food security. Providing habitat on the farm for pollinating insects year-round decreases the need for large-scale industrialized beekeeping, and the toll this takes on the honeybee’s health.

More and more people are realizing that the healthiest food comes from healthy soil, and choose to shop at farmers markets and get to know the people producing their food. The interest in urban agriculture, community gardening, and other strategies that involve people getting their food from their immediate environments decreases dependence on industrialized farming, and  creates more habitat for pollinators in urban areas.

Making the connection between pollinator health and your own dinner plate is an essential step to re-enlivening pollinator populations. Participating in your local food network and choosing produce grown without the use of pesticides is a valuable first step.

Stay tuned for our next blog post, all about how to help pollinators in your garden!

Additional sources for this topic:

Film: Queen of the Sun

Film: Vanishing of the Bees

Film: King of Corn

Books

The Xerces Society Guide: Attracting Native Pollinators.

Towards Saving the Honeybee by Gunther Hauk

Vandana Shiva – Monocultures of the Mind

Rudolf Steiner’s lectures on bees: http://wn.rsarchive.org/Lectures/GA351/English/SGP1975/NinBee_index.html

 

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All About Propolis

Propolis is a sticky substance the worker bees collect from conifer trees and various other resinous, sap-bearing plants.

Honeybees use materials from a variety of botanical processes in different parts of plants to produce propolis. They use substances actively secreted by plants as well as substances exuded from wounds in plants, and include lipophilic materials on leaves and leaf buds, gums, resins, latices, etc (Crane 1988). The biological role of resin in trees is to seal wounds and defend against bacteria, fungi and insects, and bees are intuitively aware of how to make use of this plant medicine for their own benefit.

An example of tree resin

It is well documented that in the temperate zone all over the world, the main source of propolis is the resinous exudate of the buds of poplar trees, mainly the black poplar Populus nigra (Bankova 2000). However, the composition of propolis varies widely, depending on the habitat from which the bees forage. Propolis collected from honeybees in tropical regions is made from entirely different plant sources than propolis from Oregon.

Poplar Bud, a common source of propolis for honeybees in the Pacific Northwest region

Honeybees use propolis or “bee glue” to reinforce the structural integrity of the hive, reduce vibrations inside the hive, and to make the hive more defensible by sealing alternate entrances. Propolis also works as an all-purpose cleaning agent, and is used to prevent putrefication in the hive – if a small animal such as a mouse dies inside the hive that is too large for the bees to carry out, they will mummify the carcass in propolis and it will not rot or smell.

The bees also use propolis as their medicine: it works to help keep viral, bacterial, and fungal infections from spreading inside the hive.

Research on propolis consistently shows high anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal, and anti-oxidant activity (Bankova 2005).

Traditional knowledge confirms this research: In many countries where antibiotics are not available, propolis is widely used to heal a variety of wounds. A few drops of propolis tincture taken during cold and flu season is a common remedy for boosting the immune system. Propolis is also traditionally known as a beneficial treatment for toothaches and mouth sores. It may be a useful treatment for a wide array of bacterial, viral, and fungal infections.

To harvest propolis from the bee hives, a propolis trap is installed sometime during late spring to early fall, during a dry spell where there will be no danger of rain entering the hive. The trap is made up of several slits, which the bees will fill with propolis to keep everything sealed up. Once the trap is filled, it is removed from the hive and the propolis is removed and frozen.

A Propolis Trap

A propolis trap with propolis

Propolis trap on a hive

We make propolis tincture by breaking the frozen propolis into small pieces and making a tincture or extraction with alcohol. After a period of soaking and shaking, the tincture is strained and bottled.

Propolis is fun to work with, as it smells amazing! It will also readily stain and adhere to anything it touches, so use it with care.

We include Pacific Northwest propolis in our Elderberry Honey Tonic, Throat&Lung Honey Tonic, and Honey Propolis Throat Spray.

Resources:

Bankova VB, De Castro SL, Marcucci MC. Propolis: recent advances in chemistry and plant origin. Apidologie. 2000;31:3–15.

Crane E. Beekeeping: Science, Practice and World Recourses. London: Heinemann; 1988.

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Gift Ideas!

Support organic beekeeping and small business this holiday with our handmade wellness creations. We’ll wrap any combinations of our products up for you in a lovely handmade bag, with a pretty bow and a gift card!

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The Hives Prepare for Winter

Activity is winding down at the Mickelberry Gardens apiary. After the honey harvest in August, the bees spent the rest of the summer and fall foraging nectar and pollen for themselves. Temperatures dropped low in October, and each hive was outfitted with burlap insulation on the top to help the bees conserve heat. Mouse guards were installed to keep out hungry rodents.

The late summer and early fall was a time of intense warfare for the bees against larger predatory insects, particularly yellow jackets. These hungry, vicious wasps must have had hundreds of underground nests in the fields near our bees, and their forces are at their strongest in August and September. They fly into the hives to steal larvae, wreak havoc on the honeycomb, and steal honey. They snap the worker bee guard forces and nurse bees in half with their pincers and plunder the nursery. The weakest hives suffer the most, as they are less able to defend themselves against attack – some of our hives were completely decimated by yellow jackets this year. We placed traps about the bee yard, which although killed hundreds, had little impact on their population as the yellow jacket queens continue laying thousands of eggs every day. Next year, we’ll be setting out traps in the early spring in the hopes of capturing yellow jacket queens searching for nest sites, to hopefully keep the population more in check next year.

Yellow jackets are often mistaken for bees, and contribute to many people’s fear of bees. They are actually a type of carnivorous wasp, in contrast to honeybees who’s diet is exclusively flowers. They are aggressive and can sting again and again, while honey bees die immediately upon stinging. Yellow jackets are attracted to smells of food and sweat, and are the insects that are generally a menace at outdoor picnics. They tend to give the entire species of striped flying insects a bad reputation amongst those who can’t distinguish between a bumblebee, a honeybee, and a yellow jacket. Here’s some pictures of all 3, notice how different they look:

Yellow Jacket Wasp - Vespid Family

Bumblebee, Bombus family

Honeybee, Apis mellifera

It takes a little bit of practice, but if you pay attention you can start to identify what kind of insect you are dealing with.

Another part of our fall work for the apiary was planting a cover crop to provide early spring forage. A few acres were tilled and we planted phacelia, which is a heavy nectar producer and should start to bloom in late February and March. This will provide a nearby source of nectar for the bees when they are running low on honey stores and the weather is unpredictable. This access to healthy food options for the bees is a critical part of organic beekeeping, which we are learning to effectively implement for them. They will have a delicious spring diet of phacelia, dandelion, maple, willow, apple, pear, clover, cherry, henbit mint, and plum blossoms.

Phacelia Flower

Inside the hives, activity also winds down. When temperatures drop low and the days shorten, bees form into a cluster. They are able to live on the honey and pollen stores they have available. The bees shiver to generate warmth in their cluster, and keep the queen in the middle to keep her the coziest.

When bees are in a cluster, they can’t reach remote honey unless the temperatures raise enough for them to break the cluster. This is risky, because temperatures may fall again and bees become trapped when feeding. The burlap insulation we add to the roofs of each hive helps to give the bees a larger warm area to reach food.

When temperatures are mild, the bees will break the cluster and do a bit of cleaning – removing bees who have died. Some take a “cleansing flight” – but this is another risky endeavor in case of rain or a sudden drop of temperature – the bee may not be able to return home.

If all goes well, the queen will begin to lay eggs again in January.

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All About Elderberry

Elderberries fruiting near my home, late September

Elderflower – around here, it blooms around April.

Elderberry (Sambucus species) refers to the fruit of the Sambucus or Elder tree, which is in the honeysuckle (Caprifoliaceae) family. Species of elder grow all over the European, Asian, and American continents in the woods and moist open spaces of temperate regions, both wild and cultivated. S. cerulea and S. racemosa are 2 species of elderberry native to the Pacific Northwest region with blue fruit that is edible:  however, the seeds contain hydrocyanic acid that can lead to nausea and diarrhea if consumed in large enough quantities. If gathering wild-harvested blue elderberries for food and medicine, this can be avoided by straining out the seeds from the fresh juice or thoroughly cooking the berries. Red elderberries contain even higher concentrations of hydrocyanic acid, and should be considered toxic (Tilford, 1997).  The bark of these trees was used as medicine by indigenous inhabitants of the Pacific Northwest, and the berries were important food (Pojar & Mackinnon 1994, Tilford 1997). The flowers of all true elders are edible (Cech 2000), and are used to make both medicine and delicious flower liqeurs.

Black Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) is native to Europe, and is now found in most temperate regions and is also often cultivated. It has long been used on the European continent both as a food source and medicinally, and has a great deal of folklore surrounding it’s use. “Chopping elder branches was considered dangerous in rural England, because it was believed the tree was inhabited by the Elder Mother. To avoid her wrath, woodcutters would recite a rhyme to pacify her” (Chevallier 1996).

The elder plant has been termed “the medicine chest of the country people” due to it’s colorful and extensive use in folk medicine in England (Grieve 1931). It is a time-tested gentle and powerful herbal remedy, particularly in the treatment of cold and flu symptoms.

Recently, studies of elderberry confirm that it has antiviral properties (Tilford, 2001). Elderberry has been clinically proven to both prevent and improve the symptoms of many types of influenza. In his book The Green Pharmacy, Dr. James Duke describes a clinical trial of a patented Israeli drug called Sambucol, which contains elderberry. An outbreak of influenza on a kibbutz in Israel provided the opportunity for the study. 20% of flu sufferers who used the elderberry-containing medicine reported significant improvement of fever, muscle aches, and other symptoms within 24 hours. Another 73% felt better after the second day. By the third day, 90% of the flu sufferers claimed complete cure. A group that received a placebo had only a 26% improvement rate in two days, and it took most 6 days to feel better (1996).

The elder flowers and berries are antiviral and immune-stimulating (Cech 2000). The berries are also very rich in vitamins A and C (Chevallier 1997), and are a good general blood purifier (Tierra 1998).

Common herbal methods of preparation for Elderberry and Elderflower include tea, bath, oil, salve, and syrup (Cech 2000, Green 2000).

We use certified organic black elderberries (Sambucus nigra) grown in Europe in our Elderberry Honey Therapy, utilizing their cold-and-flu fighting powers to support your good health.

Sources cited:

James Green, The Herbal Medicine-Maker’s Handbook

Richo Cech, Making Plant Medicine

Maude Grieve, A Modern Herbal

Andrew Chevallier, The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants

Gregory Tilford, Edible and Medicinal Plants of the West

Pojar & Mackinnon, Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast

James Duke, The Green Pharmacy

Michael Tierra, The Way of Herbs


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Fall Harvest – Honey and Beeswax

Fall is quickly approaching here in the Pacific Northwest, which means that work out in the bee yard is winding down. We harvested our honey in early August, which is light and flavorful. The bees’ honey output this year was less than we hoped for – last year was a much more productive honey year. The hives swarmed quite a bit due to early spring warm temperatures that spiked their activity, and then an extended cold and wet period left the bees feeling a bit cramped. So as soon as the sun started coming out again, they swarmed like crazy! The swarmy spring worked to our advantage, as we were able to collect many swarms from around the city to grow our apiary, but also meant that honey production was a bit lower.

The honey that we harvest is the bees’ excess stores – if they are given the space, the industrious worker bees will fill comb with honey well beyond their needs – a bit like stocking a huge pantry. We leave each hive with about 100 pounds of honey to last them through the winter and early spring, and after we harvest they continue to forage throughout August and September uninterrupted to continue to build their stores of honey and pollen. We also give frames of honey from stronger hives to weaker hives in the fall.

    The happy honey harvesting team!

The happy honey harvesting team!

We bring our honey supers to a certified honey house, who extracts the honey from the frames and gives it back to us in bottles.

A frame of capped honey cells.

A frame of capped honey cells.

A delightful component of the honey harvest is the wax cappings. All the honey that the bees are saving for later they cure – workers fan their wings to make sure the temperature and humidity is just right, and then they create a thin layer of beeswax to seal it into the cell – a bit like a lid on a jar. In order to get the honey out of the frame, these wax cappings are carefully cut off with a hot knife.

Uncapping the honey frames. This photo is from a few years ago, when we did our own honey harvest. Now it's all done at a certified honey house.

Uncapping the honey frames. This photo is from a few years ago, when we did our own honey harvest. Now it’s all done at a certified honey house.

uncapped honey - it's so beautiful!

uncapped honey – it’s so beautiful!

The wax from honey cappings is very light in color and fresh. Once it has been cut from the comb, we melt it down, separate it from the residual honey, filter out any unwanted particles, and let it harden.

The set up for rendering beeswax

The set up for rendering beeswax

Beeswax hardening on the counter

Beeswax hardening on the counter

The wax renderer

The wax renderer

Notice the color difference between our wax on the left, and store bought wax on the right!

Notice the color difference between our wax on the left, and store bought wax on the right!

This light, fresh, exquisitely scented wax from our honey cappings is what we use in all of our skin care products.

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A Swarm Story

Here’s a pictorial story of one of our successful swarm removals, as captured by photographer Stephen Hall.

We left the box on Stephen’s property until nightfall. By that time, all the bees were cozy inside their new home, and we brought them out to the apiary.

Thanks Stephen!

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Sunny May activity at the hives

The talented Alex Despain came out to our hives yesterday and took some amazing shots of the bees! Here’s a selection of a few of my favorites.A queen cell, from which she has emerged

At the hive entrance

At the hive entrance

The workers with capped and uncapped honey cells

The workers with capped and uncapped honey cells

Nurse bees with brood

Nurse bees with brood

Ready for takeoff!

Ready for takeoff!

 

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