If you've ever ridden the zoo train
past the BioPark's big red barn
, Tomás is the guy in a mesh hat waving at you with a comb of honeybees in his hand.
Back behind the Heritage Farm
at the Albuquerque Botanic Gardens
, Tomás Aquino keeps 3 beehives to pollinate the farm's orchard trees. The spring honey from these hives, surrounded by the lush nectar-filled flora of the gardens, is among the best I've ever tasted.
His BioPark gig is a labor of beekeeper love. Tomás is not paid for his work on the garden's 3 hives, but he tends to them faithfully every Tuesday along with dozens of other hives scattered throughout Albuquerque. He's one of a growing number of beekeepers in Albuquerque whose ranks I recently joined with a hive of my own
I met Tomás along with other urban beekeepers, both new and well-seasoned, at the bi-monthly meeting of the very informal Albuquerque Beekeepers (ABQ Beeks) group
Thirty odd people usually show up bringing honey, questions, and answers. That's more people than you might expect keeping bees within the city limits, but by some estimates there are actually far more. Triple the joiners who show up at meetings and you've got 100 or so beekeepers estimated to have hives in Albuquerque.
They're the folks who keep our urban gardens, filled with chile and apricots, productive.
Tomás houses a dozen or so hives on his North Valley land. Back near the adobe sweat lodge but before the orchard, he has top bar bee hives
scattered like old logs about the property. Bees stream forth from sunrise to sunset.
This Saturday, he introduced me and a woman named Tamee to his hives.
"The bees put me in a zen state of mind," says Tomás of the process of inspecting his hives. The low hum, the repetitive pattern of bee bums, and the sweet bakery smell characteristic of a healthy hive all mingle to make it a meditation for some beekeepers, Tomás and myself included.
Tomás opens four hives quickly, pointing out brood, capped honey, and the beautiful elongated queen bee (not shown above) busy in each hive. "I like to let the bees do their thing," he says of his hands-off management approach to beekeeping. Tomás does little to interrupt their natural cycles of building, brooding, and honey-making which is something few beekeepers (commercial or hobbyist like Tomás) can say these days in an era of colony collapse disorder
and other threats to the honey bee.
Quickly in, quickly out, and soon we're tasting honey in Tomás' brick-floored kitchen. He's been smashing honey-filled comb in a sieve to strain it out. There's already enough of a harvest to fill a very large tamale pot full of dark desert honey.
I dip a spoon in the pot, drawing out a buttery mouthful of Tomás' latest harvest. It's hardly the exquisitely floral experience of his BioPark honey (which reminds one of caramelized apples and perfume), but it's pure and thick and as local as a locavore
can get. Perfect.
You can contact Tomás at firstname.lastname@example.org
. He captures swarms, provides education/training on bees, and produces some darn good honey.