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:


Bees on the Bayou Recap, 2013 American Beekeeping Federation Conference

I just recently attended the American Beekeeping Federation conference “Bees on the Bayou” and wanted to share a slice of the information I learned from the talks I sat through. 

Panel Discussion with Dr. Marla Spivak, Dr. Peter Teal, Dr. Jeff Pettis
Dr. Marion Ellis, Dept of Entomology, Univ of Nebraska- “Why Bees?” - Dr. Ellis shares his 45 year love story with bees. Beekeeping puts you in touch with the natural world. No bees is not an option. 
Fran Boyd, “ABF Legislative Update” - The Farm Bill is in Conference between House and Senate. An important aspect for beekeepers is for the DOT to start treating bees like livestock to make it easier to truck bees. Mr. Boyd recommends that we support the Farm Bill. 2013 Farm Bill

Dr. Roger Hoopingarner, “Flight and Foraging Dynamics of the Honey Bee” - Bee flight is possible by the use of integument, like the plucking of a violin string.

Bill Klett, “Breeder Queen Selection Process in the Age of Infinite Honeybee Stress” - To test a cell builder for hygienic behavior, either brood using nitrogen or the poking with a fine needle. Check the area cleaned out after 48 hours. Only after you have selected a breeding pool for nosema resistance, mite resistance and hygienic behavior, can you then select for gentleness, honey production, etc. 

Harry Fulton, “What to Expect When the Apiary Inspector Comes Calling” - Bee inspections came about because of Foulbrood and are needed to prevent the spread of infectious bee diseases and pests, in order to obtain movement permits and certifications and consumer protection to prevent a beekeeper from acquiring diseased and or parasite infected honey bees. 

Dr. Tom Rinderer, USDA Honey Bee Research Lab, “Russian Bee Breeding” - Between 1997 and 2002, 362 Russian Queens were imported by USDA and 18 lines were selected for mating and are now in the hands of the Russian Queen Breeders Association. Russian bees are more varroa mite resistant then Italians and are gentle, but outcrosses can be aggressive.

Zach Browning, Browning Honey Company, “How to Evaluate a Good Apiary and Keeping Apiaries in Reserve” - Think like a bee when choosing a site; abundant and clean foraging is key. Avoid roadways, low lying areas, other apiaries, intensely farmed areas and homes, schools and churches.

Thursday, 1/9/14
Dr. Marla Spivak, “Minnesota: Land of 10,000 Projects to Improve Bee Health” - There is a direct correlation between a propolis envelope within a hive and lower varroa and nosema counts. It is suggested that beekeepers use rough sawn lumber to make beehives or rough up the inside of hive boxes to encourage the build up of a propolis envelope.

Jill Clark, “True Source Honey Update” - True Source Honey came about because of Chinese honey dumping in the USA. Honey producers should register as a True Source Honey Producer to show so that 100% of honey can be traceable to country of origin. Customers can find this label on honey.

Jamie Patreti, “Honey Litigation, Honeygate and Neonics” - Mr. Patreti is part of the law firm representing honey packers. In 2002, there was a worldwide honey scheme that involved 3rd party dumping of Chinese honey through Malaysia, Taiwan and Indonesia. Now, they are investigating Turkey for 3rd party honey dumping. 

George Hansen, ABF President, “Sustainability” - We need to think about incentives to bring new beekeepers into the industry and start a constructive engagement with the broad agricultural community.

Pete Berthelsen, Pheasants Forever, “ Pollinator Habitat Partnership Opportunitiees with Pheasants and Quails Forever” - There are many groups with the same goal as beekeepers, improving pollinator habitat. If you want to make significant changes, you need partners like the Monarch Butterfly groups and Birding Groups.

Greg Hanaford, “Marketing, Don’t Just Sell the Product, Sell the Beekeeper” - For marketing your product, you have a unique ability to reach a specific segment of the market and they are your customer. Don’t try to be Walmart because there is no way a beekeeper can afford to undercharge the market. Try and lure the quality conscious consumer because they are willing to pay whatever price your honey costs.

Updates From the Beltsville USDA-ARS Lab
  • Dr. Steven Cook, “The Effects of Two Neonicitinoid Pesticides on Honey Bee Respirometry”
  • Dr. Jeff Pettis, “Factors Affecting Queen Health”

Updates from the Tucson USDA-ARS Lab
  • Dr. Vanessa Corby-Harris, “Associations Between Alpha 2.2 Bacteria and Honey Bees: Where Do They Come From and How Can They Help?”
  • Dr. William Merkle, “What Continuous Monitoring of Weight and Temperature Tells US About the Hive”

Dr. Peter Teal, Dr. Marla Spivak, Dr. Jeff Pettis, “Research With Practical Applications” - Everyone can find the latest bee research at: 

What the public can do for researchers is to put pressure on congress to allocate money for Honey Bee research. Hobbiest beekeepers have the best ability to put scientific research into practical uses because they have the time to assess the hive. 

Dr. Dennis vanEngelsdorp, Dept of Entomology, Univ of Maryland, “How to Keep Colonies Alive, Lessons From the Field” - Take the Winter Loss survey at


Honeycomb Harley

The most remarkable thing I saw today at the American Beekeeping Federation, "Bees on the Bayou" was this Honeycomb Harley.


How to Make a Silicone Candle Mold

Do you have an object laying around the house that you would like to make a bajillion clones out of in the form of candles? Let me show you how to make a silicone mold. Follow these steps.

1. Is your object the right shape? You can't make a mold with anything with a hole in it, like the crooked arm in this object. The reason is that you can't pull the candle out of the mold with out tearing apart the mold. Also, your object needs to have some sort of flat bottom so you don't have a rocking candle, lighting everything around it on fire!

2. Is your object porous? I chose a sugar cake to mold. The problem is that once the liquid silicone meets the sugar cake, the cake will dissolve. Spray wood or other porous surfaces with an enamel to keep the silicone from permanently sticking. I sprayed 5 layers of enamel on this sugar cake, waiting for the enamel to dry between applications.

3. Pick a container to make the mold. I'm using an old yogurt container. It gives about half an inch around the sugar cake.

4. Glue your item to the bottom of your container. 

5. Mix and measure the silicone according to the manufacturers directions. For this mold, I used AeroMarine 125 Silicone RTV Rubber, 25 Durometer Moldmaking Compound, parts A and B.  The Mix ration is 1:1. Rather than eyeballing 1:1, I weighed Part A and Part B to make sure they were equal as I was pouting them into the container. Mix the mixture quickly so that you have time to pour it before the mold cures.

6. Pour in the silicone on top of your item. 

7. Tap out the bubbles in the mold by banging the mold against a surface or putting something that vibrates like a palm sander against the bottom of the mold to dislodge bubbles.

8. After the mold cures, cut it out of the container. Drill a hole for the wick at the top of the mold

9. Cut a slit on the side of the mold to easily pull out the candle

10. Add a wick, put a rubber band around the circumference to hold in the wax, pour in hot beeswax and you have a candle. 


PNM Rocks! Cinderblock trap out

I've been working with PNM's Environmental Scientist, Steven S. to help trap out some bees from a PNM substation cinderblock wall within Albuquerque. Three cheers for PNM going out and finding a local beekeeper to remove live honeybees, rather than using an exterminator. This is especially admiral for a trap out, which involves many visits to the site over a 6 week period of time and someone from the company always has to be present for safety concerns.

This trap out was slick. No problems in setting it up. I placed a frame of young honeybee larvae with all the nurse bees into the top bar hive. This will be the new home for the bees that exit the original hive and have no better place to live. They will make a queen with the new larvae and create a brand new colony. It's a late season trap out and I'll be transferring bees week by week into my stronger hives so that they can survive the winter.

The only odd part about this trap out is that it is in a PNM substation. When entering the substation, we have to wear protective fire wear and are limited on entering the premises if it is raining. There is always a dull hum of machinery. Wondering if the dull hum is enticing to bee colonies?

The Top Bar Trap balanced on a ladder

A detail of the trap. The cone has a frayed exit hole and is glued to the wall using silicone

Can you hear the hum?


University Swarm, aka Twin Peaks

Just caught this rocking swarm by UNM, off of Lead and University, in Albuquerque. I dub this 2 foot by 6 inch long swarm, and sister swarm 1 foot by 6 inches, Twin Peaks. I must have done something good in my past to deserve 2013's easy swarm Karma.

Twin Peaks

Lead and University

Cut the branches and lowered the swarms into my box with a tupperwear filled with a paper towel soaked in sugar water

Ready for the drive home, I'll go back this afternoon to pick up the foragers

Added a dollap of beeswax dripping with honey to give them a good start and make the hive smell like "home"

Oh Canada!


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