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 tomasaquino@msn.com. He captures swarms, provides education/training on bees, and produces some darn good honey.

Views: 256

Comment by mombat on June 16, 2008 at 10:49am
This is great. We live downtown and my lavendar, sedum,globe mallow and bird of paradise are covered with bees, I am greatful everytime I see them.
Comment by Barelas Babe on June 16, 2008 at 11:57am
Great post Chantal! Barelas also has lots of bees - is anything we can plant that will keep them especially happy?
Comment by chantal on June 16, 2008 at 1:16pm
Thank you for asking this question!

Bees love goldenrod (solidago) because it blooms toward the end of fall when they're frantically trying to gather stores of pollen and nectar for the winter.

I grow this variety -- Solidago sp. Wichita Mountains -- which is available at High Country Gardens and well-suited for xeric gardens.
Comment by Shady Lady on June 16, 2008 at 10:55pm
Thanks for this post. Tomas is truly talented. He made many of the tamales in my avatar.
Comment by Tamee on June 25, 2008 at 5:42pm
Great post Chantal! It was so fun (oh yeah, and educational) to visit Tomas and his bee gals. There is much to learn and I'm having fun getting ready to have my own hive. Thanks for asking great questions as well as giving good advice.

Also, Tomas--if you're reading this. . . thank you so much for letting us into your wonderful world! I was inspired!


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