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Monday, June 20, 2011

It's the Bees' Knees! Beekeeping in Northern New Mexico

When we bought our steers from Donald and Anita LaRan, local cattle ranchers, Anita invited me to join their organization, The Sangre de Cristo Livestock Growers Association. The group was started through a grant from Heifer International, an organization dedicated to helping people in high poverty areas find a sustainable source of food and income. By purchasing my steers from Donald and Anita, I kept money in the community, which is important for a small, rural village in Northern New Mexico.
 At the meetings (sorry I've missed a few, Anita!) the members teach skills they have to the others. I am learning about solar water heating, cattle care, fruit tree grafting, and now, beekeeping thanks to the knowledgeable group members and the guest speakers who come to talk to our group.

Meg McGee is a member of the livestock group and a master beekeeper, as well. She offers classes at the classic adobe home she is renovating, her gardens and bee yard our classroom. Meg believes in hands on education, so that's what we have been doing, acting like beekeepers while she guides us in our learning. 
That's Meg on the left giving us important bee info. Paul, on the right, is an experienced beekeeper but continues to learn.
The bee population has decreased worldwide due to mysterious bee illnesses. Scientists think the increase in pesticide use is a contributing factor, since pesticide residues are turning up in bee remains, hives, honey and the combs. By learning how to keep bees, people can  turn around the decrease in bees and help the public to understand why bees and bee habitat are important and necessary components for survival, not just for the bees, but for us. Not only do bees produce tasty honey, but they are necessary to pollinate the crops that we and our animals eat.

The type of beehives we are using are called Top Bar Beehives. Coffin shaped, simple boxes have wooden bars spanning across the tops. Simple and cheap to make, these hives are easy to maintain and inspect, bees don't usually need medicines living in this type of hive, less equipment is needed, and the queen can go wherever she wants, which I understand isn't possible with the box type hives which keep the queen separate from the honey.

Some of Meg's hives. That's Jonathan, listening intently.

The hives are simple to inspect. We just lift the bars up one by one to look at the brood combs or the honey combs.
Inside the hive with some of the bars removed so we can see what's happening.  

Our tasks at this class were to identify drone and worker bee cells, identify the drones and workers and to find the queen. She was busy at work, laying eggs, which we were able to identify within their cells. The bees were not concerned with us and kept doing their bee jobs while we were visiting. Smoke from the bee smokers kept them docile, but these bees are pretty mellow all the time.

After lunch we learned about swarming behavior, heard a tale about collecting bees from within the walls of an old barn from two of our class members, and a cautionary tale about a black widow spider bite and the local medical care available for dealing with such an event. Note to self: Find doctor in Taos or Santa Fe.

Members of the Sangre de Cristo Livestock group taking the class get credit for the hours spent learning. When they reach forty hours of bee training, they will be eligible for a gift of bees from someone else in the group who received bees previously. It's called Passing on the Gift and a large component of the Heifer program.

Eventually the plan is for all the beekeepers in the area to form a co-op to sell the honey. Because there's money in honey.


  1. Bridget, You really should write a book. Your writing is so descriptive and so enchanting. I sense a best seller on the way Be careful with the bees. i think Heifer International is a great organization. Good luck
    Jan O

  2. Thanks for the kind comment, Jan. I never thought I'd be involved with Heifer, but here I am. Being part of this group helps to build community, and I am glad to be a member.

  3. I have bees here :0/ the moved in under the storage shed out back last summer.. Wish I could get to there honey.. I am looking for locally produced honey for myself.. A very wise person told me that if I replace sweetner with local grown honey it might help me build up a resistance to whatever trees, grass, bushes, flowers, etc. that cause my severe allergies.. can only hope... Jeanie

  4. now I proof read :0/ let me correct.... #1 They #2 their
    forgive me teacher...

  5. Yes, I hear that local honey will help immunize you from allergies. Is that farmers' market going nearby? Maybe you can find a local honey person there.

  6. Hurray for bees and bee keepers! And Hurray for Heifer International! I totally relate to the plight of the bees since finding out that most of my challenges are a result of the pesticides and other chemicals in our environment. I wish I could safely get outside more often to garden; I'd love to give the bees more work to do. ;- )


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