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

Beeswax Chews (or the Big Bits Floating On Top Of Honey)

I started selling “beeswax chews” at Seattle’s Ballard Farmers’ Market.   After explaining what they were to customers, I thought – “hey, a new blog topic”. Now “Beeswax Chews” are what I’ve always called the big bits of wax that float on top of the honey after extraction. These bits have a fair amount of Bee Bread (bee adapted pollen) and propolis and some raw honey clinging to them.

How I Use Beeswax Chews at Brookfield Farm:

Bits of Beeswax, Bee Bread, Propolis

Beeswax Chews













They have always served two purposes for me:

1) I chew them like gum. You can swallow them, but I just spit them out (in a delicate lady-like manner of course). They taste good and I figure the bee bread and propolis should be good for me.

2) I feed them back to the bees. Before anyone cries out, let me say that when bees share bees wax or honey there’s a good chance diseases will be passed around. I would not let my bees pick through any other beekeeper’s beeswax bits, but my girls get to share with each other.

Where the Beeswax Bits Come From:

There are 2 sources for beeswax bits in any honey operation:

1) Cappings wax – the wax that is cut off from frames of honey during extraction. At Brookfield Farm, these fall into a vat with a screen at the bottom so dripping honey collects below the cappings wax.

An uncapped frame of honey

Uncapped Honey Frame – Capping Tank Below











2) From extracted frames. When the uncapped honey frames go into the extractor, bits of wax can and do fly off. The extractor is a centrifuge and if wax it loose, it flies off the frames along with honey.

Honey frames spin in a honey extractor

Extractor Spinning (don’t open spinning extractors, it’s dangerous)











When the extractor’s honey gate is opened to let the honey flow from the tank’s bottom, the bits of wax come right along with it.  (They are the white blobs in the honey in the image below.)

Raw honey flows from honey extractor to bucket at Brookfield Farm, Maple Falls, Washington

Brookfield Farm’s very basic set up











In my operation, I just scoop them up with a large spoon and hand held sieve and pop them into their own container. Other beekeepers catch them by having the honey flow through a wire sieve that sits between the extractor and the honey bucket.

In large operations, there is a baffle tank.  Think of a long open trough with three “dams” or baffles in it.  The honey flows from the extractor and into a tank with three baffles – little dams (at least the one I was privileged to use for a while had three – oh, the good old days – baffle tanks are great).

At each step, the beeswax bits float to the surface as the honey drifts under a slot at the bottom. By the third baffle, the honey’s pretty darn free of big bits. It still has bee bread (bee adapted pollen) and propolis, just not big floating bits.

Customers Do Ask….We try to supply

I never really thought about selling them. We just chewed them – especially in winter during the “cold and flu” season – and let the bees have them. Then a customer asked for them. So I thought, hey, I’ll put them out there… My great marketing strategy – ask me for something, if I have it I’ll put it out, if I don’t have it, I’ll try to find out where you can get it. So now you can find them at Seattle’s Ballard Farmers’ Market every Sunday.

Beeswax bits after extraction

The Chew – Up Close








What’s Happening Right Now

It’s raining. This is not earth shattering news in winter around here. I’m happy to say it’s snowing where it should: 15 to 25 miles up river. That gives good snowshoeing in the forest and good skiing/snowboarding at the Mt. Baker Ski Area (I don’t ski/snowboard, but it’s ski slopes in the midst of a National Forest – beautiful, and I hear world-class runs).

The bees popped out for the two nice days we had. Of course, I had appointments in town (an hour away) both days. I took some quick peeks at the farm bee yard and most look good. Two (this is a blog of 2’s) look like dead outs, but I’ve been fooled before. I start pulling apart a “dead out” and the cluster of bees looks up and say “close the darned box lady, it’s cold out there….” So we shall see

I also got my vacation rental in Glacier onto Air BnB – it was a bit more complicated than I thought it was going to be.  The good photos seem to be still making their way though the system (go figure).  I’ve been trying to sell the house, but with the economy as it is, renting it seems to be the best way, or now.

Oh, and I learned how to use my new Square Register, kind of. I’m getting better at it. But I have had lots of help from the wonderful vendors around me at the Ballard Market. I’m quite pleased it’s working – technology is not my forte.

That’s the news from Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey, in Maple Falls, Washington, how are your bees as we head into spring here in the northern latitudes, and you all head for fall down south?

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The Honey Paw Uncapper – I like it

Last year I finally purchased and used a Honey Paw Uncapper.  It works quite well, but it was a pain to buy.  Nothing like sending 200 EUROS (about $215 at this time, I think the exchange made it higher when I bought it) to Narva, Finland based on their video and a few comments in on beekeeping web forums.  It all worked out.  Buying it was the hardest part.

Honey Paw Slit Uncapper at Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey, Maple Falls, WA

Honey Paw Uncapper

The Background:
a short history of uncapping honey at Brookfield Farm

When I had a few hives I had a friend with a huge extraction set up.  60-frame extractor, baffle tanks, pumps, and of course a Cowen Uncapper.

Honey Uncapper, Cowen Manufacturing

Cowen Honey Uncapper – They are wonderful










Easy?  It was a breeze.

Then I got more hives and my friend left the business.  I got a 20-frame extractor and a hot knife.  It was efficient, but hard on my wrists.

Also, as much as I explained to the bees that I needed flat surfaces on the comb, I got lumpy surfaces.  Bees, they just don’t listen.

So I kept poking around on the web, looking at options that 1) I could afford 2) could work in my very small extraction room and 3) could deal with the rolling surfaces of my drawn honey frames.   That’s where I found the Honey Paw.


Honey Paw Slit Uncapper at Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey, Maple Falls, WA

Honey Paw Uncapper













The Honey Paw:

Basically, the Honey Paw is a smooth “scratcher” that is warmed by steam.  I thought that was pretty cool, and still do.

The unit is small and handheld.

The warmed unit is passed lightly across the drawn honeycomb, rolling over, and dipping down into all the little hills and valleys of the comb’s surface.

Honey Paw Uncapper on Frame of Honey at Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey, Maple Falls, WA

Sliding Over A Frame of Honey










Furrows are left behind where the honey will emerge in the extractor.


Uncapped Honey Frame After Honey Paw Uncapper

After the Honey Paw










I thought it did a lovely job.  The honey came out in about 15 minutes (pretty standard time).  The best part was that the wax was not completely disassembled on the drawn comb.  It looks good, and leaves more intact cells so the bees will need to do less work to rebuild before they reseal.

HoneyPaw Frame After Extraction

Honey Frame After Extraction











It’s hard to photograph, but the parts that look like they are still uncapped have no honey under them.  Surprised me too.

Ian took a break from woodworking and did some of the extraction this year.

Ian Using the Honey Paw Uncapper

Ian Uncapping Honey










To see what he thought of the Honey Paw, I had him use my hot knife for a bit, then the Honey Paw.  He too felt that the Honey Paw was easier to use, easier on the comb, and was more efficient in uncapping portion the frames.


How The Honey Paw Uncapper Works:

Two hoses attach to the unit: one is steam coming into the unit; the other is the steam (water) leaving the unit. The water goes into and out of the unit itself. The honey doesn’t get wet.  The Honey Paw is just warm enough to melt the wax as you pass over the frame – you don’t linger, which is nice.


Steam Driven

A wallpaper steamer provides the steam.

Steam Connection For HoneyPaw Uncapper

Steam Connection for Wall Paper Steamer Unit










If one had to buy this it would be pricy, but one can rent them at any DIY place in towns.  You get all these amazing tools for removing wallpaper with the rental, but they just sit in the truck.  It’s the steamer unit that’s important.

It’s also the part that worried me (me being worried is a natural state, like the sun shinning).  Would the tubes fit? Would it blow up?  Yes to the first, no to the second.

It’s pretty simple: attach a tube to the steamer and run it to the tool.  Run another tube away from the honey paw and, for me, out the door.

The Tubes For The Honey Paw

The tubes that run from the wallpaper steamer are ¼” clear, flexible tubing.  We have this amazing hardware store in Bellingham Washington, Hardware Sales.  Wallpaper steamer rental: no problem. Small flexible tubing: no problem.  Amazing advice on plumbing: no problem (but that’s another story).

The critical part on the Honey Paw set up is that the tubes should not touch.  Each tube on its own if fine, but the company says you should not let them lay against each other.


Hot tube rigging for the honey paw uncapper - the rustic version

the non-fancy, but functional tube rig





















The Honey Paw Video shows a beautiful rig with ceiling rigging and spiraling wires that keep the tubes separated.

Brookfield Farm is a bit more basic.  The room’s ceiling is low and has beams.  Two C-Clamps did the trick: one C-Clamp for each line.

Put the Steamer for the Honey Paw Outside

At first I ran the out-flow hose into a bucket in the room, but that was putting water in the room. The line was then run outside though a small opening in the door jam (the benefits of doors not fitting properly) and into a bucket outside.

HoneyPaw Outflow Tube to Bucket

no problem finding buckets at Brookfield Farm











The Honey Paw Uncapper: I’m Glad I bought it.

In all I’m glad I bought it.  But I think they need a US and/or Canadian distributor.  It is just way too worrisome to send money to a small, unknown (at least here) company overseas.  They are totally legit, have a lovely selection of equipment, but Finland’s a long way away.  If you are inspired to get one, I’d say go for it (the bank does the hard part: the exchange rate, figuring out the routing numbers, at least mine did for me, I like my bank).  I think I’ll be using the Honey Paw for a long, long time.

Honey Paw Uncaps Frame of Honey

Looking forward to years of use

What’s Happening Now At Brookfield Farm

I’m struggling to learn to use a square reader and the new, used, tablet that I had to get to use the square.  So in 2016 I’ll be able to take credit cards at both our Seattle Markets: Ballard and Fremont.  Really, I’d much rather work bees without a veil than get my head around this technology.  The things we do to make a living, eh?

On the positive side, we’re past the last big snow – I was so tired of chaining up my truck to make it up the last half mile to the farm (and that was with snow tires and 4-wheel drive).   One of my guard dogs was somewhat disappointed that he could not find enough dogs and cats to play a proper game of hockey on the drive.

Livestock Guard Dog seeks hockey team

Livestock Guard Dog On Ice









Posted in Honey Extraction | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Honey Foam : the White Stuff on Top

Honey foam may be one of the most surprising things about the appearance of raw honey.   It is often greeted with the words: “What’s that white stuff on top?” Regardless of the raw honey’s form, runny or crystallized, it may be topped with a thin layer of froth, which will solidify in crystallized honey. If you find this honey foam in your jar, consider yourself lucky.

Honey Foam on Raw Buckwheat Honey

Swirls of Foam









Honey foam is delicious. It is light, flavorful, and packed with air bubbles that have trapped some of the wondrous stuff that is in raw honey: pollen, propolis, wax, and, of course, raw honey.


Gravity Fed Honey

I don’t get a lot of honey foam in my raw honey because I’m pretty low-tech: gravity flow from extractor to bucket to jars.

Dark, Rich Brookfield Farm honey pouring from the extractor

A Darker Honey This Year









Pumped Honey

Some friends of mine who have a “few” more hives (I have around 80 to 100, they have around 1,700 to 2,000) use pumps to move the honey from their extractors through baffle tanks and then into the large holding tanks.

Maxant Baffle Tank

Maxant’s Baffle Tank (aka a clarifying tank)












The baffles remove the big chunks of wax that fly free during the centrifuge action of the extractor. They are like little dams that let the runny honey flow through but stop big chunks. The pollen, propolis, and tiny pieces of wax flow on though with the honey.

The holding tank is just what it sounds like. A large tank that holds the honey before it’s bottled.

What Air Adds To Honey

Pumps mean air is being introduced to the system. The air bubbles up through the honey becoming involved with the pollen, propolis and wax that is making its way upward as well. The result is the most delicious, fluffy, frothy foam, full of goodness.

Barrels of Fun, and Honey, and Honey Foam

My friends’ honey often comes to me in barrels. When opened, honey foam is floating on the top.

Honey Foam in Barrel of Raw Honey

Honey Foam in Barrel of Raw Honey













As I pump the raw honey and honey foam from the barrels, more air bubbles form and again creates even more honey foam at the top of the honey jars.

Raw Buckwheat Honey with honey foam

Honey Foam at Top of Jar

Foam Forever

Even though the final bottling of raw honeys is done using the incredibly fascinating, but deceptively simple force of gravity, the honey foam stays in the honey and will rise to the top over time.

The pumped air’s effect on the honey foam is further enhanced by the proteins in the honey, according to Wikipedia. “The presence of proteins causes honey to have a lower surface tension than it would have otherwise, which produces a marked tendency to foam…and encourages formation of fine air bubbles,”

I have noticed that lighter honeys produce less foam than the black honeys; in our case the Buckwheat and Chamisa raw honeys from Stan’s hives (aka K Brothers Pollination and Honey). I would guess the higher quantity of foam in the black honeys is due to the higher ratio of proteins in the honey – but that’s just a guess.

Since we carry a wide array of raw honeys from our own hives and those of our friends, when you open a jar of honey from Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey, you just might find a delicious treat on top of the raw honey: Honey Foam

What’s Happening Now

It’s been snowing, then freezing, and the icy road home has been a pain.  I went and bought new chains for my truck to make it up the hill.  Bee wise, just trying to do some paper work that I’ve not caught up on yet.  Exciting, eh?  But I did take some time out to head up river and go walking – have I mentioned that, in my humble opinion, I live in one of the most beautiful places on earth?

North Fork Nooksack River, Whatcom County WA - winter

North Fork Nooksack River – 1/2 hour from home

That’s the news from Brookfield Farm Bees and Honey, Maple Falls, Washington.  You can find me each week at Seattle’s Ballard Farmer’s Market.  No Fremont Market for a bit, Ian, my partner, slipped on the ice and broke his arm.  The “joys” of winter…… Stay safe where ever you are….



Posted in 92 Honey | Tagged , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Storing Bee Hive Frames in Winter

I search continuously for easy, efficient, nontoxic ways to deal with bee equipment. Storing frames for winter has been an evolving technique. I am pretty happy with my new set up: stacking frames in boxes set on their sides.

Winter Storage of Bee Hive Frames At Broookfield Farm

I do so like tidy









When I had fewer hives, I used to hang my frames in the hayloft.

How foundation is stored at Brookfield Farm, Maple Falls, WA

the line on the right is 40 feet long.









Stacking is even easier, and equally efficient at keeping wax moths from settling on the the comb.


I pull honey in August or September (that’s evolving too). We don’t see spring here until March at the earliest. So that means 5 or more months during which the supers’ frames are stored in my hayloft.

Mice and wax moths are my two main problems during this time.

Mice I’ve got covered

William Kitten checks out the bee box assembly line

one of our quality control experts









The cats live in the barn. Before anyone becomes worried about them, it’s a 24 by 40 foot barn with a hayloft, hay, stored furniture and bee gear. Goats and livestock guard dogs on the ground floor provide “warming elements’. Along with fresh mice, the cats have their own giant kibble feeder, which probably brings mice, but, hey, even cats deserve an easy break in hunting. Mice? What mice? Haven’t seen one in the barn in years.

I don’t get wax moths either – due to hanging and stacking and our cold winters.

Wax moth Damage from Jennie Stitzinge's blog

wax moth damage (courtesy of Jennie Stitzinger,










One thing that wax months don’t like is cold, freezing weather. Last year we didn’t have much of that, but it’s already begun this year. This is good for the local economy (we have some of the best skiing and snowboarding in the US) and good for wax frames in storage.

But wax moths can still be an issue if one creates nice, sealed, dark places for them to breed.


I stopped hanging frames as my hive numbers increased.  The technique worked really well, but it was time consuming.

In a long-lost article,  I read about stacking hives on their edges. I gave it a try and it works.

Winter Storage of Bee Hive Frames At Broookfield Farm

I do so like tidy









The article said you could go three boxes deep. The author further suggested that one put a screen at either end. I think the screen was for mice…believe me cats are easier, effective and prettier (plus, some cuddle).

I go two boxes deep.

Winter Bee Hive Frames Storage showing Space Between Storage

Two rows fit nicely










My barn has gussets – pieces of wood that stick out to allow more weight to fall on the roof without collapsing (did I mention it can snow here, a lot). Two supers on edge fit nicely between each gusset.

The boxes that face to camera are also two boxes deep – I was just running out of room, so I turned them 90 degrees.

Stacking boxes and frames in this way, also makes it easy to pull frames I want in the spring: I stack them with the top bars out, so it’s kind of like going to a frame “library”. I look at the dates of the frames, and page though to get an idea of what condition the frame is in.

Winter Bee Hive Frame Storage - along the row

Rows Of Frames







I like stacking the frames. They are neat, tidy, and easily accessible.   All ready for me when spring finally rolls around.

That’s the news from Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey in Maple Falls. What’s happening right now at the farm? Inverter trauma. We are an off-grid farm. I installed a new piece of equipment only to find that it really, really did not like my 20-year-old inverter. After a number of false starts, thinking that it was an issue of voltage (105 versus 110 – no other equipment cared), then maybe an imperfect ground, I discovered that the new equipment wanted pure sine wave, something that was created over the last two decades. So I’m buying a tiny inverter just for that piece of equipment. (A wonderful company, Backwoods Solar helped me sort this out.  They’re great, they don’t mind answering questions at length.)  OK, the world of inverters is not as gripping as beekeeping, but around here inverters are vital to our operation.

How’s your winter shaping up? Or in warmer climates – how are your bees doing?




Posted in 1 Beekeeping, 4 Hive Components, 8 Brookfield Farm & Bees | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments