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Shoppers at GBR with Mark

Due to our increased activities and commitments, we are moving most of our communication and sharing to our social media accounts as well as our weekly beekeeper newsletter. If you are in the South Texas area, stop by and visit us during our shop hours. We’d love to show you around, help you find the right honey or gift and talk to you about keeping bees. We love having folks visit the Beekeeper Showroom.

Follow along on our BEEVENTURES!  This is our weekly newsletter and includes a beekeeper tip designed to help you. It’s tips and tricks Mark has learned over his almost 40 years of keeping bees.

Our Bee Blog is a great resource for historical information about Gretchen Bee Ranch and our growth so we are leaving this as it is for now.

Contact us at:

Email: info@gretchenbeeranch.com
Phone: 830-305-7925

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Friday view from my fave yellow hive - we love to see a storm brewing! #bees #beekeeping #sky #texas #gretchenbeeranch

As we continue to experience growth with our bees as well as our business, the work day keeps stretching out longer and longer and then here we are in Spring already. We are happy to report that our wet winter is rolling right into a somewhat wet spring and things are about as green as we would expect to see when we visit family along the east coast. Lush grasses and trees along with a multitude of wildflowers everywhere you turn your eyes. It truly is one of the best times to be in South Texas and certainly one of the best times to be a honeybee here. EXCEPT that if we don’t get a bit of good ole sunshine soon, it might end up not being a robust honey year. While rain is awesome, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. As Mark often says, conditions have to be just right for a great honey crop. We do need rain but the bees do need a good amount of dry, sunny days in order to fly and forage. There’s a noticeable gap recently in the wildflower blooming. We had massive ways of early Bluebonnets and Indian Paintbrushes and of course sprinklings here and there of other flowers, however, the Indian Blankets which normally appear abundantly are appearing more lazily this spring. That makes an incredible honey so we have hopes of a robust bloom in about a week. In the picture below, I harvested some lavender from our little herb garden out back. Lavender blooms abundantly only with rainfall (versus hand watering) so this is my SECOND harvest of blooms! That should tell you how wet this spring has been. I’ve never been able to harvest enough of it to do anything with the blossoms so this year I am very excited to enjoy them for a while before drying them out. They smile divine! I’m going to infuse some oil and make our own lavender oil I’ve been reading up on lately. I think I will also try adding them to lip balm, which is next on my list of beeswax related items I’ve been developing for our personal use at this time. More on that in a bit.

Harvesting lavender

Today at lunch (one of our few quiet times we have together when we’re actually sitting down), Mark and I were discussing the move of our Cibolo Creek bee hives. We haven’t been there long but we liked it – close to home (just south of Seguin and just on the other side of the county line), made great honey, gorgeous landscape for photographs and just nature enjoyment. But recently we’d notice work getting done – fences going in, land getting cleared. We like to keep in close touch with our landowners so that we know what’s going on and how it might impact our bees. Long story short, we are very happy that two options may have presented themselves today to Mark. We’re so thankful when people meet with us to check out potential bee yard locations and it all happens to work out! Mark says the new locations are both near us so that helps with fuel cost as well as with time, which we find less and less available. Both weekend days are booked now with Pearl Farmers Market (which are both well attended and have been great for our business). Serving as president of the farmers market association has also taken up a lot more of Mark’s time than we anticipated so that’s been a real challenge. And while I can manage with the other social media platforms, it’s harder and harder to find time for an in-depth post on our beloved Bee Blog. So, forgive me. But honestly if you do have access to Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, do find us. I am on there daily as it’s just easier to post pictures as we work and add a short description. Stick with us!

Well, I want to post this before it’s delayed any longer. I told Mark I have started about four times on this and it’s taking me over two weeks. LOL I am determined to get this up on the blog!!!! Take care and hope to catch up with you soon. Much love, Thien & Mark

Spring wildflowers at the Bee Ranch

This is a shot of some of our new hives Mark made up from strong hives this spring. I don’t even know what our current count is anymore for our own hives, but it’s been really wonderful to have had this spring to focus on them.

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Rattlesnake bee yard 2012

Before I proceed, let me give you an update on the rattlesnake count for this season (spotted and killed): 37. YES, 37! Wow. On the one hand, I wouldn’t want to run across one unaware but on the other hand, maybe I can see one but be somewhere safe inside? Like with glass between me and the Rattler? Just kidding. I don’t think I want see a rattler up close.

That’s a picture of the bee yard at that location – lots and lots of honey and it tastes good. I can vouch for it from the last visit I made with the beekeepers. Light, sweet honey. Looking forward to saying I’m eating honey from the Rattlesnake yard. 🙂 Most of our yards are doing so well this year that Mark and David have a hard time keeping up with honey supers. With each holding down a fulltime job, they pretty much make supers as needed per visit based on what they saw the last time they were at a bee yard. All I know is this…Mark keeps saying, “Honey, there is a LOT of honey. I hope we sell it all.” This worries me very little because he said that in 2010 and we sold it all in a blink of an eye and then we wished we had more for everyone. And besides, if we don’t sell it all, maybe I’ll have have some left for gift baskets at holiday time. Last year we had nada left for baskets. Not a bad problem to have but still…

So here’s a quick run down of some highlights from the weekend before I get pulled away between laundry, errands, customers, lima bean soup, catching up with a college friend and all the things that make life wonderful…

Driving through Deadman Creek

Got to go to several bee yards with Mark over the weekend and it was super awesome – flowers are still in bloom and look amazing. The bees really do not have to search far for food this year and that’s a great thing because it means they have all they need to do their honey thing. When I see the lovely fields I always wish there was a way to scoop up the colors but I end up picking none of it because now I think of each flower as a food source for the bees. I still pick them once in a while but not as I have in the past. Now I’m content to roam the yards, mindful of ants, caterpillars and snakes. 🙂

Untitled

The horse is one of two very inquisitive residents at the original Gonzales bee yard. It snuck up on me while I was snapping pictures. I get so engrossed in getting a shot that I sometimes don’t realize how long I’d been in a spot. That’s how the bees usually got me in the past. Me in front of hive too long. It’s how I discovered I was allergic to stings. Oh well! Live and learn.

Ahh! Mark’s home and we have to split for the Spurs/Thunder Game 2 in SA so I must tell you quickly that we spent pretty much all day Saturday looking at three properties where we can live AND expand GBR. That makes five properties total and we wish there was a way to combine this bit from house one with that bit from house two and the price from house three. We’ll keep working at it but it sure is nice to have a good realtor working with you on things. Thank you, Carol!

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Strong Winter Hive

Healthy winter hive

I caught these bees on their “first flight” out of one of our strongest hives at Deadman Creek. This hive remained consistently strong through the drought and now through the winter, albeit a warmer than usual winter so far. All hives continue to collect pollen (the first real protein they’ve had since July) and they are all finally starting to grow a bit. The rain and the state of the hives makes me optimistic for our bees and their honey production this spring. The queen from this hive came from Wilbanks Apiary in Georgia and it is one of only three Wilbanks queens that I have. I’m certainly thinking about buying more Wilbanks queens when it comes time to re-queen this year.

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December Hives

It’s early December and the 50 new hives that David and I brought in from Jasper are looking terrific. You can see about seven frames of bees in each of these four hives. They were a little light on honey stores so we made sure that they had a feeding of sugar syrup before the next cold snap hits. Most were fed two days ago, and when we checked them today, all of the feeders were dry. We’ll give them one more feeding in December, and that should get them through the winter. Our good fall rains should help the wild mustard bloom over the winter, and that will help the bees also, on days that are warm enough for them to forage.

It looks like our organic farmer at this location is also letting some of his winter crops go to flower – he is always looking for ways to help the bees, to thank them for all the pollinating they did for his squash and melons this summer. We appreciate it, Pedro!

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Wax to Riches

It has been a busy week. We finalized the purchase of a few hundred pounds of blueberry honey from a beekeeper in Massachusetts, and 900 pounds of beeswax from a beekeeper I met 30 years ago who lives outside of Devine, Texas. His name is David Park and I didn’t know that I knew him until I pulled into his place today and recognized the huge oak tree growing just outside his honey house. Around 1980, about the time I developed a passion for beekeeping, I found his name in the American Bee Journal and called to ask him if I could tag along as he worked his hives. He graciously agreed and on a warm day in February I got my first taste of commercial beekeeping as we worked in his bee yards scattered between San Antonio and the Mexican border. I don’t remember all the work we did, but I do remember that it was hard, hot work, even in February, and that I was very tired at the end of the day. After all these years I had forgotten his name, but I still remembered that old oak tree.

Today we traded stories, shared a few trade secrets related to beeswax processing and sampled some of his fresh pecans. His son, also named David, and also a commercial beekeeper, dropped by and it was nice to visit with him too. I admire what both of these men have accomplished with their bees over the years. I left there with 900 more pounds of beautiful golden-yellow beeswax and without a single photo (even though reminded by Thien) until I got home. The first batch is in the wax melter right now and early tomorrow morning I will run it through the micron filter and see how it looks. Can’t wait! Then it’s off to teach beekeeping class while Thien holds down the fort at the Elks Lodge craft show. Come by and see us if you can!

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The Sweet Life

DC yard new comb by bees

I finally made it back to check the nucleus hives at Deadman Creek, and I was thrilled to find robust hives enjoying a good pollen and nectar flow, all thanks to the generous rain we had earlier this month. The bee brush was in widespread bloom and the air was filled with its sweet fragrance that reminded me of the smell of the honeysuckle nectar that my brother and I would “harvest” and drink when we were very small children in Houston. Not sure my mother ever knew about that. You can see evidence of the honey flow in the new, white combs on the lid of this hive, and on the frame of fresh honeycomb, partially filled with honey, that the bees built in place of the hive feeder that I forgot to put in a few weeks back. Nothing quite like eating fresh honey filled honeycomb right out of the hive on a beautiful fall afternoon.

DC yard bees

Evidence of the pollen flow is in this frame that is filled wall-to-wall with bees and brood. I know from this year’s drought that bees, no matter what and how much you feed them, will not produce abundant brood and plentiful new bees without a steady flow of pollen into the hive. I know that a hive with a new queen and frames that look like this will have no problem making through the winter. But just to be sure, I am going to do one more round of mite treatments while our weather is still mild.

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