The bees are back

And that’s a very good thing.

The bees were hungry.

Months of sweltering heat with little rain blanched the landscape. Flowers withered, if they bloomed at all. The drought, a death rattle to so many farmers and ranchers in Texas, also deprived bees food to forage from, and honey production dropped.

Lacking a well-balanced diet rich with protein and nutrients, Texas bees grew weak last year and were increasingly susceptible to sickness. Mark Gretchen, who has kept bees since the early 1980s, fed his 130 hives scattered around South Central Texas sugar water and a pollen supplement since July to boost the meager food supply.

About 30 percent of his colonies died anyway.

“It was probably the most difficult year we’ve ever had,” said Gretchen, the owner of Gretchen Bee Ranch in Seguin.

But recent rains bode well for a better honey haul this year. The bees are buzzing around flowers that have already popped, and although honey flows won’t start to peak until mid- to late April, Gretchen has already made up for last season’s losses.


The full economic impact of last year’s drought on the honey industry is still to be seen, with federal 2011 data set to be released later this month.

Over the past five years, the number of hives, pounds of honey produced and honey’s market value have varied. The price per pound has climbed about 76 percent, from as low as 87 cents in 2006 to $1.53 in 2010.

Bob Benson, a beekeeping hobbyist in Hays County, said that 2010 was particularly bountiful. Statewide, bees produced the most honey since 2007, when beekeepers collected 8.6 million pounds, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The total value of Texas honey in 2010 topped $11 million, more than in any of the six years prior.

Wildflowers were scarce in 2011, but if beekeepers were able to feed their bees and keep them alive, they could come out better in 2012, the agency speculated.

Talk about “that which does not kill you makes you stronger”. I hope it’s a good year for the beekeepers, they sure could use it. I suspect that every daily newspaper in Texas could write a story like this every day for the next year. That’s how big the effect of last year’s drought was.

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