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:


Crafting a Top Bar Observation Hive

I stayed up until midnight a couple of nights ago crafting a Top Bar Observation hive. Tricky, because there are 2 types of top bar hives here in NM and I wanted the hive to have the ability to fit a single Les Crowder style top bar or a TJ Carr style top bar. The width of the bars are similar, but the length varies by 1/2". Also, TJ hive's beeswax comb hangs 2 inches lower than Les's so I made the hive deeper than necessary.

The hive worked perfectly for the Heritage Farm Festival at the Albuquerque Botanical Gardens. There is no easier way to draw a crowd and start answering questions about bees without something for people to see, smell and hear. 

Some techniques I decided to implement were: 

1. Using plexiglass instead of glass. Anything made out of glass that goes out into the field with me gets shattered almost instantly. 

2. Use lots of air holes to prevent the glass from steaming up with with the moisture and heat produced by a gaggle of bees. 

3. Make a demonstration hive that holds a single frame. The longest I tend to keep bees in the hive is a day and keeping the hive to a frame cuts down on the weight for transporting. Good thing because I had to haul this hive at least an 1/8 of a mile to my stand at the Botanical Gardens. 

4. Reminder- it's only a prototype. You can't create perfection the first time! Every thing crafted needs to be lived with. 


Feeding Top Bar Beehives Honey

About a month ago I fed one of my weak Top Bar bee hives by unceremoniously dumping fresh honeycomb in the back of the beehive that I pulled out of one of my strong beehives. The bees don't just leave the honey in the back of the hive, they move it into honeycomb within the colony, close to the brood. Their stores are placed in a specific pattern to get through the winter.

In cleaning out the honey from the feeding, this is what they created. Some might call it cross combing. My friend Nina calls it free form building. I call it, "still surprised by bees everyday."

Photos by Nina Dubois


State Fair Honey Entries- Blue Ribbon Win!

It took 3 years of entries and I finally ribboned at the NM State Fair for honey. Yahoo! I even ribboned in a few other areas as well.

It wasn't just dumb luck on this one. I put some thought and attention to detail in my entries this year. That's a first for me. I'm more of a "big picture" kind of gal.

Here is where you can find the entry specifics for the 2012 NM State Fair

Photography- My trick to photography is that every time I get anywhere near a beehive, I take like 100,000 photos with my sticky from honey, point and shoot camera. Out of the Gillions of images I take a year, I get a handful of really good ones. For example:
Awesome Photo!!!
What the Rest of the Photos Look Like
Candle Entry- You can not go wrong with silicone molds! They are intricately detailed, hardly need any release agent, and keep the wax a consistent temperature when cooling, which prevents cracking. I get most of mine from Penguin Love. Odd name, since they don't actually sell any penguin molds that I can find.

Honey Entry- This is the 3rd year I have entered honey and the first time I have ever placed. The secret to this honey was it's amazing taste. I harvested this honey in town, close to the Rio Grande river and it was unlike anything I have ever tasted. It crystalized in less than a month and tastes like a spicy kick in the pants! Crystallization is due to the molecular composition of the honey. The more glucose found in a particular honey, the faster it crystallizes. For an in depth chemical based read on honey, "Honey," by Jonathon White. 

Chunk Comb Honey- I followed this youtube tutorial by the Lazy Beekeeper: I heated a pot of water and used a heated sharp knife to make clean cuts in brand new comb that had never stored brood (babies). Each time a bee climbs out of it's cocoon, the cocoon is left behind and can be compared to jagged paper, which and tears when cut. 


Bees + Sound Art= Incredible

3 nights ago I moved 2 of my beehives from the lovely South Valley into the heart of Downtown Albuquerque to the Alvarado Farm. They will be part of an amazing sound/art installation by Nina Dubois.
Alvarado Farm. My hives are in and enclosure in the right top corner
Nina has been interviewing local beekeepers as they work in the beehives and recording the sounds of buzzing and the beekeepers philosophies. Her recordings will be pumped into a hexagonal dome made out of recycled pallets as part of the ISEA 2012 Machine Wilderness Conference. I'm really excited to be part of her endeavor.
Nighttime Beehive Move
2 days ago, she installed 2 different microphones into the brood chamber of one of the hives. One of the microphones records vibration and it sounds like a trancelike hum. The other microphone records sound and it is like a bee concert! The installation is part of the ISEA Conference here in Albuquerque and should be up for 3 months. Hope you come down to look at the hives and listen to their sounds.
The mics
The Beehive Shack


Massive Beehive Removal from the Neighborhood Tree

I was just enjoying a Tuesday afternoon when I get a call from the tree trimmer Peter who says he has just cut a hollowed out limb from 20 feet up and that there are a mess of bees flying around. I find out that the tree is the one I walk by everyday with my girls to admire the feral hive, so I feel a special attachment to these ladies. 
 Here is the hollowed out limb that took a 20 foot tumble as Peter was trimming out the hollowed out sections of a cottonwood. It's laying in the middle of the road with a riot of bees zooming around, trying to figure out where the heck they are!
 They used to live way up there.
 I pull out my bee vacuum and an empty mini top bar hive.
 Peter the amazing tree dude, doesn't even blink an eye. He shrugs on my extra bee suit and starts to cut the large branch with a chainsaw into sections that I can get my hive tool into and start pulling out the brood (babies) and honey.
 Peter then lends a hand by vacuuming out the bees from the hollowed out branch while I start to pull out the comb and stack it in the back of the top bar hive. I'm trying to make the hive as enticing as possible for the bees. We are looking for the queen at the same time. 1 bee out of 60,000. Once we get her, we can cage her and put her into the new hive. Where the queen goes, the rest of the bees go.

 The inside of the branches are completely coated in propolis and beeswax. After the bees are cleaned out of each section of tree, we bag the limbs so we can get rid of delicious smells of home that will entice the bees away from the hive I am trying to move the bees into.

Bagged Limb. 
Yeah, Peter rocks. If you need someone to trim trees in the Santa Fe area, give this guy a call!!!! 505-310-2050. He is part monkey with his incredible climbing abilities and has a heart of gold.
 Peter then brings down the rest of the branch because half the hive was still in the tree. We still haven't found the queen and didn't want to leave a totally exposed beehive in the tree. He used a hand saw to bring the rest of the branch down and then cut it into workable pieces on the ground with the chainsaw.

 I ran out of room in the mini hive, so started transferring everything to a large sized hive.
 This limb also held a colony of carpenter ants that were scurrying around, trying to move their babies.

 Oi, the queen is in this last piece of branch!!!! We delicately cut the branch (with a chainsaw) to try and get to the queen. I have her in my hands and then... she flies away! I try and track her flight, but she is one of 1000's of bees swirling in the middle of the street.
Se la vie. I dump the vacuum into the beehive and hope that the enticing smell of all the honeycomb and brood (babies) will keep the bees there, even though the queen isn't in the hive. Peter has cut the branch to way beyond the hive, so even without the queen, I'm hoping that the bees will move into the hive because there is nothing left of their old home.
 I set up a "safety zone" with a couple of sawhorses and some orange tape to keep people from getting too close. I have to wait until night falls to move the hive, otherwise I miss all the foragers that are still out in the field and gobs of bees that are disoriented and trying to find home.
Night falls and the bees have moved into the hive! I'm hoping that the queen found the hive after she flew off. In order to move the hive to the South Valley, I tape a wire mesh all over the top of the hive. There are huge clumps of bees hanging out on the roof. I trap them under the mesh so that they don't crawl all over my body and the pickup truck during the big move.

Cutout complete. Without Peter, this would have taken me countless hours and tree cutting skills I can't even begin to fathom. I would still be looking up at that tree limb, 20 feet up, scratching my head.


The Most Ridiculously Easy way to Clean Beeswax

I've been trolling the internet for a new wax harvesting system and ended up on Linda's Bees. The site introduced me to this wax processing system that I quickly became addicted to! Check out how ridiculously easy it is to process small batches of clean wax:
 A cooler with a flat top lined with aluminum foil to catch any drippings.
 A plastic tupperwear with one inch of water, a papertowel rubberbanded to the bowl. On top, set a handful of comb cleaned of honey.
 Put the tupperwear into the cooler.
 Add a sheet of glass to the top to create a solar oven. Here in our 90 degree New Mexico weather, the beeswax will melt away from the coccons and waste in the beeswax comb and drip slowly through the paper towel within a few hours.
All that is left on the top of the paper towel is the cocoons and waste, or the slumgum. (My new favorite word= slumgum)
 Peel off the paper towel top for the big reveal... a clean layer of wax floating on water.
 The side view of the container showing water on the bottom and hardened beeswax on top.
 Beautiful wax!!!
The beeswax filled paper towel gets put into my fuel bucket for my hive smoker since it is a fantastic fire starter now. The slumgum, or bee waste product gets composted.


Traps R Us

Phew, just walked away from another successful trapout! This one was a classic trap... only about 15 feet up, so I had some quality time on a ladder over the last 3 months. You know, me and the bees, just 15 feet up in the air. I do wish there was a way to get the queen out of the wall in a trap because these bees were incredibly docile. I did provide the trap with babies to make a new queen from my Sally Sweets and I am just pleased as punch with the resulting hive.

 When I started the trap, the bees had only been in the wall for a few weeks. I initially thought that they were in the eave and came prepared to do a cutout. Thank goodness I started by making an inspection hole with a 3 inch hole saw rather than aggressively cutting first and discovering the bees weren't where I originally thought.
 I balanced the trap hive on a handy dandy ladder step. There wasn't a good place to tie the hive to on the roof. Usually I don't like to hang traps from ladders because they are too enticing for passerby. This house was in the farthest reaches of Rio Rancho in a brand new neighborhood without much foot traffic, so I chose to set the trap on a ladder.
 This is the night that we pulled the trap and moved it downtown to our backyard. It was raining cats and dogs and maybe a few bees and we were getting soaked from head to toe! We had to vacuum up a football sized clump of bees that never found the trap that I provided them to move into. You can see them in the picture and the very top of the overhang. The bees decided to cling together in a very depressing way and wait for fate to take them... or for a vacuum to suck them up! My bee vac is a very lightweight tupperwear. It's great for jobs like this where a heavy apparatus is dangerous and too hefty to maneuver on a latter without getting thrown off balance.
 The final touch was stuffing metal mesh screen into all the holes and then giving a nice clean bead of clear caulking. This prevents bees in the future from finding the delicious smells of beeswax and honey coming from the evicted bee's home and moving in.

I covered the 3 inch pilot hole with a round vent sold in any hardware store.

A successful trap and a lovely hive for the backyard.


Michael Bush Visits New Mexico

Here it is, my top 9 list of things that I learned from Michael Bush last weekend in New Mexico lecture. He covered Genetics, Raising Queens and Lazy Beekeeping!

10. Genetics. The success of a queen might not have anything to do with the queens genetics. It could be that the hive is the last one on the row and bee drift might be be why the hive is so successful. Hive Drift means the hives on the ends of a row may be stronger due to bees accidentally entering the wrong hive.

9. 8 year old queens? It's best to breed queens from a hive that has survived a winter and a nectar flow. The queen breeder Jay Smith had breeder queens that were 6-7 years old and one queen that lived to be 8 years old!

8. Bees have a gambling problem. The hive has to raise foragers ahead of a flow. The ones that gamble big (raise a ton of brood) win big if there is a heavy nectar flow and lose big if there is no flow and they have too many mouths to feed.

7. How long to make a queen? The books all say queens emerge 16 days after the egg is laid. In fact it could be 14-15 days for a queen to hatch in hot weather or up to 18 days in cold weather.

6. Lazy Beekeeping Rules of Thumb. If you don't know what to do, don't do anything. Stop painting your equipment. Stop fighting your bees.

5. Winter Feeding. If you absolutely have to feed your bees because they will most likely starve otherwise, don't feed sugar syrup, feed sugar. Honey is best, but sugar is the easiest to feed. On a Lang, put down a sheet of newspaper, then pour on a few pounds of sugar and spritz with water to make more appealing. Bees won't touch sugar water in the winter if the feed is below 50 degrees.

4. Moving hives 2 feet or 2 miles? The saying always goes don't move a hive more than 2 feet or less than 2 miles at a time. Michael Bush says break the rule, move the hive where you want it only if there is a really good reason to do so and put a branch in front of the entrance. The bees will still fly to the old location because they go into auto pilot, but then will think, "Wait, remember that really weird branch thing... oh yeah, the hive moved!" Some bees aren't the sharpest tool in the toolbox and will never find the hive.

3. The most important thing to know as a new beekeeper is.... figure out what the bees need, then help them. For instance, if you have wax moths, think about why you have them. Is it because the bees have to much comb to guard and not enough bees? Move some of the comb out of the hive.

2. Thelytoky. In very rare circumstance, laying workers can make a viable queen bee out of unfertilized eggs. I have always heard that when you have laying workers, you are scr#wed, but in some rare cases, the hive can do something magical and make a new queen!

1. Michael Bush can sing really well.


Hive Check Itch

I haven't been in the beehives since June 21st because of a trip to the Adirondacks (lucky me) and I'm starting to get the "bee hive itch." It's that tingling sensation that maybe some sort of catastrophic occurrence has happened and I'm too late to do anything about it. I usually like to check my hives every 12-14 days because a new queen can be made in 15.5 days. The first chance I will have will be next Monday... 18 days between hive checks. Ack! I'm going to be positively frothing at the mouth come next Monday.

Here comes the good news. The reason I can't get into the hives is because the New Mexico Beekeepers Association is bringing in the Natural Beekeeper and self proclaimed Lazy Beekeeper himself... Michael Bush. You can read more about him at: For more info on the all day lecture, go to:

I'll be working my tush off this weekend and sucking up knowledge like a sponge.

See you there, Jessie


Hive Pulley System

Good Morning
My fireman husband and I had a successful hive move yesterday morning. I mention the fireman part because we had to use some of his extensive training in figuring out how to get a 150 pound beehive off the roof of a 2 story apartment building. Kind of like rescuing a person from a burning building!

Anyway, I was very nervous about this move and envisioned one of us pitching off the side of the building or a crumpled up beehive at the base of stairwell. It didn't happen that way at all.

What did happen, was a very successful hive move using 2 sticks, a carabiner, a long length of rope in a stuff sack and oodles and oodles of ratchet straps.

Screened entrance
The night before the move, I cautiously climbed up the side of the apartment building late at night to seal up all the entrances using duct tape and screen. I used screen on the entrance so the bees don't suffocate overnight. By the way, the worst thing about moving hives is the late night shenanigans. I'm surprised I didn't end up with a cop wondering what the heck I was doing, veiled and on the roof of a apt building at 10 at night.

We came back the next morning and made a sling for the hive using oodles and oodles of ratchet straps. The problem with the style of hive I use is that the top bars have potential to slip back and forth during moves to let bees escape so we could only attach straps lengthwise.

We attached a rope to the hive and strung it back around a metal pipe sticking out of the top of the building as a safety and to help ease the weight.

We then made a pulley by clamping a long board between the parapets of the building and resting a board over this so the hive wouldn't drag down the side of the building, but would be free floating. My husband sat on the back end of the extended arm and worked the rope, while I send a prayer to the bee gods and pushed the hive over the edge of the building.
We pushed the hive underneath the clamped board

Don't Fall!
Anyway, surprisingly, I don't have pictures of the hive in the air, because we were busy keeping the hive from scraping, falling, twisting, etc! It was a successful move and I heart my husband's sweet fireman skills! The hive is now at Moore Family Farms in the South Valley and surrounded by alfalfa fields. Much better than stinky apartment roof living.
Sugar water at the farm until they find the nectar sources