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Deadman Creek Bee Yard

It was a beautiful day, inside and outside the hives at our Deadman Creek bee yard. All of the hives looked healthy, although a couple were smaller than I would like. I think they will all make it through the winter since all of the queens are starting to rear brood and they have plenty of honey. You can see the queen with her blue dot at the center-bottom of this frame that I’m taking out of the hive. This bee yard is on a certified organic ranch that is full of native vegetation that the bees will start to enjoy in a few weeks. In fact they’ve already started – I saw some bright orange pollen that bees in each hive were carrying in. Not sure what is blooming right now, but I was glad to see it. As we worked the hives we were watched over by a small herd of longhorn cattle and a donkey that thought it was part of the herd. I’m sure they thought we were there to feed them.

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Lest you wonder what’s happened to us, I wanted to let you know that I stole my beekeeper from our bees and Mark is with me in Virginia this week. So….that means the bees are on their own for a little bit! But although we are far from our bees, we are always thinking of them – yes, it’s true. And we look for hives in the landscape of places we visit. I love it when we find them. I found these on the outskirts of Harrisonburg (VA) and I didn’t have my super-duper camera and I did take it with only the window rolled down and one eye on the road to make sure no one hit me from front or behind…but you can still see the hives. Mark said he spotted some on the road between Harrisonburg and Orange on Highway 33 today.

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Grounded Queen

I took advantage of the sun and warmer temperatures to check and feed the hives at Big Oaks this afternoon. By the time I came to the last hive, the sun was going down and it was noticeably cooler, so the bees weren’t too happy. On the last hive I took out only one frame to check for brood and I immediately noticed the beautiful Zia queen with the blue dot. The frame was covered with brood on both sides. So far so good. Before I could return the frame to the hive an unhappy bee found her way under my veil and crawled in my right ear. I carefully set down frame  with the queen outside the hive and tended to the bee, who, thankfully waited to sting me until after she came out of my ear and was crawling down my cheek. I fed the hive and started loading up the truck to leave. When I made a final check of the bee yard I saw a bright blue dot crawling across the ground. I don’t know how I kept from stepping on that Zia queen – she was right under where I had been standing to work on that last hive. I picked her up and she looked fine. Then I let her crawl off my finger and back into her brood nest and nurse bees. I’m sure we were both relieved to have her home.

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Bee Partners

My uncle Jessie B and I started keeping bees together about 30 years ago in Burnet, Texas and these are our first hives. This, in fact, may be our first time to look at them on the inside. If you look closely you can see the plastic bags wrapped around my shoes in lieu of boots. We had a hodge-podge of equipment and not a clue as to what we were doing, but we loved every minute of it. We caught swarms and built our own equipment, and eventually worked up to about 20 hives. Then, a short time later, I started my career to help support my family and other than keeping a hive or two along the way, I left the serious beekeeping to my uncle.

Thirty years later I am able to keep bees full-time, but I am still separated from my bee partner by too many miles and the passage of too much time. Now known by family members simply as Grandpa, my uncle paid us a visit today. After a hearty meal to sustain us, we headed out to the bee yards like a couple of excited youngsters, this time with boots in lieu of plastic bags. We fed bees, checked on queens and early brood and were pleased that “our” bees today were a bit more gentle than our first hives. By the time we came to the second bee yard, Grandpa was opening hives like they were long-awaited Christmas gifts. Then, when his back grew tired we came home and, in the spirit of J.N. Russell, enjoyed home-made pecan pie and hot tea sweetened with honey. I don’t know if this is the last day I will work bees with Grandpa, but I cherished it as if it were. But I also know that down the road we will keep bees together again and we will both have strong backs, and the bees will be gentle and the honey sweeter than we’ve ever tasted.

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Birth of a Bee

It was a beautiful afternoon today in South Texas to check and feed some bees. I was surprised with the amount of brood I found in some of the hives – it looks like none of the queens has shut down completely for the winter and some have fairly large brood nests. Winter is far from over but I hope these hives will be big enough to divide around March 1, that is if I am fortunate enough to get some queens at that time. I caught one bee (upper left corner) just as she was emerging from her cell for the first time. Near the center of the photo you can see some white eggs that look like small grains of rice. If all goes well, one worker bee will emerge in 21 days from each the cells where these eggs are deposited.

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Open House Today!

We hope to see all of you at our open house today! We’ll have an observation hive (starting around noon, after it warms up a bit) and all of our honey harvesting and candle making equipment on display. Christmas music and yummy refreshments are also in store. So come by and visit and let’s talk about bees for a few minutes or a few hours. We are at 116 W. Krezdorn in Seguin, right across from the Methodist Church. It’s the little green house on the right as soon as you turn off of Austin St. Come through the gate at the front of the drive and you’ll see the honey house out back. Call us if you need directions – 210-464-7436.

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Bank Withdrawal

This is the frame inside the queen bank that holds the queen cages. The three or four remaining are under my right hand where the bees are clustered. The bees in the center of the frame are starting to build honeycomb. I took out and installed the last of the Russell queens today. It took longer than I thought, but the warm, dry weather was a big help. I’ll be checking over the next few days to see how well the queens were accepted by their new homes. Today I placed my first order for 25 spring queens from a queen breeder in Hawaii. They are booked years in advance but they kindly put me on a waiting list and she seemed optimistic.

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Come and Visit!

We hope to see everyone at our Open House this Saturday. Drop by to see our honey house and get a glimpse of our beekeeping operation. We’ll have refreshments, Christmas tunes, great conversation and of course all of our equipment will be set up so you can see how we harvest honey, make candles and more. We hope to have an observation hive on hand, but it looks like the weather may be too cool – we’ll see. At least our queen bee (Thien) will be on hand!

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Russell Queen

My tribute to J.N. Russell is to successfully introduce some of his queens into my hives. I had a few hives that were too aggressive for my taste so I replaced those queens with Russell queens over the past couple of weeks. I also made five new hives with his queens. I have never used new queens this late in the year, and what I read told me that it can be difficult for a hive to accept a new queen in late fall. So far I have only had one one hive reject its new queen.  I couldn’t be happier with this rate of success, although I still have a few queens in the queen bank that are waiting patiently to be installed.

Today I checked this hive that I had re-queened with a Russell queen a few days ago and was thrilled to see this orange queen busily laying eggs in the middle of this frame. I’d never seen a queen glow like this one did – made me think that ol’ Mr. Russell must be paying us a fond farewell.

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J.N. Russell

This time one year ago Thien and I were  moving our second round of bees purchased from J.N. Russell in Bolton, Mississippi. Some of the commercial beekeepers we’ve met are too busy to teach, or tell stories. Mr. Russell, who started keeping bees at 13, did plenty of both, and even provided us iced tea and pecan pie after our long trip. He taught us his method for controlling mites and hive beetles, gave us a tour of his breeder queen yard, and sold us some very special bees. Those bees helped me get back on my feet after my losses the year before, and this summer they produced an average of 100 pounds of honey per hive. His queens were so prolific that I was able to divide the hives twice since the honey flow and almost triple the number of hives under my care.

We stayed in touch with Mr. Russell, buying more of his queens and sending him updates on his Mississippi hives that had “gone to Texas.” No conversation was complete until he had asked about Thien, not casually, but like he really meant it. Apparently they bonded on the second trip when, out of my earshot, she thanked him for helping me so much with his bees.

I had a call yesterday from a mutual friend who let me know that Mr. Russell had passed. During our visit a year ago he was recovering from a bout of pneumonia, but I could tell that he knew his time was near. But the sadness in his eyes dissipated whenever the conversation turned to bees. I will be remembering Mr. Russell today by installing some Russell Apiary queens that his son sent me a few days ago. It’s good to know that his work can live on in hives all over the world, including here in Seguin, Texas. So, until we meet again Mr. Russell,thank you for your help with the bees, but most especially for your sweet tea and pecan pie.

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