Posts Tagged ‘nucs’

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!


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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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Building a Nuc

Guess what? Gretchen Bee Ranch will again have a limited number of starter hives, or nucleus hives, available for sale this spring. We’ve had so much fun and great success with the nucleus sales, that we wanted to offer the hives again. This will be our third year and we’re so excited! If you think you might be interested in a hive from us, then keep reading.

We will have the nucleus hives ready for pick-up here in Seguin on Friday, March 22 and again on March 28. Please understand that factors beyond our control (such as the weather and the delivery of our queens) could force us to alter this schedule. The cost of the nucleus hives is $195 each. As a reminder, the nucleus hive is a starter beehive consisting of five frames: one frame of honey, one frame of honey & pollen and three frames of brood in various stages of development. The frames will be covered with bees, and one of these bees will be a queen from a reputable queen breeder that is already laying eggs. The frames and bees will be enclosed in a corrugated plastic box designed to transport bees. The frames will need to be transferred to your wooden hive boxes soon after you arrive home. Our experience with nucleus hives is that they build up quickly and often produce honey the first year.

Building a Nuc

You may purchase a nucleus hive or hives on the GBR website or drop us a comment or email if you have questions.

On the day that the nucleus hives will be available for pick-up, we will also offer an optional class titled “How to Build Up Your Bees in the Spring.” This will be a two to three hour, hands-on class that will cover such topics as feeding your hive, evaluating your queen, enlarging the brood nest, swarm prevention, adding honey supers and mite control. There will be plenty of time for questions as well. The cost of the class is $59 per person. To register for the class, please email us and we’ll place you on the class roster. Again, this class is optional.

Our wonderful Honey House is still under construction so we may not have beekeeping equipment available for sale this spring. We recommend Mann-Lake as a reputable supplier with free shipping on most orders over $100. You can check the Mann-Lake site and see what you think. Even if you aren’t going to keep bees, it’s still fun to look at all the cool stuff.

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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. 🙂 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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floating mums and mac

Hello and happy new year, everyone! Lunar New Year, also known as Tet (Vietnamese) and Chinese New Year (obviously, Chinese) is today and it kicks off the year of the Snake. We had a wonderful weekend together at both markets – working together as Stan and Lan had other plans. We sure missed them both.

Don’t I have a nice view while I post? For Tet, the Chrysanthemum is one of the flowers considered to be lucky so you see lots of Asian families, and businesses even, decorate with them. Flowers, flowers, flowers. I found some at our local grocery store since I didn’t have time to make a run to Houston or Austin for Tet supplies this year. In honor of the special day, I had been saving a floating mum for myself. And the fresh flowers floating in there were broken so it worked out well for me. I am the luckiest girl ever to have a beekeeper AND a candle maker. I have always loved candles and burned hundreds I’m sure. I remember, as a child, I always longed for a good storm in NC so that the power would go out and then we could light some candles! lol We didn’t have a lot of money so we didn’t burn candles just because we felt like it. 🙂 I’m so happy that I can now burn all the candles I want. Some of you ask what you can do with the bits of wax left after your candles finish burning. Well, if you are not set up for melting and filtering your own wax (though Mark micron filters it, after you burn the candle, you should probably filter in some way if your wax got dirty) for recycling into candles or beauty products, you can always do what my sister and I now do – she has a wax mini-crock-pot (don’t now the formal name for it but she got it at Gift & Gourmet in town) and I put my small wax pieces on my Scentsy burner. Smells wonderful.

Wax on the Scentsy

While we’re on the subject of candles, I helped Mark remove and then wrap new candles last night to take to the Quarry. I thought he put this bee in lotus candle but he had no idea she was in there when he poured the wax in the mold. The mold is upside down so she probably crawled in there when he wasn’t looking. There are always plenty of bees buzzing around the candle shop so we never lack for them to put in candles for all the people who are tickled to have a bee in their candle. We occasionally get one person who thinks it’s cruel but again, they are already dead so it’s not really cruel. Not sure if this lotus bee was dead or not but she’s beautifully preserved now. We haven’t sold it yet…wondering if I should save it for a special occasion. Maybe.

Bee in lotus

Moving on to chocolate, one of our favorite topics! While at the Pearl yesterday, our friends over at Ms. Chocolatier (San Antonio) quietly left us this precious box filled with their divine truffles – with our honey in the recipe! That’s sea salt sprinkled on top – what a delicious combination of lightly rich chocolate and caramel with a little touch of saltiness. Who would have thought having your taste buds hit with both would be so wonderful, but it is. Janie and her crew create these and many other wonderful sweets in their shop in San Antonio so I hope you check them out at their store or at the Pearl one weekend. On top of the yumminess, they are all just super nice! 🙂

Updated: Sorry I forogt to include the picture last night when I first posted this. hee
Caramel truffle from Ms. Chocolatier of SA - features our honey :-)

Now the weather. We got a drizzle here, a drizzle there. We’ll take it. Some friends are reporting up to an inch plus some and while we haven’t seen that, we are still hopeful since the bee yards are spread out over several counties. Even with the bit of rain we’ve had recently, there’s now enough blooming to give the bees a little boost. The wild mustard is always a sure bet for them when all else fails. They continue to carry in plenty of pollen and that makes us happy for the bees. We notice the Huisache is about to explode – beautiful but let’s see if the bees get on it this year. As you may recall, last year the Huisache bloomed beautifully but since there was an abundance of other protein blooming, they NEVER got on it! Come on bees, I need to get some nice pictures to put on my walls! haha Speaking of which, I’m also excited about getting our new bee yard set up in Medina County, which is west of SA. Huajilla country and I want to see some blooming Huajilla and snap pictures of the bees on that. We are so excited about making honey over at the Comanche Creek Ranch!

Nucs – we’re going to have some for sale next month! That’s always an exciting thing – getting people started with their own bees. In case you forget, our primary goal for GBR is to replenish the bees in our community and we can’t do that alone. Everything else we do is geared towards raising funds for us to buy, raise, divide and replenish bees while we also educate people. We’ve had hundreds of people go through our beginner bee class and we’ve had dozens take the next step in the journey to become contributing beekeepers in their own way and in their own communities. It is a responsibility for sure but also a fun adventure. If you told us in the past that you are interested in buying a nuc (nucleus hive or starter hive), then you should be hearing from us soon via email or phone if we have your number or you spoke with Mark directly in the past about it. If you don’t hear from us within a week or two, feel free to drop a comment here or send us an email. While we may not always be able to answer the phone (both of us are still working full-time, one in an office, the other in a field), we do return emails (end of the day typically) and we keep up with the blog easily on our phones. We’ll also post about the availability of the bees on Facebook and Twitter and again here when it’s time. Just wanted to give you all a heads up.

Okay, I think I covered most things I wanted to tonight. I better get to bed! Have a great week, everyone!

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Hands on portion of class

Well, it took a several hours but I finally finished loading, editing, sorting and then Flickr loading most of the 285 photos I took this past Saturday during our big class and nucleus hive pick up event. Wow, what a day! We spent most of the week preparing and stressing a bit but once the class actually started, it was all worth it. I thought David and Mark did a great job for their first advance topic class – How to Build Up Your Hive in the Spring. We had twenty-four students and the class ran from 9:00 a.m. to about 12:45 p.m. It was past 1:00 p.m. by the time the last student and nuc hive left the Bee Ranch. It was tiring but fun and we sure are happy we have great partners in David and Jessica. David and Mark were already talking about how to tighten up their class outline for the April 21 class. I don’t even think we had a chance to eat lunch yet and they were already looking to the future class. 🙂 That’s how I know they love what they are doing. I love watching them work in the bee yards and I sure enjoyed watching and listening to them engaging with all our new beekeepers. I am so proud to work with them and with Jessica. Without her, I think I really would have been a mess Saturday. She worked the registration and payment table with me and pretty much kept order to things. I think if it was possible for me to socialize and take pictures, I’d be happy as a bee on a Bluebonnet. 🙂 I had the Nikon as well as my iPhone 4s, which has a 8 megapixel camera. A good thing since my Nikon started acting up and decided to stop working halfway through the class. Maybe it was the humidity. I don’t know for sure but I took it inside and later that day, it worked fine. Hmm. I probably should have kept it in the big Ziploc bag I had for it since it was slightly misty that morning. Oh well, I had many little lessons learned to take away from Saturday and like the beekeepers, I will need to tighten up my own activities for the class in April. Man, we keep learning so much each day and each event we have.

Learning to close the hive entrance

The class consisted of lecture, open discussion, constant question/answer, demonstrations and hands-on opportunities. There was smoker lighting and extinguishing, opening a hive and reading it for good and bad signs, identifying different bees, installing the nucleus hives (which the beekeepers had to do once they got their bees home that day), mixing feed, applying medicine, and the list goes on. A lot to cover in three hours but everyone seemed happy to be there learning. Most have been doing extra reading in order to prepare for their new bees, which indicates to us they are serious about their new endeavor and that makes us so happy. We are just really impressed with how much they all already look like beekeepers – they handled the frames just great and they were quite at ease throughout the morning. We can’t wait to see how they progress with their bees and we hope they keep us posted. Did I mention we were actually missing the bees by the evening. It was sort of funny because we felt like parents whose children had been adopted by other families. I know. We’re so hooked for life on beekeeping. We’re just happy we now have another twenty-something new beekeepers to keep us company! Hope you all enjoy your beeventures!

Here are some links to media you can view from Saturday’s event:

Full Flickr photo set – Click here for photos
Short YouTube video of Mark – Click here for Mark’s video
Short YouTube video of David – Click here for David’s video

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Sponsor Hive 2 - Painting a dot on queen's back

It’s been so busy this week that we haven’t had a chance to post as we want. I think I started this post for Mark a couple of nights ago but he hasn’t had a chance to get to it as we prepare for one of our busy weekends. Tomorrow we have our very first advance topic class – How To Build Up Your Bees in the Spring. We are so excited about expanding our curriculum. And it will be more than a class. The class really developed because we wanted to make sure our students had as much knowledge as possible in order to care for the bees they will pick up tomorrow morning. I’m a trainer by trade (technology and personnel development) and it takes time and serious thought to make a class session productive and successful. People who have never trained often think you simply show up and start talking. 🙂 So…to make tomorrow productive and meaningful for our students, Mark and David have been working hard on their outline. Then they ran through it a few times today. Talking it out often allows you to perfect it even more.

Now, you’re probably wondering what this has to do with the queen pictures. Well, I mentioned students picking up nucs tomorrow, right? Mark and David wanted the students, many of whom are first time beekeepers, to easily spot their queens so this week Mark watched lots of YouTube videos and read articles on painting or marking queens. And then we went to Hobby Lobby for a white paint pen and got to work. I can’t imagine doing this without pulling the poor queen’s wing(s) or leg(s) off or panicking and accidentally squeezing or losing her. I was pretty impressed with Mark found the queen, picked her up by the wings, switched hands and took her by her legs and then used his right hand to uncap the paint pen and mark her back. Then he put her in a glass jar to allow the paint to dry before putting her back in the hive. But after about five queens, he changed to simply holding her over her hive for a few minutes and then releasing her back in among the bees. This seemed to work better – there was something odd about their behavior and a couple of the hives actually tried to attack their queens. Weird. We’re not sure why. He checked the queens a couple of times and when he went back the next day, only two of the queens had been rejected. We’ll have to look into this more when we have a chance.

Marked Jester Queen in Jar

Now, having said all this, I will tell you that it does get easier to spot the queen with practice. Even unmarked queens. For the first couple of years of watching Mark, it took me FOREVER to spot the queens. Now, I sometimes can find her before Mark does! I am very proud of that. 🙂 Means he taught me well. You can view more pictures of the queen marking process on our Flickr photo set.

Getting the yard ready for class

The yard is now set for class and we look forward to posting the experience tomorrow. This shot is when we were almost done – minus the nucs we had to pick up from Big Oaks and the Farm bee yards. Had to wait till dusk to get the girls. They are all lined up by the honey house tonight. Supplies are on the table. Honey is out as well and we’ve got water, lemonade and granola bars for snacks. Should be a fun morning!

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Jester Bee Company yard

Last week we had our first official interstate beeventure of 2012 – a visit to Jester Bee Company in Mims, Florida. It was a nice to be able to roll it into a family visit as well. 🙂 Over a thousand miles from Seguin, thirty-five nucleus hives waited for us and our little Tundra. To help make up for the hives we lost last year due to the drought, we decided to replenish with some new bees. The Jester nucs looked healthy and hopefully they’ll take to their Texas homes just fine and start building up robustly to take advantage of the flowers that are about to burst all over the place here. After inspecting the bees in the Jester bee yard, we loaded up – well, as usual I just watched and I was fully suited just in case since we didn’t know what to expect but they are really gentle bees! With the bee net over the nucs, we took two days to make the 18.5 hour trip back to Seguin. We stopped a total of four times to alternatively water and ice the truck bed. Amazing how you can drop the temperature from about 86 to 79 within twenty minutes that way. How did we keep track of the temperature? A nice little $10 thermometer from Walmart. The gauge was placed in-between some of the nucs and the display was kept in the truck cab with us and we monitored in that manner all the way home. Great tip! Thanks to Kevin for telling us about that.

Racing to get the nucs in before dark

On the second day of the trip back home, we got going around 6:15am, timing it so that we’d hit Houston at a non-rush hour time so we wouldn’t have to sit in traffic and heat the bees up unnecessarily. Wouldn’t want to bake the poor things out there in the Texas heat (it was in the mid-80s that day and sitting still on the freeway wouldn’t help). We ate Subway as we drove the last stretch, made it to the front door by 4:30pm and then headed out to the Big Oaks bee yard with our awesome assistant beekeepers, David and Roby. They placed the nucs on top of the hives they had prepared a week earlier out there and then set about transferring the frames into the new homes. Of course I documented the entire beeventure photographically, so hop over to our Flickr set and check it out.

Finally, here is a shot of the lovely Jester family as we bid them a farewell after Kevin watered the covered hives to keep them as cool as possible. We are thrilled to have new friends in Mims and we hope to continue working with the Jesters next year if all goes well. We’d also like to wish the Jester family well as they continue to settle into their new home down south.

The Jesters of Jester Bee Company

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Growth Spurt

A peek inside at the Farm yard

We are very happy with the growth of our hives this year, especially compared to last year during the drought when we just could not get them to grow. This is one of the 50 or so hives we brought in from East Texas last fall as single story hives. We began adding second brood boxes in early February and we couldn’t be more pleased with the results. Good rains and a heavy pollen flow have worked miracles on our hives.  It’s a good thing too because we’ll be making nucleus hives with these bees just as soon as we receive our new queens, scheduled for delivery on March 8. That should give us time for one more round of feeding and a round of mite treatment with HopGuard.

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