Beekeeping In Oregon – The Ultimate Guide For Beginners

A beekeeper wearing protective clothing with a field of flowers in the background

The internet and bookshelves are full of beekeeping starter guides. But information like permit requirements and seasonal hive management varies by state.

That’s why we crafted this guide. It provides a handy overview of beekeeping in Oregon. You’ll get practical local advice and links to valuable resources that are relevant to where you live. Let’s dive in.

Is Oregon a bee-friendly state?

Oregon has a thriving beekeeping industry with over 80,000 colonies producing honey, propolis, wax, and pollen. The state’s diverse buffet of crops, like cherries, pears, and hazelnuts, rely heavily on bees for pollination.

Oregonians looking to start beekeeping will find their state is extremely bee-friendly. There is also abundant forage, and supportive local clubs to help achieve bee yard success.

A beekeeper checking a frame covered in honey bees
Beekeeping is extremely popular throughout Oregon.

Beekeeping registration

Understanding the legal requirements for beekeeping in Oregon is essential. Do your research before investing any money. That way you’ll know what you can and can’t do.

Thankfully, getting started is a relatively simple process.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) mandates specific regulations and permits. It helps ensure the health and productivity of Oregon’s hives while keeping the wider ecosystem safe.

Beekeepers with five or more colonies must register them with the ODA. This helps the state track and manage diseases that might affect local bee populations. The registration process is quick and easy, requiring basic information about the beekeeper and the number of colonies maintained.

These are the registration fees for operating five or more hives:

License FeeDescription
$0.50Fee per hive, in addition to the registration fee.
$10.00Registration for five or more colonies
$20.00Late registrations (after July 1) for five or more colonies.

To register an apiary, click here>

Hive placement and other beekeeping-related regulations will vary depending on where you live. Here are some of the important laws for Portland residents looking to raise bees:

  • 4 hives are allowed on any size lot.
  • 6 hives are allowed on lots 10,000 square feet and greater.
  • Permits are not required, but you must comply with all Title 13 code standards and best practices.
  • As of August 1, 2020, beekeepers must notify neighbors within 150 feet of their property before installing hives.

Local zoning laws and homeowner’s association regulations might impose restrictions, so checking these before setting up hives is essential.

Important: While we try to keep this information current, it can change anytime, and we are not legal experts. This guide offers general information and not legal advice. Always do your own research before getting started.

Managed bees in Oregon

Oregon is home to a diverse range of 632 bee species, many of which are native. The eastern and southern regions of the state are teeming with bee biodiversity.

Managed bee stocks in Oregon include:

  • Apis mellifera: the honey bee is the most common species in Oregon, with over 80,000 colonies statewide.
  • Osmia lignaria: blue orchard bees are native twig-nesters used to pollinate cherry and pear orchards.
  • Bombus vosnesenskii: yellow-faced bumblebees are generalists, visiting a wide range of plants; they are especially useful for greenhouse tomatoes.
  • Nomia melanderi: the only managed ground-nesting bees in the world used to pollinate alfalfa seed crops.
  • Megachile rotundata: commonly known as the leafcutter bee, this species is a large-scale pollinator of alfalfa.

Hobbyist beekeepers will raise honey bees (Apis mellifera) if they want honey and other resources.

A table with jars of honey, pollen, and a bee smoker
Apis mellifera is the only bee to provide harvestable honey.

Equipment and Hive Setup

You’ll need some essential equipment to get started on your beekeeping journey. Here’s a rundown of the basics:

  1. Beehive: The beehive is the heart of your beekeeping operation. Langstroth hives, composed of stacked rectangular boxes, are popular. They are modular, meaning the hive can easily expand if the colony starts to thrive. Frames within the boxes are where bees build their comb, store honey, and raise their young.
  2. Protective Gear: A beekeeping suit, gloves, and a hat with veil will help ward off bee stings. While experienced beekeepers might choose to go without gloves or use lighter gear, beginners are encouraged to start with full protection.
  3. Tools: Hive tools pry apart hive boxes, frames, and more. Bee smokers calm bees during hive inspections, and a bee brush gently removes bees from surfaces.

Tip: Want a more detailed equipment list along with a pricing guide? Read our in-depth article on the costs to get started beekeeping.

A selection of beekeeper tools on a white background

Obtaining bees

Once your bee yard is set up, it’s time to get the bees. Local beekeeping associations, clubs, or breeders are invaluable resources for obtaining bees.

The Oregon State Beekeepers Association is a fantastic starting point, offering resources and contacts. Local clubs may offer beginner courses and have members selling bees.

Here are a few options for getting bees:


A package of bees typically includes a queen and a few pounds of worker bees. This is a common way to start a new colony, allowing the beekeeper to populate a hive quickly.

Nucs (Nucleus Colonies)

A nuc is a small, functioning colony complete with a queen, workers, brood, and food stores. Nucs are a great choice for beginners as they’re already established and can grow quickly.

Capturing a swarm

Capturing a swarm is a cheap way to acquire bees. It requires some expertise and isn’t recommended for beginners.

Check out our article on how beekeepers can get bees here.

A beekeeper wearing a suit and veil to catch a swarm of bees
Swarms are a free way to get bees.

Where to place your hives

When it comes to hive placement, there are several factors to consider. Locate them in a spot that gets morning sunlight. This encourages the colony to start foraging activities early.

Good drainage is vital. Also avoid damp areas that encourage moisture in the hive.

Protection from harsh weather conditions, particularly wind, is essential. Also, ensure the site is easily accessible year-round for hive maintenance and inspections.

We compiled some handy tips for placing hives here.

A sweeping view of Orchards in Columbia River Gorge, OR.
Orchards in Columbia River Gorge, OR.

Flowering dates for common crops

MarchCabbage, kale, turnip, mustard seeds, and peach
AprilApple, blueberry, cherry, pear, seed crops
MayBlackberry, meadowfoam, raspberry, vegetable seeds
JuneAlfalfa seed, blackberry, clover seed, cranberry, raspberry, watermelon
JulyCarrot seed, onion seed, watermelon
AugustPumpkin, squash, watermelon

Challenges for Oregonian beekeepers

Oregon’s dynamic selection of bee species and foraging material make it ideal for beekeeping. However, the state faces challenges like those in other parts of the United States.

The honey bee population is declining for a variety of reasons. Colony collapse disorder is an increasing problem, and urbanization reduces bee habitats. Pesticide misuse is also a major concern for beekeepers.

While beekeepers provide a home for honey bees, the solution to improving bee numbers requires an holistic approach. Reduced chemical usage, increased planting of pollinator-friendly plants, and investment into preserving natural bee habitats will all help.  

Monthly beekeeping calendar

Beekeeping in Oregon is a year-round commitment, with tasks varying from season to season. We’ve compiled a calendar of key events for beekeeper’s in Oregon.

Throughout January, bees typically remain in a cluster and forage only on days when temperatures reach at least 50 degrees (F). In strong, healthy hives, the queen starts to lay eggs, and brood nurturing initiates.

Feeding pollen substitutes is a good option for those who aim for a larger bee population or a bigger honey yield. Early protein stimulation may cause strong hives to swarm early, so remain vigilant.

  • Try to avoid disturbing the colony, but emergency feeding may be required if you suspect starvation. Use sugar-based feeds and pollen patties.
  • Moisture is a problem in January, so ensure the hives are tilted to help with water drainage. Double-check the hive lids are sealed tight.
  • Regular apiary checks, especially after storms, will ensure everything is in order. Use straps or rocks to secure the covers.

In February, beekeepers in Oregon are encouraged to prepare for spring. This is a good time to order new bees, preferably locally raised.

Check that all the equipment and tools are clean and in good condition. It’s also a good time to paint hives with unique colors to reduce drifting.

Newcomers to beekeeping may want to take a beekeeping class. The information will still be fresh when warmer weather arrives.

  • Be cautious about colonies starving in late winter and early spring. The distance between the cluster and honey reserves is lengthening.
  • Inspect hives when the temperature is above 55 degrees. Feed hives with powdered sugar or full frames of honey if they feel light.
  • Remove any hive insulation once night temperatures are consistently above freezing.

Strong hives may begin collecting nectar and pollen from early blooms, so watch for signs of swarming.

During favorable weather conditions, bees will gather nectar and pollen from the early blossoms. Later in the month, thriving bee colonies may swarm.

Choose a sunny day for a comprehensive hive review, checking for eggs, brood patterns, potential diseases, and stored supplies.

Strong hives can be divided using natural queen cells or purchased queens. If the hives have good stores and splitting is not required, add honey supers.

The objective is to have well-built combs and large numbers of bees ready for the major honey flow when blackberries bloom.

Monitoring mite loads is crucial. High mite levels should be treated immediately to prevent hive failure later in the year.

Verifying colonies are healthy, well-fed, and queenright is beneficial in spring. Mouse guards can be removed and thriving hives can share honey frames with struggling ones.

Clean or change the bottom board. If the lower brood box is mostly empty, move it to the top to reduce congestion and provide room for expansion.

Weak hives may need to be requeened and strong ones divided. April is a good time for dividing hives and testing for nosema and varroa mites.

Swarm season begins with new growth on plants and trees. It will typically continue until June.

The main goal is to ensure all colonies are queenright, healthy, and well-fed. Aim for large populations to take advantage of the major nectar flow, which begins in most areas by late May.

Weak hives can still starve if the weather turns bad, so it might be necessary to feed them until the summer nectar flow starts.

Swarm control practices should be continued. Two popular ways to reduce swarming are to requeen regularly and make sure there is adequate space for colony expansion.

It is also a perfect opportunity to catch a swarm. Decoy hives could be used to catch stray swarms. Consider registering your services on local swarm collection pages.

Bees should have ample room to store honey early in the season. Use ten frames when drawing foundation to prevent burr and misshapen comb.

Bees collect water as avidly as nectar and pollen in the summer, so ensure a source is available.

During berry season, the goal is to maximize honey production and prevent swarming. Rearrange supers and transfer them from weaker hives to stronger ones.

Introduce foundation frames before the summer nectar dearth arrives. Provide a constant water supply for bees and harvest well-ripened honey with moisture content of around 17% or less. Find out how a refractometer can help check moisture levels.

Be cautious of pesticide risks if hives are near crops. Inquire about scheduled spraying and consider moving hives away from the spraying area.

  • Strengthen weaker hives with sealed brood frames and replace successful hives with foundation frames.
  • Varroa mites may reduce the problem of swarming by breaking the brood cycle.
  • Stay vigilant for American Foulbrood (AFB) and take necessary measures to prevent its spread.

July marks the onset of a challenging beekeeping season in Oregon. Most wax has been drawn by this time, and the summer dearth starts; this makes it hard for bees to produce wax without stimulative feeding.

Honey production for the year is largely complete, so it’s time to harvest and focus on hive health.

Preventing Robbery:

  • Keep honey and food exposure to a minimum and use robbing screens if needed.
  • Limit hive interaction to reduce stress, especially when temperatures exceed 94 degrees.
  • Be aware that robbed hives may fail, and the robbers can transfer their diseases.

Mite Monitoring:

July is essential for watching mite build-up. Always conduct a mite count before treating the hive, and rotate treatments. Try using organic acids and essential oils, to avoid breeding resistant mites.

Disease Monitoring:

Look out for signs of brood disease and consider merging smaller hives with larger ones. Concentrating efforts on healthy hives is more effective, especially as time is running out to prepare hives for winter survival.

Heavy mite loads should be addressed promptly. Waiting until August might leave too little time for correction.


Light syrup or drivert sugar can be fed if needed. If you choose syrup, use a 2:1 water-to-sugar ratio and add it late in the evening to deter robbery.

Feed the entire bee yard to prevent robbing or separate the hives into different yards during a nectar dearth. For open feeding, ensure the food source is 30 yards away from the apiary, but note this can lead to pathogen spread.

In the hot month of August, ensure bees can access water and shade. This month is critical for evaluating the bees’ ability to control varroa mites – bee health will impact winter survival.

As the beekeeping year concludes, requeening, feeding, and disease management will promote a healthy hive.

Monitoring mite levels provides an understanding of the colony’s health and the success of previous mite management strategies.

The beekeeper’s annual cycle commences in September. It serves as a final opportunity to prepare the hives for the winter months.

Each hive needs a minimum of 70 lbs. of honey stored. Protein supplements should be continued if food sources are scarce, or the brood is undersized.

Important beekeeping activities in September include:

  • Maintaining a mite infestation rate of 3% or lower.
  • Ensuring a sufficient population of young nurse bees to foster winter cluster bees.
  • Checking that a minimum of 70-80 lbs of honey is stored.
  • Minimizing the nest cavity to the least volume required to house the cluster and stores.

Bees ascend during winter, so ensure an ample supply of stores right above the cluster. Consolidate problematic hives, weak ones, and those without a queen into a single hive. Be mindful of potential disease transmission when merging hives.

Minimize the hive entrance to an easily defendable size as the temperature drops. Keep the entrance narrow throughout the year, as long as the hive is adequately ventilated. This is achieved with a screened bottom board and an upper entrance or vent.

Prepare a backup feeding strategy if the original plan fails. Use drivert sugar or fondant (sugar bricks) once the daytime temperature drops below 60 degrees and the nighttime temperature falls below 45 degrees. This avoids adding moisture to the hive, which is an unwanted distraction for the colony.

October is a calm period in beekeeping, so it’s a good time to prepare hives for winter. Maintain suitable hive conditions, including elevation, sun exposure, ventilation, and moisture control.

  • Try to avoid breaking hive seals during winter. If inspections are needed, be quick and strategic.
  • Plan your spring garden to support bee forage and consider your beekeeping goals.
  • Freeze frames of honey to protect from wax moth infestations.

In Oregon, hive moisture management is critical. Use a watertight telescoping cover, tilt solid bottom board hives for drainage, and improve ventilation using screened bottom boards and top entrances.

During winter, bees’ metabolism increases, making ventilation more critical. Use a ‘quilt box’ or absorbent material to prevent condensation inside the hive.

Assess hive health during warm spells when bees break their winter cluster. Feed fondant or honey frames to hives low on food, but avoid syrup as it can cause dysentery.

Clean up and store the equipment, ready for next spring.

The bee yard is currently calm, requiring little activity from hobbyist beekeepers. The winter solstice triggers queen bees to lay more eggs, anticipating spring.

This time is ideal for preparation, including bee yard plans and ordering new equipment. All equipment should be cleaned and stored dry to avoid pest infestations.

Now is the optimal time to relocate hives if needed. Bees will adapt to new locations after winter.

Bee health and management

One of the most important responsibilities of raising bees is monitoring their health. Like any other livestock, bees can be affected by various pests and diseases.

In Oregon, some threats include varroa mites, small hive beetle, wax moths, tracheal mites, American foulbrood, and nosema.

Varroa Mites: These parasitic mites can weaken bees and spread viruses. Regular inspections and monitoring for mite levels are necessary. Chemical treatments and non-chemical methods, such as drone brood removal or powdered sugar dusting, can manage mite populations. Get our varroa treatment guide here.

Small hive beetle: The Small Hive Beetle (Aethina tumida) is an invasive pest harmful to bee colonies. Originating from Africa, it has spread globally. The beetle’s larvae consume bee larvae, pollen, and honey, causing significant damage. Their presence also leads to fermented, unusable honey and may cause hive abandonment. We explain ways to prevent SHB here.

Tracheal mites: Tracheal mites (Acarapis woodi) are microscopic parasites that infest the respiratory system of honey bees. They impede a honey bee’s ability to fly and often lead to premature death. They spread rapidly within bee colonies and can cause significant losses.

American Foulbrood: This bacterial disease is highly contagious and lethal to bee brood. Infected colonies must be destroyed to prevent spreading. Regular hive inspections are vital, and any suspect colonies should be reported to the Oregon Department of Agriculture. Get some practical tips for preventing American foulbrood.

Nosema: This fungal infection affects the bees’ digestive system and can lead to a decline in colony health. It can be managed through hive sanitation and, if necessary, treatment with approved medications.

Wax moths: Wax moth larvae feed on the wax, causing massive damage to the hive. These pests can devastate weak colonies, but strong ones usually keep them under control. Discover how to prevent wax moth infestations.

Closeup image of a wax moth larva crawling across comb.
Wax moth larvae cause massive damage tunneling into comb.

Useful resources

Becoming a successful beekeeper is easier with guidance from experienced individuals or organizations. Here are some resources to level up your beekeeping game:

Commonly asked questions

Do I need a permit to keep bees in Oregon?

Beekeepers in Oregon do not need a permit to keep bees if they have five or fewer colonies.

What is the best time of year to start beekeeping in Oregon?

The best time to start beekeeping in Oregon is spring, typically around April. This allows the new colony enough time to establish itself and store enough food for the coming winter.

Can I keep bees in my backyard in a residential area?

Backyard beekeeping is common in Oregon, even in urban areas. However, ensure the bees won’t become a nuisance to neighbors, and consider local regulations on hive placement.

Can I make a living from beekeeping?

Commercial beekeeping can be lucrative, but it requires many hives and a solid understanding of bee health and hive management. Many Oregon beekeepers make good money from pollination services. Beginners are well advised to start beekeeping as a hobby and gradually expand over time.

How many hives should I start with?

We recommend starting with at least two hives if the budget allows. This number allows comparison between the hives and means you still have bees if one colony fails.

Two white vertical, modular hives with flowers in the background
Starting with at least two hives in a good idea.

9 facts about beekeeping in Oregon

  1. Varied flora: Oregon’s diverse flora provides a unique opportunity for beekeepers. Depending on the state’s location, honey bees can forage on various plants – from the high desert plants of Eastern Oregon to the rich farmland crops and fruit trees in the Willamette Valley. This diversity results in a variety of honey flavors.
  2. Local beekeeping associations: Oregon has numerous local beekeeping associations that provide commercial and hobbyist beekeepers with education, resources, and community.
  3. Commercial beekeeping: The state has a robust commercial beekeeping industry. Many don’t just produce honey but also provide pollination services to other agricultural sectors, such as fruit and nut orchards, seed crops, and berries.
  4. Hive losses: Like many places, Oregon has experienced significant colony losses in recent years. This is due to factors like habitat loss, pesticide exposure, diseases, and pests like the varroa mite.
  5. Research and education: Oregon State University has a Honey Bee Lab that is part of the College of Agricultural Sciences. It researches honey bee health and productivity.
  6. Oregon Honey and Mead Festival: Organized by Cascade Girl, this annual event celebrates the importance of bees. It showcases the state’s unique honey varieties along with music, food, and speakers.
  7. Native Bees: While honey bees get most of the attention, Oregon is also home to many native bee species. Beekeepers and conservationists work to protect these native insects and their habitats.
  8. Bee City USA: Oregon has several cities designated as Bee City USA affiliates. These cities commit to creating sustainable habitats for pollinators.
  9. Mead Making: With the abundance of unique local honey, Oregon also has a growing industry of mead makers – a type of alcohol made by fermenting honey.

Summing up

Beekeeping in Oregon involves continuous learning to counter the challenges that evolve over time. But the rewards are great. Beyond personal satisfaction and hive resources, beekeeping in Oregon contributes significantly to sustainable agriculture.

Whether you want a fulfilling hobby or to help the local environment, beekeeping is fruitful in more ways than one. Every beekeeper was once a beginner, so connect with local beekeeping communities, and dive in.

The bees, and your garden, will thank you.

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