Your First Year

by Julie Tennis on March 13, 2016

My focus this year is going towards this course. If you’re in the area I hope you’ll join us!

Plants for Your Bees – Flowering Quince

by Julie Tennis on March 25, 2015

Flowering Quince (Chaenomeles speciosa) is a member of the Rose family, cultivated from plants first brought from Japan to Europe in the late 1700’s. The genus went through a few iterations before botanists finally settled on Chaenomeles (which means “split apple.”)

With space and in full sun, the flowering quince will grow into a 10-foot high round bush with multiple stems. The salmon-pink flowers come out in early spring (February in Western Washington), weeks before the leaves begin to emerge. These plants can often be found along forest edges and in other places where nature is reclaiming old homesteads. Early spring is the best time to look for them, their bright flowers a contrast against the brown of winter.

They are tolerant of a variety of soil conditions, from high sand content to high clay. I’ve seen them growing in old sand dunes near the ocean, and there are several in my little town where the soil rests on the clay of old seafloor sediments. They will tolerate most light conditions as well, though come into their potential in full sun.

Animal Use
Bees, flies, hummingbirds and other pollinators visit the flowers (especially good for those pollinators who are active in late winter/early spring). The shrubby bushes provide cover for a variety of songbirds.

Human Use
The fruit is edible – after cooking. Primarily used in jams and jellies. Fruit is harvested in the fall when it becomes fragrant. (I haven’t gotten to this stage yet, so I cannot attest to the flavor.)

The fruit has medicinal qualities as well, and is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine as well as in more modern herbal preparations.

Weber, Claude. “Cultivars in the Genus Chaenomeles,” Arnoldia 23.3 (1963): 17-75. Print.

Human Use:
Schar, Douglas. “Japanese Quince,” Doctor Schar. Accessed 25 March, 2015.

“Where’s the best place to put my beehive?”

by Julie Tennis on June 13, 2014

This is a question I hear often. Here’s what I tell folks:

There are five key points to keep in mind when deciding where to place your hive:
          • sun exposure
          • wind direction
          • dampness
          • access to water
          • neighbors

Sun Exposure

Beehives don’t have built-in air conditioning or heaters, so the job of regulating temperature falls to the worker bees. The ideal temperature inside the colony is 95-degrees F. If the temperatures get too high, you’ll see the girls clustering on the outside of the hive, flapping their wings vigorously to direct cooler air inside. If the temperatures get too cold, the girls will cluster around the queen and the brood cells, flexing their wing muscles to generate heat.

You can assist your bees in maintaining an ideal temperature by placing them in a location that gets the right amount sun exposure.

How much sun depends on your local climate. If your local temperatures are typically cold to mild (below 70-degrees) your bees will benefit from being placed in full sun. If your temperatures are typically high (above 70-degrees) then partial shade will help your bees keep their colony cool.

All hives benefit from having early-morning sun exposure. This helps the bees warm up after the cool night, giving them a head-start for the day. (Like your first cup of coffee.)

Propping the cover of your hive on really hot days can assist the bees in keeping things cooler inside.

You can also help control inside temperatures by choosing an appropriate color of paint for your beehives. Cold climate beehives can benefit from darker paint colors. Beehives in hot climates do better with white or other light color paint.

Wind Direction

Strong winds can blow rain into your beehive. It can also blow off covers or even knock the hive over.

To avoid this stress on the bees, try to locate your hive out of the wind, or position them so the entrances face away from the wind. If you can’t avoid the wind, you can keep the covers from being blown off by weighing them down with bricks. In severe weather conditions, straps can help secure your hive from being blown over.


Dampness is mostly an issue with beehives that are placed on or near the ground. Cool, moist air pools up around saturated soils and low places in the landscape. It is a challenge for the bees because it makes it difficult for them to cure their honey. Dampness can also cause mold to grow in your hive and increase your bees’ susceptibility to disease.

Avoid places that have standing water in the winter, or where wetland plants such as reeds, rushes and skunk cabbage grow. Take a look around your yard in the late spring – where is the lawn most lush? Where do the most plants grow? These areas are favorable to plants because they have wetter soil conditions; try to avoid them when placing your hive.

Also keep your beehive away from the base of hills or low dips in the landscape. If cold, damp air were visible, you would see that it flows down hills and gathers in low spots. If put your hive in one of these places it would be submerged in the damp air.

Access to Water

Despite drinking a lot of nectar, bees also need to gather water for the hive. If you do not have a natural water source nearby, consider supplying the girls with a birdbath or shallow tray filled with gravel and water. The water should be just below the surface of the gravel to save the bees from drowning. Providing a pot with consistently damp moss is another option – the bees will suck the water off the moss.

Place your water feature in an area along your bees’ major flyways or in an area with a lot of foraging activity. The bees will use it whether you place it on the ground or on a raised platform (like a bird bath stand).


You never know how your neighbors are going to react to you keeping bees. To avoid negative interactions, keep the front of your hive at least 25’ away from any shared spaces. This gives the girls plenty of space to exit, get oriented, and gain altitude on their way to forage.

I also recommend keeping your beehive as low-profile as possible. I’ve had neighborhood children climb a nearby apple tree and use my hives as targets. A visual barrier between your bees and public areas will help reduce the potential for curious or harmful interactions.

Sharing honey is a great way to show your neighbors the benefit of having a beekeeper in the neighborhood. :)

Evaluate your property.

If you still need help in decided where to place your beehive, try this short questionnaire. For each question, select the number that falls under the correct answer for your site – yes or no. Write that number in the “Points” column. When you’ve finished all the questions, add up your score.

Fill this out for each potential location for your beehive and compare scores to find the most suitable location.

There are 11 points possible:
     • 0-3 points: Is there another location you can use? This one doesn’t look very favorable.
     • 4-6 points: You can probably pull it off, but your bees may not produce well.
     • 7-11 points: This location will probably work!

Keep in mind that some of the questions will weigh more heavily than others, depending on your circumstances. If, for example, you got 9 points, but the location is very close to you or your neighbors, then that location may need to be scrapped for something a little less favorable.

It can be difficult to find a location for your beehives that perfectly accommodates all of the needs I described above. When I placed my hives, my primary considerations were sun exposure and reducing the potential for negative human-bee interactions.

The best spot, on the south side of our house, proved to be too close to our walkways – my husband got stung at least once a month just walking to his truck. Now the beehives are on our front lawn. They get a lot of sun, and they’re far enough away from our property lines that they don’t bother our neighbors, but now they’re in the windiest part of our yard. I use large bricks and sturdy hive stands to keep them from blowing apart in our winter storms and screened bottom boards help by draining any rain that blows in.

Do you have beehives? What factors did you take into consideration when you placed them?

Bombus spp. – The Bumblebees

April 11, 2014

S. Name: Bombus spp. (BOM-bus) C. Name: Bumblebee Size: 10-23 mm Flying teddy bears, bumblebees are large and furry and easy to spot. Several species can be found in each state with different species being active at different times of the year. They typically have a base color of black with yellow, orange and/or white […]

Read the full article →

Andrena spp. – The Mining Bees

April 4, 2014

Genus:  Adrena (an-DREE-nuh) Common Name:  Mining Bee Size:  7-18 mm If you find a patch of bare or lightly-vegetated ground filled with holes that look like they were poked in with a pencil, you may have found an aggregation of mining bees.  Mining bees are medium-size bees that are generally dark in color.  Individual species […]

1 comment Read the full article →

Will Bees Suffer so We can Grow More Oysters?

March 7, 2014

Commercial shellfish growers in Washington State want to begin using the most toxic pesticide to bees, Imidacloprid, to control burrowing shrimp in Willapa Bay. Burrowing shrimp (Neotrypaea californiensis and Upogebia pugettensis) are native to Willapa Bay but carry little commercial value. They can have a negative impact on commercial shellfish operations by churning up sediment […]

2 comments Read the full article →