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Cat’s Paw Bees: The art of honey

Jun 1st, 2012 | Category: Crafts

by Samantha Schuller

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of encountering Bonnie and Andy Swanson of Cat’s Paw Bees and bringing one of their hand-painted jars full of local honey home, you know the conundrum—the jar is too beautiful to keep in the cupboard, and the honey is too delicious to keep just for display.

Hand painted honey jars. COURTESY PHOTO

“When we first started selling jars I simply wrote our name on them with glass paint. Andy was playing around one evening and painted a few jars. We liked it and have continued to hand paint each one,” says Bonnie, adding that eventually when they expand beyond the 60 hives they now keep, they’ll have to start using printed labels, hand-painting only as many jars as they can keep up with. “That’d be a good problem to have,” she laughs.

Expanding beekeeping operations is easier said than done, though. Beekeeping using organic and sustainable methods is laborious, and because of the increased threats to bee colonies in recent years, keeping a healthy hive sometimes means sacrificing your honey harvest so that the bees can eat it themselves. In 2011, Cat’s Paw produced 1,300 pounds of honey from 25 of their hives. It’s a huge increase over the three hives they began with in 2009, but the Swansons don’t intend to stop there.

Along with other local beekeepers, they are working to breed a local lineage of bees that will be more resilient to the Northwest’s long, wet winters. “The majority of the industry in North America must rely on replacing lost hives or expanding their operations using bees brought in from California,” Bonnie says. Developing a breed of bees that will thrive locally will not only prevent losses in beekeeping, but ensure that pollinators keep doing what we all need them to do.

In addition, together with other advocates of slow food in the area, the Swansons are working to increase awareness in the Port Susan area (comprising Stanwood, Camano Island, and Silvana) about the importance of a strong local food system.
Honey is a valuable part of that system, the Swansons add. Raw, unpasteurized honey produced without the use of pesticides or antibiotics is a nutritious whole food, full of vital nutrients and minerals. It helps you build your immune system, serves as a remedy for many common ailments like sore throats, and suppresses pollen allergies. And let’s not underestimate its finest characteristic—it tastes great too!

So why the name Cat’s Paw? “Andy is a finish carpenter and we used to run a small business called Cats Paw Woods. The name is derived from a woodworking tool called a cat’s paw, which is used to pull nails. When we began selling honey, we just stuck with the Cat’s Paw name. It helps that we love cats too,” Bonnie says with a smile.

Cat’s Paw Bees’ honey is available at independent stores in the Stanwood-Camano area, farmers’ markets in north Snohomish County, and online at

Published in the June 2012 issue of Grow Northwest magazine.

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