An un-bee-lievable adventure - Albuquerque Journal

An un-bee-lievable adventure

From left to right, Altura Honey & Bees interns Adrian “AJ” Salter, Julian Vye and Lillah Hammad, inspect a piece of honeycomb recovered from the inside of a cinderblock wall during a honeybee removal at a home in Albuquerque on July 31, 2022. (Liam DeBonis/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

It’s a hot Sunday morning. The ragtag volunteer team at Altura Honey & Bees dons white jumpsuits and protective netting.

Their mission on this day: To remove honeybees from inside a cinder block wall.

Altura co-owner John Thomson points out the hive built on a root inside the blocks that line a Northeast Albuquerque backyard.

“That is so wild,” he says. “You don’t see that too often.”

Thomson first discovered beekeeping when building bee boxes with his students at Amy Biehl High School, where he teaches science and math.

He reached out to local beekeepers to jumpstart his own hives.

“I kept catching bees and learning more about it,” Thomson said. “It’s an adventure every time.”

He took over the business from a mentor a few years ago.

Honeycomb filled with bees and larvae recovered by Altura Honey & Bees from the inside of a cinderblock wall during a honeybee removal at a home in Albuquerque on July 31, 2022. (Liam DeBonis/Albuquerque Journal)

Thomson then joined forces with friend and fellow beekeeper Luke Murphy, whose love for the insects is evident by the bee and honeycomb tattoos on his arm.

“We learn a lot by reading and videos, and, of course, from the bees,” Murphy said. “If the bees are happy, we know we’re doing a good job.”

Volunteers help the beekeepers, who both have full-time jobs.

Altura sells honey at local markets.

But honeybee swarm and hive removal are free.

“We want to make this accessible to everyone,” Murphy said. “We want to save the bees. For us, it’s a free hive. For somebody else, that’s hundreds of dollars that they save.”

Locals can call the Altura hotline if they notice honeybees in their walls or roofs, or on their property.

The honeybee specialists request a detailed description and picture or video to assess the situation.

They sometimes use a thermal camera to pinpoint the bees.

In the spring, the team may do four swarm captures a day.

Hive removals are more time consuming, so the crew does about one to two a week.

Several Amy Biehl students volunteer with Altura for their senior projects.

“I really like this kind of stuff,” said student intern Lillah Hammad. “Every time is different.”

The teens have learned enough skills that they can now catch swarms on their own.

Despite the sweaty bee suits and the occasional sting, the students agree that the gig is a fun way to spend a summer morning.

After a swarm capture or hive removal, the team transports the bees to Thomson’s backyard hives.

Luke Murphy, co-owner of Altura Honey & Bees, inspects both sides of a cinderblock wall after removing the nest from inside one of the pillars during a honeybee removal at a home in Albuquerque on July 31, 2022. (Liam DeBonis/Albuquerque Journal)

Relocation can be traumatic for the colony.

A queen may even get lost in the melee.

“We want to have the bees close so we can keep an eye on them, feed them if we need to, take any kind of reconstructive measures (on the hive), and nurse them back to full (health),” Thomson said.

A sugar water and cayenne pepper mix supplements the bees’ diet.

The company has about 10 other apiaries around town for housing bees.

It can take two years for a relocated hive to start producing consistent honey.

After a little coaxing with smoke and a vacuum hose, the small colony removal from the cinderblock wall is done in less than an hour.

Thompson and the interns nestle the honeycomb into wooden frames.

Then, Murphy carefully places a lid over the hive.

“Let’s go,” he says to the buzzing box of bees. “We’re giving you a bigger home and free health care.”

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