Monday, June 29, 2015

Hive Mind: Raising Bees in the Southwest

Ben displays a frame from the hive
Last week I blogged about Bee Chama Honey in Polvadera New Mexico. I also got to visit with beekeepers last year while working on an article for enchantment magazine, published by NMRECA.


Beekeeper Ben Noyce from North Valley Bees in Albuquerque and Jessica Makin, a beekeeper in training, met me one Saturday. We suit up in protective gear to check a hive. I’m not afraid of bees, but as we approach the box, dozens of bees are flying around with a steady thrum. My heart races. A bee bumps against the mesh shielding my face, buzzing loudly.

Ben explains, “Honeybees are notoriously gentle. They will check you out and bump you, which is a way of saying, ‘You’re in my way, back off.’ The best thing is to be calm.”

Jessica shows off some honeycomb
Soon I’m caught up in the fascinating process. The soft, steady hum of hundreds of bees is actually less threatening than when one or two buzz loudly, bumping against my face shield.

Ben pulls the frames out one at a time to check the hive health. Most hold an irregularly-shaped honeycomb swarming with bees. Some of the honeycomb cells are filled with bee larva. One bee is being born, its antenna wiggling out a tiny hole in the cell. Ben points out another bee doing the “wiggle dance,” which looks like a miniature cha-cha. The bee is giving directions for finding pollen.

This hive started with 5 pound of bees. Since there are 3000 to 4000 bees in a single pound, that’s at least 15,000 bees, and growing. Ben will keep adding boxes to give them more room, and the hive will expand to double the number of bees.

Jessica had been exploring beekeeping for about three weeks. She no longer feels as much of an adrenaline jolt from being so close – usually. She kneels and reaches into the open hive to clear out some trash, bees flying and crawling around her. “Here’s where the adrenaline hits,” she says.

Property owner Gino Perez watche Ben and Jess
As we pack up, they offer me a piece of honeycomb saturated in honey. The texture is like chewing on wax; the flavor is subtle and sweet and delicious. Beekeepers can judge the source of honey from the taste and the color of the pollen. Some wisteria honey “was so light it almost looked like water, but it had an earthy, strong perfume flavor, like rosewater,” Ben says. In another hive, the main source of pollen was mariposa. “This honey was so dark and thick it moved like molasses. It had an aftertaste of smoky mesquite.”

Beekeeping seems to be addictive – and contagious. Ben says, “We’ll get calls to remove bees, and they’ll say, ‘Teach me a little about it.’ Next thing you know, we have them in a suit, and they taste raw honey.” Most grocery store honey is heated and filtered. Raw honey may have more flavor, and some people claim it’s healthier.

Keeping Things Growing

Bee colonies reduce their population in the winter, perhaps dropping to 10 or 20,000 workers plus the queen. They live off their own honey. When the weather warms up, the colony expands. An active summer colony may have 50,000 worker bees foraging for food, guarding the colony, or tending to the brood. When the colony gets large enough, the queen and some workers may separate to start a new colony. This is called a swarm and may look like a ball of bees in the air or on a tree branch.

Smoke calms the bees
Don’t panic if you see a swarm near your house. They may simply be scouting for a new location and may move on within a day or two. However, swarms can also choose to settle in places inconvenient to humans, such as house walls and attics. If they move in, call a beekeeper. They’ll try to remove the swarm with minimal damage to the bees, and set them up in a new hive.

“This year has been really weird,” Ben says. “Before, you didn’t see a bee unless you had a hive in the area. Now they’re everywhere. Everybody’s been receiving three to five phone calls a day” from people wanting swarm removal. That’s good news for bees – and for the planet. Honeybees pollinate about one third of all crops. Without bees, we’d have no almonds, no blueberries, cherries, or apples, no avocados, cucumbers or onions. Yet the populations have been dropping, at least in part due to pesticide use.

If someone is interested in getting a hive, Ben recommends they tell their neighbors first. “They start nervous, but when promised honey, they’re good.” Plus, “If you have fruit trees or gardens, you get bumper crops, up to five miles from your house.”

The fascination with bees and the love of honey drive beekeepers. Ben notes that beekeeping is not very profitable, moneywise, unless you have hundreds of hives. However, “Educationally and environmentally, it’s very profitable.”


Abq Beeks offers mentoring and hands-on experience for new beekeepers. The website lists events and has a forum for discussions. It also has phone numbers for people who handle bee swarms. 

Kris Bock writes novels of suspense and romance involving outdoor adventures and Southwestern landscapes. In Counterfeits, stolen Rembrandt paintings bring danger to a small New Mexico town. Whispers in the Dark features archaeology and intrigue among ancient Southwest ruins. What We Found is a mystery with strong romantic elements about a young woman who finds a murder victim in the woods. The Mad Monk’s Treasure follows the hunt for a long-lost treasure in the New Mexico desert. In The Dead Man’s Treasure, estranged relatives compete to reach a buried treasure by following a series of complex clues. Read excerpts at www.krisbock.com or visit her Amazon page

Monday, June 22, 2015

Bee Chama Honey, Polvadera New Mexico

Arik and a variety of honey
Think all honey is the same? A glance at the honey I picked up at Bee Chama Honey shows otherwise. The strawberry/raspberry is a dark amber, the wild blackberry a few shades lighter. The cat’s claw/mesquite is pale, creamy, and opaque. The source of the flower nectar makes the difference. And bees make the honey.

Bee Chama Honey in Polvadera, just off I-25 in central New Mexico, is a sprawling complex of straw bale buildings and animal pens. I stop by with a group of friends after hiking. We cluster around the tasting table, which holds two dozen jars of honey in different flavors. By the time we’re done, everyone has picked at least one type to take home.

“The Middle Rio Grande is good for bees,” says founder Arik Glesne. “We just pay attention to what’s blooming when, and move the bees to control the floral source.” Some of their honey is local, and some of it is traded from other regions, which allows for the wide variety. “We really look for unique flavors.” Arik’s favorite is the mountain gambel oak. The bees use the honeydew off of leaves, instead of nectar from flowers.

Tasting honey
They also sell beeswax and bee pollen. Beeswax, used by the bees to make their honeycombs, can be made into candles. Bee pollen is a traditional medicine said to have many positive effects, including reducing allergies.

Bee Chama Honey has a farm store with observation hives and you-pick salad. They have some sheep for wool and may set up a demonstration loom. They also raise heirloom pigs for meat. They sell in Santa Fe.




Kris Bock writes novels of suspense and romance involving outdoor adventures and Southwestern landscapes. In Counterfeits, stolen Rembrandt paintings bring danger to a small New Mexico town. Whispers in the Dark features archaeology and intrigue among ancient Southwest ruins. What We Found is a mystery with strong romantic elements about a young woman who finds a murder victim in the woods. The Mad Monk’s Treasure follows the hunt for a long-lost treasure in the New Mexico desert. In The Dead Man’s Treasure, estranged relatives compete to reach a buried treasure by following a series of complex clues. Read excerpts at www.krisbock.com or visit her Amazon page

Monday, June 15, 2015

Review: Outlaws & Outcasts: The Lost Cemetery of Las Vegas, NM

I’ve been researching lost and buried treasures as I plot the next book in my treasure hunting romantic adventure series. (Click on the Reviews label for my reviews of treasure hunting tales.) Most southwestern treasure stories involve people searching for a known treasure that has been lost. This book is something different – an unknown cemetery was accidentally and unexpectedly found. The items may only be considered treasure to archaeologists, but it's still fascinating to think about what else might be hidden under seemingly empty land.

Outlaws & Outcasts: The Lost Cemetery of Las Vegas, New Mexico
by Ellen S. Rippel
Paperback: 78 pages
Publisher: East Salt River Press (2013)
ISBN-13: 978-0615899060

Book Description: Outlaws and Outcasts. They lay undisturbed and forgotten for almost a century--until a backhoe driver digging for gravel made a gruesome discovery. A hastily-assembled group of students, guided by an intellectually curious professor, had only one week to document the unearthing of the large, 19th century graveyard. Who was buried in those unmarked graves? What had they done to be cast out from society?

Filled with stories of early outlaws and fascinating historical insights, Outlaws and Outcasts chronicles a spellbinding and little-known saga from New Mexico. For those who love history, archaeology, or quirky stories from the Land of Enchantment, this book is an intriguing summary of what occurred in Las Vegas, New Mexico in 1972. Outlaws and Outcasts: The Lost Cemetery of Las Vegas, New Mexico recounts the accidental unearthing of graves in a gravel pit. Included in the narrative are examinations of historical burial practices and customs, and a search through the scarce literature on events specific to the existence of the cemetery.


The area where the cemetery was found
Review: This is a well-written and enjoyable account of an unusual piece of New Mexico history. In many ways, it raises more questions than it answers, as we have no way to know for sure who the dead are or why they were buried there. But pondering the question is great fun. The lively anecdotes and fascinating facts about burial practices, archaeology techniques, and local customs add to the charm. Whether you enjoy Southwest history, spooky tales, quirky facts, or just good storytelling, this book does the job. Black-and-white photos of some of the uncovered objects make the stories that much more real.


Kris Bock writes novels of suspense and romance involving outdoor adventures and Southwestern landscapes. In Counterfeits, stolen Rembrandt paintings bring danger to a small New Mexico town. Whispers in the Dark features archaeology and intrigue among ancient Southwest ruins. What We Found is a mystery with strong romantic elements about a young woman who finds a murder victim in the woods. The Mad Monk’s Treasure follows the hunt for a long-lost treasure in the New Mexico desert. In The Dead Man’s Treasure, estranged relatives compete to reach a buried treasure by following a series of complex clues. Read excerpts at www.krisbock.com or visit her Amazon page

Monday, June 8, 2015

Green Chile Stew

New Mexico green chile, 
Creative Commons License
I write novels of adventure and romance set in the Southwestern United States. The novels touch on local culture, including food. For my most recent romantic suspense, The Dead Man’s Treasure, I put together a recipe booklet of foods mentioned in the book, including this wonderful stew, great for groups, because everyone gets to adapt their own bowl to their own taste.

I called this "Camie's Green Chile Stew" because Camie is a character in the treasure hunting series, and the recipe is from my friend Alan, who partially inspired her character. 


Camie’s Green Chile Stew

2 medium onions
1 Tbsp. garlic
2 Tbsp. oil
1 pound ground beef or cubed stew beef
Chopped green chile to taste, about 1/4 to 1/2 cup (you might find be able to find canned green chile in the Mexican section of your grocery store)
4 cups chicken broth
salt and pepper to taste

Serve with any or all of: 

canned pinto beans or black beans; 
cubed, cooked potatoes; 
hominy; 
shredded cheddar or Jack cheese; 
shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes, cilantro; 
extra green chile; 
chopped avocados or guacamole; 
sour cream

  1. Sauté onions and garlic in oil until golden.
  2. Add beef and stir until browned.
  3. Add chopped green chile and chicken broth. Bring to a simmer. Salt and pepper to taste.
You can use it immediately, but it’s even better if it cooks for a few hours on low heat.

  1. Put the beans, hominy, cheese, etc. into individual bowls. Let people build their own blend of chili. Add ingredients such as beans, potatoes, and cheese, and heat each bowl in the microwave. Then add cold ingredients such as sour cream and avocado.


Rebecca Westin is shocked to learn the grandfather she never knew has left her a bona fide buried treasure – but only if she can decipher a complex series of clues leading to it. The hunt would be challenging enough without interference from her half-siblings, who are determined to find the treasure first and keep it for themselves. Good thing Rebecca has recruited some help.

Sam is determined to show Rebecca that a desert adventure can be sexy and fun. But there’s a treacherous wildcard in the mix, a man willing to do anything to get that treasure – and revenge.

Action and romance combine in this lively Southwestern adventure, complete with riddles the reader is invited to solve to identify historical and cultural sites around New Mexico. See the DMT page of Kris Bock’s website for a printable list of the clues and recipes from the book.


The first book in the Southwest Treasure Hunters series is The Mad Monk’s Treasure. The Dead Man’s Treasure is book 2. Each novel stands alone and is complete, with no cliffhangers. This series mixes action and adventure with “closed door” romance. The stories explore the Southwest, especially New Mexico.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Socorro, New Mexico: Climbing Grows Up

A climber in Box Canyon
(Adapted from an article originally published in enchantment magazine by NMRECA.)

In my last post, I described some of the excellent rock climbing around Socorro, in central New Mexico. No doubt people have been scrambling on rocks in this area for centuries. Rock climbing as a sport grew out of mountaineering and developed as an independent sport in the 1950s.

People may have been rock climbing in the Socorro area for that long, and certainly have been developing climbing routes since the mid-1970s. A climber who started in 1980 remembered when trad climbing was the only option. Climbers had to wedge specially designed tools into holes and cracks in the rock – if they could find a suitable place. “We’d tie ourselves on a rope and climb some climb, and find there wasn’t any place for protection,” the climber said. “I’d use up my strength and think, I better finish this climb, or climb down.”

Alan Erickson at Spook Canyon
In 1983, the late Bertrand Gramont, “a climbing fanatic” famous for his strength and colorful spandex leggings, arrived from France. He started setting climbs by drilling permanent metal bolts into the rock, adding safety. By the mid-1980s, Box Canyon had dozens of established climbing routes, and climbers were exploring surrounding areas.

Alan Erickson took the rock climbing class from Gramont in 1986. “He had too many students for his taste,” Alan says. “So one of our first exercises was to rappel down from the highest and most exposed peak in Box Canyon, then climb back up on one rope while dragging another, while traversing over a cave. Three-quarters of the class never showed up again. I, on the other hand, ended up dedicating my early would-be-academic career to climbing!”

VLA employee Bob Broilo took the rock climbing class in 1989. “The instructor noticed my impatience while I was waiting for a turn at either climbing or belaying. He sent me and some of the more adventurous students over to the Ultimate Boulder. The rock was so solid, the moves so powerful, and the convenience so seductive that I started bouldering at Box in earnest.”

Bob Broilo bouldering at Streambed in Box
Dancing with Rock

The lure of the rock now draws in today’s young climbers. “I fell in love with rock climbing,” said a student at the local New Mexico Tech university. “It is such a great rush, but not a super fast sport. Plus, the rock out here is super amazing.”

Despite the large number of college students climbing around Socorro, climbing isn’t just a young man’s sport. You may meet families with young children, middle-aged mothers, and weekend warriors going gray. Regardless of age, the main goal is to have fun.

“My favorite climbing achievements have always been those in which I feel like I’m flowing up the rock like syrup dripping over pancakes,” Alan says. “Each motion flowing from the last, each movement slow and controlled. Getting to the top? Very hard climbs? Not priorities for me. I like to dance with rock.”

Phil Miller sets up a climb from the top of a cliff
For many climbers, part of the fun is learning to do something different and challenging. According to New Mexico Bureau of Geology employee Phil Miller, “Even if it’s an easy problem, I know that not everyone can do that, or wants to. I also like the puzzle – setting up and cleaning [removing gear], any of the technical parts of the climb. No one can just tell me how to do it. I have to figure it out, then convince my body to do it.”

Tech graduate Zeb Westrom noted, “You don’t just normally walk up the side of a rock. It takes skill, and you have to learn.” Climbs are given a number rating for difficulty, which appeals to goal-oriented climbers. “It’s sort of like leveling up in gaming, improving yourself.”

Whether you want to compete against yourself or simply lounge in the sun with your friends, nothing beats the thrill of the outdoors, or the feel of dancing with rock.


More on the Box Canyon climbing area, including a link to download the Box Canyon: Enchantment Tower’s Socorro Climbing Area Guide. 


Kris Bock writes novels of suspense and romance involving outdoor adventures and Southwestern landscapes. In Counterfeits, stolen Rembrandt paintings bring danger to a small New Mexico town. Whispers in the Dark features archaeology and intrigue among ancient Southwest ruins. What We Found is a mystery with strong romantic elements about a young woman who finds a murder victim in the woods. The Mad Monk’s Treasure follows the hunt for a long-lost treasure in the New Mexico desert. In The Dead Man’s Treasure, estranged relatives compete to reach a buried treasure by following a series of complex clues. Read excerpts at www.krisbock.com or visit her Amazon page