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Archive for the ‘Extraction’ Category

Comb in the uncapping tub

While I do tire of the non-stop 3-digit heat days, I never cease to be fascinated by the beautiful work of the bees. Not just the honey but look at the wax they create, like art to me. I love to visit the shop and see what’s happening out there. I shot the above photo because I just love the different colors of the wax. Some darkened with use, age, light, etc. Still good, all of it. These are bits of the cappings we shave off the tops of honey frames so we can get to the honey. We still do it all by hand with with bread knife. We have a heated knife for this purpose but found the bread knife works just fine in the blistering heat (natural heating 🙂 ). There’s a lot of honey still left on the comb so we just let it drip down into the tub under this for a couple of days and then we’ll run that through our fabric filter to catch debris. It’s amazing how much honey you can harvest from the cappings alone. We never waste a thing if we can help it. The cappings are then stored in buckets until Mark is ready to clean the wax for our beeswax products. We love it and I always tell Mark that even if we never sold another candle, I’m sure our families and I could use up all the candles he makes. We love his work! We can’t wait to show you some of the new things we’re working on for the upcoming holidays. Some new beeswax ornaments for the gift-giving season – you’ll like them I think. Stay tuned.

As I type, I see the clouds have rolled in – yay! Some relief from the scorching sun! It’s been a brutal stretch lately. I believe yesterday Mark told me we’re going on our 13th straight day of 100+ heat. Not unexpected here in Texas this time of year but I think we all still long for fall to hurry on up already. Anyway, whenever there’s a change in the sky, you get excited. lol even if, like yesterday, you don’t get more than 45 drops of rain, the claps of thunder and dark skies make for a welcome change. Sounds like I’m in a bowling alley. Very nice sounds.

Prior to the change just now, we turned on the drip hose for the new hives out back. We’ve been doing this since they got here and the temperatures have been so high. The girls seem to be holding up just fine. The bit of water does a lot to cool them and also provides them with what they need to cool their hives down. They fan water in the hives to create their own cooling system. Pretty awesome, those bees.

Watering divides at the Bee Ranch

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2013 Mesquite comb honey

Above photo: Every time I see comb like this, I simply want to glob a big fat piece of it into my mouth. Yuuuum.

Ever feel like there’s so much going on that you don’t even know which way to turn. And then the next thing you know, it’s bed time. And then you the alarm goes off and you are at it again. LOL that’s us right about now. We still try and make time here and there to just sit or to visit with friends or to go hunting down historical STUFF…but it’s a crazy time for GBR and most other beekeepers are in the same boat, we’re sure. It’s harvest and dividing time so that’s what we’re all about. The weird spring turned weird summer means it’s totally different from last year, when EVERYTHING was pulled at the same time and we killed ourselves trying to extract before the honey went bad on us. This year it’s more like a little here is ready and then maybe a little somewhere else might be ready. Crazy year for sure.

Okay, here are some of the highlights as of late:
1. We got more queens in, this time from Ebert out in Iowa. Mark’s already used six of them.
2. With dividing of hives in progress, he now has 30 new hives, quite a few in our backyard awaiting queen introductions.
3. Went to the Marriott yard today in SA and pulled a few supers. Sponsored hives are looking pretty good and I got some shots of the activities in order to send out an update to our sponsors.
4. We’re still working on getting the word out about the Southtown Farmers & Ranchers Market down at the Bluestar Art Complex (Saturdays 9-1p) so help us out if you can. Sonia and Danny are working it for us and doing a GREAT job. Sure appreciate them!
5. Belinda’s rejoined us and we’re happy to have her help and her smile back.

Here’s the second queen bank Mark built for the 20 Ebert queens. They came in plastic cages.

New queen bank for the 14 Ebert queens left, 6 introduced.

Finally, I wanted to just tell you about how happy I have been to put all the blazing heat to good use out here in Texas! 🙂 It’s in the 3-digits these days and the sun is hot enough to fry eggs on the ground. Really. I saw a little egg drop from above onto our pavement and though it was not of the eat-me-with-a-biscuit quality or quantity, it was cooked. Poor baby birdy. Anyway, a friend of ours (hi Pete!) asked me about decrystalizing a bottle of honey he had gotten a while ago. I explained the typical hot water in a pan technique and then I said, you know what – just go set it on a table outside for a couple of days and it’ll do the trick. I have had our various crystalized jars out there (Remember my cabinet full of honey? Some of it had crystalized and while I like it, it’s hard to get the honey out of the plastic squeeze bottles.) and most of them have been successfully decrystalized now. Free. Easy. Pretty fast. Done. And so am I. Goodnight, friends.

Solar heating

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Attention to detail

I visited Mark out in the candle/honey shop yesterday and as always, I enjoyed looking at the bucket o’ beeswax, thinking about how that bucket you see below turns in the lovely creations we take to market, ship out in orders and gift to others. How amazing, right? That’s cappings you see in the bucket – this is what is sliced off the tops of honey frames during honey extraction. The bees seal up each honey cell once they have dried out the honey to their liking. Remember the 80/20 rule? If a frame in a honey super is about 80% sealed, it means the honey is pretty much ready for harvesting. Anyway, we have to remove that capping in order to open up the cells so that the honey will sling out when the spinning extractor is turned on. The cappings sit in a tub that allows honey to drip off into a tub that we later filter to remove big chunks of wax as well as bees who have gorged themselves silly on honey (what a way to go). But not all the honey is completely gone so when we melt down the cappings and run it through the micron filter to remove dirt and debris, there is enough honey left in the wax so that when you light our pure beeswax candles, you will smell the sweetness of the honey. It’s very subtle (unless you are like me and light about five at a time, or ten during winter months) and does not overwhelm a room like traditionally scented candles might. We love it and we love it when customers come back to pick up more as gifts because they enjoyed their candles so much. Great feeling. Still, I’m just always amazed that this is what it looks like at one point in the process. Of course, it makes me think of cookies and I want to just grab a glob of it as if it were cookie dough. Sigh.

Beeswax post extraction

Today during lunch, I treated us to a delicious new sweetness I’ve been wanting to try since I saw it last week. I picked up some delicious figs at the Quarry market Sunday and while they are quite delicious just washed and quartered, today I caramelized them in the skillet and then put them on my plain Greek yogurt and then added a big of Gonzales honey on it all. Oh. My. I liked it. Mark liked this fresh fig and liked the caramelized figs even more. We love finding new ways to enjoy honey and we also appreciate the opportunities to try new foods – wouldn’t be happening so often if we weren’t at market. Yay for local farmers we meet! I got these from 9-1 Farm at the Quarry. Fernando is super nice and hard-working, like everyone else. Can’t wait to tell him how much we enjoyed his figs. I’ve gotten lots of other produce from him in the past, including that super awesome purple cauliflower. Loved it. Can’t wait for it again next year. Tomorrow’s fig adventure will include comb honey and Brie!

Figs and yogurt

This was the finished product this afternoon. I adore fig preserves so that’s going on my list to learn and we’re wondering where we can plant a fig tree or two on our little Bee Ranch. 🙂 Just a random comment about figs – I was at HEB today after work and I noted there were no fresh figs to be had. Made me wonder why they didn’t have any.

This little figgy

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Me & Mark at Round 2, Game 2 Spurs/Grizzlies

Okay, the NBA Finals are on and I need distractions. To say we are fans is to put it lightly. We LOVE our Spurs! And I am a little on the intense side and sometimes I have to multitask during games so I can break up the stress. 🙂 Poor Mark has to listen to a lot of commentary (I have an awesome husband!). And to think I never even wanted to watch pro-basketball when I was growing up – only college ball for me. Then my brother took me to a Spurs game and I was hooked! And the rest is history.

So, on to the bee news since we are up by 6 with under four minutes to go. Some bee yards are doing well while others are just okay. And in one bee yard, you can have a hive that is cranking out honey production like crazy while the one next to it just isn’t quite as productive. We’ve been wondering if there is ever going to be a sustained honey flow this year – they just had the oddest weather to work with this year. Well, this week has given us a bit more hope. We’ll take whatever they give us but more is always better, given that demand has grown so much. So here’s a rundown of this week’s visits.

Bigfoot visit - honey frame 2

That’s a shot from Bigfoot bee yard in Frio County. Last visit when Mark was there, there wasn’t much to write home about but today…nearly every hive had a super of honey on it. Nice! By the way, he also sent this great picture while there – can you guess the significance of the ranch name? I loved it when he explained it. 🙂

Bigfoot visit - ranch life

Here’s yard #1 at Comanche Creek. A little on the dry side but it can always be worse. We’re thinking we may move this location since any rain looks like it’d come right through part of the yard and may wash away hives. We certainly don’t want that risk. I think Mark has already scoped out possible new spots.

Comanche Creek yard - panorama

The #2 yard is hanging in there and we’re hoping it will pick up again but as I always say, “It can always be worse.” At least we’re not losing bees and at least we have SOME honey in the supers. The girls were busy and barely took notice of us while we were there. I didn’t even have to put on my full suit and that’s always nice. Especially when it’s 95F degrees and feels 100F. Hot. Pretty amazing because when we checked the weather, it was 87F in Seguin. What a big difference. Trust me, you can definitely feel those extra degrees. In my next post, I’ll share a couple other pictures and a video I shot of how the bees keep cool in the heat. I don’t want to overload this entry with too much information.

Comanche Creek June 5 2013 visit

There was a lot of this beautiful brush down at Comanche Creek. I like this shot a lot because of the fantasy feel of the white bee brush – it was blooming everywhere and smelled wonderful and sweet. It was great to see the bees all over the place and that there was food aplenty this trip. While we’ve had some rain, it is still pretty hot and pretty dry. Typical Texas weather so it’s always going to be a challenge if you’re in farming and/or have livestock. Also in bloom down there and with on the blooms included plants such as the wild persimmon, sprinklings of yellow wildflowers (several varieties), Huajilla still holding on and some Mesquite as well. Plenty for them to choose from but the key is that it’s sustainable. The bees need the blooms to be prolonged and then they can continue the honey flow better than the previous stop-and-go blooming. We’ll hope it continues to go well for the bees there.

Bee brush and honey bee

On our way home, we stopped by the last sunflower field with any upright blooms left but I was happy to find any. And as a reward, there was a chubby, cute little wild bee on the bloom. She was so stout and adorable and not bothered by me whatsoever. This is my second year missing the peak bloom time so here’s to next season!

Castroville sunflowers

We didn’t get a shot from Deadman Creek but Mark did check on them and had to add four more supers so that’s great news! We are hopeful that this will be sustained for a while so that they girls can keep on making the honey. Can’t wait to see what the harvest will be like this year. We anticipate harvest will begin in a week or so…pretty soon. Stay tuned.

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Beekeeping activities May 2013

Hello there and where did the week go? Anybody know? It sure has flown by and Saturday is the kickoff to June. Lordy. Well, since I last wrote, we got a LOT of rain, in case you don’t follow us on Twitter and Facebook. 6.25 inches – from Friday to Sunday afternoon. Wow. It was crazy but terribly exciting! It may sound like we should be over the drought but we have a long way to go before we do that. And it may also sound like the bees should be making honey like crazy, right? I mean look around – the countryside and highways are packed with all sorts of late season wildflowers. Well…it’s just not that easy. It’s been such a wonky spring – up and down in temperatures. Rain. No rain. It warms up. Things bloom and then the bees get a honey flow going. Then bam, a cool front. Flowers stop blooming or drop off because it got too cold. The bees then don’t have flowers to sustain the honey flow. They stop making honey. So that’s been a pattern we saw repeated several times this spring and it’s taking a toll in honey production this year. Not sure how much we’ll get but it won’t be in the quantity we got last year, that’s for sure. We’ll keep you posted.

Once things started drying up a bit, Mark made his way around the different bee yards and there is a good honey flow at some yards and in some hives. Here’s a shot of a Deadman Creek yard, where eight out of eleven hives needed honey supers yesterday.

8 of 11 hives need honey supers at Deadman Creek - nice!

And I also wanted to share a picture of some white bee brush that should be in full bloom within the week, which should really spur the bees at Comanche Creek to get a honey flow going. This is a promising sign so Mark will be going back out there mid-week next week to see how they are doing. If you’ve never seen or smelled bee brush, then let me tell you it is one of the sweetest scents I’ve ever smelled and it can make you smile in delight no matter how bad your day has been up to that point. Really. It’s an amazing flower and yet one of the very smallest I’ve ever seen.

Comanche Creek May 29 visit - bee brush

In Honey House news – we actually received some plans this morning and Mark likes the proposal! Just last night we were talking about how slow things sometimes move and how you don’t always receive what you think you should get when you think you should get it. But I guess this whole thing is teaching us more patience. I thought I’d come a long ways but I guess I still have a ways to go in that department. At any rate, we got some things to look over and then we’ll decide what next. In the meantime, we did get water run to the Candle Shop (yay – no more sticky everywhere!) and if the honey production is as low as we think it will be, then it’s likely we may be able to extract in that tiny little space (this will make us appreciate the final HH even more than we thought possible when we extracted last year in the tiny space!). We’ll see how things shape up soon enough.

Honey House proposal

Finally, to the libray we go. Yesterday I made a lovely little gift basket for our friends at the Seguin Public Library. It’s going to be a raffle prize for the adult summer reading program so be sure you register starting Saturday! I will be since there are other great prizes in addition to our Bee Wrangler basket. Go by and tell them GBR sent ya. [Trivia: Did you know Mark and I met while we both worked as librarians? Really! And Mark was director at Seguin library for several years – good times.] Here are our friends at the library, Jacki and Silvia, receiving the Bee Wrangler I delivered. Hi, ladies! I hope you get LOTS of people to sign up to read, read, read!

Delivering a GBR basket for the Seguin Library adult summer reading program

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Took two days but we now have two new bee yards in Medina County – counting on some delicious Huajilla Honey as part of this year’s honey crop. If we could just get some rain, the bees would just go crazy we think. But still, there are some things already in bloom, especially in our new D’Hanis location (calling them Comanche Creek #1 and #2 since they are on the Comanche Creek Ranch). Mark shot this video after he and Stan finished setting up the bees in the #2 location. He said the bees were really going to town on the blooms, many of which have yet opened. Cool! And he also said that it was wonderfully peaceful out there. Quiet. That’s cool, too. Can’t wait to see it. By the way, this plant is truly called a Twisted Acacia. I love that! Makes me think of that band Twisted Sisters. Not that I was a fan of theirs but I always thought it was a funny band name. I think they had big hair. Random non-bee information for you.

In other news, it was so nice to be back market. It had been two weeks so we were missing everyone. Great to see all our friends and loyal customers. The honey house is still a vision. There’s almost no movement on it from the perspective of getting the land title in our hands before we start building. And it seems every action equals more money out of pocket. We know it will happen. Just not yet. Also, looks like we’ll be moving our operation out of one of our current locations. Will tell you more about that when the time is right but it is a lot of work to move bees and stored equipment out while you’re also trying to gear up the bees for the upcoming burst of spring (we hope, anyway). Some of the challenges of working for yourselves.

On the brighter side of things, we have an appointment to visit with a friend so we can see if her space that could be for rent would work as a temporary harvest/extraction site for this year since we have no honey house. We know the amount of space is more than sufficient but we need to see about lighting (which we could bring in), electricity (definitely need that) and water (we can bring a hot water heater if necessary). Please cross your fingers and say a prayer we find something that will work. We’ll be up a serious creek if we can’t nail down something workable before the REALLY busy time starts soon. 🙂 If you know of anything (affordable or free even), please keep us in mind. Thanks!

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Dinner

First things first – good eatin’ for dinner! After a day of productive work, there’s hardly anything more enjoyable to me than cooking up a nice for us to enjoy in the comfort of our own space and that applies to the old house as well as the new one. I love to cook and I have enjoyed learning to cook more with honey in the recipe. We love wings, especially during football season (who doesn’t, lol) and we’ve enjoyed darker honey varieties such as Huajilla, local Wildflower and Blueberry in the sauce in the past. Last week I used Orange Blossom in the Honey Curry Chicken and we liked it. This evening I used the very light Montana Clover in the wings recipe and we loved it. Very nice and light flavor – so yummy we stuck with it on our fruit salad. I must say, with so many varieties from which to choose, sometimes we find ourselves rediscovering each honey and it’s fun.

Heitkam queen in a cage

That’s another Heitkam queen that Mark just pulled from the queen bank. He continues to work through the bee yards at this point of the season. He’s applying the Mite Away – three of the biggest bee yards have been done and more to go. In the process, if there is a super big hive, he divides and installs a new queen in the new hive. It’s a time consuming chore but it must be done if we are to help the bees with the mites. Mark has a method and system now so he says that helps him to know what to do each day and as the weeks pass. Tours and visits are on hold since he’s out in the field pretty much all day and I’m still full time at the steel mill. One of these days, we’re going to have a full time person manning the office and retail space and I hope that person will be moi.

And finally, a few words about another Honey House activity I’ve mentioned before – dealing with the buckets of wax cappings from our extraction earlier in the summer. This is an example of a tub of cappings that Mark and Stan poured out of buckets so that the honey can drain out of the wax. They let a batch sit in the tub for two to three days and then Mark puts the wax back into a bucket for later rendering. The honey gets stored until we are ready to bottle it. You might look at that tub and think, “How much honey could possibly be there??” Well…see last picture.

Wax cappings draining

Not looking my finest but that’s okay. It was another hot and humid day after work when I visited the Honey House to see how Mark was doing. Check out that stack of buckets. That represents about eight buckets of wax cappings that have been drained. Amazing. So it’s about one bucket of honey for two buckets of wax. Not bad! He still has a bit more to finish so we’ll get a little more delicious honey in the bank for winter – yay! And each bucket is 60 pounds of honey. Or if you are a count-by-the-bottle kind of person, that’s 60 squeeze bottles or 60 glass 1-pounders or 120 cute little 8oz bottles. All that to say we waste nothing. If the bees don’t eat or use it, we will. 🙂

Me & the stack o' honey buckets

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