Everything is buzzing at Bee Ranch
Theresa Bakken keeps bees in McArthur Ranch and produces bottled honey and homemade caramels.
Hand made Honey Salted Caramels from the Bee Ranch in McArthur Ranch, are scrumptious local treats reminiscent of another era.
Article and photos by Lisa Crockett
Spring is in full bloom in Colorado, and honey production is in full swing at the Bee Ranch, a family-operated apiary in McArthur Ranch.
Sharing land with chickens, goats, alpacas, llamas and a horse, Theresa Bakken and her sons Luke (16) and Logan (14), who are both students at Rock Canyon High School, started their hives in 2010. Little sister Anna (12) lends her artistic talents to the endeavor, designing decorations for the hives, and also to packaging and labels.
After a few late-summer harvests of their golden-hued Colorado wildflower honey, the Bakken family began to sell direct to consumers in 2012. The Bakkens also maintain hives in the Denver Tech Center and near Brighton at the Ugly Goat Dairy.
“Honey has a real ‘taste of place’,” said Bakken. “Honey varies from year to year depending on rainfall and what is growing.”
A bumper crop of honey a few years ago led Bakken to look for ways to use and sell the honey apart from simply selling it in its signature hexagonal jars. Using an heirloom recipe from a neighbor, Bakken modified a classic caramel confection to include her Bee Ranch honey. The first batch was exactly what she wanted, but because she hadn’t taken adequate notes on her modifications to the original recipe, it took her nearly a month and countless batches to replicate her success.
After that initial challenge, Bakken has the caramel making down to a finely-tuned process for consistent results. Working in small batches and cooking in a copper pot, the caramel has a silky-soft texture and a flavor reminiscent of another era. The honey adds a subtle perfume to the candy and adds a depth of flavor that regular caramel simply doesn’t possess.
“The caramel has just a few ingredients – cream, sugar, honey, corn syrup, butter, vanilla, and sea salt. I get the cream from the Ugly Goat dairy and it has a nice high butterfat, so the caramel has nice mouthfeel,” said Bakken. “I make the classic caramels, and at the holidays we sometimes make a chocolate-covered version or we use pecans to make turtles.”
Bee Ranch is a true cottage industry, and Bakken tailors orders of all sizes to exact specifications, altering candy texture on request and including clever puns on the packaging. Wedding favor caramels, for example might say “Bee Mine,” while birthday candy carries the message “Hap-bee Birthday.”
Caramels are cut by hand, wrapped in wax paper, and typically shipped on the day they’re made to maximize freshness. The Bee Ranch message is spread mostly through word of mouth; often the recipient of a box of caramels becomes a customer, sharing the gift for the holidays, Valentine’s Day or as a thoughtful and unique thank-you present or corporate gift.
A journalist by training, Bakken said she enjoys the challenge of researching and learning that beekeeping involves. Everything from selecting the proper safety gear and experimenting with different hive styles to learning how to extract honey once it is produced has resulted in a clear affection toward the bees that Bakken watches over.
“This all started with a visit to the Douglas County Fair,” said Bakken. “The bee demo was fascinating. I got really interested in the problem of the declining bee population, and I feel strongly that small beekeepers – those of us who keep two or three boxes of bees every mile or so – are the solution.”
For information on Bee Ranch Honey and Bee Ranch Honey Salted Caramels, visit www.beeranchco.com.