Metro natural gardening instructor Glen Andresen grows food and bee-attracting plants in his Northeast Portland home garden.
When you’re standing in Glen Andresen’s yard, you’re bound to get buzzed by a bee or two. That’s to be expected, considering the nearby ceanothus and other plants that attract these feared and revered pollinators. But the more obvious reason is the dozen or so hives situated around his mulched garden beds.
“Glen,” his wife, Ann Sihler, calls as he hunkers over a bed of newly sprouted beets, separating clusters and re-planting singles. “You just got a call about a swarm. It’s in Northwest. It’s been there about an hour.” It’s not the first call about a swarm. He’s tended to about eight in the last week, four on Thursday alone.
Glen, 55, has been working with Metro’s natural gardening program for 17 years. This summer, he’s teaching free workshops around the region as part of Metro’s natural gardening workshop series, happening now through September. Glen’s care for –and co-habitation with—bees is an extension of his gardening philosophy. “Let’s work with nature,” he says. “Let nature do the gardening for us whether that’s soil fertility or pest control or pollination.”
Pollination? Buzz. Check. Soil fertility? Glen hasn’t tilled his soil in 15 years, instead cultivating the rich, airy humus through cover cropping with nitrogen fixers like fava beans and crimson clover, and top-mulching. It’s good, organic dirt that yields a vibrant, healthy garden of edibles, including rhubarb, berries, and greens, as well as bee attracters like salvia and fall-blooming asters, which, when in bloom, spray a pastel stripe below the trellised apples—Liberty, Hudson’s Golden Gem, and other varieties.
The trellised apples, along with some pears, frame Glen’s garden, which occupies the front and side yard of the corner lot in Northeast Portland that he’s called home for 24 years. Beyond the trellis, the parking strip is also a vegetable bed, dwarfed by a sequoia Glen planted 23 years ago. Glen noticed that after he put in the sidewalk bed, now growing a healthy crop of volunteer potatoes, similar beds of edibles started popping up along his street, many incorporating his growing practices, like the tomato cages he uses and his ritual of mulching the beds in the fall.
It’s just one of the community benefits of gardening—the ripple effect. When Glen puts bags on his apples to protect them from worms, he says the neighbors want to know, “What are the bags for?” They stop and talk; they learn.
“People don’t want to use chemicals. They just don’t know how not to,” Glen says with a cursory look into a couple of hives. ”It’s easier to garden when you plant more flowers.”
Raised in Junction City, Glen completed a bachelor’s degree in economics in Eastern Oregon. Soon after, Glen ended up in the Portland region to earn an Associate degree in jazz piano from Mt. Hood Community College. Since then, he’s cobbled together a living of garden instruction, bee and honey work, music (trombone and electric bass) and a little close-to-home property management—he owns two houses within a stone’s throw of his own, and grows more food in the backyard in one of them.
To the soundtrack of buzzing bees, Glen recalls some old Guy Clark lyrics: “Only two things that money can’t buy. That’s true love and homegrown tomatoes.” Glen adds: “I would argue it’s more than tomatoes.”
Take a free workshop from Glen or another Metro gardening expert! Find a workshop near you and register online. You can also take advantage of Metro’s online gardening resources, including instructional videos and gardening publications.