Beekeeper, Gardener, Teacher Meet Portland’s Glen Andresen

By Dewey Caron

Glen Andresen has been keeping bees over 22 seasons. He is also a Master gardener. He enjoys teaching others both practical, sustainable gardening and beekeeping using a basic do-it-well and sustainable approach.

Glen is a kindly, natural-born teacher. When instructing about what to do in the garden or with bees, he is first and foremost very respectful of the students and their decision making. He doesn’t tell people how to garden or keep bees, rather he tells how he gardens and how he keeps bees. He will point out things that could be done but then lets students decide for themselves how they want to do it. It is thorough and options and consequences of actions or in-actions are patiently covered.

Glen is passionate about bees and plants as he is about protecting clean water. He has irrigated most of the gardens with an ingenious grey water system. He feels clean water and garden and apiary sustainability begins with individual decisions such as what and how chemicals are used in home, garden and with the bees. He was honored as Oregon recycler of the year in 2009 by the Association of Oregon Recyclers, which is a trade association organization of local businesses.

In his beekeeping and gardening, Glen initially experimented with use of control chemicals. Now he prefers to not use chemical controls on either his bees or plants. He also does not utilize smoke in his hive inspections but will use gloves when the need arises. He has developed he feels a bee and a gardening system that provides sufficient return for his efforts.

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He is a master artist and it is a joy to see him open, evaluate and close the colony all with smooth and measured manipulations. Like a Tai-Chi master, he moves smoothly and efficiently, never rushing, seemingly performing his inspections effortlessly to “read the hive”
Glen does a locally popular edible gardening talk radio show, now in its 18th season, called appropriately “the Dirt Bag.” It is about edible plants but he will also work pollination and bees into some of the themes. He is also an organic beekeeping instructor at Portland Community College and Garden Fever nursery in Northeast Portland. At monthly meetings of the local bee association (Portland Urban Beekeepers – PUB), he gives a popular update of what currently is in bloom.

When a customer asked Glen if beekeeping was the only thing he does, Glen, in his very characteristic scandanivan understatement said: ‘ No I am a cobbler – I just cobble a bunch of things together.’ He has many adapted pieces of bee equipment and is always trying new items to evaluate if they make a difference.

Most of his adult life he has been self-employed. He has put his Economics degree and music background into practice in his daily activities. For example, 1985, Glen created and marketed Only Oregon Trivia, a board game where players travel the highways and byways of Oregon answering questions to move along. That game had three printings and has long been sold out. He followed that up in 1992 with Second Generation Only Oregon Trivia.

Beekeeping done basically

Glen is a master at recycling and regularly reuses old items tossed out by others to make functional equipment. He practices a low consumption lifestyle, adhering to the principal of ‘voluntary simplicity.’ For example he owns two rental properties on either side of his home and his backyard hives and large urban vegetable garden extends to using the land surface in all three properties. Both are long-term renters and they often inquire how the bees and vegetables are doing when Glen is in their backyards.
Glen selects “jobs” based on whether he enjoys doing them. The one consistency is he does things related to plants or bees – beekeeping has stuck as a “job” because he can make money from the bees. When he captures a Spring swarm, he is sure to talk with homeowners and others and that often then leads to a paying bee removal job later in the same season or a call-back next spring for another swarm.

Glen keeps his bees in the city and always has. Virtually all of his sites are in backyards in the NE section of Portland, Oregon. Portland requires that immediate neighbors sign an agreement for beekeepers to have an apiary so his home apiary is registered. He does have a couple of more rural production sites (to help secure the major western Oregon nectar flow – blackberry) and he has one blueberry pollination contract in the Cascades foothills. He uses a trailer to move the bees to this site. He also keeps bees on the Portland International airport property (PDX) in a developing program to provide suitable wildlife habitat on their non-operations properties.

Glen has just recently upgraded his honey extracting facilities. That too must be licensed in Oregon. He worked with the Department of Agriculture and finally has a “nearly perfect” dedicated area to handle honey he says. It has been several years in the planning and having to make do. He sells honey and organic produce from his porch self-service stand but most honey is sold through a neighborhood co-op grocery store and a local donut shop, well-known for their honey coated offerings. He usually runs out of honey each year, retailing close to 5000 pounds most seasons.

Honey supers are removed with triangle escape boards. He seeks to manage 60 colonies for honey production so he typically overwinters 120 or so colonies. He has recently been looking at overwintering a larger number of nucs. Since the colonies are scattered throughout several neighborhoods, he has a mixed wild flower product. Most of his customers are repeat visitors who spread his product virtues via word of mouth. He doesn’t advertise.

Glen restocks colonies and starts new ones with swarm captures and colony cut-outs. He does some 10 building removals each year (many for a fee). In a normal season he may capture 50 swarms. He says he gets lots of “repeat” swarms. For example he has a contact at the University of Portland from his involvement with their music program so when a swarm appeared one season they called Glen. They keep calling back as the campus, with numerous tall trees, has been a continuing swarm source for him each season. About half the swarm calls are new locations to him.

Glen uses standard Langstroth boxes for brood and westerns for supers. Most hives have screened bottoms. He uses a variety of materials for hive stands. He has both a long 30 frames wide) and top bar hive (increasingly popular “options” among new Portland urban beekeepers – “to see how they do.” His locations often have several nucs, from swarm captures, divides and in conjunction with his recent queen rearing partnership with Tim Wessels.

Bridgetown Bees

Tim and Glen have recently teamed up to form Bridgetown Bees (www.bridgetownbees.com). The primary mission of Bridgetown Bees is to selectively breed and raise queen bees in the city of Portland that are suitable for year-round survival in the urban environment of the Pacific Northwest. The “mother colony” selections come from colonies that have produced and successfully overwintered in the city from Glen’s years of informal selection. The stock has not been treated for mites, other pests, or diseases. To speed local selection they have sought to saturate, as much as possible, the breeding area of Northeast Portland with drone-producing colonies and their initial selections that have also over-wintered without treatment.

Their selected stock incudes production and over-wintering success but also includes other desirable factors, including gentleness and low-swarming tendencies. Right now the intention is to produce queen stock suitable for their own colonies and perhaps in the future offer locally-selected queens for sale to city beekeepers. Like much of his beekeeping he does not plan to rush but to get it ‘right’ before having others use the selections.

Can there be too many bees?

There has been a big increase in urban beekeeping in Portland, as in many other communities. The question is asked “Can there to be too many hives in the city to get good honey production?” In Glen’s experience, the answer is, “well, not so far.” For the last seven years, his average pounds per colony yield was (starting in 2014 and working back): 74, 66, 61, 65, 87, 90 and 96. The most honey Glen has harvested from one colony in the city is an astounding 366 pounds!

Another talent

Each August for the last 35 years Glen has hung up his hive tool and bee veil to pick up a ladle and put on an apron. With two brothers and three-generational assistance, Glen makes Swedish pancakes for the Scandinavian Festival in Junction City, in the lower Willamette valley (near Eugene). Glen and his brother Gordon prepare these thin, crepe-like pancakes by rolling them with either local blackberries or strawberries or lingonberries imported from Sweden. The pancakes are made using his Swedish-American grandmother’s recipe. They are so thin they only have one side according to Glen. Glen has not missed a single day of pancake making for the 4-day festival in the 35 years of Andresen family participation.
Tim Wessels, President and founder of the local beekeepers association PUB talks of Glen as “always respectful to those we work with who are generally newer beekeepers. Though he may have strong opinions about a particular topic, he will always clarify whether it is his opinion or science-backed fact.” 

Glen is a quiet leader and proponent of natural and sustainable gardening and beekeeping in Portland and the region. He is a leader by example keeping bees and growing vegetables and in his teaching skills.