We realize that some of you may encountered some delays or difficulties accessing our website. This week, we addressed four main issues with our website and hope the improvements will enhance your customer experience.
As our business grew, our website has been hosted on a shared server with other websites. This year, we saw other sites’ traffic impact the availability of bzhoney.com, so we migrated our website to a server dedicated only to our business. Early indications show that our website availability is much improved.
Since we take orders from our website, we added SSL security to bzhoney.com so you don’t have to worry about the security of your profile or any purchases you make on our website. You browser should now show bzhoney.com addresses beginning with “https://” indicating a secure connection.
We added new shipping options for pickup at local farmer’s markets. If you’d like to reserve honey for pickup at the market, select the FM pickup option and we’ll have your honey ready for you when you visit our farmer’s market booth.
We now add classes if our Beginning Beekeeper class sells out. Our Saturday class is currently scheduled for 10-11 a.m., but we’ll add a 12-1 p.m. class, if the morning class sells out (6 beekeepers). As temperatures rise, we’ll change these times so we don’t roast in protective gear in the heat of the day.
We appreciate that many of you have left voicemails at our shop or sent emails and feedback from our website. We hope we’ve answered your questions and we’re trying to ensure everyone benefits from the answer by publishing it. If we accidentally overlooked your question, please don’t take offense and resubmit it. We’re working hard to keep the 45 beekeepers who purchased nucs from us informed and maintain our own hives so we can deliver more local honey this year.
Answers to this month’s questions
Q: I see beetles in my hive. How can I get rid of them?
A: Every hive in the southern U.S. has hive beetles. Even if they weren’t in your nuc, they’ll find your hive and fly right into the front door. We keep our hives in full sun and minimize the volume of the hive to give the bees the best chance to corral the beetles and keep them from laying eggs on combs. Wait until your colony is actively “working” 80% of your current boxes before you add another box.
Q: I can’t find my queen. How do I know if she’s there?
A: Sometimes the queen is hard to find. She may blend in with the workers and drones or decide to relax on the inside of your brood box while you inspect all the frames of your hive. If you can’t find the queen, look for eggs. The eggs look like grains of rice in the back of the honeycomb cells. See the picture to the left for a good example of eggs in comb.
Q: Can we meet to discuss what’s going on with our hives? Is there a club local to Tomball?
A: We don’t want to compete with the Harris County Beekeepers Association or the Montgomery County Beekeepers Association. Both of those organizations are actively promoting beekeeping in our local area. However, we do recognize that these organizations have meeting at times or locations that may be inconvenient for some. We will be at 403 Eats the second Wednesday of the month to talk bees with anyone who wants to join us.
Let’s keep growing to provide local honey to support the demand in our local area!
If you want to become a beekeeper in 2018, you should know where you’re sourcing bees.
As we get closer to the beginning of our beekeeping season this spring, we’ll publish some posts to cover the tasks you’ll need to accomplish and cover options for each task. Right now, you need to begin sourcing bees. Let’s talk through the 4 main sources for bees and discuss the pros and cons for each source.
Feeling lucky? Maybe you can catch a swarm.
Beginning with the least expensive choice when sourcing bees, catch a swarm for a free source of healthy bees. After surviving winter, the mature queen in a thriving colony leaves the hive along with a swarm of half the workers to find a new home. Swarms leave the hive when the bees realize nectar is plentiful and the queen needs more room for laying eggs.
Health: Diseased or weak bee colonies usually don’t swarm, so if you catch a swarm, they’re usually healthy.
Ease: You can easily shake a swarm into a box, once you get used to dealing with that many bees.
Heat: A swarm in a new box usually can’t generate enough heat to cause problems. Ensure they get some fresh air through screen or small holes in the box to prevent suffocation.
Stability: Swarms don’t always stay where you put them. They may want a better home and leave your box.
Growth: Swarms don’t come with any comb, so the workers must immediately begin drawing comb to build their nest. Since an adult bee emerges from it’s cocoon 21 days after the egg is laid, you won’t get any new adult bees, or growth in your colony for at least 3 weeks.
Honey: You probably won’t get any honey from a 1st year swarm, since they’ll spend considerable resources building comb.
How about removing bees from a structure?
You can also cut a colony from a wall or a cable box for another free source of bees. A removed colony brings comb and brood to your hive, but those can also cause problems unless removed correctly.
Cost: Like swarms, cutouts won’t cost you a thing. In fact, someone might pay you to remove a colony of bees from their property, but this option should only be used if you’re a seasoned beekeeper and know how to reliably remove a colony.
Growth: If handled properly, you can move brood combs to your hive and allow the colony to continue to develop bees with no gap in egg laying.
Honey: Some cutouts produce honey in their first year. Some cutouts provide honey immediately, if they have been in that location for a honey season.
Heat: Cutouts generally will not overheat unless you completely seal them with no ventilation.
Health: You don’t know anything about the health of a cutout hive until you begin moving combs. Often you will move pests and diseases from the old location to your hive.
Ease: Cutouts vary in difficulty based on their age. Most cutouts require you to spend hours in a protective suit and special equipment to vacuum the bees from the cavity.
Stability: Cutouts don’t always want to live in their new hive. Additionally, transferred combs become targets for pests.
Packages: Risky, but cheap.
Commercial beekeepers make packages by shaking 3 pounds of bees into a box and adding a queen. The queen, protected in a cage, is usually not the mother of the bees, which may have been shaken from multiple hives. Beekeepers have been sourcing bees from packages for years, because of the low cost and ease of shipping. We started our first colonies using packages, but now use nucs because of the risks and problems caused by package bees.
Cost: Packages are cheap, because you get what you pay for: 3 lbs. of worker bees and a queen. You don’t get any developing bees or any comb, just bees.
Ease: Starting a hive with a package is almost as easy as starting with a swarm. After you shake the bees into your hive, you secure the queen cage in the hive and check back in a few days to see that she’s been released.
Health: You really can’t determine the health of your new bees or the queen until they begin to build comb and raise brood. Since commercial beekeepers produce packages by shaking bees from multiple colonies, you have a higher chance of getting diseased bees. Packages also transmit pests that travel with the bees.
Stability: Packages of bees don’t always accept their queen. Packages of bees don’t always stay in your hive. You can use several strategies to increase your odds of success, but packages will abscond (leave the hive) more often than other sources of bees.
Growth: Like swarms, packages must build comb before the queen can begin laying new eggs. You won’t get any new bees for at least 21 days.
Honey: Since the bees in your new package need comb, they use most of their energy and stores to produce wax, not excess honey. Don’t expect a honey crop from a package until year 2.
Heat: Although package walls are typically screened, they still overheat if left in the sun or not allowed to ventilate properly. Keep them cool and shaded until you have a chance to install them.
We recommend nucs to start your first hives.
Starting your hives from nucs gives you some true advantages and a better chance at a first-year honey crop. A nuc is a small hive, composed of 5 frames with developing bees, honey, and pollen, worker bees, and a queen that’s the mother of all the workers in the hive. When you start your hive with a nuc, you’re simply relocating the colony with it’s nest intact and letting it continue to grow.
Cost: Nucs cost more than packages, but in addition to the bees and queen, you get 5 drawn frames, brood, and stores. When you factor in the additional pros we’ll list, the added cost for a nuc is money well-spent.
Ease: To start a hive from a nuc, you simply move the frames and bees from the nuc box to your hive.
Health: Beekeepers can gauge the health of a nuc by inspecting the nuc for healthy brood and the presence of the queen and/or eggs.
Stability: Bees generally won’t abandon their brood nest, so the frames of brood in a nuc “lock” in the colony and give you insurance against absconding.
Growth: Nucs begin with a head-start of 5 frames of drawn comb and developing bees in the brood nest. New adult bees will emerge from their cocoons on the day that you install them into your hive, allowing your colony to increase in size immediately.
Honey: Since your give grows quickly, you have an opportunity to harvest some honey from a first year hive.
Heat: Since nucs must remain closed in transit, make every effort to keep them cool until you have a chance to open them or install them in their permanent home.
For us, the decision is easy when sourcing bees.
I hope this comparison helps you when making decisions for sourcing bees. We think beginning beekeepers have a better chance of success if they start their first hives from nucs. If you haven’t ordered your nucs for Spring 2018, order them soon before we’re sold out. Check back here soon, where I’ll discuss the pros and cons of hive types.
If you’re an experienced beekeeper, what is your preference when sourcing bees?
We had a few beekeepers who are stressed about their bees surviving winter ask us about wintering their hives at last week’s market. Honestly, this post isn’t as timely as it could be, since the freeze has passed us, but we do still have some advice for you until we’re safely in spring temperatures.
First, don’t mess with your bees until the temperature is above 65 or 70 degrees.
We know that you’re concerned for your bees. We are, too. Winter is both relaxing and stressful for beekeepers. It’s relaxing because you really shouldn’t be in your hives when it’s this cold. Just lifting the cover off your hive will hit you with a blast of warm air that should stay in the hive instead of going away. Pulling any frames out of your hives risks breaking a winter cluster, chilling brood, and if the weather is too cold, your bees may not be able to recover. Winter is stressful for beekeepers because when the temperature is below 55 degrees, your bees will cluster and you won’t see any activity outside the hive. The truth is, you may lose some colonies over winter due to starvation or mites. The sad truth is, the ones you lose, you may not be able to do anything about it. So, try to relax. Wait for those sunny warm days and just look for activity from the landing board. Most importantly, leave your bees alone until we get some weather warm enough for an inspection.
What can you do to help your bees through winter?
The most important thing you can do should’ve happened months ago. Make sure you always leave your bees with enough stores for winter. In SE Texas, that may just require a single deep box full of stores. When we have hard freezes like we did this past week, your bees may need two deep boxes or if we get extended cold weather through March, then may need two deeps and a super. We’ve learned to err on the side of caution and leave at least two deep boxes on our hives and we’ve probably advised you to do the same. If you’ve talked with us in our store, you may remember us explaining that a double-deep hive is your goal for year 1. That’s the reason.
What if I didn’t leave enough honey in the hive?
If you got a little excited during your fall harvest or you caught a late swarm or made a late split that just didn’t build up in time, your bees will need some help. When it’s cold, it’s too late to just drop a feeder in the hive and give them some sugar syrup. Bees won’t travel away from the brood nest to get syrup out of a feeder when it’s cold. If your bees need supplemental feed during the winter, you’ll need to make some sugar blocks to place on top of the frames. Here’s a popular method from a successful northern beekeeper, though we don’t think all the additives are necessary this far south.
Is there anything else I can do?
Be patient and wait for good weather until you open your hives. If the hives are light and you don’t see much honey, feed your bees. If you have supers on the hives, you probably don’t need to feed, but if the supers are empty, remove them and feed. Do whatever you can to promote early blooms in your area, whether that’s planting citrus or just letting the dandelions hang around for a couple extra days. Lastly, if you do lose a colony, do not that loss be in vain. Freeze that colony’s frames as soon as possible (to kill any pest eggs) and use the frames to support your surviving colonies next year.
If you have any questions, give us a call, visit us at the market or our store, or just drop a comment below. We can’t wait to see you again in 2018.
Mosquito Populations Have Grown Since Hurricane Harvey
This week, state and county officials decided to expand aerial spraying to control mosquitoes in the Houston area. In some areas, large mosquito populations are hindering recovery efforts from Hurricane Harvey. Although spraying from trucks has occurred throughout the summer, the Air Force Reserve has been spraying for the past week in Aransas, Bee, Nueces, Refugio, and San Patricio counties. Tonight, that effort expands to Brazoria, Harris, Montgomery, and Liberty counties.
How Does Aerial Mosquito Spraying Work?
As planes fly over the area to be treated, insecticide is atomized into tiny droplets that are dispersed in the air. As the droplets fall to the ground they will kill any mosquitoes they make contact with. According to the Department of State Health Services, only 1-2 tablespoons of insecticide per acre is sprayed and the chemical quickly breaks down in water or sunlight.
The press release from the Texas Department of State Health Services specifically mentions how this spray could affect honey bee colonies.
Spraying is also done to minimize any effects on beneficial insects like bees. Applications will be done starting around dusk when mosquitoes are most active and after bees have returned to their hives for the night. The insecticides dissipate and break down quickly in the environment, and when bees emerge in daylight, they are not affected. Although this type of application will not cause a significant exposure for bees, beekeepers may choose to cover their colonies and prevent bees from exiting during treatment.
We regularly have mosquito trucks pass within 50 yards of our hives with no ill effects because the trucks spray at night when our bees are in the hive and are not active. We expect the same result from the aerial spraying.
We do not recommend covering or closing your hives.
August in Texas is still hot. At the time that I’m writing this, the temperature is still 80 degrees at 10 p.m. If you cover or close your hives, you risk harming your hives through suffocation of overheating more than exposure to insecticides. We can’t predict how the spraying will affect everyone’s individual hives, but we hope that your bees continue to survive the nighttime spraying. The planes spray at night when mosquitoes are active and bees are in their hives, so we are not covering or closing any of our hives and expect that the contact insecticide will not make contact with any or many of our bees.
The main feedback that we’ve received on our classes is to publish a more forward-looking schedule and to simplify our beginner beekeeping schedule. This week, we looked at our calendar and scheduled classes through March 2018, until we begin another beekeeping season. We have 3 class offerings at this time. We developed our Introduction to Beekeeping class for people who aren’t yet beekeepers, but are thinking about it. Our Beginner Hive Management class shows new beekeepers how we manage our hives through the swarm season, harvest season, then closing down for winter. Our Queen Rearing for Backyard Beekeepers class is a two-day class to show how we set up our cell-builder hives and get some experience with grafting larvae into cell cups. We will add some other classes as we grow, but these 3 offerings will be continued in 2018.
Supporting Harvey Relief
Last week, we harvested more honey from our hives at the Tomball Community Garden. Those hives not only pollinate the crops that are donated to TEAM, but we donate 20% of our honey sales from those hives to TEAM. TEAM has been doing great things to help people recover from the storm.
This week, we’re donating 10% of our market sales to assist local farmers and farmer’s market vendors who were affected by the storm. We will donate this money to the Tomball Farmer’s Market for distribution.
We also continue to assist homeowners with honey bee removal. Hurricane Harvey displaced many colonies of managed and feral bees in our area. If you see a colony of bees suddenly appear in your yard or house, let us know. We’ll either trap or remove the colony, or if you need established colonies removed from the walls of your home, we can refer you to beekeepers who do that.
Where are we this week?
Our store will be open Saturday 8 am – 4 pm and Sunday 10 am – 3 pm. The Tomball Farmer’s Market will re-open this weekend and the weather should be great, so come see us at the corner of Cherry St. and Main St. from 9 am – 1 pm. We will also have our booth in Cypress at The Farmer’s Market at Bridgeland this Sunday, 12:30 – 3:30 pm.
This Saturday, September 9th, we will host an Introduction to Beekeeping Class at our store in Tomball. This class is geared toward aspiring beekeepers who do not yet have bees. We’ll put you in a bee suit, talk about bees and their hives, look though our classroom hive, and try to answer any questions you may have. The class runs lasts 1-1.5 hours and costs $40. We only schedule 6 openings per class, so everyone gets some attention, and we still have slots available at this time.
Next Saturday, September 16th, we will host our next Beginner Hive Management Class. In this class, we’ll conduct a hive inspection on one of the hives at the shop and cover seasonally relevant material and what you should be doing in your hives. This week, we’ll discuss harvesting your summer honey and getting ready for the upcoming goldenrod flow. Our hive management class is $20 and lasts about an hour. You must bring your own protective gear for our hive management class.
Beekeeping plans for the next few weeks.
Last year, we harvested 10-15% of our honey crop in September and October. We haven’t seen the goldenrod flow begin yet, but all of this recent rain will probably generate a large fall nectar flow. Be sure that you have drawn supers on your hives to capitalize on the flow when it begins. If you haven’t harvested your summer honey, do it now and return those empty combs to the hive to give your hives plenty of room for dark, fall goldenrod nectar. This week, we harvested amber summer honey from our hives in Tomball, so see if you have any!
This week, we offered a new curated varietal honey. We’ve found that most people either love or hate Buckwheat honey. Buckwheat honey is dark, thick, and fragrant. As a native of South Louisiana, Buckwheat honey reminds me of Steen’s syrup. If you’re one of those who love dark honey, come try a sample of our Buckwheat honey.
We also announced the BZ Honey Store and Market Gift Card this week. These cards will make great gifts for honey fans and future beekeepers. Since we use the same point of sale system at our store and our market booth, you can use our gift cards anywhere you shop with us.
How can we help you?
This past week, we were asked to schedule our classes more frequently and I hope today’s updates satisfy that request. If there’s any information that you’d like to see in our updates or via our classes, please let us know in the comments or directly at our store or market booth.
I hope everyone in the Houston area is recovering from the devastating effects of Hurricane Harvey this past week. We feel extremely lucky and blessed that we were able to stay dry, both at home in Cypress and at our shop in Tomball. Since the storm developed very quickly in the Gulf of Mexico, we weren’t able to relocate any hives from areas that had historically flooded. Three of our out-yards at The Arbor Gate, Verdant Tree Farm, and the Tomball Community Garden were especially on our minds, since they were either in low-lying areas or close to creeks and reservoirs.
Knowing that this past Saturday would be a torrential downpour, we cancelled our Introduction to Beekeeping Class. The Tomball Farmer’s Market was cancelled and we closed our shop in anticipation of the storm. As the rain moved away from the Houston area and water began to recede, I was able to lay eyes on most of our hives. Unbelievably, all of our hives are still there. Once the ground dries enough, I’ll fully inspect to see if any took on water at the bottom and take any necessary measures to help those colonies rebound.
We already support Tomball Emergency Assistance Ministries through our hives at the Tomball Community Garden. Those hives not only pollinate the crops that are donated to TEAM, but we’ve pledged to donate 10% of our honey sales from those hives to TEAM. As the recovery efforts began, we quickly saw the good work that TEAM was doing to help victims of Harvey. Last week, we doubled our pledge and dropped off a check to TEAM so they can put that money to work for local recovery.
Where are we this week?
We responded to a swarm call yesterday. Many hives were displaced by Harvey, so if you need some boxes and feeders for the late swarms we may find this week, we will open our store Saturday and Sunday. We also heard that the Tomball Farmer’s Market cancelled another week, so if you need some honey, we also have that at our store in Tomball. The Jersey Village Farmer’s Market will be held this Sunday at the Jersey Village City Hall, from 12 pm to 3 pm, so come see us.
Next Saturday, September 9th, we will host an Introduction to Beekeeping Class at our store in Tomball. This class is geared toward aspiring beekeepers who do not yet have bees. We’ll put you in a bee suit, talk about bees and their hives, look though our classroom hive, and try to answer any questions you may have. The class runs lasts 1-1.5 hours and costs $40. We only schedule 6 openings per class, so everyone gets some attention, and we still have slots available at this time.
Beekeeping plans for the next few weeks.
Last year, we harvested 10-15% of our honey crop in September and October. We haven’t seen the goldenrod flow begin yet, but all of this recent rain will probably generate a large fall nectar flow. Be sure that you have drawn supers on your hives to capitalize on the flow when it begins. If you haven’t harvested your summer honey, do it now and return those empty combs to the hive to give your hives plenty of room for dark, fall goldenrod nectar.
We pride ourselves on our local honey. Our honey this spring was light and floral and our summer honey was a beautiful amber color with incredible flavor, even when it differed between our many yards. When we bottle our local honey, we put a red cap on the squeeze bottle and put the location on the label, so you know just how local our honey is.
As a store owner that sells honey and beekeeping supplies, we don’t want to limit our honey inventory to just our local honey. After many requests for specific varietals, we have begun stocking incredible varietal honey from other respected beekeepers across the country. Sure, our honey is great, but sometimes you may want the citrus twang found only in pure Orange Blossom Honey. If you want some honey for a BBQ sauce, without the robust flavor of our smoked honey, try some Mesquite Honey. These are our two newest varietals that you can try and buy in our Tomball store and purchase here, from our web store.
We’ll add more varietals as we continue to vet suppliers to ensure all the honey we sell is pure, raw honey.
How can we help you?
This past week, we were asked to put more information on our website for those that aren’t on social media. This post and future, more frequent posts, are a response to that request. If there’s any information that you’d like to see in these updates or via our classes, please let us know in the comments or directly at our store or market booth.
We now have a store for beekeepers and honey lovers.
If you don’t follow us on social media, you may have missed the big news that we’ve opened a physical store at 405 E Main Street in Tomball. After 5 years of trying to meet the local demand for local honey, we realized that we need to think bigger than just ourselves to solve this problem. In 2016, as beekeepers we sold over 2000 pounds of raw, chemical-free honey from Cypress, Houston, Katy, and Tomball, but our customers continued to ask for more. Rather than continue to grow our apiaries and try to meet this demand, we’ve decided to take a leadership role in the local honey market. We want to enable more property owners and gardeners to begin beekeeping as a hobby and business.
At our new store in Tomball, we sell our honey, but we also now supply beekeepers with the hives, tools, protective gear, and even the bees necessary to succeed at beekeeping. This spring, we sold starter kits and nucleus bee hives to new beekeepers. We will soon begin classes at the shop to show new beekeepers how to inspect and manage their hives, how to raise quality queens, how to brew beer and mead with honey, and how to prepare their hives for winter. If you want to get in a hive with us, to see if this is the hobby for you, sign up for our Introduction to Beekeeping class.
Most importantly, we want our new store to be the hub for local honey in our community. We have a new 18-frame extraction line where we’ll extract honey from backyard beekeepers, bottle it, and even buy it to sell in our store. Our goal is to enable enough hives in the area, so local honey customers can buy truly local honey year-round. We hope to see you soon at the shop, at one of our classes, or at the market!
I saw this redbud tree in full bloom yesterday as we were walking through Old Town Tomball. The redbud and the dandelion are sure signs of Spring here in Texas, so it’s clear that our beekeeping winter vacation is over. We were so busy in 2016 that we haven’t had a chance to publish updates to our blog or update our website for the year.
To recap 2016, we set a goal to harvest a ton (yes, 2000) pounds of honey, and we exceeded that goal. With our increased production of honey came an increased presence at the local farmer’s markets and a chance to meet more customers. Every single interaction with one of our customers reinforced the thought that we’re providing an important service to our community through our beekeeping and our honey.
For 2017, we want to take a leadership role for beekeeping in NW Houston. We plan to increase our honey production again, we’re helping to fight HB 1293, which is a poor attempt to update the Texas agriculture code, and we want to help more backyard beekeepers successfully harvest honey.
We are thrilled to announce more news soon, so please stay tuned!
Many of our customers tell us we have the best honey they’ve ever tasted. Many of you may like our honey from trying a sample at a farmer’s market or from interacting with us during a swarm relocation. You may not know how special our honey truly is. We believe that our honey is not only the best tasting, but that we put more attention and care into the production of our honey than any other honey producer in Texas.
As we approach the first significant harvest of the 2016 honey season, we want to share the reasons why our honey is special. Each day, we’ll add a reason why our honey is special, until we’re ready to sell honey at a farmer’s market or at one of our partner sites.
Day 1: Our honey is special because we are beekeepers.
Believe it or not, some folks selling honey don’t actually have bees. They buy buckets or drums full of honey from a commodity distributor and fill bottles. They can’t tell you how old that honey is, where it came from, whether it has been chemically treated, or whether it truly is pure honey. At BZ Honey, we take care of our bees so they’ll provide us with the honey we bottle and sell to you. We check each hive every week to ensure its health, control swarms, and to maximize colony growth. It’s a simple model, but by working with our bees, we can tell you anything you need to know about our honey.
We started as backyard beekeepers and kept increasing our hive count because we love what we do. This is our special calling, to provide pure, local honey to the NW Harris County communities.
Day 2: We manage our own hives.
We continue to grow, but we’re still able to personally manage all our hives. We inspect each hive every 7-10 days during the swarm season to ensure our colonies have room to grow to keep them from swarming. We also ensure that each hive has a healthy queen to lay eggs and determine when we can harvest honey. Sure, the protective gear gets hot, we take an occasional sting, and the boxes get heavy, but this is how we ensure the health and check the status of each of our colonies. One day, we may have enough hives that we need to hire additional beekeepers, but today every bee is cared for by a member of the BZ family.
Day 3: Our bees spend the entire year in NW Harris County.
We may deliver an occasional hive to a customer for backyard pollination, but our bees are truly stationary hives. We don’t truck our bees across the country for almond pollination or across the state chasing nectar flows. We put our hives into one of our managed yards and we let them create honey from the nectar produced in a 3 mile radius of that yard. We think this keeps our bees healthy and allows us to deliver truly local honey to our customers. You can actually see and taste the difference in the honey produced by our hives in Spring, Summer, and Fall. We don’t know of any other beekeepers in our area who celebrate the uniqueness of their honey as much as we do. If you still have some dark, Fall honey left over from last year, feel free to finish it off. We have some sweet, light, Spring honey coming to market soon!
Day 4: We don’t put any chemicals in our hives.
Apivar, Apistan, Thymol, MAQS, Oxalic Acid, Fumigilin. This is a list of some of the chemicals that beekeepers put in their hives to control pests. Since beeswax and honey both readily absorb compounds from their environment, we just don’t understand how beekeepers can harvest and sell honey from hives laden with these chemicals. “Here you go ma’am, nature’s original sweetener with a small dose of Apistan.” No, thank you. Our honey is special because we are part of the minority of beekeepers who refuse to use chemicals to treat our hives. Before we even received our first colony, we made a decision to keep our bees and our honey chemical-free. We use sound hive management practices and a focused queen rearing program to allow our bees to manage pests on their own. Every one of this year’s production hives survived winter without treatments and is thriving and healthy, producing surplus honey we’ll bring to market soon.
Day 5: We relocate wild swarms to our managed yards.
We love being able to catch a swarm of bees before they decide to make their home in the eaves or wall of someone’s house. In addition to providing a good service in our community, we put these swarms in our managed yards and use their desire to build comb to grow a new colony. Since swarms are typically led by the old queen from a successful hive, adding these swarms to our yards provides a new genetic line of bees that have survived the fall mite onslaught and winter. We use these colonies to provide drones for open mating with our queens and will breed queens from exceptional colonies. Our honey is special because we encourage a diverse genetic mix of colonies in each of our yards to counter threats from pests.
Day 6: We partner with bee-friendly businesses to host our hives.
To ensure our bees are positioned to maximize nectar forage from certain areas and to provide “neighborhood” honey to local customers, we partner with bee-friendly businesses in NW Harris County. Plants for All Seasons and The Arbor Gate, two of the Houston area’s premier nursery and garden centers, serve as a reminder that homeowners can have beautiful gardens without resorting to harsh pesticides. We maintain approximately 20 hives at each location. These bee thrive off the many varieties of flowering plants at the nurseries and the forage surrounding these locations. Last year, we expanded this model and have positioned hives at Jane and John Dough Bakery, Verdant Tree Farm on Barker-Cypress, and at the Tomball Community Garden at Tomball United Methodist Church. Without the cooperation of these bee-friendly sites, we would be unable provide such a wide variety of honey.
Day 7: We celebrate the diversity of our honey harvests.
Most commercial beekeepers blend the harvests from multiple yards and multiple seasons to produce a honey that is a consistent color and flavor. We think consistent color and flavor destroys what makes our local honey special. When we harvest honey from a particular yard, we extract and bottle that honey separately from any other harvests. We specify the yard of origin on each bottle of honey we fill. If you buy honey that’s labeled “Tomball, TX”, then that bottle only contains honey made from the nectar in a 3 mile radius around our bee yard in Tomball. It may look and taste different than the honey from our Cypress yard or our partner yards. It may also look and taste different than honey from our Tomball yard harvested on a different date. Typically, our Spring honey is our lightest color and flavor, with the color getting darker and the taste more robust as the year progresses to Fall. Each variation is useful and tasty in its own way, so don’t be afraid to have several bottles in your pantry.
Day 8: Our honey is fresh.
We extract honey from our hives as soon as the bees cap the honey cells on the frames. You can see the changes in color during the year as different flowers begin blooming. In late May or early June, we begin our season with honey produced from clover and tallow flowers, producing a very light, sweet honey. Over the course of the summer and into early fall, the seasonal flowers will produce honey with a darker color and more robust flavor until we harvest the dark goldenrod honey in late fall. We often tell you something like, “this honey was still in the hive last Wednesday”, but if we don’t, feel free to ask us. We’ll know and we’ll tell you. That makes our honey special.
Day 9: We sell pure, raw honey.
We don’t mess with our honey! We don’t add anything to it. Our bees have done a great job with their recipe, so we don’t need to alter it in any way. We also don’t ever heat our honey. Raw honey has very delicate floral aromas and enzymes which heat destroys. We take our honey from the hives and bottle it, just the way it is.
As we look back on 2015, we’re very happy and honored at what happened this year. We have grown in our knowledge of bees, our product offerings, our number of hives, and in the number of great customers and friends that we’ve made this year. The greatest honor has been our community recognizing our efforts in chemical-free beekeeping, which led to our nomination as a finalist in the Farmer’s Market Vendor category of edible Houston’s Local Hero 2015 survey. Please take a minute to vote for us and help us spread the word about our leadership in the local food movement. Here, we’ll try to summarize our year in review.
The year 2015 began with a very tough Winter for bees. January and February were unusually warm, causing our bees to begin preparations for Spring early. As the populations in our hives grew and some colonies began producing drones for Spring mating, reality set in and we had a hard freeze in March. Some of our hives had created populations that outgrew their stores, so we began with fewer hives than 2014. Also, while the nectar-rich Chinese Tallow Trees were blooming, the Houston area was drenched in rain for 3 weeks, so we did not get the typical Spring harvest to which we’re accustomed. Honey is a seasonal product and bees depend on a variety of factors to produce a surplus of honey to harvest.
We quickly rebounded from that setback. In mid-March, we received our first phone call of the year about a swarm of bees and promptly hived and relocated them. We captured swarms that were looking for homes, swarms that recently settled into a new home, and established colonies in structures. Over the course of the year, we relocated 25 feral colonies into our managed yards. We have created a portfolio of those swarms that you can access via this link.
Our queen rearing program matured this year, providing us with a steady source of healthy, productive queens. When one of our relocated swarms needed a new gentle queen, we had one. When a queen died unexpectedly, we were able to replace her instead of letting the colony raise a substandard emergency replacement. When we needed to split a colony to stop it from swarming, we had a new queen ready to go. Our ability to have queens in reserve enabled us to grow exponentially this year.
We expanded the area where our bees forage by creating new partner yards this year. After our success at Plants for All Seasons in 2014, we created new yards in 2015 at The Arbor Gate, Jane and John Dough Bakery, Verdant Tree Farm, and the Tomball Community Garden. We led two Bee Forums with Angela Chandler at the The Arbor Gate and were guests on Green Thumb Gardening on 700 AM KSEV. We also taught a mini bee class for kids at Jane and John Dough Bakery on Earth Day!
Based on our honey production, we supported 15 market days in 2015, up from 4 in 2014. We now sell our local honey at the Tomball Farmer’s Market and The Farmer’s Market at Bridgeland and can honestly say we have bees close enough to fly to those markets. We also began selling honey through our partners at The Arbor Gate and Plants For All Seasons. We were thrilled at the responses from our customers and partners. We thoroughly enjoyed explaining why honey harvests change color throughout the year and taste different based on locale and loved giving someone their first taste of truly local honey!
We increased our product offerings this year. To minimize any waste from our honey operations, we began rendering our capping wax in a solar melter and produced pure beeswax candles. We also began offering our honey in stick form. To support local backyard gardeners, we provide pollination services in the NW Houston area and offer classes and services to local beekeepers.
We look forward to another great year in 2016 and hope to see you soon!