The Buzz About Rogue Bees

Rogue Farms Bees bee boxesPart of the sweetness people taste in their favorite beers comes from honey, and that honey is of course produced by honeybees. More than 7,000 honeybees are said to be some of the hardest workers at Rogue Farms in Independence, OR.

Most Oregonians—heck, most people—are familiar with the Rogue name. While the Rogue Ales Brewery and national headquarters are located in Newport on the Oregon Coast, Rogue Farms is situated on an idyllic plot of land along the waters of the Willamette River, just a 30-minute drive from Corvallis.

A delightful variety of natural goods is grown at Rogue Farms, helping to “Grow the Revolution,” as their slogan puts it. Rogue-grown products include everything from jalapeno peppers and hazelnuts (used in their popular Hazelnut Brown Nectar) to pumpkins, malted barley, rye, and hops—all the makings of good beer.

Rogue Farms began keeping bees in 2012, and the busy, buzzing crew has grown to 7,140,289 honeybees, according to their last count. The healthy and thriving hives are cared for by an experienced beekeeper, and the Rogue honeybees not only help in making “revolutionary proprietary ingredients,” they are major players in orchard pollination.

Rogue says they wouldn’t be farmers or brewers if it weren’t for bees. The honeybees pollinate the marionberries, pumpkins, cucumbers, and more, and they collect nectar and make honey, which showcases the terroir of Rogue Farms. The honey made by the Rogue bees is used in the Honey Kolsch and Marionberry Braggot beers and Rogue sodas.

As an example of how the pollination process works, the hive is placed next to flowering crops, such as marionberries—the hives apparently love these sweet, tiny berries. The honeybees get to work foraging as soon as the white flowers begin to pop open.

Foraging for nectar and pollen doesn’t stop at flowering marionberries, either. These 7,000-plus honeybees have a wide variety of food sources to snack on during the honey-growing season. They buzz around, visiting cherry, apple, pear, and other tree blossoms during the spring months.

The Rogue honeybees also get to travel outside of Oregon. The bees are transported to sunny California for several months each winter for a “working vacation.” Freezing rain, which is often part of the winter weather patterns here in the Willamette Valley, isn’t an ideal situation for honeybees. For the last two years, Rogue has sent their bees south for winter to assist in almond pollination. According to Rogue, making this trip can also help maintain colony numbers and the strength of a hive.

The transportation process is one that is delicate, careful, and incredibly well-thought-out.

Rogue (human) workers transfer the honeybees onto pallets, which are then loaded on a flatbed truck and covered with netting. The transfer is done at night while the bees are warm in their hives. The honeybees then take a non-stop journey until they arrive at their California destination. The 600-mile, one-shot trip helps keep the bees from getting lost along the way, according to Rogue.

After a few months of R&R (and snacking on flowering almond blossoms), the bees make their way back to Independence for spring snacking, and the pollination process starts all over again. Rogue Farms likes to take exceptional care of their buzzing buddies who work so hard to produce award-winning honey. My, what a sweet story it is.

By Abbie Tumbleson