Topbar Beekeeping

I'm an urban topbar beekeeper in Albuquerque, NM. I manage hives in backyards and small organic farms within city limits. These hives are probably pollinating your veggie patches right now. Visit my website at:


Abq Old School Taught Me Few Good Beauty Tricks

Last weekend I took a homemade beauty products class from Abq Old School. I have been inspired to start experimenting with new beauty products using the recipes from this class. So far, I've made a citrus, peppermint, apricot and chocolate peppermint lip balm using a tweaked version of the in-class recipe. Here are my tweaked measurements:

Lip Balm------------
1 TBSP solid oil base (shea, cocoa butter. Any solid oil at room temperature)
2 TBSP liquid oil base (olive oil, sunflower oil. Any liquid oil at room temperature
2 TBSP grated beeswax
20 drops essential oil (30 drops if using peppermint)

Melt together the oils and wax together in a double boiler. Remove from heat and add the essential oils, then pour into lip balm containers. Makes 10 lip balms.

The class taught me some great new tricks. I've switched over to all glass measuring cups to melt my oils in rather than plastic. I've also started using a grater for my beeswax. Maybe in future beeswax renderings, I can work on a way to create beeswax beads so that I can eliminate the cheese grater stage.


USA will be ruled by Ethiopia from here on out

I just moved the new ruling class from Ethiopia to USA today. USA's queen magically disappeared about a 10 days ago and USA never started making queen cells to replace her. Ethiopia's numbers were always low, so they wouldn't have survived the long, cold winter. I decided to split up Ethiopia. Japan took the workers and honey stores and greedy USA took the queen cells and 4 combs of nurse bees. Crossing my fingers this works.


Full report, canale trapout

I checked on the Height's canale trapout with a fantastic fellow beekeeper today and discovered it wasn't trapping a darned thing. We spent a good hour tightening all the seams so that the bees could get out and not back in. I should probably start experimenting with different adhesives besides exterior caulking because half the trap was hanging loose. It might not have been sticking well because of all the torrential rain we've had the last week pouring through the canale, or roof water spout.

I also discovered that the queen hadn't been released from her cage. She was still alive and kicking. Amazing, considering that I have had 5 queens die mysteriously on me in the last 2 weeks! I know, call me a wah-mbulance. I can't stop moaning about this!

To release the queen, we completely opened up the cage and the queen crawled right out into the hive. It's been 6 days and by now the bees have accepted their new queen. I could not say this the first day I installed her cage into the hives. The bees were trying to sting her to death through the metal mesh.

The bees started building comb onto the queen cage. If all goes well at this point, The bees will establish a hive in my trap box and eventually the hive inside the parapet, or roof wall won't be able to support itself.


Ants, Ireland's new illegal alien


Ireland has been invaded by tiny little sugar ants. I've noticed that the bees can take care of the big ants, but these little ones escape their radar. Today, I reached for my secret weapon.... El Guapo Chile Cayenne. I recently heard about this technique on the Sangre de Cristo Beekeepers in Northern NM's Yahoo Group page. By the way, Sangre de Cristo Beekeepers is a kick'n name for a group. I may or may not have joined them solely based on their great name and then, remained a member because of the steady stream of honest information. I sprinkled a good thick base of a fiery spice around the base of Ireland and I'm hoping it will keep the ants away, before they do any damage to the hive.


My newest mistake means death to mail order queens

I checked the new mail order queen bees and discovered disaster. I am never again installing my queen bees by pushing their queen cages into the comb. In Ethiopia, the cage had fallen from the comb and landed so that the bees couldn't clean out the sugar plug to let the queen bee out. Death. In Iceland, the bee cage was so firmly crushed into the honey comb that the queen suffocated. Death. Ireland was able to release their queen. Life. The canale trapout queen is still a mystery until Monday. 

I'm becoming a better beekeeper all the time, but unfortunately I am making bad mistakes along the way. From now on, I am tying the wooden queen cage to a completely empty topbar, so there is no way the bees can't get to the queen. I'm also never going more than 2 days after installing a new queen cage before checking to see if she was released. 

With humility and humbleness, Jessie

Rest in Peace

I'm never installing queens like this again


Bee Rescue- A bee love affair with canales and parapets

I love New Mexico and it's great architecture... and so do bees! There is a style of building here in the Southwest where the houses have flat roofs, with a 2 foot parapet that surrounds the roof. Water escapes through a hole and a spout in the wall called canales. The older homes were made of adobe with no empty space in the walls, but newer homes are wood frame covered in stucco. The parapets don't need any insulation, so there is a huge empty space between the studs in the parapets that bees can get into through the canales and into the walls. Cutting through stucco is a misery to remove the bees. You have to cut through rock hard stucco and through wire mesh. You need diamond plated blades, and Mother Teresa's patience to endure hours of vibration to cut the bees out. 

This morning I started the process of removing bees from a canale in the heights and chose to try and trap the bees. My only concern is that it is getting close to winter (in bee world) and I didn't want to let the bees spend all their resources making their own queen when they should be pumping out honey reserves. I will be closing my hives end of September and it will take until the end of August for the new queen to start laying eggs and building an army of workers. These bees are dead in the water before I even lay the trap. I happened to have a spare queen on hand, so I decided to bait the hive with a comb of honey, a comb of brood and a caged queen. As soon as the I close the entrances to the old hive, the bees will have no choice but to move into the hive I have given them. They will then eat the sugar plug, and release their new queen bee within the next few days. She will then start laying eggs. 

Queen Cage with candy plug

Queen cage pushed into the comb

The trap and the new hive entrance


Feeding the bees sugar water


Mail Order Queens

My Honeybee Genetics queens finally arrived from their long postmarked voyage from Vacaville, CA. Unfortunately, they arrived a day later than I expected and I only had 2 hours to pick up the bees and install them into their new homes before the family had to hit the road for a camping trip.

The packaging says it all

My local post office called as soon as the bees had arrived. I opened up the package and gave the bee's cage a spritz of water to keep them hydrated. The queen bee travels in her own little cage with her own entourage of worker bees to tend to her every desire. The queen bee doesn't feed herself or clean her own waste. She is good for laying eggs and that's about it. 

Each cage has it's own queen and an entourage of workers
On one end of the cage, there is a candy plug made out of honey and powdered sugar. When I install a new queen in an old hive, the old hive's bees have to eat the sugar plug to get to the queen. You can't introduce a queen to an established hive because they won't recognize her "smell" and will instantly kill her. Most of the bees will try and kill her, but a few bees will feed her though the cage and she will start "smelling" familiar to the old hive. If all works out well, by the time the bees eat their way into the queen, they will accept her. 

I was able to install the new queens into Ethiopia, who's previous queen magically disappeared and into Ireland, who didn't make a new queen after I removed their old queen. I didn't have enough time to install the last two queens, so I carried their cages home in my front pocket (a great place to carry queen cages because your body temperature and humidity is the perfect bee environment). I won't be able to instal the last 2 queens until Sunday so I put the queen cages in a large orange queen cage, with a dollop of honey and about 20 nurse bees I brushed into the orange box. The queens can stay in the large cage with worker bees for up to a week. 

Shirt pockets were made to carry queens

Large Queen Carrier with a dollop of honey

Adding some worker bees 
After I added the nurse bees, I closed up the orange carrying case and put it in my house. I can't leave the queen cages with queens in them open in a hive with a loose queen. If I do, the loose queen will spend days trying to kill the queens inside their cages rather than laying eggs. 


Where have all the queens gone?

I just checked my AMYO farm hives this morning and am having major queen drama! Ethiopia's queen has gone missing, leaving a barren waste land of empty brood cells. Japan has a queen, but she has only laid about 20 brood on each comb, when she should be laying 3000 per comb and the comb is really odd looking. Ireland should have started making emergency supercedure cells after I removed their queen, but they didn't.

I was considering raising 3 new emergency queens, but it is getting fairly late in the season. I'm going to be closing up my hives end of September and it will take these hives until end of August to have a queen who is laying eggs.  I think I am going to expedite this process and buy some queens on the internet. Mail order queens. They're coming in tomorrow USPS and I can't wait for the call from the nervous postal employee telling me to hurry up and pick up my bees.

I've had mixed results raising queens this year. The early splits in spring turned out some amazing queens, but I also produced the pure evil queen from Russia. I'm taking a weekend class in a couple of weeks with Zia Queen Bee and hope I can pick up some interesting tips in their "Into Her Majesties Quarters, Queen Rearing Workshop".

All those pointy tips on the comb is NOT NORMAL! What's up with these bees?


Making Beeswax (aka where tacky t-shirts get laid to rest

After you have played with your solar melter and you get out a majority of the bee trash, you have one more final wax cleaning to go from semi trashy to full on sparkly clean beeswax. 

You start out by breaking apart your semi trashy wax and adding it to an old yogurt container (or a glass jar) and floating this in a pot of boiling water. It's very important that you use a double boiler method to melt your wax. You can't add direct heat to beeswax, otherwise it will turn into a molotov cocktail on your stove. This stuff is good for lighting on fire, and that's why they make candles out of it. 

Trashy Wax
Trashy wax in a plastic tub

You melt the wax until it is completely liquid and then pour it into a fine sieve. I'm using an old t-shirt I cut up that probably says something like "fireman make the hottest lovers" and I was too embarrassed to wear out in public. I have a rubber band holding the t-shirt material onto an empty plastic container. 

Decanter our the fine trash on the very bottom so it doesn't clog your t-shirt
After the wax has been filtered and is still hot, you can pour the sparkly clean wax into ice cube trays to have individual .5 oz chunks of beeswax to use. I've coated the ice cube trays in coconut oil as a release, so the wax doesn't stick to the tray. This is my first time using an ice cube tray. In the past, I have just poured the wax into a plastic tub and then hacked away at the lump of beeswax to get chunks for making product with. This seems like a great way for me to lose a finger, so I'm moving on to ice cube trays.


Solar melter- you put your beeswax in there

You would think when making beeswax that you just scruntch up all of the comb you have pulled honey from, melt it down and put a wick in it. Not so. First you have to separate out all of the pollen, bee cocoons, bee antennae, possibly some wax moth cocoons and all the dirt and dust that keep your candle from burning well. I'm personally not a candle person but I don't want to be rubbing bee trash all over my lips with my homemade coconut swirl lip balm.

Solar melter, you put your beeswax in there

The first thing you do when rendering down your comb is to get a big roasting pan. I got mine at the local thrift store for $8. Steep prices at Thrift Town. Next, you pour in a few inches of water into the bottom of the roasting pan. The water is for the wax to float on top of as it melts away from the bee trash. Without the water, you won't be able to easily peel the hardened wax away from the pan. After you have water in the pan, you pour in your crushed up comb on one end of the pan and you prop up the pan so that as the wax melts away from the comb it collects at the other end of the pan.

This next step is very important. The finishing touch for your solar melter is a piece of glass or a plastic trash bag over the whole pan. This increases the heat inside your solar melter and keeps the bees away from your irresistible smelling concoction. I was a dummy and decided to go without a top for my solar melter because it is 100 degrees in Albuquerque right now and didn't feel inspired to pull apart my framed Tricentennial poster so that I could use the glass. Long story short, I came out to a bee massacre in my back yard. 100's of bees were trying to get into my solar melter to suck up honey, only to start cooking in the melting wax! No!!!! I grabbed a clear trash bag and covered the whole thing and released bees for the next hour, while shooing away the scavengers around me.

After a full day of cooking, I let the wax cool down in my melter and then peeled up the beeswax pieces. Tomorrow, I will do a final filter on my wax.

It's working, the wax is melting off

That looks really cool

The finished product, compost on one side, wax on the other


Honey Tithe

Whenever I harvest honey, I feed the honey that I can't get out of the comb back to the bees: the honey tithe. I put all the crushed, drained comb in a colander in the backyard by the hives. The essential part of this process is that I hide the colander in a tree, otherwise it's a bee feeding frenzy! If I just left the colander in the open, there would quickly be thousands of bees dive bombing my backyard (not so good for neighbor relations, here in the heart of the city). After a few days the bees almost completely clean out the wax, leaving it for me to render into beeswax.

bees eating the honey drippings
Some people don't like to feed the bees the left over honeycomb because of the possibility of spreading any kind of disease from one hive to the others. I'm a laissez fair kind of beekeeper, so I do it anyway and haven't had any sick hives to this day.


1st harvest of the year!

In honor of my good friend Sara, I harvested some honey on the day of her wedding. This way she could always have the taste of the day that she said "I do" to the fabulous Pat.

The harvest was small, but mighty. About 4 bars of comb were ready to be harvested. That means that at least 90% of the honeycomb were capped. If I harvest the honey before most of it is capped, then the honey can ferment.

When bees make honey, the forager bees collect nectar from flowers and store it in their honey stomach. At the hive, they give it to the house bees who "chew" it for about half an hour and add enzymes to break the nectar into simple sugars. The house bees then pack the nectar into honeycomb and then fan the nectar to evaporate out most of the water. When the honey has about 18% water, then the bees plug the comb with a cap of wax.

In top bar hives, you cut the entire comb off of the top bar.

 Then you smoosh it.

And Crush it, and tear it above a colander.

Then you lick of the top bar with a toddler.

Then you precariously stack everything on top of a bowl.

Then it oozes.

 And goozes.