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The buzz: Local resources can help urban beekeepers get started

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Bees on the honeycomb of one of Phill Remick’s hives. Remick ends his emails with the sign-off: “Bee seeing you.” (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

Bees on the honeycomb of one of Phill Remick’s hives. Remick ends his emails with the sign-off: “Bee seeing you.” (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

Ever heard of urban beekeeping? It’s a pastime some New Mexicans are buzzing about because it allows them to be a part of the honey-making process while spending time in their own backyards.

Phill Remick wears a beekeeping hat and veil to protect him from bees, which he thinks sting less than most people think. He keeps these hives in the yard of another homeowner a few miles away; in exchange he gives them fresh bottled honey. Remick teaches classes in beekeeping. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

Phill Remick wears a beekeeping hat and veil to protect him from bees, which he thinks sting less than most people think. He keeps these hives in the yard of another homeowner a few miles away; in exchange he gives them fresh bottled honey. Remick teaches classes in beekeeping. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

This is the time of year that people in Albuquerque can acquire the skills to participate in this hobby, which allows people to make their own honey and beeswax.

Urban beekeeping isn’t a one-day DIY project. Rather, it involves acquiring bees – one queen, some drones and a whole lot of worker bees – in a kit, often ordered by mail. Then, the bees have to be transferred to the wooden frames lined in plastic and sold by local apiaries. The honeycomb-shaped plastic in the middle will eventually become the bees’ honeycomb.

The frames go into a wooden box, which becomes the hive. Once the set-up is complete, bees get started making honey: They gather nectar from plants of the southwest like catalpa trees, red buds and Russian sage. They eject the honey, which attaches to the honeycomb, and seal the openings with wax.

Then a beekeeper – novice or pro – comes along for the final steps: the wax gets sliced off, the honey gets extruded, and then it can be bottled for use and the wax collected for various projects as well.

Several organizations encourage people in town to learn about beekeeping as a hobby, and create their own set-ups of no more than three hives in their backyard.

One is NewBeeRescue.com, helmed by beekeeper and apiary consultant Phill Remick, who has devoted himself to beekeeping since 1972. “This is all I do, is beekeeping,” he said during an interview at his home in the North Valley.

A back room is set up as a classroom for the students he teaches, about 50 a year, he estimates. Topics covered: turning the wooden slats into honeycombs, acquiring bees, and creating a modern-day hive that yields honey at the end of bee season, which runs from March to September or October.

Some fun facts his students might learn as he walks them through the process of setting up a hive:

  • Queen bees lay 1,800 eggs per day,
  • A brood (aka an egg) hatches every 21 days,
  • 30,000 bees constitute a colony or hive,
  • Worker bees bring in water from foliage, then regurgitate it into the hive to keep it at a toasty 93 degrees,
  • The queen bee, boss of the whole operation, is bigger than the other bees and more translucent in color, and
  • Setting up a beehive just anywhere is not recommended. (Close to the neighbor’s pool, for example, is a no-no.)

“I get a lot of people who just try it out,” Remick said. “The majority of people who want to take care of bees are professional women.”

Another program is the Certified Beekeeping Education Program, which began this year and is offered by the New Mexico Beekeepers Association and the City of Albuquerque.

A two-year program that leads to a certification, it teaches backyard beekeeping with a focus on responsibility and best practices. It began May 10 and goes until Aug. 9.

“That gets people through the bee season, teaching them how to start their hives, how to manage their hives, and do any preparation for winter,” said Susan Clair, coordinator for the program. “Come March or April (of next year), we start again – we will have a different series of classes” in 2015 that will constitute a Level 2, and there will also be a repeat of Level 1 for a new round of participants, she said.

“Every year from now on there will be a level one and a level two,” she said, adding that there’s room for 26 participants who can start next year, although this year’s class is already full.

The program, which costs $250, is taught by experienced beekeepers.

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