Top Bar nucs for sale!

One of our bees on the Horehound that grows here.

We use the Les Crowder top bar hive design which makes our nucs almost a universal donor, as best I can tell.

What this means

There is no standard in top bar hives. Many times you can unknowingly buy a nuc and find when you get it home that it does not fit your hive. We have done a bit of research and it appears that our fully drawn comb will fit in most hive designs. Our combs roughly measure 17-1/4 at the top, 8-1/2 at the bottom, and are 6-3/4 tall, and come on 20” x 1-3/8” x 1-3/8” top bars.

A fully drawn top bar.

We raise our own queens and our brood stock is either from Zia survivor stock queens or Carniolan queens. We use no antibiotics or mitecides, we are treatment free. Our bees are calm and gentile. Most of the year we work them with no veil or gloves.

My Son Will hanging out with some of the girls.

We do not sell packages as we feel that buying a nuc gives you the best chance at getting through your first winter with your bees still alive. We do not ship.

Bring your own nuc box and we can transfer the bees into it, or you can buy one of ours for $35.00 each. Our 5 bar nuc boxes are made from ¾” pine and are painted. They have a Hardyboard lid, they are well built and will last for many years.

Your bees are currently living in the Rio Penasco river valley in the Sacramento Mountains of New Mexico at an altitude of 6400 feet.

We are taking reservations for late spring of 2013 but we are taking no deposits. Cost for a 5 bar, top bar nuc is $135.00 What you will receive is a colony of at least four fully drawn bars full of brood, honey and pollen and a mated and actively laying queen.

Contact us to be placed on our list, it will be first come, first served. The spring weather will determine availability and how many nucs we will have for sale.

Call or email us! We love to talk about bees,

Rob and Betsy Shepler

Potter’s Ranch

3757 US Hwy 82

Mayhill, NM 88339


rob(at)    Please forgive the cryptic email address and substitute @ for (at), this is an effort to beat the crawlers, and control our junk mail.

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Top Bar Mating Nuc

We have begun raising a few queens and we searched the internet for mating nucs, or a tiny hive to put the new queens in for their mating flight. It serves as a temporary home for them until they can be moved into a larger hive. We found no top bar mating nuc plans on the internet.

So here is one.   top bar mating nuc   By clicking the link you can download a pdf file of the dimensioned drawing.

It is based on the hive design by Les Crowder and is meant as a companion to that hive. It has dividers and can be set up for 3-3 bar, 2-5 bar or 1-10 bar hive, so it is a nice versatile piece of equipment to have in a bee yard.

Les Crowder’s original hive plan can be found at
Please click on “Crowder hive plans”. Also see his book “Top Bar Beekeeping: Organic Practices for Honeybee Health” by Les Crowder.

Please let me know if you use the design and what you think of it!

Potter’s Ranch, Mayhill New Mexico, Rob Shepler,

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We have chosen to keep bees again after a 30 year hiatus, this time we are going with Top Bar hives and natural beekeeping.

 Top Bar beekeeping is similar to a hollow log in that it is a blank slate for the bees. We do give the bees bars to build on, and comb guides stapled to the bars keep the bees on a pattern that is conducive to our needs.

 We have begun raising our own queens. Some of our queens will probably mate with wild bees up here in the mountains, those wild bees have survived and prospered through the varroa mites, trachial mites and foul brood epidemics that have plagued beekeepers. We hope to incorporate the local survivor genetics into our bees.

 We are not treating our hives with antibiotics as we did back in the 80’s, we are not treating our hives with mitecide. As a mater of fact we are not treating our hives at all.


 Top Bar beekeeping has some advantages over the traditional Langstroth hives. Bees make comb in the size and style that they choose. In the Langstroth hives a foundation is provided with cell size predetermined for the bees, a one size fits all solution. Over the years foundation cell size has grown and super-sized bees, the theory is that bigger bees carry more honey. While true, it also opens more room in the cell for mites that prey on bee larvae.

 A drone is the only male bee in the hive, and his only job is to pass on his genes.

Drone comb is discouraged in the Langstroth system. It was thought that drones ate honey and they were a drag on honey production. By limiting drone production, by the discouraging of drone comb in a Lang hive we have discouraged genetic diversity. Inadvertently we have been suppressing half of the genes of our bees. With Top Bar the bees produce as many drones as they choose.

 Bees like to eat honey and so do we! Bees, like humans, tend to want more than they need. We take a little of the extra honey that they produce but leave them plenty of the food they need to get through the winter rather than taking it all and feeding them white sugar.

 With Top Bar we have a second product of the hive as wax is harvested along with the honey.

 One of the things that I like about Top Bar is that the hives can be made from local repurposed lumber. They are much less expensive to build and old junk lumber can be used for a new bee home instead of shipping special parts across the country and burning up fossil fuel.


 Harvesting honey is as simple as brushing the bees off of the comb, running a knife down the bar and placing the comb in a bucket with a lid. A lid will keep the bees from getting into the bucket as you harvest more honey. The comb is then crushed  and set in a colander and most of the honey will drain out over night. The comb can be melted and used for candles, used as a base for lotions and face creams.

 Our hive of choice is one designed by Les Crowder of New Mexico, a thoughtful beekeeper of 35 years. Les has a new book coming out in August of 2012 published by Chelsea Green. His book can be found here

Les’s hive design is free of charge here

 ALL TOP BAR DESIGNS ARE NOT EQUAL. Choose your hive design carefully as they are not universal. An advertized Top Bar nuc may not fit in the hive you build, be very careful and ask a lot of questions.

 We hope to offer Top Bar Nucs for sale next spring and we hope to offer queens from Zia Queen Bee breeder stock.Image

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Bell siphons for our Barrel-Ponics™ system

I really love the flush valve that was designed by Travis Hughey, it is a thing of wonder and served us well for about a year.

I got to wondering about the pump lift necessary to fill the floating raft portion of the classic “Barrel-Ponics™” system and realized that we might be able to eliminate that portion and add two more media beds with a smaller lift and not increase or change our pump capability or capacity.

Our home made bell siphons have been installed and are running nearly without a flaw. The siphons consist of a 1-1/2” bell over a ¾” stand pipe with a ¼” vinyl snorkel that introduces air into the top of the bell to break the siphon. There are no moving parts and I hope that it will be a bit less to maintain than the flush tank was. The grow beds all drain into a common 3” PVC pipe and return back to the fish tank.

We have a 100 gallon water trough set up as our fish tank. It seems about the right size for a four barrel half system as it tends to provide about the right amount of surge when all of the grow beds are full, and it still leaves water in the bottom of the tank for the fish.

We have a common manifold set up with valves that feed the grow beds. The pump runs constantly and trickles water into the grow beds. When the water level reaches the top of the stand pipe it begins to pour over the top into the drain. The water encounters a slight restriction at the bottom of the stand pipe where it turns 90 degrees and becomes ½”PVC, this allows the stand pipe to fill and begin to draw the water from the bottom of the grow bed. The water will siphon and empty the grow bed in about 3 minutes until the water level reaches the bottom of the snorkel and is interrupted by the introduction of air at the top of the siphon, and the cycle begins again. At our current rate of flow our tanks fill in about 17 minutes and drain in 3 minutes. The fill rate could be increased or decreased by more or less water flow.

A bulkhead fitting is achieved by using threaded male and threaded female PVC electrical connectors that screw together with the 1-1/2” cap and the barrel half between them. Caulking is applied between the cap and the barrel and between the connector and the cap. This method provides for easy connection of plumbing both below the barrel and inside the barrel for the stand pipe. We are using a 12” section of DWV 3” PVC for our gravel guard, it was run through the table saw and has slots about every half inch or so.

It works for us and we hope it works for you! Please contact me if you would like help with yours.

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Peak oil

International Energy Administration chart 2010

Peak oil
We believe that the world is not running out of oil but that the demand for oil will out strip our ability to produce it, thus leading to an unprecedented energy crisis. For our culture and society to get through this we will need to pull together as a community as we have never pulled together before. Our needs must be met on a local basis, if we can’t do it here, we must do without it. This will require each of us to be at our best and use the vast resources that our community represents. Each of us have talents that will be required, each of us will need to develop new talents so that we may all thrive. Life will change and we will get by, and the future will be much different than the past.

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Energy Saving Chinese Solar Greenhouse

The search for a new solar greenhouse has begun. We are searching for a new greenhouse design to put a commercial aquaponics system in. We have been testing a small aquaponics system to see if it is up to promised results, and so far it seems quite promising.

Our aquaponics system will require a steady temperature during the winter and conventional greenhouses require a great deal of energy input. Our hope is that with creative design we can take some of the inputs out, and provide a steady operating temperature without too much fossil fuel.

China seems to be the world leader when it comes to solar greenhouse design, in 1983 they had a coal shortage and as a result began their journey and now have 650,000 acres under roof.

One of the aspects of their design is a retractable insulating blanket that rolls over the top of the greenhouse at night. They have still retained adequate ventilation, and have portions of the greenhouse plastic that can be pulled back to allow the air to circulate.

The closest of these greenhouses is in Alberta Canada, none have been set up in the US as of yet…..we just might be the first.

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