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:


Hiving Packages in Top Bars

4 gorgeous, healthy packages purchased from the remarkable Megan Mahoney, Mahoney Apiaries, driven 30 hours from CA.

Packages cleaned and prepped enthusiastically by Phill Remick.

Vida Verde Organic farm in the heart of Los Ranchos, Albuquerque

4 Top Bar Hives prepped for packages with 6, 1 year old drawn combs of beeswax in each hive, a mixture of 1:4 sugar water in 2 quart sized mason jars flipped upside down with holes poked into the tops.

What a forgot, my darned VEIL. No worries, wrapped a piece of screen door around my head and proceeded to install packages in a swirl of bees.

Pressed the queen cages into the 3rd comb from the entrance. I like to have the 3rd comb as my "business" bar. Any fancy business (installing queens, adding queen cells, etc) that happens in my hives, happens on the 3rd bar. 

Lay the package in the back of the hive so the bees can come out and find the queen. 

Hives are all installed. I even had a bonus swarm move into one of my empty top bar hives in the last week so I ended up with an extra hive. Yahoo!


Top Bar Hives- Economically Sustainable Beekeeping in Jamaica

Jessie Inspecting a Langstroth Hive
I've been back Stateside for a few days after spending 2 weeks traveling through Jamaica teaching Top Bar Hive Beekeeping, Treatment Free Beekeeping, Queen Rearing and Beeswax Products through the Partners of the America's Farmer to Farmer Program.

In a nutshell, I taught 152 beekeepers on Top Bar Hives and Sustainable Beekeeping from one end of Jamaica to the other, in Kingston, Westmoreland, Barton's, St. Thomas, St. Mary and Portland.

Jamaica has banned the importation of beeswax to the country so they can't make enough beeswax to support the foundation needed for Langstroth hives. Each apiary is suggested to have 10% Top Bar hives, solely for wax production, but nobody knows how to use this style of hive yet! I was there continuing the education of previous trainers, NM's own Les Crowder and Megan Mahoney! Tom Hebert from Honduras has also participated in the program.

Jessie's Top 9 Teaching List 

1. Top Bar Beekeeping is Awesome- By the time I had given my 45 minute demo about how awesome Top Bar Beekeeping is, people were pulling out their measuring tapes to find out dimensions and make their own hives. The benefits of these hives are huge to this country:

  • Cheap, hives can even be made out of woven bamboo, burlap coffee bags or bundled straw to cut costs even further
  • More beeswax production to make Langstroth foundation or start producing beeswax products. 
  • No hidden places for Hive Beetles to make a home
  • No equipment storage 
  • No extra parts, no extractors, or frames, or foundation or boxes, or queen excluders 
  • Lightweight, anybody can lift a 10 pound comb
Woven Top Bar Hive
2. Queen Rearing- The idea of rearing queens that are resistant to disease and pathogens is rocking their world! Every queen rearing talk would lead to people telling me about their new treatment for mites. I just kept telling them, "Why put a bandaid on the problem, when you can make it so they don't get sick to begin with, through genetics."
Grafting Queens, Portland Bee Farmer's Assoc. 

Portland Bee Farmer's Assoc, Queen Yard

3. Happy Birthday! There were 8 queen bees born on my birthday, April 14th at the Yerba Buena Model Top Bar Apiary. We just kept caging virgin queen after queen. Shameless plug: if you are reading this and want to be a top bar beekeeping intern at an unbelievable farm, check out my gracious hosts at Yerba Buena Farm.
Catch that virgin queen!
My host, Agape Adams with a queen
4. Instructions on how to transfer a Langstroth to Top Bar Hive
  • You can do this by making comb savers and cutting 4 fully capped brood frames from a strong and healthy Langstroth hive during a nectar flow. Put the frames and any bees remaining into the Langstroth for them to draw it out with new beeswax. 
  • You add the queen to the Top Bar Hive and shake in 4-6 frames of bees
  • Then put the Top Bar hive in place of the original Langstroth so it can gain all the worker bees and move the Langstroth hive to a new location. 
  • The Langstroth hive will raise a new queen with all of their hefty resources. 
Rachel cuts a Lang Frame to fit a Top Bar comb saver
5. Candle making- I taught Candle Making/Wax Products classes to groups that had already had a top bar hive donated and transferred from a Langstroth so that they have a way to make money with the wax they would begin harvesting. There is no local wick manufacturer so I pressed the idea of wick experimentation. Try using hemp rope, strips of wood, wicker harvested from the jungle. 
Jessie teaching candles and mold making
6. Recipe Building. As Jamaican's start producing more beeswax, I gave them a basic lip balm recipe and taught them how to build on it to produce different products. People pay more money for beeswax that has not been treated with miticides. Here is the gist:
  • Lipbalm= 1 part any oil (for moisturizing) + 1 part beeswax (for hardening)
  • Thick Lotion= oil + beeswax + thick oil, like cocoa butter (for body)
  • Mosquito Balm= oil + beeswax + lemongrass oil
  • Healing salve= oil + beeswax + healing oils like calendula, lavender, etc.
  • Petroleum Jelly= baby oil + beeswax

7. No winter. Did you know there is no winter in Jamaica? I had to keep wrapping my brain about the idea of Nectar flow and Dearth instead of Winter and summer. In the height of summer, around July-August it is so hot that trees aren't producing nectar. You have to view this as our winter and build up your hives to have at least 12 combs to survive these tough months.
Top Bar Model Apiary at Yerba Buena Farm

8. Top Bar Hive Management. Pests, disease? No worries, try different management techniques that I use all the time with Top Bar. 
  • Wax Moths- harvest some of your comb, the bees have too much to protect.
  • Foulbrood- if you hold your comb up to the sun and can't see through it, time to harvest it out of the hive and let the bees draw new comb. That black comb harbors disease, feces, cocoon buildup. As Agape Adams calls it, a sewer! 
  • Chalkbrood- Requeen and make sure they aren't getting exposed to fungicides
  • Mites- Requeen for hygienic behavior, aka. bees clean the mites off each other
Standing room only, Westmoreland Bee Assoc.
9. Jamaicans laugh at all my jokes. No seriously, Jamaicans get New Mexico dry humor and I went to great lengths to help beekeepers enjoy learning Top Bar Hives. I love this country and would love to return!
St. Mary's Bee Club


Beeyard Date

My hubby and I getting cuddly in the beeyard at Yerba Buena Farm, Jamaica surrounded by sugar cane, banana trees and of course... bees.


Swarm Gift

Had a delightful swarm gift experience today. Clay, the bird man at the local Albuquerque Zoo gave me a call saying that the zoo had a melon shaped swarm, he had caught it in a couple of boxes and wanted someone to pick it up. Took me about 15 minutes to throw my girls in the car and pick up some free bees! As always, I'm dumbstruck by random acts of kindness and generosity.

Waiting at the zoo for free bees

The swarm, packed up in tidy packages

The top bar hive is prepped with 1:4 sugar water

Gave them a frame of brood to entice the swarm to stay

The swarm after I shook them into the hive

Fanning the nazanoff scent, saying "this is a great place to live, come find us"

Japan is back in business with a new hive

Clay and I chatted bees and he told me his "hero" story of catching the swarm and his coworkers being amazed at his daring! 

Thelytoky aka Thrilling Bee Behavior

Just returned from my wild and wonderful Jamaica adventure where I was teaching top bar beekeeping. Until I get my thoughts straight on that one, let me report back on what happened in the apiary while I was gone.

This last winter, I lost 16 out of 17 beehives. That was a staggering amount and I blame good old fashioned winter loss.

Desperate and about to leave town for 2 weeks, I ended up being able to buy 4 packages of bees and install them within 24 hours of leaving town. I wasn't able to wait to make sure that the queens were released from their queen cages successfully in the suggested 2-3 days, so I direct released the queens when I installed the packages into their hives. I placed the caged queens in with the packages into the top bar hives. Waited for about 30 minutes to make sure no bees were trying to attack through the cages and just let the queens troop right into the hives to start laying.

I checked the hives 2 days ago and found some thrilling bee behavior.

This hive had lost their queen somewhere in the mix and had laying workers. Every single cell was full of eggs. I first heard about thelytoky last summer from Michael Bush. This is where in rare circumstances, haploid worker bees can lay diploid worker bees or even a queen bee. If you know anything about basic bee biology, this is like a bee miracle. The

It appeared as if my hive that I hadn't checked on in 2 weeks was exhibiting signs of thelytoky. The bees had formed queen cell cups that were full of eggs by laying workers. The bees were attempting to rear a queen using haploid, laying worker eggs.
Laying Workers

Laid queen cells

Queen cells full of laid worker eggs

In hindsight, I should have let the bees do their thing and find out what kind of queen they were able to produce. Instead, I had a virgin queen on hand that I introduced to the hive to try and make this hive queenright.

Want to learn more about the biology of thelytoky?


Candlemaking in Jamaica

What do you do when you don't have an oven to heat beeswax to make candles for a candle making demonstration in Jamaica? You light a fire using coconut husk and charcoal (adorable and charismatic kid optional)

Here is the fantastic group of beekeepers I taught a candle making class to the St. Thomas Bee Farmers Association now that they will be swimming in beeswax using top bar hives.

Jamaica Beek

So, I have been in Strawberry Fields, Jamaica at the Yerba Buena Farm for 4 full days and have a whirlwind teaching experience across the country through the Farmer to Farmer Program.

I'm here teaching top bar beekeeping techniques in a country desperate for a change in hive style since beeswax has been banned for importation. No cheap beeswax means the already expensive langstroth hive is even more expensive to maintain. They are looking to top bar to increase their beeswax production. In fact, if you have a beeyard, it is recommended that you have 10% top bar hives to help make the foundation.

I can't begin to tell you how exciting it is to begin an "Intro to Top Bar/ Treatment Free" class with an audience of dubious beekeepers, and leave with those same beekeepers pulling out measuring tapes to start making top bar hives when they get home.

Here are a few pics of transferring a langstroth hive into a top bar body.

Kwao cutting a langstroth frame and adding it to a "comb saver" to transfer a Lang hive to Top Bar

The New Lang in the St. Barton Bee Association Bee yard in Jamaica

Beekeeping in paradise