A new barrel hoist (photos from last summer)

Well, here it is new years day, too cold for both the bees and me.  So it’s “catch up” time from last summer’s events.   A friend rigged a new barrel hoist for me that hooks to the front of my tractor, and this is its story.

55 gallon drum barrel hoist

Barrel Hoist On Tractor

Moving Barrels At Brookfield Farm

A bit of background:  I sell honey from my own hives and from friends here in Washington who, like me, run naturally treated, antibiotic-free, or treatment free hives.  The website is PacificNorthwestHoney.com, and every Sunday you can find me at the Ballard Farmers Market.

I move about 6 or 7 barrels of honey a year. How to move 55 gallons, over 650 pounds of honey, easily has been an evolving processes. This year, thanks to two friends, I got a new/used unit that makes this far more simple and efficient.

In The Past

Until this year I used a metal barrel hoist that fit around the body of the barrel. The hoist has a ring at the top. We would pass a towing chain though the ring and hook the chain to my tractor’s bucket. It worked, but one had to haul the hoist and chain out of the storage are (otherwise known as the hayloft). Then do all the rigging to get the bucket in the air.

The New Improved Method

A friend who was helping took one look at the older method and said “I’ve got something that would be much better. And you could move them alone.” Well, the first part was right, the second wrong – that friend is a lot stronger than me. You’ll see where strength comes in later.

In about a week or two the friend dropped round with a unit that can be slid on and off of  the front of my tractor.

Front view of Barrel hoist, off tractor

The jaws of happiness

Another friend turned up with a saw that would remove a bit of a upright ridge from the center of the bucket and drill to make the holes that hold the barrel hoist in place.

Barrel Hoist to Tractor attachment

Bolted on

A chain that runs from the hoist to a steel piece with a notch that my friends bolted to the tractor bucket.  When the chain is hooked into the notch, it gives the hoist more support and stability.

55 gallon Barrel Hoist Support Chain

The chain adds support.


I would do without my friends is beyond me. Good friends are worth more than gold.

The Wonderful Removeable Aspect

The rig looks rather like fork lift blades with a barrel lifter on it.

The tractor blade slips under the back of the unit.

Barrel Hoist Removed From Tractor

Waiting to hook up to the next barrel


The unit has 2 sliding “claws.”

When the bucket is tilted down, they side apart.

When the bucket tilts up, the claws slide to the barrel, holding it firmly.

Barrel Hoist Clamped to 55 gallon Barrel of Honey

Clamped On

I practiced by picking up a barrel that was filled with water before I trusted myself with the honey. (Yes, this was done post hip-replacement surgery – totally amazing to me.)

Moving a barrel of honey

It’s great – but steers like a cow.

It worked like a charm. I will say the tractor is more of a challenge to steer, but it all works.

Where The Strength Comes In:

To move to barrel to its warm area, it must be place in front of a barrel dolly.

The prongs of the dolly rest against the barrel, a metal clamp goes over the barrel lip.

When the dolly is tilted back, the barrel slides onto the base prongs of the dolly.

Yes, “tilt back”, over 650 pounds tilting back.

I cannot do it on a bet. Again a friend to the rescue, and even he has to jump onto the back of the dolly with both feet to make it tilt.

Oh the joys of moving honey. But I do love my new honey barrel lifter.

That’s all the news that’s fit to type from Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey in Maple Falls, Washington.  At the moment it is clear, cold, and, thankfully, snow free.  I know the snow’s coming, it usually hits in mid to late January, but for now I’m pleased.  At this time last year we were at week 5 of trucks with chains or just walking up to the farm when the snow got too deep.  What’s happening?  Well, my own “festival of lights”: putting in new ceiling fixtures.  Tomorrow I start wiring frames for 2018.   Happy New Year to all, may the new year bring you great joy.

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Solstice 2017 at Brookfield Farm Bees & Honey (and a bit about bees)

Happy Solstice to all from Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey here in Maple Falls, Washington.  The entire family gets behind the return of longer days here in the Cascade foothills.  To celebrate most of us go for a walk in the woods to pick out our Solstice Foliage.

Stepping out on solstice day









Did I mention that the “family” includes dogs, goats, and cats?

Checking out the options











Of course it’s the goats who become totally involved in the choice.

We want the best tree.











Some feel cedar is the right spirit (or taste).

Sampling the Cedar











Others think a hemlock bough carries the day best

Some prefer a hemlock











Then there is the minimalist in the group: no greenery, just the bare beauty of wood.

Our minimalist











As in all holiday gatherings, some family members become bored after a bit.

Some Grow Bored

Then there are those who prefer to just wait and have it brought to them.  The “did anyone mention how cold it is out there” group.

Staying Warm, Not Moving













Bring me something nice, now











After the usual holiday squabbles, banging of heads, a bit of barking, and the human yelling “Don’t eat that. It’s for Solstice!”, we made it home. Long stored decorations were pulled out, and everyone except the house cat lost interest because, well, they can’t eat it until New Years Day.

The Final Choice

As for the bees, they are clustered up in their hives.

Solstice Day









A bit about bees (I promised)

I do not bother my bees in the winter.  It’s too cold.  They’ve been left ample honey (1.5 supers), and pollen (1 super).  They’ll be checked in February, when we normally get a brief break in the cold.  But that check only involves lifting the top and seeing if they’ve reached the top or if they have honey left.  If they’re at the top, they will get some bee candy.  With luck they’ll come out happy and healthy in the new year raring to reproduce and make honey.

That’s the news from Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey, in Maple Falls Washington.  So far the winter has been mild compared to last year (thank goodness), but it’s only the beginning of winter here – three months to go.


I have no idea why wordpress is formatting this with so much “negative space”, but I gave up trying to understand the internet years ago.

Happy Solstice To All from all the creatures at the Farm.



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Fireweed: a lovely plant, a delicious honey

“Fireweed, what is it?” I get asked this question quite often at my booth at the Ballard Farmers Market in Seattle. Usually when someone is holding one of the two raw fireweed honeys we have on the table: A fireweed/snowberry from northwest Washington and a fireweed/wildflower from Mt. Rainier.

Fireweed wildflower combination honeys from Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey, Maple FAlls, WA

Fireweed/Snowberry & Fireweed/Wildflower

Fireweed (Chamaenerion angstifolium) is a beautiful flower that grows throughout the Northern Hemisphere from Norway to Washington State.



In older books, and in Canada apparently, it is known as willowherb. Here, in the western Cascade Mountain range, I usually see it along roads, and in large stands in open alpine areas in the late summer and fall.


Below Church Mountain, a steep hike uphill

The flowers are tall stalks that can have over 50 blooms on each plant. Each stalk can be two to five feet tall, with some sightings standing at eight feet.


Fireweed at Twin Lakes

The fireweed flowers start blooming low on the stalk then open up on the higher portions as the season progresses. In the fall, the seeds appear: thin packets that are surrounded by light fluffy strands that can ride a breeze to new locations. One plant can produce over 50,000 seeds.

The plant likes open areas, where the ground has been disturbed and cleared of other plants. It is often one of the first flowers up after a fire (thus the name). These days it follows clear cuts as well – although the honey flow always seems to be less in these areas…possibly the plant’s “preference” for carbon over diesel fuel in the soil.

That open space is vital for fireweed, so when other foliage returns, the plant disappears. Its fallen seeds may remain, however, and should that area be open once again by fire or machines the fireweed will rise again.

An absolutely pure fireweed honey is hard to get. Beekeepers try to find “pure” stands of fireweed, but the plant is a wildflower and other wild plants are often blooming at the same time, and bees do travel.


Fireweed Stand

Here in western Washington low elevation fireweed blooms at the same time as native and invasive blackberries.

Fireweed and Blackberries near Brookfield Farm, WA

Fireweed and Blackberries

This is why honey labeled only as “Fireweed” can look quite different between apiaries.

2 Fireweed/Wildflower Honeys

Fireweed/Wildflower combination honeys

A pure fireweed honey is almost clear, with a slight tinge of green. Do not despair, fireweed/wildflower combinations are delightful honeys.

Beyond producing the nectar that the bees turn into a light, delicate honey, fireweed has other uses. Young fireweed tastes rather like asparagus and is high in vitamins A and C. The leaves make a nice tea. However yummy they are, I do try to leave the fireweed for the bees.

That’s the news from Brookfield Farm Bees and Honey here in Maple Falls, Washington.  What’s happening right now?  The on-going chores on any farm, but done with the joy that a lack of snow brings…The snow is happily staying up on the high mountains where it belongs, at least at this moment.

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Beekeeping After Hip Replacement Surgery

In June of this year, I had my left hip replaced. I like to think of it as a rebuilt: my truck is on its second engine, I’m on my second hip. Now I can think of it with pleasure, but in early 2017 when the surgeon said, “total hip replacement” I thought my world of beekeeping had come to an end.

Beekeeper Post Hip Replacement Surgery

Happy Bees, Happy Beekeeper with new hip – 3 months after operation

Mind you, it had been getting pretty difficult to work hives with my hip in the degraded condition it had achieved. Moving boxes while dragging one’s leg behind and wincing in pain the entire time does not contribute to good beekeeping.

I was very lucky on many fronts: I was able to have anterior surgery (from the front). My surgeon was excellent. My physical therapist was great. My friends pitched in on everything from driving me around for the first few weeks, to putting on that darned compression sock, to helping with the bees. And I was determined to get back on my feet.

It was still very frightening, especially at the beginning. I did not know what to expect or if I would be able to keep bees. Plus I had this nagging thought: “I’m young, this shouldn’t be happening.”

It Can Happen To Anyone

Genes, you can’t fight them. I have osteoarthritis. My mother had it too. Then there were all those years of carrying heavy equipment in the film industry and in beekeeping. And that habit I had of throwing 50 pounds on my back and going walking for a few weeks in the wilderness. These things rather wear down the joints. I did appreciate the friends my age that called and wrote to say, “I had mine done years ago. You’ll love it”

Of Walking, Exercises and An Enforced Vacation.

After the operation I had to “learn” to walk again. As all hip replacement patients do, I started out in a walker. It was an interesting conundrum.

My world is one of dirt roads. Walkers do not roll well on dirt. After a few futile attempts to push it along, I took to carrying the walker. It would hover just above the dirt and descend when I needed it. Sometimes that need was simple stabilization; often it was protection from my goats.

Of course I took my pack goats and dogs with me. To go for a walk without them would be unthinkable, to them and to me. Goats like to nudge and run into you. When they would come near me, I would plant the walker on the ground and just hold on. A friend watched this maneuver one time and said, “It’s not a walker, it’s shark cage.”

Livestock Guard Dogs and Packgoats Brookfield Farm, Maple Falls, WA

The “family”: 2 Livestock Guard Dogs, One Pet Dog, 4 Goats (left the cats at the barn)

By week three I moved onto two walking sticks. It was a vast improvement. Slowly the goats, dogs and I progressed from quarter mile walks to 3-mile walks. I am lucky that I can walk straight off my property and in a forest.

Throughout the entire time I did my exercises. Are they dull? Yes. Are they necessary? Yes.

I tried to look at my situation as an enforced vacation: I learned how to cook! One can move beyond stir-fry. I started to paint! I sat on my deck and read books! And I walked, and walked, and walked.

Back To Market

By week three I was allowed to drive, as long as it was an automatic. I didn’t bother to mention to the doctor that my automatic is a ¾ ton market van. With that freedom, I returned to my booth at the Ballard Farmers Market.

Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey Market Booth

Brookfield Farm Market Booth

I couldn’t load, set-up or pack-up, but I had a wonderful young man help me. But I could stand and sit and work the booth. That part of my beekeeping world could continue.

Hiving A Swarm

At that point one of my hives swarmed.

A swarm of honeybees

The Swarm

Happily they did it onto the side of some stacked bee boxes rather than up a tree. It was still a challenge. The entire time I worked on it I kept thinking: “Face forward, slow turns, deep knee bends, not too far.”  My previous blog post has the entire story (wordpress is not letting me insert links today). When the hive was tucked into their new box, I was tired but happy. Happy for the bees, but also because I could still work bees.

The Good News / the Bad News

At week six my surgeon gave me permission to lift 60 pounds. The good news was that I could load my van and set up my market booth alone. I could once again pour honey and move bees, gently. The bad news was that I could do all that: The end of my enforced vacation.

A Friend Indeed

I returned to working my bees. But I could not have done so without the help of a friend who wanted to learn more about beekeeping.

Beekeeper holds frame of honey above a hive during honey harvest

A friend indeed

He helped me check hives, and did the heavy lifting and carrying that our work demands. I’m happy to say he’ll be starting 2 hives of his own next year.

5 Months On

It’s been about 5 ½ months now since the operation. I am better than I have been in years. I can dance again, cook, and now that winter is here, paint – both pictures and the walls.  Those long dark nights and very wet days all keep me inside. But best of all I can continue to do everything necessary to keep bees. There is definitely beekeeping after hip replacement surgery.

That’s the news from Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey in Maple Falls, Washington. What’s happening right now? I’m making frames as the rain pours down on us. At least it’s not snowing, yet – that’s expected in about a week.

Hope your days are happy, and if the dreaded words “hip replacement surgery” appear in your life, be assured you will be a much happier beekeeper after it.



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Hiving a Swarm post Hip Replacement Surgery

Five weeks out of hip replacement surgery and the bees swarmed.  A potential disaster that is shaping up to be just fine.

The Swarm

The Swarm


















I saw the swarm just after finishing my “1 to 2 mile walk though the forest with the pack goats and dogs while doing my exercises “ part of my recovery program.  OK, the doctors know nothing about the forest, pack goats, or dogs, but it’s where I live and I don’t walk without the “family”.

The Swarm

On the plus side the ladies had decided to land low, amid a stack of bee boxes and frames that are waiting to go to storage.  (I still have a 25-pound limit on what the medical folks want me to lift).  Thank goodness no ladders were involved.

Stacks of bee boxes and new nuc

Stacks of bee boxes and new nuc

Hiving The Swarm With A New Hip

Off I go to the hayloft to pick up some cardboard nuc boxes.  On return I realized there were way too many bees to go into one box.

The Swarm

The Swarm



















It was then I realized they had begun to set up house in one of the boxes in the stack.  OK.  Back to the storage area for  a bottom screen and hive top.

Being mindful of all my post-operative precautions: don’t lean in certain ways, don’t extend left leg, watch how you bend down… I gently pulled the 2 stacks of bee boxes apart to I could get to the portion of the swarm still on the outside of the boxes.  These I brushed into my nuc box, covered and set to the side.

Then, again being careful, I really don’t want to go though that hip operation again, I pulled off the top boxes in the stack to get to the main box they had chosen.  Happily, they had gone for the stack of cleaned frames and boxes that had already been sorted.  (I don’t keep frames over 5 years old).

I put their primary choice of boxes on the bottom screen and pulled 3 frames to make hole.  Then I started to brush bees who were exploring other boxes and frames into the primary box.  By the time they were brushed in, I realized that until they settled down there was no room for the bees in the nuc box.

Frames were replaced in the primary box, and top added.  The nuc box bees would have to wait until morning.  (The bees on the left were foraging, and simply not cooperating with the move.)

Boxed bees await a new location

The Swarm: Parts A and B

The Benefits Of Beekeeping – at least for me

Through the entire process I kept muttering: “I hope I have the queen”, “I hope I didn’t kill the queen”, and “Hey, I’m enjoying the heck out of this”.  What with the bad hip, and the operation I have not been able to work bees this year, and I’ve really missed it.

As I walked back to the house in the twilight, I realized that I had 1) not hurt myself and 2) had become so engrossed in what I was doing I was walking without my stick/cane.  See, beekeeping is good for you.

I also realized that if I missed the queen I would get to do this all over again in the morning, if they were still around.

Queen Bee Inside – Nuc Good To Travel

The dawn showed I had the queen.  Everyone was in place and low enough in the new bee box to add the bees who did an overnight in the nuc box.

All full with more to go

All full with more to go











The new nuc was strapped up and ready to move to another bee yard.   I can’t take it to the one here at the farm, because the bees would, of course, just fly back to where I found the swarm (the old move them 2 feet or 2 miles…).

They are now in their new bee yard with a second box on top, and although the photo was taken before I finished, with a collar on top that has a feeder and a pollen patty in it, and a mouse guard on the front (the one seen lying on top of the hive).

The Swarm's New Home

The Swarm’s New Home











It is so late in the bee year here that these bees will need feeding.  Fireweed is blooming, but that nectar run will be well over before they can store up winter supplies.

I am grateful to the bees for swarming low and for setting themselves into a nice box.  It’s the first time any swarm of mine has swarmed to a box.

That’s the news from Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey, Maple Falls, Washington, where this beekeeper is looking forward to being allowed to lift 40 pounds next week. Only 7 more weeks of recovery to go.




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The Longest Winter

It’s been a long winter here in the mountains in the northwest corner of the lower 48 states. It started snowing the first week of December and has just recently stopped. We did have a 1 ½ week break where everything melted away – only to dump 3-4 feet on us in a matter of days.


Hives Under Snow

Snowy Hives

Now, for those of you from colder climates, say east of the Cascades to Maine in the northern lower 48 and folks in Canada and Alaska, I know you’re thinking “that’s nothing”. Compared to your weather, you’re right, but you all are ready for it. We are not ready. It doesn’t happen here.



The Jet Steam is bent out of shape – not angry, just fluctuating. Its normal curves have become more and more extreme as the North Pole melts and more heat is generated there and worldwide. The result is very deep, erratic dips in the stream.  These combine with a La Nina situation.  Which means Arctic air masses for western Washington state. In other words, snow, lots of it for extended periods.


Normally we have a warm spell in February. I go out and check the top boxes to see how the bees are doing on their stores. But the snow’s still deep, the weather’s still cold, and there is rain predicted.   What a year. Even the crocuses have failed to push up. I’d stay in bed too if possible.

In theory, and with out diseases or dwindling, the bees should be all right. The all had about 70 pounds of honey plus the pollen they collected and stored (except for the ones hit by human thieves – a bit less there – whatever I could scavenge).

The snow insulates the hives. Thus the bees should be tucked up and warm.

The hives all have top entrances.

Beehive Upper Entrance, No bees

Upper Entrace to Bee Hive

When there’s no way out at the bottom, they can come out the top. I saw a bit of this in the 1 ½ weeks of “warm” back in January. But why come out? There’s nothing to gather, it’s cold out side.

Each hive has as stack of 4 western boxes to live in, there’s space for sanitary practices away from the cluster. Pooping in the hive is not the best for health, but it beats freezing your little wings off if you try to fly out for a moment.

Bee Hives Partially Covered By Snow

Hive start to be covered – one box under the snow

Water’s not collecting on the bottom board, because I don’t have bottom boards. They have bottom screens. Yes, open “to the elements” – only they’re surrounded by nice snow insulation.

I will check the girls if we ever get nice days near 50F, and the hives are accessible (the snow melts).



In the last storm, I was at the farm with the intension of going to Ballard Farmers Market that weekend. Weather had a different idea. The predicted 1-3 inches of snow became 1-3 feet of snow. My road was inaccessible – ¾ mile of dirt was now covered in snow. Even with chains, my truck wouldn’t make it.

Livestock Guard Dogs Pose with Snow Coverd Truck

Livestock Guard Dogs and Truck after digging out the truck

At this point we’re still walking that ¾ mile. I got a ride to the market van, with the hopes of going to market, but it took all the day to dig the van out of the snow. And there was little hope of getting the van back in place when I got back at 7:30 pm – it would have been a tight fit on an icy spot.

I did manage to get the van out and have the parking area cleared with a bob-cat (not the animal, a small vehicle on tracks with a 5 foot bucket). So I do think I’m set to go to market this coming Sunday.


It continues to be a challenge, this “worst winter since 1957 – according to the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) radio broadcast. But I’m grateful that none of my main buildings were hit by the now ubiquitous fallen trees in this area, that all may animals are safe, and that I have the support of good friends. Soon, I’ll be out at the hives and all of this will just be an “interesting’ memory with good stories to tell.

Sallie Mae participates in snow clearance

Sallie Mae participates in snow clearance


That’s the news from Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey, here in Maple Falls, WA. How is winter, or summer, treating you?

Snow, Bee hives, and Sun

Winter – annoying but beautiful



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Close Hives : Different Honeys

I am labeling honey to take to the Seattle’s Ballard Farmers Market, where I have a booth every Sunday 10-3. When I got to the fabulous honey from my friend Mark at Northwest Queens, in Arlington, Washington, I realized I had a perfect time to muse about how honeys can be different from hives that are close together.

Mark takes his hives upriver on the Stillaguamish – a river that starts in the high Cascades in northwest Washington state, flows down through meadows and past Mark’s hives, then heads west to the city of Arlington and out to Puget Sound. Mark’s has a number of bee yards in the upriver meadows, but they are relatively close to each other.









This year they produced very different honeys: some light, some dark. We will have both at the Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey booth – possibly not at the same time, but I’m betting we have some overlap.


2 Styles of Honey from close bee yards

Two Styles of Honey from Closely Situated Bee Yards











They are both delicious, but quite different.


Why Honeys Differ From Hives That Are Close

Bees fly approximately 2.5 miles from their hives. Some go further, some stay closer if there is an ample floral source in the area.

Flowers can change dramatically in 2.5 miles: both in what flowers are available to the bees, and when those flowers will bloom. Sunlight, soil, and elevation are only three of the factors that can affect bloom time. If you’ve planted a garden, then traveled to friends to find their gardens blooming sooner or later than yours, you’ve seen this for yourself.


Why Light and Dark Honey:

Our area has an invasive species called “Japanese Knotweed”. It has taken over many of our streams and rivers. It is nearly impossible to eradicate (although I don’t think they’ve tried goats yet – goats eat an amazing array of things). It does produce a very nice black honey.

Japanese Knotweed Bloom by Frank Vincentz (wikicommons 2004)

Japanese Knotweed Bloom by Frank Vincentz (wikicommons)

Mark was not after black honey. His goal was the light honey that is traditionally produced in the upriver meadows along the Stillaguamish.

In one area, the Japanese Knotweed bloomed earlier than ever before. Mark’s bees found, and enjoyed the nectar. Thus we have two styles of Stillaguamish River Wildflower from Northwest Queens this year.

Of Early Blooms and Changing Times:

Most beekeepers I know in Washington State have commented that everything seems to be blooming about three weeks sooner than “normal” – “normal” being the seasons we have become accustomed to over the last decade.

When You Find A Honey You Enjoy : Buy It

Honey changes between bee yards, and from year to year. I once had a customer who was surprised by the change in honey from one year to another. She said she would wait to buy honey “until next year when it’s like it was before.” I had to let her know that it might never be “like it was before.” Indeed that honey, from northeast Washington, changed dramatically as a two-year drought hit the area, disappeared completely when massive fires roared though in the third year, and has returned with a whole new taste as fireweed bloomed in profusion amid the other returning wildflowers following the fires.

I know there will be a few folks who will morn the passing of the lighter of Mark’s honey from the upriver meadows on the Stillaguamish River. My advice to them, as it is to all people who buy honey anywhere is:

When you find a honey you enjoy buy enough to store. Remember: honey lasts forever.

That’s the news from Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey in Maple Falls, Washington. It’s still snowing here, and the way to the farm remains passable, for the moment, in low 4-wheel drive and chains. I know folks up here love the snow. I would too if it would just stay up on the mountains and leave the foothills snow free. I just have to remind myself that enduring the snow is the price I pay for living in one of the most beautiful places on earth.

Beehives in Snow

After the storm




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2016 A Year To Forget

I’m back. I have been away from the blog world for a while. 2016 was not a good year personally or bee-wise. At the moment it is snowing, so not a lot to talk about regarding the bees.

Hives in Snow, Brookfield Farm, Maple Falls, WA 2016

Please do not say “let it snow”














My last post was in April, which happens to be the month that my husband was diagnosed with ALS, aka: Lou Gehrig’s Disease.













Ian makes furniture, Sally watches

Ian makes furniture, Sally watches

He died in September, 5 months later, almost to the day.

ALS It’s Not Pretty

ALS is a nasty disease where the muscles stop “listening” to the nerves. Medical science does not know how the disease functions, nor do they have any way to treat it. I will always be grateful to the help and support of the local ALS Society during this time.

The disease takes different people in different ways. Ian lost his fine motor control (finger movements) and slowly the ability to speak. In the end he just stopped breathing. He was able to stay at home until 2 ½ weeks before his death, in hospice. Although his life was short, he did get to live the life he wanted to live, and how many of us can say that?

Neglected Bees

Due to the issues surrounding a partner who is dying I admittedly did not pay enough attention to the bees.

Hives that needed to be split were not.

Russian Queen Disaster – and not from nature

Hives that were split in expectation of 10 Russians queens had to be remerge when the queen supplier neglected to tape the queen cage holder into the box. The queens arrived scattered on the floor of the box, none survived. Neither the supplier nor the shipping company refunded the money, each blaming the other. So I got to pay for dead queens.

I raised no queens this year either, for obvious reasons. Time was always at a loss.

Bears I Can Forgive, Human Thieves I Cannot

Then the crowning hit: I had 20 hives in an outlying bee yard. They’ve been fine for years. I had set the bees for winter: 70 lbs honey each, all with mite away quick strips for the proscribed time and then removed, all with their essential oil sugar patty on their top bars, insulation under their tops. Then disaster in the form of human thieves hit:

First the solar charger/panel which powers the bear fence was stolen

Then they came back and stole honey.
Sadly they were probably beekeepers In some cases entire supers were removed. In others select frames were taken.|In all cases the tops were left on the ground. It rains here, a lot. When I got there I found dead bees in wet hives.

Wishing Everyone A Wonderful 2017

In all 2016 is a year I will chose to forget. But solstice has passed and to me that marks the new year’s beginning. So I’ll end with best wishes to everyone in 2017. May the new year bring great joys and new, positive, adventures. Happy Days from all of us at Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey, Maple Falls, Washington:

From the Livestock Guard Dogs:

Brookfield Farm Livestock Guard Dog

Protecting from bears, cougars, coyotes











Livestock Guard Dog Brookfield Farm, Maple Falls, WA

Livestock Guard Dog as Road Block to Goats









Snow dog Brookfield Farm, WA

The pet who walks the 1.5 mile round trip with me.










Cashmere and Saanen kids

Down the Road and Through The Trees











May your holiday meals have been as tasty as the goats found theirs.

They do love their trees

They do love their trees









Wishing you a happy 2017 from all of us at Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey, Maple Falls, Washington.

Hive in Snow, Brookfield Farm, WA 2016

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Spring Beehive Tidy And Preparation 2016

Spring has arrived in Whatcom County Washington (the northwest corner of Washington state). It has arrived two weeks earlier than last year, which was early as well. The sun and flowers emerge fast on the heels of a very web February, which is good: lots of water then sun equals lots of nectar (in concept).

Big Leaf Maple Buds

Big Leaf Maple Almost Ready To Bloom











But before the bees can easily work these coming flowers, their hives must be tidied from their post-winter configurations.


Brookfield Farm Beehives In The Spring

All my hives are in western (mediums). I over winter in a stack of four boxes. When winter starts there is pollen in the bottom box (the bees keep it there); brood in the next box; brood and honey in the third box up; and honey in the fourth box. I leave 70 pounds of honey on each hive.

The images here are from a small, 4 hive, beeyard near the farm.  A small beeyard gives me time to take pictures.  And, well, it’s a lovely view, isn’t it?  The same yard after manipulation appears at the end of this post.

Spring Beehives, Maple Falls, Wa

Before the work begins


By spring:

The bees have moved up into the upper boxes.

The bottom screen has dead bees on it.

dead honeybees on a bottom screen in spring

Bring Out Your Dead – The Bottom Screen











The bottom box is empty. The bees have consumed their pollen. Sometimes a hive will have some pollen the bees didn’t eat, which has molded – this isn’t harmful to the bees, they a long way from that box by spring.

beehive bottom box in spring

Bottom Hive Box Spring









The second box is usually empty. Sometime with an especially strong hive there will be a touch of brood in the very top of it.

The third box usually has bees and brood, eggs, larva, and sealed. Often there is honey on the outer frames (1, 2, 8, 9)

Bee Box : in the spring

3rd Hive Box in the Spring









The fourth box usually has some honey with the center frames empty or with brood. Sometimes this box is full of bees and brood and they are rapidly running out of stores.   Sometimes this box is filled with honey, and the bees are honey-bound going into spring.

honeybees on top bars in the spring

4th Hive Box in the spring









If I were to leave the boxes as they are in the spring, a few things could happen: 1) the bees would swarm – they think they’ve filled all their space, 2) they would be living on top of all those decomposing bees on the bottom screen, and 3) I would run out of equipment with all those empty boxes below them.


Spring Manipulation of the Beehives

Spring work in a Brookfield Farm apiary, Maple Falls, WA,

Work In Progress :
Boxes are from the empty spot










I kind of “flipped” the boxes. When one works with 2 deeps, this is literally: put top box on bottom, put bottom on top. It’s more complicated with four boxes – but lighter.


Every hive is different, so I’ll explain the average:

The bottom screen is cleaned: dead bees knocked off. I use bottom screens all year long, no solid bottoms ever. The screens are dry as are the dead bees. I love bottom screens.

The bottom box and second box from the bottom are set aside – again, these are usually empty.

Now the manipulation begins, and it all depends on open brood, sealed brood, and honey stores.

The third and fourth boxes will become the first and second boxes, but each hive is different.

As I work, I clear the burr comb that has accumulated during winter.  In the spring, this can have drone larva on it.

honeybee burr comb, bees, and larvae

Bees, Burr Comb, and Larvae



In my hives it is unusual to have much drone comb in March, but this year I have emerged drones, many of which are sexually mature already.  These are queen right hives.  There’s just a lot of drones in the strong ones.

Drone and Worker Honeybees on a frame

Lots of Drones

What I’m Trying To Achieve,
bottom to top of the hive:

Clean bottom screen.

First (Bottom) Box:
Brood – preferably with eggs, open brood, some sealed and pollen. This can usually be found in the old third or fourth box. The box stays as the bees laid it out. I move no frames unless there is something dire (like a “wall” of honey blocking the brood area)

Honeybees on a frame of spring pollen

Bees On Spring Pollen









Second Box:
Sealed brood. I like to put this here because they’re going to emerge soon and leave all that nice space for the queen to use for eggs. Again, the box stays as the bees laid it out. The brood nest remains intact.


Honeybees on a frame of sealed brood

Bees On Brood






If the cluster is small, but viable, honey is put in the second box and the stack ends here.


Third Box:
If there has been a bit of brood in the old second box, they go here. The formation keeps the brood nest intact.

Now I move frames. I make sure that there are newer, empty frames for the queen to use. If the honey frames are out on the edges, I move them closer to the center – around places 2or 3 and 7 or 8, it’s a judgment call. I figure they’ll consume the honey before they need the space.

If all the honey is in the old fourth box, then I’ll use that honey, while leaving some in the new fourth box.

Sometimes the hive looks like it will take a while to fill this, and the stack ends at the third box.

Fourth Box:
This is only for hives that are really strong: lots of eggs and brood (open and sealed). In effect, I’m “supering” the hive.

If there is wall to wall honey, this is broken up – usually into the box below, while leaving some in the fourth box, usually around frames 3 and 8 – the maybe checker-boarded, maybe in a group, it really depends on the hive. I always leave spaces 5 and 6 open.

My hives have a “collar” – a 2 inch tall box where insulation lays over a piece of burlap in the winter. The insulation is removed, unless it’s a 2-story box – I figure the little ones need a bit more warmth, even in the spring.

Top entrance of beehive being used by honeybees

Upper Entrance in the Collar


Feeding, Again:

Some of the hives were fed during the February check. Some of these have now pulled in new stores (did I mention that spring has come very early here?); some still need feed. My feed of choice is “honey patties”: crystallized, or semi crystallized, honey laid between two pieces of newspaper and laid across the top bars under the burlap. The honey comes from my hives, set aside last fall.

Time, time, time

It all takes time. I’m the slowest beekeeper in the west, I think. But it seems to work in general. The girls kick off the spring with clean boxes, an intact brood nest, room to move up (really, mine never read the book that say bees move down), and a supply of honey.

The yard looks tidy when it’s all done.  You can see that one hive came through winter quite small (2-stories); one hive did fine (3-stories); and two needed to be supered already (4-stories).  Same queen stock, same bees, same treatments, different results – each hive is an individual.

Beehives in the Spring

After the work.










Meanwhile, Back At the Farm

The pallet where I off-load bee boxes from hives that didn’t need four (or even three) boxes, and the dead-outs is a tower. These are all walked up into the “hayloft” and stacked for cleaning, the creation of this year’s supers and nucs, and the elimination of frames over 5 years old. Happily my partner has jumped in on this and has been moving and stacking boxes as I off load them. The hay from the hayloft? It’s on the ground floor of the barn – we once had 80 head of livestock, I now have nine goats, pack goats and pets. In fact to celebrate the finish of the spring tidy, I tossed packs on the lead pack goat and me and took off for a 4-hour lowland hike in the local hills…


Spring Sprang Soon

I’m glad the spring tidy is done. I once had a few weeks to do this, but this year when the February rains stopped there were two weeks before the big leaf maples bloomed. This is the first big honey flow here, and all hives must be done before that hits – or else the bees will swarm – in March or early April – it used to snow up river at this time of year. Things change, eh? We all know that as beekeepers: nothing ever stays the same.

That’s the news from Brookfield Farm Bees and Honey in Maple Falls, Washington. Next “exciting” step is to start cleaning bee boxes and frames, while putting together this year’s supers and nucs. What’s happening in your bee yards? I know Emily over at HER BLOG said seasons are moving fast in the UK (if you’ve not read her blog, check it out. It’s really, really good).   Are you all seeing the seasons moving “forward” again this year?

As usual you can find Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey every Sunday at two Seattle markets: The Ballard Farmers Market and the Sunday Fremont Market. I’m over at Ballard – stop by and say hi if you’re in the area.

Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey Market Booth

Brookfield Farm Market Booth





Posted in 1 Beekeeping, 4 Hive Components, 9 Brookfield Farm Bee Yards | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Post-Winter Hive Check 2016

We had some clear weather at the end of February, and I took advantage of it to check the hives.

Bees at the Top Entrance to hive

Busy Bees in February

For the record, Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey had a 13% loss of beehives from September to March. I’m often asked this question, but let me say that I think the number has little real meaning. I don’t like treating beekeeping like a contest, or a simple problem in mathematics. I also think percentages tend to incite competition with false feelings of triumph and failure.

What Does The Hive Loss Number Mean?

On the surface it’s the percentage of the number of hives that died over the number of hives that went into winter. But which hives died, which lived? Where were they? Why did they die or survive? What might have been done or not done? These are more important questions.

The Bee Yards’ Numbers

Back to the numbers:

In one agricultural bee yard I saw 28% loss. That was depressing. In another it was 17%.

In two forest-area bee yards I saw zero% loss.   Other bee yards ranged from 9% to 14%.

So if one wanted to “play” who-did-better I could trot out the zero loss yards – I’m brilliant, my bees are great. But I could equally point to the 28% loss – I’m a fool, my bees are horrid. Neither statement is true.

The lesson of numbers: Don’t compare yourself to others. Learn. Don’t compare.

What interests me is that I have many of the same lines of bees in both agricultural and mountain areas.  But over the last few years, I’ve seen greater losses in agricultural areas.  Before we jump up and down and say field pesticides, which it could be, I’d also like to point out that in agricultural areas there are more beekeepers.  More beekeepers mean more drone mothers who may not be 1) adapted to this climate and 2) may be living the “chemical” life of antibiotics and in-hive pesticides….In other words, not the moms of the boys I want my girls to mate with…

Before I go on about what I found, first, a bit of background:

The Area:

I keep bees in Whatcom County, Washington (state). We are the most northwest corner of Washington, west of the Cascade mountain range. Rain and snow are the weather forecast here from October to March, and often beyond (it’s pouring as I write this).   The north fork of the Nooksack River runs through the area where I have bees.

The hives are “down river” and “up river”. Down river is agricultural: blackberry, blueberry, raspberry, kale and corn (some organic, some conventional).

Colorful hives before honey harvest

Agricultural Whatcom










Up river is forest: fireweed, snowberry, salmonberry, thimbleberry, blackberry, and tons of wildflowers. The areas are divided by a north/south running ridge called “Van Zandt’s Dike.”

Bee hives at Brookfield Farm Bees and Honey, WA

Farm Hives


What I Found in Brookfield Farms Hives:

The Dead Outs:  These are always more interesting.

Post Winter Hive - Dead Out

They’re all there, just dead


I saw no signs of nosema.   This has been pretty standard since I moved to using an oil based patty to delivery essential oils in the fall. When I used ½ to 1 gallon of syrup, I saw nosema. For me: best not to add liquid to a hive in the fall (remember: it’s rain and snow here for 6 months)


Varroa is a bit harder to judge on a dead out. But no living bees had varroa. And, yes, the living bees were using the dead outs as handy feeders. I assume they started raiding before the dead outs were totally dead.

Weakness and Queen Failure:

  1. a) Some hives that had been large dwindled to nothing and then starved a few inches from food. This could have been varroa. It could also be a failing queen.
  2. b) Attempts at supersedure were noted in a few hives – failed queen cells.
  3. c) Dead queens were seen in two of the hives.

The Living:

Tons of nice bees in some hives. Good sized clusters in others.

Honeybees on frames between boxes

A nice little cluster of bees

A good amount of stores in most.

Frame of "winter feed" honey and hive in spring

Still working on their fall honey

No varroa visible. No drone brood to open.

Bees bringing in pollen.

Pollen on the legs of honeybees at hive entrance

Spring Pollen



A bit of sealed worker brood in some, none in others.

Sealed and open brood with honeybees

Honeybees on sealed and open brood


A native visitor

Honeybee and Bumblebee on Hive top

We are all bees together

The Most Amusing:

These were hives that had no bees flying. I knock on the side of the hive, put my ear to it, nothing is heard. “Dead out” I mutter. I finish the bee yard, then go back to check what killed the dead outs, only to find a nice cluster of bees in the center of the hive, happily surrounded by honey. I swear I hear them shout “close the hive, lady, it’s cold out there”.

Spring Bee Feeding:

About 10% of my hives needed to be fed. The bees in these hives had plowed though their 70 pounds of winter stores. These hives were noted so I would not pull larva from them for queen breeding.

I feed with honey from my hives, kept back from last year’s harvest.  It’s wrapped in newspaper, to keep the bees from being stuck.

Crystalized Honey for honey bee feed

First Step In Making the Honey “Patty”

Yes, diseases can be spread this way. But I’m willing to take that chance over feeding cane sugar. If I run out of my own honey, I do feed cane sugar – never the honey from someone else’s hives, even if I think they have great honey (for me) and great beekeeping practices.

Future Queen Potential:

Hives that had survived with a nice looking cluster or a great deal of bees without consuming all their stores were marked for potential future-queen-larva. I like to pull the larva from a number of hives, to get as much genetic diversity as I can in my smallholding.

Honeybees at top entrances of hives

Happy Bees

What The Future Holds:

That’s the news from Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey in Maple Falls, Washington.  Winter is not over here in the second week of March. It was pouring rain outside as I wrote this, and we had gale force winds the other night (note to self – clean gutters). Snow is falling on the lower mountains that surround us and on the high peaks 40 minutes up river. It’s wet and cold – not the optimum condition for bees. There’s a rumor that we’ll see sun in 2 weeks time. We’re 3 weeks away from the start of the first potential honey flow (Big Leaf Maples), if it doesn’t rain straight though the bloom.

As usual, you can find us at two Seattle Sunday Markets, the Sunday Fremont Market and The Ballard Farmers Market.  Come on down and visit if you’re in the area.

How are things going in your part of the world?  Any surprises, hopefully good ones, from your hives heading into spring, or into the fall?




Posted in 1 Beekeeping, 4 Feeding Bees, 5 Queens and Queen Rearing, 8 Brookfield Farm & Bees, 9 Brookfield Farm Bee Yards | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments