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Pollen gathering at Big Oaks

Happy Easter, everyone! Today feels like it’s already a full day and it’s only 7pm. haha, love that. We kicked off our wonderful day with a great breakfast before booking it out to collect pollen we planned to collect yesterday but you know what? We were so tired that after a friend stopped by for a visit and stayed longer than anticipated (but what a nice visit that was!), we just didn’t even REMEMBER we were supposed to go to Big Oaks. That’s tired. And that is usually what happens to us by Saturday afternoons after market and class, as we had both events yesterday. I think the week catches up to us and we just sort of get drained. It felt good to rest and get a little extra sleep, that’s for sure.

So…back to this morning. The top shot is Mark pulling pollen traps (Sundance brand). We currently have a pollen trap on seven hives and today alone, we got about 13 pounds of some of the cleanest pollen we’ve ever collected. Below is a trap he just pulled out and you can see there are hardly any pieces of debris in there. We talked about how great that is since it will mean minimal cleaning is required if we decide to bottle some to sell. The pollen we collected in fall had more pieces of twigs, leaves, grass and so on and that means more cleaning time. Below is a closer look at the trap (or tray). So pretty and tastes so nice and mild! Sweet as well.

Pollen gathering at Big Oaks

Below is what I posted on Facebook earlier this morning. That is the fullest we have ever had one of our traps and we just were simply amazed! The girls are really pulling in a lot and if you are new to our blog and haven’t read previous posts about pollen collecting, then I’ll just reassure you that collecting it like this does not diminish a hive’s health. The traps only brush off some of the pollen being carried in, not all of it. So don’t worry that the bees are left with little or no protein. They are doing just fine.

Pollen trap full of pollen

Collecting pollen this time of year is new for us. We wanted to give spring collecting a try after talking with a fellow beekeeping friend who collects at this time and has seen zero impact on bee health as well as honey production. We trust them and respect their experience and knowledge so we’re giving it a go. We’ll keep you posted on things. Here’s putting our money where our mouth is – 17 new pollen traps came in last week! They are painted and ready for installation this week. Like, tomorrow according to Mark.

Pollen traps

By the way, here is what we had for breakfast, which we don’t have often so on Sundays when we do eat breakfast, I like to make it special and just the way my beekeeper like it – yummy! The eggs are from fellow Seguinite, Wholesome Harvest Farm, while the strawberries are from Wheeler Farm. We are eating so much better now that we shop mostly at the Pearl market while we are there every Saturday. The bacon and other meats I need that I can’t get at market, I get from the meat market just down the road from us (Granzin’s).

Breakfast feast on Easter

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Panorama of Big Oaks bee yard

Yesterday after work, Mark drove up as I got home from work. Luckily for me, I caught him between bee yard visits and after he unloaded a hive out by the Honey House, we headed out to Big Oaks. What a treat for me!!! I hadn’t been out there again since we unloaded the nucs and at this time of year, I always want to go out and see what’s growing and blooming. I wasn’t disappointed. The bees were looking good and there was a good variety of wildflowers starting to bloom and trees (and wild grapes) starting to bud out. Yay spring!

Mark inspects some Nucs at Big Oaks

The nucs are mostly coming along fine. There are a few that don’t look great but those will just stay and keep getting built up more. We have our first round of pick up this coming Saturday and we are super excited about that. People are really interested in the bees and keeping some on their own which all serves to meet our mission of replenishing honeybees to our region. Hopefully they will enjoy it as much as we are. In the picture above, Mark is inspecting the nuc frames to make sure there is good brood and eggs being laid by the queen. I love watching him work – he really gets into it and focuses on what he’s doing and we hardly ever speak. He’s busy tending to his bees and I’m busy getting to do what I love – observing him, the bees, and nature around me and photographing whatever I want.

Speaking of queen, we got our 83 Big Island queens in last week. It’s always an anxious waiting game when you know they are coming but not exactly the time and so nothing (well, very little) gets done away from the Bee Ranch just in case the delivery man (UPS usually) arrives with them. Luckily for us, that day, he came while I was there for lunch so I was able to watch Mark anticipate him, meet him out in the drive and then wait by the truck as he fetched them from the back. Here’s the happy beekeeper.

Finally, Big Island queens are in hand

Here’s the worried me wondering why I don’t hear the melodic humming of queens and attendants as I have with past batches. We figured it was because they got a little chilled riding around in that open UPS truck. It was on the cool side that morning. Once they warmed up sitting on the kitchen counter while we lunched, they started humming a bit. Or buzzing is what most people might call it but really, the sound is much more like a constant hum. At any rate, it’s quite soothing.

You girls okay in there?

Here’s a look at the queens once Mark got them all placed into the queen bank, which is a temporary home for them while he goes about installing them into hives he’s identified as needed to be requeened at his various bee yards.

The GBR queen bank

It looks like we will have about 20 extra queens at this point so if you need a queen, let us know (830-305-7925) and we’ll see about setting you up with what you need. At this time, they run $30 a queen and we’ve used Big Island quite a bit and have been pleased with their queens.

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Small swarm

Since I am fielding calls quite frequently about bees swarming here and there, I thought I’d do a quick post on a few things that I have found interesting so far this week. First of all, a few words about swarms – they are not necessarily cause for alarm, folks! Bees are actually quite gentle in this state for several reasons. Simply put, they have no home at this point to defend and they are actually quite full of honey so who cares about stinging people. They’ve got to look for a home all while clustered around their queen to keep her safe. That’s right. She’s in the middle of all the bees you might see hanging from a tree, fence, building, air conditioning unit (yep, remember when Mark removed one a few years ago?) or some such place. Usually they will stay only a few days or until they find a new home. While most of the bees are clustered, some scout bees will venture about seeking the perfect space to make their home. Somewhere closed typically so that it’s easily defended. Anyhow, just wanted you to know this is happening right now so you know what it is and why you don’t need to panic. Next topic…

Isn’t she adorable!? When Mark showed me this picture, he knew what my reaction would be – delight. He knows me. I was delighted for sure. She was covered in pollen! She must have rolled all around the flowers. lol They can be so silly and so much like children in my opinion. I love to hear about them and see what they are doing. If you can’t see the bee with pollen dust, look in the upper left quadrant of the photo and see if you can spot the one bee with wings that look mustardy. That’s her. πŸ™‚

That's a dusty girl

In other bee-related news, we got moves going on left and right. Yep, the bees are getting shuffled around. We don’t actually move our hives around too much but when conditions warrant it, it happens. This particular move below was several hives going from the Big Oaks nursery to the Gonzales bee yards. You know how we love the Gonzales honey so here’s hoping they have a great year. I just had some Gonzales Wildflower in my cup of coffee – oh my it was delish. I sometimes forget just how smooth that county honey is – not sure why but it doesn’t seem to crystalize as quickly either. Too bad we didn’t make a lot of it last honey season – this jar was in my reserve. It pays to know the beekeeper, eh? By the way, the ice you see helped keep the bees cool during the drive as it was in the mid-80s that day. We don’t want them overheating while sitting on the truck. They made it just fine.

Moving more hives

Tomorrow Mark and Stan will move more bees – this time from Runge to a new yard they will establish in…wait for it…wait…BIGFOOT!! Finally! I get to write about Bigfoot; got to love that name. Here’s the sign I snapped when we visited the first time –

Bigfoot, Texas

It had such a neat feeling to it. Can’t wait to see what honey is like there. The farm we will be on is amazing. Well, the owner and his crew are what make it amazing. I have a Frio County Farm Visit Flickr set (of course) in case you want to see what the area looks like. We loved it and we can’t wait to work the bees down there! And a word about why we’re moving the bees: There isn’t much for the bees to feed on right now in Runge and they are looking pretty sad. We need to move them somewhere they’ll have some food so they won’t starve to death. This is what you do. You watch and care for them and you help them when they need you, which may not be often but this is a prime example. Sometimes we have people call us and ask our opinion about their hives. Sometimes we can help, sometimes it’s too late. Sometimes something could have been done to help the bees if intervention came sooner. So, here’s some advice for our new beekeepers – get in your hives on a regular basis. If you don’t know exactly when to check on them, at least read this blog or other beekeeper blogs and do what they do. When they check hives, you check hives. When they feed, you feed. When they treat for mites, you treat for mites. πŸ™‚ One of the best ways to learn is to do. So open up those hives and keep an eye on your gals! And few guys.

Okay, I think that’s about it for now. Not bad for a mid-week post. πŸ™‚ Now, I have candles to wrap for market. Lots of candles. Yay! OOOOOH! Forgot to tell y’all that we sold our first bucket o’ unrefined wax to a company that specializes in some very nice looking beauty care products. We’ll let you know how things progress. ALSO…we have signed on to be a participant at the Artisan’s Market being hosted by the La Cantera William-Sonoma! Exciting! More on that soon. It’ll be on a Saturday (April 27) from noon to 4:00 p.m. Can’t wait to share all the varieties of honey with folks and we hope to see as many of YOU ALL out there! That’d be awesome!

Okay, for real this time. Goodnight. πŸ™‚

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The British Invasion queen

I am determined to write this before I hit the sack since we have a long day tomorrow. Remember that new approach to queen installation/introduction I mentioned? This was the hive that we got from Jester Bees in Florida but they had lost their Jester queen and had made their own, which we didn’t want. Mark put the Big Island queen in and did the heavy smoke and release approach. Well, Mark went back in today and it has only been three days…and there she was! Still alive and well AND laying eggs. Amazing! He was quite pleased and will continue to monitor her and the hive. He said he may also try a few more to see how it goes. Sure would save time and energy if it works consistently. We’ll keep you posted.

Rattlesnake hole

In other news, Smokey found (or ran across) a rattlesnake in the back area of our yard where the candles shop and our supplies and equipment are! Yikes. I didn’t have a zoom lens so that pic of the den is all you get. I was on watch while Mark went to find the gun and ammunition. The den is a little close to home. It appears the den is along the tree line and Smokey was between the snake and its den. Fortunately he got Mark’s attention somehow and did not move from the area until Mark came over (cautiously, for he heard that awful rattling sound). We are pretty proud of that cat of ours and we are glad he didn’t get hurt. I’m really glad Mark didn’t happen upon him unsuspectingly – it’s an area we venture into to look at what’s blooming in the field. Now we know to watch our step. I have never heard a rattlesnake before in real life and it is somewhat creepy. Mark’s right – you can’t really tell exactly where it’s at when you hear it! 😦

Danielle helping Mark make up some nucs

Back to bee news – that’s our friend and former student, Danielle, helping out at Big Oaks bee yard today. She and Mark prepared enough nucleus hives (nucs) for our students and customers tomorrow. It got a little warm and Danielle wasn’t feeling so great by the end of the day so we sure hope she feels better soon!

While I was working, Mark also sent this great shot of the bees carrying some beautiful pollen – we certainly love to see this!

That's some nice pollen they're carrying in today.

Okay, I had better say goodnight and see you tomorrow. Remember, Mark’s in class here. I’m downtown on the Seguin square for Seguin Trade Days (9-4p) and Lan will be celebrating her LAST DAY AT THE PEARL (!!) with Sonia and Danny. 😦 Be sure to swing by there and wish her well as she’s moving soon! We sure are going to miss one of our top sales guru. Thank you for all you’ve done for us Lan!

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Nuc bees in flight

After a long, cold, soaking ride from Florida to Texas…the girls are home! We got them to Big Oaks with enough light left for Stan and Mark to unload all one hundred nucs. What a relief to get them off the trailer and set on their new homes. After they get settled a bit, Mark goes back out to transfer the frames into the boxes and then feeds them a supplement to give them a little boost – sort of like a welcome party for the newcomers. πŸ™‚ I loved hearing them buzz – so glad they survived the ride. We drove through some pretty rough weather – tornado warning and all the excitment that goes along with that (like a tree falling across the interstate due to the totally soaked ground, which we wouldn’t know about here in Texas). To see them flying was so thrilling! They were spilling out of the nuc boxes when Mark and Stan opened them up. Also fun was to watch them do their first flight right in front of their hives in order to get oriented. After that, they just take off and do their foraging thing.

I am still working on loading more pictures but it’ll take another day or two to finish. We had to get caught up on orders we got while traveling, not to mention all the house stuff (like groceries) and so on. Life. It’s just packed! But not too packed to enjoy these lovely sights – the Huisache is about to really burst with blooms everywhere. It’s so gorgeous.

Blooming Huisache

But here’s my favorite treasure that I spied while wandering around snapping photos:

Bird Nest in Huisache

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Bees bringing in pollen

What a lovely sight to see. As a matter of fact, I have several lovely pictures to share with you this week. The above shot is from Mark’s visit to the JW Marriott this morning – good job bees! Nothing looks nicer this time of year than to see bees coming back in with both pollen baskets full of beautiful pollen. It’s amazing what a boost that will be for them as they have already started building themselves up in preparation for the honey-making months to come.

We actually got a bit of rain last night and this morning – a quarter of an inch according to the rain gauge. We will take it. Every little bit helps. The bulk of the storm cell just missed us but as long as some of the areas around the yards got rain, then we’re happy.

Below is a picture of bee brush Mark snapped at the Elm Creek bee yard the other day. Gorgeous blue sky on a sunny, cool day. Can’t beat that in Texas this time of year. The bee brush is a lovely scent and blooming pretty much everywhere right now and the bees love it. Again, we are thankful to see the great food source in bloom for our the bees. Every little bit of protein they get means stronger, healthier, more robust hives.

Lovely blooming bee brush

Speaking of robust, look at this Big Oaks frame of brood! Incredible.

That's a lot of brood about to come out.

I couldn’t believe how packed it was and I was so happy to see it as it means the queen is gearing her colony up for spring and honey-making. While we are thrilled to see all of this, it’s a constant worry that the bees continually have enough protein out there to keep them going. We have also seen the Huisache in bloom as well as the wonderful wild mustard that got us through the 2011 drought, when nothing else was out there for them to eat.

In other news, we received a letter from the City saying we were officially annexed February 1. We continue to figure things out to try and move forward with building the Honey House. Mark continues to pour candles between doing everything else that needs to get done. By the way, we got new molds in for some colonial tapers – six inches of lovely wax. We decided to try it after talking with our brother-in-law about his Revolutionary War lantern replica. He uses the six inch taper and next thing you know, Mark ordered the molds and here we are. We are test burning four different wicks and so far so good. We love a dripless candle and soon, our testing will be done and the candles will be available for purchase.

That’s about it for now. Heading to bed and then we do what we do tomorrow. Hope you are all having a great week so far. It’s on the down slope now! πŸ™‚ Wait, as soon as I wrote that I realized that Friday is no longer what it used to be for me since Saturday and Sunday are our wake-up early, work-work-work days. lol I have to find a new Friday! Okay. Goodnight.

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Allison checks out the bees

Now that my belly is full thanks to the wonderful beekeeper, I am sitting here trying to wrap up the week while the Ravens and the 49ers try and wrap things up down on the bayou. Our niece should be happy as she’s been a Ravens fan for quite some time now. Mark and I don’t have much time any more for football though occasionally we enjoy a game on the tube, though not sure when we last watch a game in the entirety. BUT…we do try and catch our Spurs. πŸ™‚

This week was filled, as usual, but we got a little extra help! Our new intern came out and spent the morning getting to know the operations a bit with Mark and then she got to work. She learned how to mix some feed and that was a big help as it freed Mark up for more candle making, which we really needed since last weekend was so crazy at markets. Welcome to the family, Allison!

During the week, the weather warmed up enough so that Mark was able to open up some of the new hives so that he could check on them and feed as needed. Did you know feeding bees can be as messy as eating fried chicken with honey. And with your hands? πŸ™‚

Feeding the bees is messy work

Yep. I showed up at the yard after work that day to see how things were going and I saw this. Makes me love that man even more. lol The sky has been absolutely amazing as of late. The days are getting warmer but still aren’t yet hot and muggy. Great in my book but the beekeeper told me he likes hot and muggy. Sigh, such opposites but we work well together. Back to the weather, now the weatherman is saying there’s no rain in the forecast. Too bad. We need it so the bees can get a real boost before honey-making time. We are pleased, however, to see pollen now coming into the hives. Besides the wonderful Huisache blooming, we’re not sure what else the girls are into these days but we’re happy for whatever it is. Always fun to watch the entrance to see them flying on a beautiful, sunny day.

Speaking of Huisache, that reminds me that I wanted to let you know that if you want to get a fuller picture of our activities, think about following us on Facebook and/orTwitter. When I don’t have time to post as much as I would like, I use FB and the tweets to share pictures and tidbits of our daily activities. The blog is a nice place for an overview of how things are going. The other social media are immediate and daily. FYI.

We’ve also been working on receiving and processing bids on the slab and building of the new Honey House, though really we won’t start building a thing until all the paperwork is done with the city. Yes. It feels like things are moving at a snail’s pace but things will come along as they should and we certainly don’t want to rush into things.

Okay, are you ready to kick off the new week tomorrow? Not sure we are or not but I guess Monday’s coming so we all better get some rest. πŸ™‚ Goodnight, friends.

PS – Don’t forget that the big LOVE day is coming and soon! Chocolates are great but think about giving your honey some candles, maybe a beeswax heart (for the Scentsy perhaps), some good ole honey. mmmm…think about it. Okay. Goodnight.

I just love the hearts.

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