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:


In Memory...

of the hives I have lost this winter.
Principality of Monaco, I requeened you twice, gave you all the brood and resources I could spare and you didn't make it. 
USA, you lost your queen late in the season and I didn't have a spare queen at the time. I gave you queen cells from Japan and honey to spare, but it wasn't enough.  
Croatia, you didn't get enough honey stored for the winter despite my last ditch attempt to heavily feed you sugar water in the fall.  
Note to self, don't name hives after countries that are experiencing cataclysmic events like tsunami's. The name proved itself and you always were a star crossed hive. 
France's death was a mystery to me. You had a great queen, lots of honey reserves and I still lost you.  
I'm sad to have lost so many this winter, but there is always hope. The hives that are still alive are survivors and didn't have a problem adapting to Albuquerque's cold winters, hot summers and 2011's drought and I plan to split the strong ones into 2 hives to restock the hives lost.


First Drone of the Season!

Here he is. The first hunky chunky drone of the year! The poor fella's wing is torn so he can't fly. Finding this drone means swarm season is close. I better start dusting off my cardboard box and bee vaccuum for the swarm calls I will be getting starting in March. The bees start making drones in spring to impregnate virgin queen bees from other hives and spreading out the hives genetics. Drones (boy bees) don't sting and my 5 year old is playing with him in the lower photo.

Finding the perfect wick beeswax candles

I'm in the middle of candle experimenting, but having a tough time trying to solve 2 problems. 1) Finding the right wick that will stay lit after an hour and 2) Keeping my small tea light candles from cracking while cooling.
Melting wax in a double boiler

Experimenting with different wicks and burn times

Eeee, it's cracking!
The wick problem shouldn't be an issue except that the only way I can find large sizes are by ordering them online. I can't just whip into a store to get a wick and then go back later in the day for a different size. Every wick I have found in town is too thin even for tea lights, including the wicks at Hobby Lobby that are advertised for pillars over 4 inches wide!

The other issue that I still can't seem to solve is how to keep my small beeswax candles from cracking as they cool. This also happens on the large candles, but it isn't too big an issue because the tops of the mold are actually the bottoms of the candle and I can melt out the cracks with a heated pan.

I've tried everything I can think of for the cracks. I've covered the tins molds in newspaper to try and insulate them from cooling too fast. No luck. I've tried putting the molds into hot water while they cool. No luck. I've tried making the molds in a warmed room. No luck. Any ideas out there?!

After much experimentation, I discovered that the candles were cooling too fast. By giving the wax an initial cool until a film formed on the top of the double boiler and then pouring the candles, I was able to eliminate most of my issues with cracking. 


Candles Made from Separate Wax Harvests

And now introducing the first candles I have made this season with some help from the the "Dutchess of Candlemaking", Lori!

The color on these candles is from 3 different wax harvests! Each time I harvest wax, I get differing ages of comb. The wax takes on the color of the honey, pollen and is also colored by baby bee cocoons accumulating over time. Rather than melting the harvests together, I have kept them separate and have a few colors of wax.

These candles turned out well, but I have to perfect a few techniques. It's really hard to gauge the right temperature to pour in the next layer of wax. If you don't wait long enough, the colored layers melt together and get muddy. If you wait too long, the different waxes crack apart from each other when you pull out the candle from the molds.

We also spent some time trying to figure out the right width of wick to use. I have learned that you need to use a wick one or 2 sizes larger than the paraffin equivalent, otherwise the candle burns out within a few minutes. Also, any particles in the wax will effect the way the wax burns.

I'll keep on experimenting with wax. Lori wants to show me how to make "ice candles" next!


New Motto

I was in Ruidoso, NM last weekend enjoying some Deschutes Brewery Beer and noticed the logo on the bottle- "Courageously Crafted Since 1988". I'm feeling my new beekeeping motto should be "Keeping Bees Courageously Since 2009," especially with all the stings I acquired last year and the numbers of hives I'm losing this winter. So sad, but expected with all the late year bee removals I did. They just didn't have enough time to build up honey for the winter.

On the drive down south I could tell I was in bee country because I kept seeing langstroth hive components scattered on the side of the highway. Totally weird sight. I'm imagining hives shooting out of the back of an out of control pickup truck....