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Farmers Market - adapting to extremely cold temps

Today it was in the low 30s when we were at the Pearl Farmers Market. After I checked the weather app when we started setting up for market, I told myself not to look again because I did not want to know it felt like 24 degrees. COLD to us! But we made it work after having a year to freeze at market and now we do things like pack a lot of hot beverages, load up the kerosene heater, keep the honey samplers near the warmth so dispensing is doable, bring rain gear just in case (and two blankets for wrapping around us), etc. Six hours on your feet out at market is tiring even after two years. We love it but it does wear us out sometimes. So we are especially thankful for customers who show up in support of everyone who made it. And we are thankful for fellow vendors who braved the weather with us so the shoppers may have a bit of variety in shopping. Mark continues to lead the market association membership – continues to learn also. He’s getting pretty good researching Robert’s Rules in my opinion. He has such patience with things like that. It does take a lot more of his time than we anticipated but it’s important to both of us and he wants to do the best he can. I’m so proud of him!

Speaking of time, we decided that since we have limited time, we would have to change up what and how we do things. So, out with big nuc sales for others and in with spending that time with our own bees. So far, we are liking this decision a lot. About this time of the year, we’d be heading or making plans to head to Florida to see family and to pick up nucs for our customers. It was stressful and yielded little profit. Mark did it to help other people. What it did to our bees, however, was not worth it this year we decided. Our own hives typically got a big neglected as Mark focused almost all his attention on caring for and growing those nuc hives in anticipation of customer pick-up late March. And you know what? Sometimes a few unpleasant incidents with people are just enough to signal a change is needed. So – take a look at one of our hives so far.

Thriving bees

This was a couple of weeks ago and is typical of how our hives are looking. This is a huge improvement over past years. A strong hive such as this resulted from Mark’s constant checking on them during winter months, especially towards the end of winter now. This is a critical time for the bees because things are starting to bloom out but not yet abundantly what with all the up-and-down weather we’ve had. So, the queens are laying more so that’s more bees and that means more mouths to feed. If we didn’t have to check our hives and they ran out of food at this point of winter, then some bees or hives may not make it and that’d put us back a bit. That is what used to happen when we sold bees to others and we are thrilled to see what we can do with our own girls this year since Mark can devote his focus on them. So exciting!

Hello 2015

Mistletoe at the Bee Ranch

Where has our 2014 gone? I love the holidays because it often brings out the best in most people. The holiday season also is one of our busiest retail times with holiday shows and our annual Holiday Open House – this was our 5th year! – on top of the usual weekly store hours at the Bee Ranch and the Saturday Farmers Market at the Pearl AND the kickoff of the first annual Gift Market that Pearl hosted. So, my apologies for not being able to keep up with the blog as I would have loved. You have no idea how many times I have opened this up to add tidbits. I am determined to post today! The problem is we’ve had so much to share that it’s totally overwhelming so I’m going to simplify a bit for now.

First off – HAPPY NEW YEAR!! How has your first day of the new year been? Are you going to fill 2015 up with adventures and laughter and fun along with all the hard work I’m sure we all have ahead of us in life? We plan to enjoy every moment and every beeventure, that’s for sure.

Next, how are our bees doing? Great! It’s the first of January and we’ve been going through a rather wet winter spell though it’s been pretty mild most all of December. Great news for the bees – there’s been a good amount of pollen and nectar gathered for their stores and we’ve actually been amazed at the amount of brood on many of the hives when we opened them up for an occasional check on things. I like it when Mark is excited and happy with the hives’ health. He says it’s looking very good for a great season coming up and we hope this pattern will remain until spring!

We are looking forward to another year of grueling though very rewarding work and the best part of all of this is that we get to work with each other, family members and some of the very best friends anyone could ask for in this world. We are often amazed at how tireless they work to help us when they have plenty going on in their own lives as well. We sure appreciate each and every person in our life. We love you and we learn from you.

This is the lovely Thuy who stopped by in December for too short a visit. But while she was here, she sure did help us with ornament making and candle pouring. Oh yes, and bookkeeping. Fun! Always fun to have her help. Awwww...my two ornament making maniacs!!! 😬👍🐝

And then there’s our adorable, hard-working grandson – if you are doing something, he wants to help. That young man sure has learned a great work ethic early in life! He seems to get great satisfaction out of whatever it is he is doing. We sure love him!

Our lil boo helped me with more gift baskets before he left. We love spending time with him!

We got about an inch and a lizard of rain Saturday. Lol he's so cute!

Well happy October, everyone! I can’t believe it’s here already but what a welcome change in terms of weather patterns. Mark caught this little guy in the rain gauge last week when he was checking on the rain we had gotten. Over the past several weeks, we have seen maybe 1 to 3 inches of rain each week and it’s made everything around here green again. The bees are flying heavily and bringing in tons of pollen. They’re also making some good honey for their winter stores and we are so excited about the potential for another great season next spring. Yes, we are already thinking ahead. This good soaking of the ground is what the wildflowers need NOW in order to bloom beautifully LATER.

In other news, we’ve been getting honey supers cleaned (with help from the bees as well as Stan and Mr. Savior), getting the home better organized (finally unpacking books and such now that we found some shelves), and preparing for upcoming holiday events! It’s about that time, right? We are busily getting wording and pictures updated so we can get the website caught up – we are so behind in terms of all the new products we haven’t had time to get listed. Well, we are now working on it and hope to have information to our friend Troy soon. He’s our awesome web designer who also happens to now have his own hives (yay Troy and family!)!

GBR Product Shoot 2014

Last Sunday we hosted our first vendor/member for our Pearl FM family! It was a great turnout and we look forward to having more of these so that we can all get to know each other better, away from the hustle and bustle of market. We are all so busy there that it’s hard to have time to visit with each other. This event was so much fun and we appreciated folks making time to drive to the Bee Ranch to see the operation. Can’t wait to see where we go next time!

Pearl Vendor Get Together

One more thing before I go…this is Mark’s third rattler killed. Thankfully only one has been at the house and now that we have spotted the family of gray foxes, we haven’t noticed snakes. Anyway, this one was at the Carolina bee yard which is located at the Moo Jesus Dairy Farm. Mark said it was headed into the garden the family keeps and he sure did not want it surprising them so he grabbed his handing garden hoe and took care of it. Thank goodness he had his snake boots on this time! Yay, honeybee! Good job, love. People have been telling us that they notice more rattlers this year so be careful out there, friends!

The only good thing about this is that I get some pics without worry about it being alive. It does, however, still move from reflex and that's a little creepy. #texas #rattlesnake

Comanche Creek bee yard Aug 2014

Holy smokes, folks. Guess what? We managed to bring back thirty-one (yes 31!) honey supers yesterday from Comanche Creek bee yard. Pretty late in the year for the bees to be making honey but no one here is complaining, that’s for sure. Though we are in September, the bees made the bulk of this honey in August so we’ll go with an August harvest. So cool! Comanche Creek Farm & Ranch is the yard west of San Antonio. The past two years had been pretty hard for the hives out there due to the extreme drought. We even moved half of them off the property despite our desire to partner with the super nice Anderson family. We left one of two bee yards intact and prayed for a better year. And it happened. That area has received so much rain this year that creeks we typically see dry are filled with water. There is green grass all along the dirt roads we normally meander on to get to the hives. Trees and brush are greener and fuller. Bees are happier, healthier and busier. So not only are they making an amazing amount of honey this year, the hives are just downright robust and that makes for a very happy beekeeper. Mark and I were talking yesterday about how it all hinges on nutrition. With the rains, things bloom. With the blooms, bees receive the nutrition they need to thrive. Man, what an amazing switch for them and we couldn’t be happier. Go bees! The above picture was shot last week when Tang, Mark and I went to see the bees on Labor Day. We had a lovely picnic under an oak tree and I even spotted a wild beehive right above us – heard the hum of the bees. Below is one of my favorite shots – Tang loves to photograph things as much as I do! LOL If I get my camera/phone out, he has to have a shot also. That is one of the many Cenizo bushes in bloom after the rains out in that area. The bees were buzzing all over the bushes and you could really hear them well. I saw many had full pollen buckets so we were all very happy for them and for us.

Comanche Creek bee yard Aug 2014

The honey pulled yesterday tastes like it has this Cenizo as well as Bee Brush in it. All I know is that it’s gorgeously light and tastes wonderful. How nice to have a slightly different variety to try out in a year when my favorite Mesquite honey didn’t get made!

Comanche Creek honey Sept 2014

And this is what the 31 honey supers look like in the Honey House – so awesome!

Late harvest 2014

By the way, in case you don’t follow any of our other social media…we have official store hours now! It’s a start and we are pleased to be able to commit to it.

We started official store hours!

First issue of TxFarm2Market

Here it is – our second published article in August! Wow, it’s as exciting as the fact that the bees are still making honey into August. We still have bees in Comanche making some honey. Crazy but good year! Back to the article. We met these two wonderful gentlemen at the Pearl Farmers Market back in June I believe and we really enjoyed learning about their plans for a new publication with a focus on the true producers of Texas, whether farming or ranching. Even on a Bee Ranch. We are so happy to be in the first issue of TXfarm2market and we hope you will make some time to read it in support of the publication as well as our fellow Pearl Farmers Market vendor, the Palmers of Palmer Farms. Thank you, Ernie, for taking the time to visit with us at market as well as driving out to Seguin to see the Bee Ranch – it was fun! Click here to see the first issue. Below is a shot of Ernie interviewing Mark at the Bee Ranch.

Ernie's awesome and we're enjoying our time and appreciate Tx Farm 2 Table coming to visit GBR!

Fumigating frames so wax moths won't eat up all the wax during winter storage

As we wrap up the last of honey being produced, there’s a lot of work to clean and then treat the hives for mites and fumigating with moth crystals to make sure we kill any wax moth larvae that might be on the frames. With three-digit heat indices, the men are usually pretty exhausted by the time they call it a day. Actually some days, lunch time brings me two very pooped men and I feel for them when they often head back out after lunch. Sometimes they can catch a break with work in the Candle Shop and when they do, I come home to beautiful candles. I love seeing what they do at the end of the day and hearing about it over dinner. Here’s a shot I took one afternoon when they starting hand-dipping sweet little tapers. I shot this one holding my camera under the rack and just above the hot beeswax. A little bit nervous but glad I got the shot.

Hand-dipped candles going into the wax melter #bees #beeswax #beekeeping #texas

Before I close, I want to mention that our bee classes are kicking back up next month! Nice to think that some slightly less sweltering heat is right around the corner (really it is!). If you are interested or know anyone who would like to come visit us for a class, then please check out our website for more information. Who’s ready to look at some bees with my beekeeper?

The queen in this hive is going to town. We'll likely be able to split this one. #bees #beekeeper #beekeeping

Today as I pulled into our drive...

Oh beautiful sky with your beautiful clouds, why not darken a bit and drop some raindrops? Couldn’t hurt to ask. During the hottest weeks/months of summer when the sun beats down on your back when you’re working outside, you welcome clouds even when they don’t always or often yield moisture. Mark will sometimes say to me that he appreciates the clouds when he’s working the bees. Clouds soften the brutal sun rays. I snapped this photo with my phone pointed straight up in front of me. The clouds were gorgeous and held such promise for rain here and there around us. The wind picked up and it cooled down quite a bit but hours later, we still did not receive any rain. Oh well. There’s always a little hope. It’s actually not as dry as it has been in the past for this time of year. It’s August in South Texas. It’s pretty hot now! Three-digit heat has finally arrived but most of us say, “If we can just get through August, then there’s light at the end of the tunnel.” haha The heat makes us appreciate the cold later.

Mark and Tang continue to tend to the hives out in different yards. It’s rare to have some of the hives still making a little bit of honey but we won’t complain. What an odd year it is. So far, we have harvested (or extracted) about 6,000 pounds of honey! Great numbers considering how little we got last year. Every drop is appreciated for sure! For hives that are strong and thriving, Tang and Mark are dividing. We’re going through a steady supply of queen bees ordered from outside of Texas, as always. We have another 28 queens coming this Wednesday. There’s also mite treatments to be completed, empty honey supers to treat for wax moths and then stored for winter, pecan trees to be tended to since there’s a second round of caterpillars…the list goes on. There’s never a dull moment but we try to rest when we can. The pace as well as the heat can truly be tiring.

In other news, we are thankful to be covered in a couple of local publications in the San Antonio area! Our first story is out now in Edible San Antonio magazine. You can find a copy by visiting their webpage. I want to give a big shoutout to our friend, Josh Baker of AzulOx Visuals. Josh photographed us at our Bee Ranch last fall and we were happy to have one of the photos we love so much be used in the article. Josh is an amazing photographer and he’s a lot of fun so please do check out his website if you are looking for photographer who will do more than take the usual posed pictures. Okay, the second article? You’ll have to wait! But you won’t have to wait long because we have seen the copy and the print is coming to the Pearl Farmers Market THIS coming Saturday. So excited and thrilled to have people interested in what we do at the Bee Ranch. Yay bees and beekeeper!

Edible San Antonio August-Sept issue

In happy honey-lover news, I’m excited to be able to share that Mark has updated the GBR website with the latest inventory of our local South Texas honey – the Gonzales County Wildflower. I love how light it is, just gorgeous! It tastes very similar to our Guadalupe County Wildflower. Light in color and light in taste. Check our Honey Shop if you would like to try some of this beautiful honey.

Gonzales County Wildflower Honey (2014 harvest)

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Greetings from the sky as I finish out my three straight weeks of travel to do some instructor-led training on a new gadget at work. Apparently getting on a plane to fly from Texas to South Carolina is my best chance at getting some work done for both companies I work for these days. I forget how long the flight is but I’m balancing CMC and GBR work as we cruise because somehow it has been a month since my last post and a lot has happened! I really should let y’all know what we’ve been up to this past month. And just so you know, part of my issue with posting has been a new PC/tablet combination I have been assigned at work. While I force myself to use it to learn it, I find that I can’t copy my usual Flickr picture links so that I can easily and quickly add them here. That’s been frustrating. Anyhow. Time and tech issues. I got them both! Haha

Since I last wrote, we finished our 2014 honey extraction! And by “we,” I mean a team of us. What we’d do without the help of family and friends, I’m not really sure. We are blessed this year to have my brother Tang staying with us a few months – he is a huge help to us both with beekeeping and candlemaking activities. And if you’ve been to the Pearl Farmers Market lately, then no doubt you have seen, heard and possibly met Tang, affectionately known as Forklift (because he says whatever we need done in the bee yard, honey house, or home, a forklift can help). He’s an absolute blessing to us, as are our friends Stan, Belinda and the Saviors. Collectively, they have helped us pull heavy honey supers and then handled the extraction activities so that Mark and Tang could take back empty supers or do mite treatments if a yard is done honey-making. We sure appreciate each of them so much and are so blessed to know them. The wonderful thing about family and friends is that no matter how hot and hard the work gets, there’s always opportunities to laugh and enjoy working together. It’s truly awesome.

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This year is the latest we have ever extracted. We thought by the end of June we’d be done but we didn’t even start pulling the bulk of the supers until July! Gee! Thanks to the late and intermittent rains, as flowers bloomed after a rain, the bees would pick up with their honey-making and when they are doing that, you sure don’t want to interrupt their work. Most everyone who waited for local honey learned this year that when it comes to the honey supply, we are on the schedule of Mother Nature and the bees. We can hope, want and demand all we want but until they are done, we all wait. It’s part of the learning process for some of our customers. It’s important for people to understand that honey is a limited resource, especially in a drought area. We each have to appreciate the hard work the bees put into producing every drop of honey. Once a crop is depleted, or once your honey jar is depleted, then you have to wait until next season. It sometimes amazes me that some customers assume we can harvest any time we wish. Nope! You get one harvest usually. That’s it. A lot rides on that harvest and we feel being at the Pearl market and building a solid foundation of loyal customers helps us to educate people on this process.

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Speaking of the Pearl, we are very, very happy with how things have developed there for us. Our move to a double booth and expanding our product line to include additional beeswax ornaments as well as bee pollen has really helped us to develop more steady income which in turn has helped us to make small improvements to our business and our operations. Also, being at the Pearl has opened up several partnering opportunities with local chefs as well as publications devoted either to the culinary scene in San Antonio or to the farm to table movement. We are thrilled that soon (like in the next two weeks), we will be in two publications which I will share here as soon as they are out. I promise I won’t wait a month before I tell you all. I’m too excited about this!

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In case you are local and you’re wondering what honeys we have this season, we are pleased to have a wonderfully light Huajilla Honey from our bee yards in Bigfoot (Frio County) and in the D’Hanis area (Medina County). When I first saw a picture of the first bottle, I never would have believed it was Huajilla had Mark not told me. Light in color and taste – we’ve really been enjoying it. For our closer bee yards (Guadalupe, Gonzales and Bexar counties), we have our wonderful Wildflower Honey. As my go-to honey for my allergies, I am happy to see this year’s crop is also very light in color and taste. Some people as us which is best and that is purely up to individual taste buds. While I am sad the way things worked out so that the bees could not make Mesquite Honey this year, I am happy that the Huajilla has a bit of Mesquite in it as both bloomed simultaneously (typically Mesquite blooms later in the summer after everything else and so we’ve gotten a late summer harvest of it in the past). The taste of the Huajilla is typically described as smooth and smoky. I love it this year and for me it will have to do without Mesquite as an option. The Wildflower Honey is described by most as possessing a more floral taste and the impression is that it “tastes sweeter” than the Huajilla. But you could survey two people and they could possibly tell you the opposite things for each honey. That’s what I tell customers when they don’t want to taste the samples but would rather have me tell them what is what. I tell them but it’s really up to your taste buds to tell you if you prefer one over the other.

Okay, I think this is good for now. Wouldn’t want to overload you guys. I appreciate y’all’s patience as we work away at the harvest and everything else we have going on these days. There just never is enough time for us to do all we wish to do in a day. And for that, we are grateful. Loving the life we live and hoping you are as well! Take care and hope to talk to y’all again real soon.

PS – I got busy once I landed in SC so I am only now able to get pictures loaded to go with my post. What’s a post without pictures!? I love it when I go to blogs and see pictures so there. Also, I am super happy to have finished my series of training courses that has taken me away from home for three straight weeks. This is a very happy me after work today! Tomorrow I get to hang out with my little sis and then I fly home to my men Thursday. Woohoo!

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