High Tech Beehives

The bees have been busy in The Oregon Garden’s four hives and they have 300 pounds of honey to show for it.

“It’s an exceptional feat to have just four new hives produce that quantity in the first year,” said Mark Thompson, who manages the new beekeeping program at The Oregon Garden. Thompson attributes much of the success to “solar beehive cooler” attachments that literally take the heat off the bees and help them to be more productive.

During the summer months, when the bee colonies are most active, bees assign certain workers to sit at the bottom of the hives and fan their wings in order to cool down their environment. But when the solar-powered coolers are attached to the hives, thermostatically controlled fans click on at a pre-set temperature, thus liberating more bees to collect pollen and make honey. In addition to cooling the hives and promoting honey production, the solar cooler attachments are also supposed to result in fewer hive mites and calmer bees. “This technology isn’t yet widely used,” added Thompson. “I learned about it in a bee journal and was cautious at first, but it has really proved to be effective.”

Thompson also attributes the success of the hives at The Oregon Garden to the abundance of early spring flowers and varieties of pollen available there for the bees. “We initially weren’t sure what to expect from the quality of the honey because sometimes a huge mix of pollen types can create flavors that are bitter or mediocre,” Thompson said. “Happily, the honey turned out really well. It’s a lighter style with pleasing floral notes. It’s truly a taste of The Oregon Garden.” Beginning in February, The Oregon Garden Visitors Center is selling 12-ounce jars of the “Oregon Garden Honey” for $7.95.

The Oregon Garden’s beekeeping project began more than a year ago when the horticulture staff sought to establish a “bee education” program with informative signage and resident bee colonies. The garden expects to add two to four additional hives this spring.

Now in winter hibernation mode, the hives are kept in The Oregon Garden’s Oak Grove, where nearby educational signage informs visitors about the lives of honey bees as well as the rampant “colony collapse disorder” (CCD), a mysterious bee disease spreading among hives throughout the country. Binoculars are available for visitors to get a better look at the hives.

“The honey makes a great souvenir for visitors to The Oregon Garden, and is also a wonderful gift idea for those seeking something locally made,” said Jeff Pera, assistant horticulture manager for The Oregon Garden. “We look forward to seeing this program evolve.”