Harvesting Honey, Treating Hives

I have been pulling honey and putting thymol on the hives this last week. This blog’s been silent for quite a few weeks. July and August simply got out of control.

Busy Times: July to August

In general I was:

Doing a festival a week. These were usually 2-3 day events, often preceded by a day of set up.

Some of the honeys sold by Brookfield Farm at their Market Booth

The honey table at our market booth







Introducing some late season queens from Northwest Queens. I like to have some nucs to over winter. This gives a fast replacement for any queenless spring hive or a quick start to hives in the new year.

Making frames, wiring frames, hanging foundation, making supers, and supering hives.

Putting in a new water system at the farm – an on-going project to be completed before snow flies. (Which will be followed by the new solar panel system, which can be done in the snow if need be).

In the upcoming weeks I’ll post a retrospective of what I was doing at the hives.

Harvesting Honey

I run about 80 hives in Whatcom County, Washington (state) – the most northwest corner of Washington.

Bee hives at Brookfield Farm Bees and Honey, WA

Farm Hives before Harvest








I used to pull honey in September, but I’ve upped the date to the third week of August. Two reasons: 1) more time for the bees to harvest late season blooms and set themselves up before the rains come in mid-October and 2) September has better hiking weather here. It’s win-win for me and the bees.

I leave about 70 pounds of honey on each strong hive after pulling the honey. They add more and eat a bit as time progresses towards winter. I don’t weigh the hives.

All my hives are mediums (westerns). I figure an average frame of honey in my hives weighs 4 pounds (I weighed a lot frames, then averaged). If the bees in a strong have 18 frames of honey I figure they’ll be ok.

How The Hives Are Set for Winter

The line up this year (a slightly crazed year) is basically:

  • Top box: Full Box of honey
  • Next box down: 6 frames of honey (positions 1-3 and 7-10) Center: Brood
  • Next box down : 2, or more, frames of honey, depending on the brood count (positions 1, 10)
  • Next box down (bottom box) : Whatever the bees have put there. Usually it’s filled with pollen.

If the hive has a huge load of brood there’s usually a fifth box that is the 2nd or 3rd box up.

Even if there’s no honey for me, I leave this amount of honey on the hives. I need the girls alive for next year. I have not figured the harvest yet, but I think I’ve averaged about 6-7 frames per hive (some gave little to none; some gave nearly 20 frames).

Before And After In A Few Bee Yards






Tall beehives at a Brookfield Farm (WA) bee yard



Colorful bee hives in Washington state

After The Harvest


Colorful hives before honey harvest

Brookfield Farm Hives at Spring Frog Farm before Harvest

Brookfield Farm Bee Hives, Washington

After the harvest: Spring Frog Farm

My Farm Helpers

I run dark bees. These are “known” to be not very nice. I disagree, as do my “hive grounds maintenance crew” who work at the farm.

Goats eating clover by bee hives

Brookfield Farm ground maintenance crew









Rudy Goat seemed to wish to emphasize the gentle nature of my dark bees.

Happy Goat and Open Bee Hives

Rudy Goat And the Bees During Honey Harvest








Or perhaps the bushes at the front just looked particularly nice.

Goat eats amid Bee hives

Bees? What bees?








Naturally Treated Hives

I treat every year with either thymol (Apiguard) or formic acid (Mite Away Quick Strips). Both occur naturally in hives. Neither seems to have a negative affect on the bees (no clustering at front, and fast removal).

The two treatments are alternated each year. This comes from my years of raising goats. You never used the same wormer twice in a row. You want to avoid having the pests become resistant to the treatment.

This year is an Apiguard year.

Apiguard, scale, and hives

2014: an Apiguard Year








I hate Apiguard years. The treatment is fine. The cost is reasonable. The effect is good. So what’s my problem? You have to give a first treatment, and then repeat with a second treatment, and then remove the card the gel was on (if the bees haven’t done so). It’s one extra trip around the bee yards. One more time lifting all those boxes.

All those boxes: I use Randy Oliver’s idea: I use half the amount, but put it between brood boxes. So each time I go I need to lift at least 2 boxes. I’m not as young as I used to be (we can all say that).   That’s what the scale is for: to measure the dose.

September: Hiking Season in northwest Washington

It takes a week for me to pull all the honey, prepare the hives for winter (all that organizing of brood and honey), and treating the hives. Plus it rains every so often here. But when I can, I head for the local mountains. I live near the second most glaciated volcano in Washington. It is absolutely beautiful here.

Pack goat at Cascade Mountain pass Washington

Pack goat at rest on High Pass









pack goats in Training

        Two pack goats in Training –          Mount Baker in background










That’s the news from Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey, in Maple Falls, Washington. How are your honey harvests going in the northern lands? How is your honey year shaping up south of the equator?

Posted in 1 Beekeeping, 2 Diseases/Pests/Treatments, 8 Brookfield Farm & Bees, 9 Brookfield Farm Bee Yards | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Cutting Grass in Bee Yards

As spring moves into summer here in northwest Washington, the grass grows – with authority.  What looked like a tidy-ish bee yard one week can be a jungle two weeks later. So armed with my trusty power scythe, I headed out for the bee yards.  This is one of those things that folks do not mean when they say “I’d like to spend a day with a beekeeper.”

First the before and after shots of one of my down-river bee yards:

Honeybee hives in tall grass

The yard needed a bit of a trim

Honeybee hives in Northwest Washington state

After the Clearing

As you can see, the grass in the bee yard gets quite tall

Tall grasses obscure honeybee hives



The bees have challenges at their lower entrances.

Honeybee hive entrance obscured by grass

They do all have an upper entrance as well, but even in tall grass, they seem to like the lower one.

It’s a lot of work, but it is made easier by my Husqvarna power scythe.

Power Scythe used to cut grass

The Power Scythe 

I love it, but they seem to be made for folks over five foot seven inches.   I wind up hoisting it up into uncomfortable positions to make it work.  But it does the job.

Surprisingly, the bees don’t seem to mind the noise or the blade, even when it is right in front of them.  Which means that I can do this without a bee suit (or as I call it on hot days: the wearable sauna).

Beekeeper in Tee-Shirt while cutting grass at hives

Tee-Shirt days in the bee yard

 The warm days help.

I try to clear the grass on warm days when the bees are otherwise occupied pulling in nectar and honey, so that could be the reason for the total disregard of the noise and moving blades.

They seem pretty happy when I’m done -

Honeybees fly from hives

Bees Flying Clear and Free


A return to normal northwest Washington weather:

We are now back into our “normal” June weather: wet and cold.  Which means the grass is getting nicely watered to continue its summer growth.  Oh well, that’s nature.

We’re almost on the solstice – so happy summer to those in the north, and a hoping a gentle winter to those in the south.  Happy solstice to all.

Posted in 1 Beekeeping, 9 Brookfield Farm Bee Yards | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

New Queens in New Hives

The queen bees have come – with more still coming.  The first queens have been placed in their hives (the splits I wrote about in the previous blog post), and are laying.  This post covers how I put them in and the result.

I should have taken a photo of one of the queens and her attendants in her box.  I got involved in my work and forgot to do that; so all these photos are from when I pulled the queen out.

My hives are all 10 frame hives.  To install the queen in her hive I pull out one frame and open up the area in the center of the hive.

Queen bee installation box in place

 Workers check out now empty queen box

I place the queen’s box with candy up and the net area on the queen box facing towards the front of the hive.

Queen honey bee transportation box after queen release

The queen has been released

These queens came with candy plugs.  I drop a drop or three of water onto the candy to dissolve it a bit and give the workers a start on freeing their queen.

After 4 to 5 days, I went back to pull the boxes.

Worker bees and empty queen box

Worker Bee Checks Out Empty Queen Box

I’m pleased to say that all the queens were released and all had started to lay eggs.  One queen got a bit excited and layed two eggs in one cell and none in another cell.  No problems, it happens when they’re just out of the box.

Honeybee eggs in frame cells

Eggs – With A Few Misses

The empty queen transport boxes were pulled out, but before I could push the frames together and replace the frame I had pulled for space, the burr comb had to be replaced.  It is amazing how much comb the girls can build in four to five days.

Nine out of ten of these hives are doing fine.  The second boxes have been put on; honey, eggs, and larvae are in place.  One hive had queen failure.  They let her lay some eggs, then she either died of travel stress or the bees killed her.  I’ve some nice supercedure cells in that hive, so I will wait to see what the queens look like who emerge from them.  I would always prefer 10 out of 10 on queen success, but I’ll take 9 out of 10.

How goes your summer work in the bee yards?  Or how is the “winter’s coming” prep going down south?

Posted in 1 Beekeeping, 5 Queens and Queen Rearing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Making and Moving Bee Hive Splits

Every year I raise and purchase queen bees, each of which requires her own hive.  Thus every year I make and move splits (also known as artificial swarms).   I use the “over night split” method to make the splits.  The move is pretty standard, except that I use my screened beehive bottoms, turned upside down, as the base during the move.  (Please forgive any formatting issues – wordpress.com is not behaving well).


My favorite time to make these is when the bees are bringing in lots of honey and pollen.  That’s because 1) the bees ignore me when they’re busy and 2) I have a good variety of frames to pull for the split.

Basic Overnight Spilt for a hive where a queen will be introduced:

Get out queen excluders and tops : one per each split
Fill new boxes with foundation or drawn comb : one per each split
Take them to the hives

Equipment for making over night splits








In bee yard :

Empty the new frames on ground next to parent hive – the hive frames come from.

Set empty box on top of an upturned top on one side of the parent hive.

Take frames from parent hive, shaking off all, or most of the bees as you pull them out.  Making sure there is no queen on the frames removed.

I take:
2 Frames of capped brood

Honeybee Brood

The more completely capped the better

Try to avoid those with any eggs or young larvae

These will soon bee empty frames and there will be lots of new workers

1 Frame of Nectar

Frame of Nectar with bees

1 Frame of Pollen

Honeybees on a frame of pollen

Honeybees on drawn bee hive foundation

1  or 1 or more Drawn, but unfilled foundation (ok a little filled is ok)I usually use one from a previous year, but I had this image.more

I’ve done this with one brood frame, one pollen frame, and one nectar frame, but results are better if I give the split some nice materials to work with.

Split Frame Set Up

Brood in the center (positions 5 and 6)

Pollen to one side brood

Nectar to other side of brood

Drawn, but empty next

Honey next

Then I fill in the rest with either drawn comb or foundation – depends on what I have available.

Parent Hive frame replacement

Brood is pushed together so the brood nest is not broken up.

Foundation or drawn comb replacements are put in depending on how the hive looks.  I might checker board a honey-packed hive, or put the frames in positions 2 and 9 in two different boxes.  It really is a spur of the moment decision based on what’s happening in the parent hive.

Of Queen Excluders

I don’t use queen excluders on my hives, except during splits.

Once I’ve got the parent hive filled in with replacement frames:

I place the queen excluder on top of that hive.

The split, without bees because they were all shaken before they were put in the split, is now put on top of the queen excluder.

The “Over-Night” Of Over-Night Splits

I leave them for 24 hours or more.  If I’ve done this in the morning, I come back early the next morning.  If it has gotten on in the day by the time I’m doing the splits, I come back the evening of the next day.

During the night nurse bees will come up to cover the brood.  Honey-working bees will come up to work the honey.  Pollen packers head for the pollen.  Even foragers will come up.

The foragers are why I return in the early morning or evening.  I want those foragers to travel with the split.  Mind you, if the bees are only moving to a new spot in the same bee yard, or to a bee yard within two miles of the parent hive.  I move the split at any time after the 24 hours.  That’s because any foragers I pick up will most likely fly back to the parent hive.


When I return to pull the splits I carry bottom screens for every hive, plus one extra screen – why the extra in a moment.

I use bottom screens on my hives; no solid bottoms anywhere.  I find this helps keeps the hives dry (have I mentioned it rains quite a lot here in western Washington?).  Even in winter the bees live above screens – they can deal with cold; they can’t deal with wet.  The bottoms are 1/8 inch hardware cloth.

Bee hive bottom screen

My husband makes the bottom screens – he normally makes fabulous handcrafted furniture – but he’s willing to put his skills to work for the bees as well.  They are usually painted, but time was of the essence.

The design is based on bottom screens that came with my first two hives : from Roy Nettlebeck of Tahuya River Apiaries.  He used solid bottoms below the screens.  I just eliminated the solid bottoms.

The base, below the screen is a 2-inch high rectangle.  Which, when the screen is flipped over makes it the perfect moving platform.  Two tie down straps make it ready for the new split to be pulled, covered, and moved.

Bee hive moving screen

The bees have plenty of ventilation and cannot escape during the drive to the new location.

Bee hive splits loaded in truck

That’s why I carry one extra screen : One screen has to be put down before the first hive is lifted off of its bottom screen / moving base.

All Tucked In

The bees moved in these images are all tucked into their new locations, including this little lady who decided to ride “free” during the move.

Honeybee on bee box

As of this time, they have had new queens installed.  The queens came from Strachan Apiaries in California as they have both New World Carniolan and some Caucasian genes – both of which I like.  Normally I’d be out today checking to see if the queens were released and releasing those still in cages, but it is pouring rain.  Hopefully tomorrow will see some sun.

Spring is busy here with splits, queen making, opening new bee yards, markets and festivals, and thinking : “when will the rain stop long enough for me to paint my wooden ware?” How are things going in your bee yards?  If you have other ways of making splits, do share – we only learn by pooling our knowledge.

Speaking of which – if anyone can answer a burning wordpress question I really need some help: My images will not load on wordpress.com.  They do on my wordpress.org site (yes 2 websites ahhhhh!).  I’m on an older computer Mac OSX10.4.11 — any ideas?  WordPress has been no help…

Posted in 1 Beekeeping, 4 Hive Components, 8 Brookfield Farm & Bees, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Preparing Boxes for Splits and Supers

Spring is upon us.  Flowers are blooming, drones are flying, it is time to put supers on the hives and/or split some of the hives to create homes for the newest queens.  What follows are photographs of what I am doing to prepare boxes that will be used for splits and supers.

(if you are looking for the blog post about why we are leaving the Bellingham Farmers Market as of June 30, that’s here)

My work area is the hayloft of my barn.  It can be awkward, because of hauling stuff up and down the stairs.  However I have a lot of room to work in because I only have 8 goats these days.

My Bee Equipment Work Area

Bee Box Work area Brookfield Farm, Maple Falls Washington








As boxes come in from the bee yards. They get stacked around my desk.  These boxes are usually the the bottom boxes of my hives, which are empty by spring.

Bee Boxes to be cleaned








Cleaning Bee Boxes

I stack the boxes on a tarp that I have laid on the “deck” – this process gets very messy.

Bee Boxes Stacked for scraping

The frames are removed and quickly examined.  Any frame older than 5 years is discarded.  This is because pathogens can build up on the older foundation.  Is this painful to do? You bet.  But I had some experience with American Foul Brood, and discarding old frames is way less painful.










I just toss them off the deck. Then pick them up at the end of the day – the tossing part’s fun.

Then I look at the remaining frames: Any frame over 3 years, is put in the “for honey” area.  Frames that have been drawn 2 years back get put in the “for brood” area.  Thus 2012 and 2013 can work brood this year along with 2014 drawn comb.  2010 and 2011 are in the “for honey” area.  Usually the bees concur.

But regardless of which area the frames are headed for, the frames and boxes need to be scraped.

Cleaning Bee Boxes and Frames

Boxes get the frame rests, top edges, bottom edges, and inside walls done.  Usually, it’s the frame rest areas that are the most heavily coated with propolis.  If left on, the frames become very difficult to move.

Frame Area Before:

Lip of bee box with propolis

And After:

Brookfield FArm bee box - edge clean

The frames get a lot of build-up as well.

Where they rest together:

Propolis Thick on a Bee hive foundation frame



Clean foundation frame

Even the tips of the frames can get “extended”.

Propolis extends edge of bee hive foundation frame

Once everything is scraped (and this goes quite quickly once you get a rhythm going), the frames are organized into the cleaned boxes.


Bee Frame and Foundation Organization

I use 6 frames of new undrawn foundation, 2 frames of “brood foundation” – the most recent years, and 2 frames of “honey foundation” – the older years in each box.

The line up from left to right:

New / Older / New / Younger / New / New / Younger / New / Older / New

Frame Placement in Bee Box


The new foundations in positions 1 and 10 will be swapped with the Older in positions 2 and 8 when the new foundations at 3 and 7 are drawn out — hope that makes sense.

If the box becomes a super, the new foundations at positions 5 and 6 will be replaced with brood frames from the box to be supered (bringing the brood up), and the new frames will go to positions 2 and 9 in the lower box.

The arrows on the tops of the frames (see photo above) mark the direction of the foundation – as per the Housel Position Method . This has worked well in my hives.

The year that the undrawn foundation was placed in the hive is written on the edge of the frame.  If the bees do not draw it out that year, then the next year date is entered.  I could do this when I pull them out, but I’m usually hurried, so I find it easier to just to correct the date as I put the boxes together

Dates on frames to record year drawn
Then the box is all ready to be hauled down to the truck and taken to the bee yards.

Frames in Bee box


Of Honeybees and Packgoats

This and supering and making queens and splits has taken up a lot of my time.  However I always make time to walk my pack goats (and the retired goats).  We’ve had a new addition to the group: Jerry Lee Lewis (his mom’s Good-Golly-Miss-Molly).  He’s a handsome 5-week old kid, who is already doing the daily walks with the group.

5 week old cashmere goat, Brookfield Farm, WA

That’s the news from Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey, Maple Falls Washington.  How go your beeyards?

Posted in 1 Beekeeping, 4 Hive Components | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Why We Are Leaving Bellingham Farmers Market on June 30

Honesty can be a hindrance to business it seems.  We sell raw honey from naturally-treated, antibiotic-free Washington state hives.  Some of this honey is from our hives here in Whatcom County (northwest Washington state).  Some of this honey is from beekeeper friends, who, like us, feel that chemicals and antibiotics have no place in the hive.

We have been selling these raw honeys at the Bellingham Farmers Market for over a year at both the summer and winter markets with the Market Board’s approval.  Suddenly the Board wants us to remove all our friends’ honeys by June 30.  Because the removal of about 50% of our established product makes attendance at the market economically unviable, we will be leaving the market.

All of our Raw Honeys will still be available at other markets and festivals including Seattle’s Fremont Market, the US mail, and free local delivery.

Free Delivery to locations in the cities of Bellingham, Everson, and Nooksack, plus along the Mt. Baker Highway from Bellingham to Glacier.

We ship nationwide via US Post.  It’s just the cost of the honey and whatever the US postal service charges, no shipping or handling fees.

If you would like to see all of our Raw Honeys from Naturally Treated, Antibiotic-Free Washington hives stay at Bellingham Farmers Market; we do have an online petition.


We are allowed to sell all the raw honeys (ours and our friends) under the rules of the Washington State Farmers Market Association.

We, as sellers of these raw honeys, meet all the printed requirements to sell these honeys under the Bellingham Farmers Market’s Bylaws and Vendor Requirements.

If we had followed a standard practice in honey sales and did not state the source of our raw honey on every label, implying that the honeys were from our hives, we could have continued to sell the honey.  We would have never have been questioned.

However, we feel that customers should know the source of their honey, and that all beekeepers, including ourselves and our friends, should be acknowledged for our hard work in maintaining hives using only natural treatments and no antibiotics.

Sadly, in this area, the “norm” is for beekeepers to purchase honey from other beekeepers but label it as their own honey.   In fact, I know of only one other beekeeper in this area who, like us, insists on labeling the honey she sells at her Whidbey Island Farmers Markets with the name and location of the apiary that produced the honey.


The first reason the Bellingham Farmers Market Board gave was incorrect.

The Board sent us a letter that said that we in violation of Washington State Farmers Market Association rules.

This surprised me, so I called the Farmers Market Association.  A representative asked about the source of our honey, how it was processed to keep it raw, and about our labeling.

She then told me that we are perfectly in line with the Associations’ rules.

The Bellingham Farmers Market Board Tries To Find Another Reason To Remove Our Honeys

We pointed out that we were obeying the Association rules to the Bellingham Farmers Market Board President.  She acknowledged that we were correct.  Then she said : “The letter misspoke.”

(Side note: Beware of typed and signed letters. They are apparently taking their revenge for all our emails. Letters now speak, or misspeak for themselves – rather than represent the people who write and sign the letters.)

I then asked the Board President: “If the reason you gave was not valid, then why do you want us to remove the honeys?

Her answer stunned me:  “That’s what we’re trying to work out.”

There was no reason.  They just wanted our honeys gone.

You Can’t Fight Feelings

The Board then decided that they “felt” that we did not meet their requirements as food processors.  Our Bellingham Market designation has been food processors because we sell our own raw honeys, and also process our friends’ raw honeys while keeping the honeys raw.  This can be a bit tricky, time consuming, and requires knowledge and skill.

We take 650 pound barrels of our friends’ solid Raw Honey and through a laborious series of warm rooms, warming blankets, and water baths, which never exceed 100F, create bottles of Raw Honey from Naturally Treated, Antibiotic-Free Hives our customers, can use at home.

None of our friends’ raw honeys are available in “kitchen size” containers in any local farmers markets, except where we sell, and my friend who sells on Whidby Island.

Still confused as to why we were not considered farmers/food processors, we asked the Board President for a statement of the requirements and regulations we were not meeting.

The Board President never stated any requirements. She only said that there was already honey at the market.

We pointed out that we are the only sellers of Raw Honeys from Naturally Treated, Antibiotic-Free Washington hives at the Bellingham Farmers Market.

It did not matter. The decision was final.  In the end, the removal of our friends’ Raw Honeys from Naturally Treated, Antibiotic-Free Washington hives is based on the Board’s “feelings.”

Unanswered Questions

The above all took place over a three-month period.  With three letters from the Board and a letter and an email from us.  You can read the correspondence at our Walking-Wild.com site the Board, and the Board receiving one letter and an email from us. (You – Warning, their letters are about a page long. My answers range from four to seven pages – I thought they wanted details and needed to understand our process.  Turns out they weren’t interested.).

Every time I wrote I would ask the Board to explain why we would be treated differently from coffee roasters.  This is the Pacific Northwest; we have at least two coffee roasters at the market.

The question was never answered.

My reasoning is that both us and the coffee roasters:

1) Take a product that most consumers do not want. 

Us: 650 lbs of crystallized honey in a barrel

Coffee: 50 – 100 lb bags of green coffee beans

2) By using equipment with precise temperature controls we transform that product into something consumers want:

Us: Power Blankets, Water Baths, Warm Rooms (I love the warm room – I like sitting in 92F heat)

Coffee: Coffee Roasters

3) Package the Product:

Us: from 2oz jars to 1-gallon glass jars.

Coffee : nice portable 1 pound bags.

The question was always ignored by the President and the rest of the Market Board.  Perhaps because there is no answer other than: they are similar processes.  Which would mean our products could remain or the coffee roasters would have to leave (which I wouldn’t want – who can have a market, or a street, in the Pacific Northwest without coffee roasters).

Feelings Triumph Over Rules, for the Bellingham Farmers Market Board:

There never was any rule sited to back the demand of the removal of our honeys.

We were left with the “feelings” of the Board.

We cannot respond to the “feelings” of the Board, because feelings cannot be documented.

A Chance to Express your Feelings

You can express your feelings on the issue.  I have created an on-line petition (it’s amazing what you can do on the internet these days).  Or if you want to tell the market what you think, you can contact our Market Board President and Vice-President:

President : Margot Myers margotbmyers@gmail.com

Vice-President: Alex Winstead, cascadiamushrooms@gmail.com

You can still get all our raw honeys from naturally-treated, antibiotic-free hives.

We will continue to sell at the Market until June 30 (the “get the honey out of here” date demanded by the Board).

We also do Free Delivery to the cities of Bellingham, Everson, and Nooksack, plus all along the Mt. Baker Highway from Bellingham to Glacier.  Just email us (or call, but I was told never put a phone number in a blog – so email us or pick up a flier at the Bellingham Farmers Market before June 30).

There, I’ve put it all down and inputted all the correspondence, so my next post can get back to the more important things: bees and beekeeping.  During all this I’ve done the spring hive assessment, have supered most of my hives, and am now about to split at least 15 hives and start to raise queens for my apiary.  Oh yes, I went to Kauai and got to visit some of the beekeepers there — coming up soon on a blog.  That was really interesting – a completely different world with some fewer concerns (no varroa), and some additional concerns (small hive beetle).  There was something really special, to me, about burning coconut fiber in a smoker – how romantic (well, not to them).

That’s the news from Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey in Maple Falls, Washington.


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Spring Hive Check List

It is spring here: periods of sun between bouts of rain.  I’ve taken the sunny days to do the spring hive assessment, which requires opening all of my hives (about 80) to check them and give them their spring essential oil supplements (in cane syrup).

Bee Boxes being removed for spring cleaning

Empty frames and boxes








I do apologize for the lack of pictures.  The sunny days are short, so I’ve not stopped to take many.


Determine WHY the hive died

This year, the dead-outs I’ve encountered have failed from:

  1. “Seemda” – you know Seemed A Good Idea At The Time
    1. Two bee yards that looked great in summer turned out to be way too wet
    2. The bees couldn’t stay warm and dry
    3. As they were new yards, each had only 2 hives, so a 4 hive loss
  2. “I-Thought-They-Could-Do-It” : Nucs that weren’t big enough to be alone
    1. Enough food, not enough heat  – 2 down to that.
  3. Mid-winter queen supercedure – 2 lost to that

On the positive side: No American Foul Brood (so far)


As I descend through the hives I check for :

  1. The amount of honey the bees still have stored.
  1. Queen presence (in the form of eggs, open brood, or sealed brood)
  1. Queen viability – looking again at eggs and brood

a) Laying Patterns

b) What is she laying – if there is a preponderance of drones, she’s on her way out.   If there is a high percentage of drones, this can be laying workers.  BUT if there is a single egg at the bottom by the foundation of the laid cells (“bottom being next to the foundation), then I figure it’s a failing, or badly mated queen.

Side Note :  Queen supersedures can happen at any time a queen starts to fail and there is a larva (or larvae) with which the bees can create a queen.  However, there are no drones flying in this area until April at the earliest, so any virgin who does manage to find good flying weather, will find few or no drones with which to mate).

4) Laying Workers : A high percentage of drones plus the tell-tell sign of  double eggs, and eggs stuck to the   sides of the cells.

  1. Diseases– looking for anything from American Foul Brood to Nosema to Varroa.  Any diseased hive is marked. To be dealt with that day or evening.
  1. Clean the bottom screen.
  1. Remove any unneeded boxes.  I overwinter in 4 to 5 medium boxes (I only use medium – aka western – boxes).  The bottom box (where their pollen was in fall) is always empty.  Sometimes the next one up is empty.  If the remaining boxes have ample laying room for laying, pollen, and nectar, the empties are removed
  1. Remove older frames that are not in use by bees. All frames over 5 years old leave the hive  Brood frames over 3 years old are pulled and, if they still look good, will be stored for  use as honey frames later in the year (I know, I know, I should get rid of these too, but so far so good on this system)


Reorganize Boxes – probably to great annoyance of the bees.

  1. Replace removed older frames with newer frames (I date all my frames)
  2. Break up “walls” of honey

I leave a lot of honey on the hives in winter, so I may find hives that are becoming  honey bound.  I don’t mind this – It’s like when I hike: if I come back from hiking with no food in the pack, I have seriously messed up.  I want to come out of the backcountry with extra food.  I want the bees to have “extra” honey when spring hits.

3) The boxes are manipulated to:

Keep the brood area together as is, with its pollen where the bees put it.

Move honey next to the brood area (sometimes it’s a few frames away)

Give 2 frames of drawn comb above the brood area with honey near-by

Bring honey from outer edges towards the center.

If this is a strong hive the frames are “checker boarded” : One honey frame, One drawn frame, One honey frame, and on…

  1. Put in the “dollar store hive top feeder
  2. Feed the bees:  The above link will give a detailed explanation of what I feed.   Basically it’s a cane sugar solution with essential oils  (Lemon Grass, Spearmint, Thyme Oil, Tea Tree),  and a touch of organic apple cider vinegar.  (The link doesn’t have the vinegar, it’s a new addition)
  3. Place top on hive.


  1. Queenless hives are marked
  2. Hives that are small, but with good queens marked – to go to any queenless hive
  3. Deand and/or Disease hives are marked.
  4. If they have an immediate need they are delt with
  5. If they can wait – a healthy dead-out can wait – “I shall return”


Give bees a pep-talk “OK girls, you can do it, you know you can.  You’re brilliant”

You may doubt my sanity.  But I talk to all my animals (and the truck, and the tractor)


I know this takes time.  I can do about 2 hives in 30 to 45 minutes depending on what I encounter.   Somehow the problem hives always come right at the end of the day, or just before the massive rain cloud parks itself overhead and lets loose with a torrent of water.

The time is well spent.  When the maples flower and the dandelions bloom (some of our first flowers) the bees will be ready for the nectar flow with the resulting increase in their numbers, and not be bothered by me ripping apart their hives.


All the pulled boxes still need to be scraped.  I am so not looking forward to this, but it must be done.  I did have a photo of them, but now wordpress won’t let me load images (it’s my very old computer).

That’s part of what’s going on at Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey, Maple Falls, Washington.  How do you prepare your bees for spring or fall – depending on where you are?  I love learning new things, so please share.



Posted in 1 Beekeeping, 4 Feeding Bees, 9 Brookfield Farm Bee Yards | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments