Making Bottom Screens 2015

I keep mentioning that I’m “making equipment like crazy” this year, due to good weather and bee hive expansion.  One of the things that we make here at Brookfield Farm are our own bottom screens.  I don’t use bottom boards – just screens.  This is a pictorial blog: I took a bunch of photos of the process, and here they are:

The ever so tidy work area for building beehive bottom screens:

Beehive bottom screens

The Exterior Work Area












The wood is cut up by my husband whose normal occupation is making handcrafted furniture.

Ian Balsillie, Woodworker, and pieces of bee hive bottom board

Ian volunteers to cut wood

The beehive bottom screen base:

The base of the bottom screen is two inches tall.  Years back I read that if a mite falls 2 inches or more  it has a hard time crawling back up into the hive.  Will it fall between 1/8″ wire?  I doubt it, but I still do a two-inch base.

First the wood is clamped

 Clamped BeeHive Bottom Screen

Clamped before Nailing









Then nailed – yes, nailed.

Bee Hive Bottom Screen Bottom Being Nailed

Nails! Yes, very retro









Wire for Beehive Bottom Screens

Then the wire is prepared.  I use 1/8″ hardware cloth.  It’s too small for bees and wasps to pass through, big enough for a mite and a lot of bee debris to fall though.

Future base for beehive bottom screen: 1/8inch wire

1/8″ inch hardware cloth












Unrolled Wire and tools for beehive bottom screen

On the Cutting Board with tools












You can see why I do this outside – it takes a lot of space

The long ruler is to  mark the cut lines
The right angle is to keep those line straight
That wire snip was an anniversary gift from me to my husband – romantic, eh?

After a lot of cutting, I’m ready to attach the wire to the base.


1/8th inch wire stacked for beehive bottom screens

Stacked Cut Bottoms









Attaching Wire to the Base of the Beehive Bottom Board

I staple it on with a stapler used for putting tar paper or tyvek onto the sides of houses.

Beehive Bottom Screen Wire Being Stapled

Stapling the Wire









Stapled corners of beehive bottom screen base

Stapled corners of bottom screen base









The staples don’t always go in all the way – that’s why there’s a hammer standing by as well.

Creating the top portion of the beehive bottom screen

At this point I’ve got a 2-inch tall rectangle with screen on it. Now the top of the bottom screen needs to go on.  It’s a one-inch by one-inch wooden rim that goes 3/4 of the way around the bottom screen, leaving a gap at the entrance.

Beehive Bottom Screen Edge top edge

1″ X 1″ wood – bottom screen top edge









Once that’s on,  I cut and put on the front “stoop”.  Metal dry wall corner molds (I think, at least I get them in the dry wall section of the store), which are cut to the width of the front entrance.

Beehive Bottom Screen Front Metal

The front door









These too are nailed in place.


Beehive bottom screen front door metal in place

Metal front in place









Finally it’s done – no, not really….

A nearly finished Beehive bottom screen

Beehive Bottom Screen Nearly Done

Almost Done!









Two uses in one for the beehive bottom screen

When the screen is flipped over, it becomes the base I use when moving single boxes of bees.  The one inch side, in this case pointing down, allows for air circulation.  The two-inch side, now pointing up, keeps the bees from leaving.

Beehive transport base (flipped bottom screen)

Flipped screen: beehive transit base









The final work on the beehive bottom screens

I make a number of these at a time.  They often, like this year, get placed into service before they are really done.


Beehive Bottom Screens Stacked

Stacked Screens and Tops












As you can see from the above caption, we also make our own beehive tops.  Back to screens: what these lack are the “hanger bolts” – these have screw ends on one side and threaded ends on the other.

Mouse guard support on bee hive bottom screen

Hanger Bolt being screwed in place











These will hold the mouse guards in place (I’ve still got to make more of those)

A Brookfield Farm mouse guard on a hive

Mouse Guard on Hive








Then the outside and bottom of the screen is either painted or stained.  I’m trying out an Eco Wood Stain that  this year.  Supposedly friendly to all creatures and the environment while protecting wood from wet weather.  Will it hold up here?  Who knows. But worth a try.

That’s some of what’s going on at Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey right now.  I’ve just finished doing my last group of splits for the year to accommodate queens arriving soon from Northwest Queens.  That meant clearing areas for the new hives and making sure I had all the gear they would need.  In the course I slated a few hives for walk-away splits that have grown way too tall.  The queenless ones of those will be given some of the new queens.

How is the bee season progressing in your part of the world.  We continue to be unusually dry and warm.  Nice, but worrisome – we do need the rain.





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

Walk-Away Beehive Splits

It has been an absolutely busy time in the bee yards. The weather has been lovely, the bees have been out, and it did not pour rain in the middle of the Maple and Cascara flows. Looks like good weather for blackberries too. It’s a very unusual year. A good year…but it has meant I’ve been building equipment like crazy. The nucs are doing great and established beehives growing taller. Too tall.

Beehive nearly 6 feet tall

I need a ladder


Tall Bee Hives – my definition

I figure too tall is when I can no longer see into the top box and when I super a hive I have to reach above my head. I’m 5 foot 7 inches (1.7 meters) – these hives are nearly as tall as I am.

Tall beehives at Brookfield Farm, Maple Falls, Washingotn

Hives approaching too tall

Why The Hives Got Too Tall

1) We had good weather.

2) I pull honey once a year, in the fall. This is for two reasons.

  1. a) Probably the most overwhelming is the traditional : I’ve always done it that way.
  2. b) The second reason is that normally it rains during a significant part of the honey flow, so the bees gather nectar on dry days, then hang out inside make and eat honey on wet days, then it all repeats. In this latter case, the honey stores don’t build up to these towering heights.

 Walk-Away Splits

They are called Walk-Away because you walk-away for three days at the end of the procedure.

You can make two hives, three, or four hives out of your tall hive – it depends on what you want, and what’s in the hive.

I divide each tall hive in half.

How I Do Walk-Away Splits

1) Set out a new “stand” (two concrete blocks) and bottom screen (no solid bottoms on my hives) next to the tall hive

2) Put two tops upside down on the ground – these are to set the boxes on as the hive comes apart

3) Divide the boxes between the two up-turned tops.

  1. a) One box honey for one. One box honey for the other. (this goes on for a few boxes)
  2. b) One box brood for one. One box brood for the other. (this too can carry on for a few boxes)

One of the hives might get one more box of brood or honey than the other – this isn’t a precise division

  1. c) The pollen box (usually my bottom box) I do divide this up between the two hives. I move the pollen frames to the outside positions on either side of brood.

4) Now I stack the now two hives back on to their respective boxes:

pollen/brood; brood, honey, honey (from bottom to top)

5) Collars and tops on the top.

6) Walk away.

In three, sometimes four, days I come back and go though the hives. I’m looking for eggs. The hive that has the eggs has the queen. I don’t look for the queen. A good hive should be getting their queen out of my way as fast as possible.

The queenless hive (that with no eggs) is then either given a queen, or a nuc with a queen (newspaper combine method), or a frame of eggs from a hive whose queen I like. Best is the queen option, but things don’t always work out in beekeeping.

That’s it: just break the hive into two hives. Divide up the honey, brood, and pollen. Leave them for 3 days. Then find the queenless (egg-less hive) and give it a queen or some eggs.

Four beehives from two on a walk-away split

Four hives from two hives

Reduction in Honey Harvest

This does reduce the honey harvest. But I can’t harvest honey if I can’t get the super up there or lift it down. I could pull honey twice a year, this year, but habits die hard. If this weather is going to be the new “normal” I just might do a small honey harvest in June.

That’s what’s happening at Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey these days. Still making new bottom screens, tops, collars, frames, and hanging wax for the bees. Markets are going strong and the festival season’s coming up fast. We’re at the Ballard Farmers Market and Seattle’s Fremont Market every Sunday. A list of the festivals we’re doing can be found at the Brookfield Farm Markets & Events page (which needs more added – oh dear, I’m behind on the web again).

Nothing to do with splits

Molly and her kids were at the hives when I was taking the pictures.  So here’s the most recent additions to Brookfield Farm’s landscape team, and their mom.  That’s Marie Marie, The Bopper, and their mom Good Golly Miss Molly.

Goats and Beehives, Brookfield Farm, Maple Falls, WA

The new additions to the landscape crew

How are things going for you – with bees or goats or life?

Posted in 1 Beekeeping, 4 Hive Components, 8 Brookfield Farm & Bees, 9 Brookfield Farm Bee Yards | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Splitting And Supering Hives

I’m a bit behind in my posts. About 3 weeks ago I went through all my hives, again. The intention was to either split or super the ones that were getting crowded to keep them from swarming. It quickly became split and super many of the hives at the same time.

Over the previous four weeks they had expanded with gusto. What can I say? Our weather in April/May is usual variable from rain and snow to momentary glimpses of sun. This year, we had sun, with a little rain and a very odd morning snowstorm (between 60F degree days). Weather is like bees: Expect the Unexpected.

The Theory and Reasoning

The theory, of course, is that if you give the bees room, they will be less inclined to swarm. Equally, if one removes a box of bees and brood from the hive the reduced population will be less inclined to swarm.

During this process, the removal of swarm cells is vital. Some folks cut and kill. I say “whoopee” and put them in the split or splits. Some of the hives were very enthusiastic in their desire to produce new queens.

honeybee queen cells under construction

Partially constructed queen cells










Leave a swarm cell and the hive will swarm no matter how many bees you remove.

I use the first splits of the year to breed a few new queens from the hives I think showed good promise: good health, good honey stores, and good over wintering.

The splits from down river are distributed amount my up river bee yards, where my bee mating area is located. A portion of the down river area is agricultural.   There are lots of other bees about from beekeepers doing pollination contracts in the fields. I don’t particularly want those genetics. I don’t know who they are and I think many are Italian. Italians are nice bees, but in my view, not particularly suited for or wet, cold weather with long winters. In other down river areas, there is too little diversity in the stock and I fear inbreeding on mating flights.

Up river splits get placed in the same bee yard as their parent hives. The downside of this is I lose the foragers. They fly out of their lovely new home and say “wait, home’s over there” and fly back to the parent hive (darn their multiple eyes).

I could move them to another near-by yard, but two problems would arise: 1) The foragers might fly back anyway – move bees 2 feet or 2 miles, as the old saying goes, or they’ll go back to the parent hive, 2) The queens produced in the new bee yard could encounter a close male relative, coming from the parent hive’s bee yard, on a mating flight. That puts inbreeding back in the mix. There is less chance that a queen will mate with a drone from the same bee yard as the queens fly out low, then rise to avoid mating with their brothers.

It’s not so critical with the splits whose genetics I’m not keeping. They are simply merged with the to-make-queens splits. I put newspaper between the boxes, then a day or two later, the paper is removed and all the brood and bees are moved into the to-make-queen boxes, which now have the title of nucleus hives. Got to love terminology.

The Practical Side: Overnight Splits

Bee hive split with equipment

Splitting A Hive










I mainly do “overnight” splits. You split the hive one day and pick it up between 24 to 36 hours later. A day passes in between the split and pick up. Pick up being done in the morning or evening when bees are in the hive. Later in the year I’ll do “walk away” splits, usually when the hives get too tall to manage.

I learned to do overnight spilts using one queen excluder per hive – I now use two queen excluders per hive. I’m not too concerned about how many bees go into the super, but I want a lot of bees in split. Thus the split is closer to the main mass of bees.

The Super:

I wrote about how I prepare supers in the last blog post. I simply put the super together at the same time that I make the split box.

What’s Needed For Each Spilt:

  • 2 queen excluders
  • 1 box with foundation (or six pieces of foundation and four of drawn comb that have been drawn in the last three years, “new drawn comb”)
  • 2-3 extra tops: one for the split, other(s) to set bee boxes on as I look though the hive.
  • 1 moving board (I use a flipped bottom screen). It is easy, available, and gives a lot of air flow under the bees. If I’m going a short distance on a cool day, and leaving soon after I pull the split, I’ve used a second top (flipped) as a bottom durng transit.
  • 1 frame honey (or full nectar) – these can be pulled from the “parent” hive, but I bring some just in case, if I have it on hand.
  • A bottom screen on concrete blocks: these are already set up in the bee yard to which the split will go.

Out To The Bees:

When I’m heading out to the hives, I’m usually doing quite a number of splits so I take a box of foundation, a box of new drawn comb, and, if I have it a box or two of honey.

On arrival I traditionally groan with the the realization that I should have been doing this a week before.

At The Hive:

This whole procedure is done gently and carefully, as all bee work is done. However, the queen will probably be in the area of frames of eggs, so extra caution is needed.

Bee hive with 2 center frames removed

A bit crowded in there












  1. Set an empty box on an up-turned top.
  2. Open the “parent” hive – the hive to be split.
  3. Take out the following frames brushing or shaking all the bees off of each frame and back into the parent hive:
  • 2 or more frames of sealed brood
  • 1 frame full of honey or unsealed nectar on both sides.
  • 1 frame of pollen – both sides is best
  • If I want to have a new queen from the hive’s genetics, I take
    • 1 frame of eggs and very young larva – best if the larva has NOT achieved a “u” shape.   The bees will want to use larva that has been hatched for 18 hours, so a frame with a lot of eggs and very young brood will provide this, or will do so within a few days. Eggs are good as they will most likely hatch while the bees settle down in the new bee yard.
  • If I don’t want the genetics from the hive I’m splitting, but just the bees I will take another frame of sealed brood instead of eggs and larva. I don’t want to give those bees an option of raising a queen.
Open hive of bees

Spilt in Background. Crowded Box foreground

The New Split:

I place the bee-less frames taken from the parent hive are placed in the new box in this order:


Sealed Brood

Eggs/Larva (or Sealed Brood if I don’t want the genetics)

Sealed Brood


If I think the parent hive is heading for swarm time soon, I might pull two more sealed brood from it to add to the split. It’s a judgment call.

The other three to five spaces in the split are filled with either drawn comb or foundation. It rather depends on what I have available.

Back at the Parent Hive

I use foundation to replace the frames of brood, honey, and pollen I removed. The hive is strong and has lots of bees, or I wouldn’t be doing a split. I do keep the brood nest together, but I often put a foundation piece between the edge of the brood and the pollen frames (there are usually lots of pollen frames). Again, because of all those bees in the hives I split, they seem to work around the foundation just fine – and build it up quickly.

The idea is to not only remove some of the brood, and thus bees, to keep them from swarming, but to give the bees something to work on: drawing out comb, filling it up… A friend of mine who has been working bees for decades once told me “give them something to do. A busy bee doesn’t think much about swarming.” A bit anthropomorphic, but I like the idea.

Rebuilding the Parent Hive and Putting On The Split Box

The box with the new frames is still on the ground without any bees in it.

The super is also on the ground without any bees in it.

The parent hive is restacked in the same order that the boxes were removed.

The queen excluder is put on top of the parent hive.

The new split is put on top of the queen excluder.

Queen Excluders on a Bee Hive Split

2 Queen Excluders In Place









One could stop here and just put the top on.
I used to do that, but now I:

Put the second queen excluder on top of the bee-less split.
Put the super on top of that queen excluder.
Put the top on.

Then it’s done for the day: a parent hive with an excluder on top, a split over that, another queen excluder, a super on that, and the top. It looks a bit like a tower for the moment.

Tall Hive

Tower of Bees












I use the 2nd excluder on top of the split and below the super because the bees are not removed from the frames in the super – the queen can be anywhere.

If I’ve not done so already, I head to the bee yards the splits will go to and set the blocks and bottom screens in place to receive the bees.

What’s Happening In The Hive

During the next 24 to 26 hours bees will walk up into the new split and further on into the super to tend to the larva, feed emerging bees, tidy up the place, pack a little pollen and all the other jobs that bees get on with during their day. By the time I return to pick up the split the frames will be covered with bees, both nurse bees and foragers, but no queen (oh those lovely queen excluders).

Picking Up The Split:

The evening that follows a 24 hour period, I return.

  • A moving board is placed on the ground with two straps under it to tie the split together.
    • My moving board is one of my bottom screens turned upside down.
  • The super is pulled off the parent hive and set to the side.
  • The split, now filled with bees, is pulled off the parent and set on the moving board.
  • The new top is placed on it. Bees now trapped inside. Straps are cinched down.
    • The split is ready to move
  • Both excluders are pulled off during this and set to the side – I put them on each side of the front of the hive so the bees hanging on them will go back in. Sometimes they need a gentle brush.
  • The super is put on top of the hive.   The collar put on that.   Then the top. All done

The split then travels to its new location and placed on its waiting bottom screen.

Goats browse by bee hives

Hives, Nucs, Goats (the landscape crew)




I narrow up the entrance using bits of 1/8 inch hardware cloth. This is to make the split easier for the bees to protect.

Then I put a few sticks in front of it. This slows the girls down a bit as they emerge, so they stop and take a good look at their location.

It’s pretty simple, but it does take time. All beekeeping takes time.

What’s Happening At Brookfield Farm Now

Three weeks have rolled by too quickly.   I’ve been making frames, wiring frames, and hanging wax.

Bee frame wire equipment & hives

A nice view from wire-central










And I’m still behind. I’ll be making bottom screens this week, as I need four more to accommodate some queens coming in from California later this month.

On the raw honey sales front I am pleased to say we now have another location carrying our raw honeys and raw honey infusions: Boxx Berry Farm. Another fabulous company JW Merc and the Bellingham Food Coops also needed more honey. So a lot of honey was poured and delivered

As usual Brookfield Farm and our honeys can be found on Sundays at two Seattle markets: the Fremont Sunday Market  and the Ballard Farmers Market .   This weekend we’re going to be the University District Fair in Seattle. Oh, and the second eye surgery went well – it is really interesting being far-sighted in one eye, and odd wearing glasses under a bee veil. Life remains interesting at Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey, in Maple Falls Washington.

How is the spring, or fall in the southern lands, progressing for you? Are the changes in the weather affecting the manner or timing of your beekeeping?





Posted in 1 Beekeeping, 5 Queens and Queen Rearing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Spring Supers for Bee Hives

Spring arrived early here this year. So I’ve supered the strong hives, many of which were packed with brood, and fed honey to those that had eaten nearly all their stores.


Bees cover brood on Medium Frame

Bees On Brood









This is a spring that follows a very odd winter, which, after a freezing December, was warm and wet. The ski areas in this area (a huge economic portion of our economy) barely opened, and many have shut early both here and in Canada. Bees were out and about in January and February – probably remarking, in a complicated dance-step, about the absolute lack of flowering plants.

What’s Out There For Honeybees?

The first pollen plants, Hazelnuts and Alder, do come out around the turning of the year. However, hazelnuts are scarce in my area. Alder is plentiful, but bees need a lot of for any nutritional benefit.

The first nectar flows are Oso Berry Flowers in February, which I think are worked more by native bumblebees than honeybees.

Oso Berry Flower, Washington state

Oso Berry Flower










They are followed by Big Leaf Maples, usually in early April.

Big Leaf Maple Bloom courtesy of Encyclopedia of Life

Big Leaf Maple Bloom courtesy of Encyclopedia of Life










This year the Big Leaf Maples started about 4 weeks ago down river, and popped about 2 weeks ago upriver. This, by my notes, is about 3 weeks earlier than in previous years.

There are a lot of Big Leaf Maples upriver, and they deliver a lot of honey. So supers need to be on before they bloom.

Setting Up Supers

I rotate out older comb. The goal is to move anything out over 5 years old. The dates start from the year the comb is fully drawn out.

Supers are put together before I head out on the road to visit the bee yards.

The frame pattern is pretty standard, for me:

Frames 1 and 10 are older drawn comb: somewhere in the 3 to 5 year old range or less. Frames 2,3, 8 and 9 are foundation. Frames 4 and 7 are drawn, 3-years-old or less. Frames 5 and 6 Foundation. Confused? Here’s the scheme:

O/D = Older-Drawn Foundation

F = Foundation

N/D = Newer-Drawn Foundation

O/D     F     F     N/D     F     F     N/D     F       F       O/D

New Bee Hive Super and Bees

Checking Out The Super


The drawn comb for frame position #4 is not in place yet.

At the Hives

New Supers Stacked By Bee Hive

Supers Stacked by Hive













  •  I set a prepared super on the upturned top next to the hive being worked
  • Remove the foundation from positions 5 and 6 (I also take out one of the N/D frames to make some space to work).
  • From the hive I pull up the two center frames of brood
  • These are put in the center of the super – making sure the side that faces front still faces front.
  • I then put the N/D (newer drawn) frame back in the super.
  • In the top box of the hive (not the super), I leave frames 1 and 10 in place, but push the others towards the center
  • This leaves spaces 2 and 9 open in the hive.
  • The two foundations that traveled with the super, but were removed in the first step, are placed in spots 2 and 9.
  • The super is then put on top of the hive.
  • The hive is closed up.

Works Every Time

No it doesn’t. Sometimes there’s too much honey left in a hive and I pull some of that up as well. Then I use the other frames to make up the difference in the lower boxes. But at least I’ve got a starting set-up that works in about 80% of the cases.

I also carry a box of foundation, a box of drawn comb, and, in the spring, usually 2 boxes of honey along with the prepared supers.

Honeybee supers in the back of a pick up

Supers to Go












I hate being 40 minutes away from supplies when a surprise hits me. Beekeeping: expect the unexpected, eh?

The Frame Numbers

The numbers on my frames represent the year that the comb was drawn out.  The arrows are because I use the Housel Method of frame placement.

Bee Hive Super With Dates And Arrows

Dates and Arrows












Why the numbers get changed:

I tend to number as I wire and hang wax, so sometimes, I have to write new numbers as the frames don’t make it in the hive on their first year. Sometimes the frames don’t get drawn out until the next year, or the next year – it just depends on the hives and the honey flow and the positions of the frames.

Later In the Year

Later in the year, this won’t work. The brood will be any number of boxes down. Then I usually checkerboard honey and drawn frames, or draw up honey to surround sections of foundations which are lined up together.   When that happens, I’ll take pictures

What’s Happening Now:

Spring is well and truly kicking off. The Big Leaf Maples are heavy with bloom and have buds still coming on. are about to set flower. Skunk Cabbage (honeybees like this) and Salmonberry Flowers are in bloom.

Yellow bloom of Skunk Cabbage

Skunk Cabbage

Salmonberry Blossom

Salmonberry Blossom









As I mentioned, it’s all moving faster than previous years around here.

How do I know? I write down when the flowers bloom on a calendar every year, then keep the calendars in the office so I can go check. I find keeping notes of flowers, the weather, and bee activities, from brood to swarms to supercedures, enables me to have a notion of when and possible ideas for why things are changing in the hives and what I can do to best work with the bees – it’s a symbiotic relationship, I need to hold up my end.

Posted in 1 Beekeeping, 4 Hive Components | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Winter Bee Hives Losses and Lessons

I have now gone though all my hives. My  last post was about what that entailed. This post is about the results, what I saw for good and for bad, and the result of an experiment.

The Overall Results

This is the answer to the question everyone asks: Over winter hive failure was 14%.

This isn’t to say that every hive is looking absolutely brilliant. Some do, some don’t.

Reasons For Deaths

I’m happy to say that queen failure was the primary cause. “Happy?” you might ask. Well, it sure beats varroa, or nosema, or starvation. Certainly no hive starved, but I’ll get to that in a second.

The “alive but not brilliant” I would attribute to our winter weather (warm and wet) combined with an experiment I tried.

Queen Failure The Percentages:

About 50% of the queens that failed had been purposefully bred in 2014. By that I mean either I bred them or I purchased them in 2014.

30% of the queen failures were in hives whose California purchased queens had been installed in 2014.   I’m not very impressed by their short-lived lives. I have gotten accustomed to hives that keep going for years (spoiled, I know). But California has been having rough times with drought, so that could be a factor.

The other 20% of the queen failures were hives that had been going for between three to five years. I think I can assume they were not the original queens, but their daughters and their daughters’ daughters. So their line had a good run, and they attempted supercedures at particularly bad times (warm, but wet winter with little to no drones around).

Queen Replacement at Brookfield Farm

I do not replace queens on a time schedule. I replace queens only when I see that they are failing. Interestingly, this failure is often preceded by me seeing the queen quite easily.

My queen choices are towards dark bees: Russians, Ferals, New World Caniolans and Hybrid-crosses of these. I figure that a hive of good dark bees is going to start getting their precious queen to safety – away from opening tops and moving frames – as soon as they can. If the queen is just hanging about, I put this down to the bees not caring to protect her and move her away from the disturbance (me), so she’s running out of steam.

In the winter, usually October to March, I do not open hives and thus do not see the bees. Should a queen, and hive, begin to fail, they will do so without my seeing the action.

There is an option of simply requeening with new queens every fall. But over the years, I have seen so many new queens fail, that I’m not willing to eliminate what seems to be a good queen on the chance something will go wrong in the winter.

Hives Weakend By Seemda

I did get a few hives impacted by  Seemda – I think it affects a lot of beekeepers.   You know Seemda: It “Seemed A” Good Idea At The Time.  Sometimes innovations work; sometimes they are a really bad idea.

This year’s Seemda was the removal of my little squares of insulation that sit on top of the burlap that’s on top of the top bars inside what I call the “collar.” The collar’s 2-inch-tall “box”, with the upper entrance, that sits beneath the lid

Bee Hive Insulation on top bars

Insulation Over The Burlap











The insulation does not fill then entire space, leaving room for bees and airflow.  A very old post explains more (by the way I no longer wrap hives, which is shown in that post – I stopped wrapping after a successful experiment a few years back.).

Opening the top of an overwintering hive

Moving insulation & burlap to see the top bars.









A Brookfield Farm bee hive collar with top entrance & insulation

Collar & Insulation









Lately I got to thinking “Is it doing anything at all? Or is it just making me feel good?” Well, I can tell you how it affects my hives.

Affect of Insulation on Brookfield Farm Hives

In hives that are in the wide-open spaces with lots of sky (we don’t always have sun, just non-rain days), the hives did fine without them. No more and no less well than when they had insulation.

In hives that get more shade, it was a different situation: hives were damp, often with fungus. The bees all hunkered down in the lower boxes (I over winter in 4 westerns normally). But the clusters were smaller and weak. The sides of the boxes were very damp and many had white fungus.

Conclusion: Keep the insulation in areas with a higher percentage of shade.

No One Starved

Not only did the majority of hives come though with a good supply of honey remaining in February, but some had an entire box left. I had to shift frames around so that those bees would not get honey bound.

 An Odd Observation

As I was shutting up the hives for winter about five hives had such a high level of brood that I left them with five boxes. Bottom box has pollen, then two boxes full of brood (high numbers for my bees), then a fourth of honey/brood, and a box of honey.

In all cases, the queens failed. Queen cells were built – but of course the wet weather and lack of drones meant that the queens and hives were doomed.


I think that the presence of that much brood so late in the season may be a queen’s last “hurrah”. So when I see this, I think I’ll move some brood into nucs that have enough bees to cover the extras, and put a small over wintering nuc on top of the overly enthusiastic queen’s hive.

What’s Happening Now

I’m on to supering those that need supers, and feeding, with frames of honey from the queen failures, those that need honey. I’ll post more about that next week. That’s the news from Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey in Maple Falls, Washington.

This weekend we’ll be at the Seattle Fremont Market, but not at the Ballard Market. I’ll be back at the Ballard Market on April 5. I’m having an enforced week off due to cataract surgery. A whole new world – or at least one with a different focal length – is opening up for me….

How did your bees come though the winter – or what are you doing to prepare your bees for the dark days to come in the southern portion of our world. And has anyone else seen this “tons of brood from a failing queen thing?” It was new to me…..

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Checking and Manipulating Hives in late winter

The sun finally broke out, temperatures went into the low 50F’s so I finally got out to the hives to check them for honey stores, a bit of hive manipulation, and to put in their essential oil patties.

The sun was somewhat expected – we normally get a few weeks of sunny weather in February. Temperatures in the 50F’s at this time of year are completely new to this area – but as we all know with the weather: Expect the Unexpected. I figure the weather will probably shift back to wet and dismal in March and possibly April, so the February sun is a good time to check the hives.

At this writing, I’ve not gone through all my hives, but I’ve covered all but one of the up river yards. These are in the low mountains that lie along the Nooksack River northwest of Mt. Baker.  (You’ll find the photos after the to-do lists).

Bee Hive Check / Manipulation Sequence:

1) Check hive for honey – if low hand out some honey, either in frames or on newspaper

2) Check bees’ condition

3) Clean bottom boards

4) Open up the hive (Move boxes and frames around without breaking up brood and pollen)

  • Brood box(es) to bottom of stack
  • Empty Bottom box (filled by the bees with pollen during the year) moved up and frames mixed with honey frames to keep bees from being honey bound

5) Remove any empty frames that are older than 5 years and replace with newer frames

6) Put in Essential Oil patty

7) If deadout, figure out why.

8) Load up and head for next yard (loading up: not the fun part)

9) Off-load the truck (really not the fun part)


Bee Hive Check: What I’m Looking For

So simple, in concept. But it takes time. I like to examine the hives to look at:

1) Which phenotypes have come through the winter (tends to be the darkest)

2) What the honey and pollen consumption has been

3) What, if any, pollen and nectar are coming in

4) Numbers of over wintered daughters and drones (if present)

5) Queen performance (to select breeder queens and assess last year’s queens):

Amount of brood laid

Brood patterns, including egg to sealed brood ration (I don’t count, I just estimate)

6) Diseases or pests or general problems


Bee Hive Check In Pictures

My bee yards vary in locations from flat lands near the Nooksack River to rolling ridges. This one has an honorary “bee dog” – totally fearless of bees. I’ve never had a dog bring me sticks to play fetch with bees flying.

Bee yard in Washington rural mountains

Bee Yard and “Bee Dog”









The first examination is just looking down.
Two views have been coming up this year:


Frames of honey with honeybees

Honey & Bees









And Bees:

Honey bees cover frames in a bee hive

Lots of happy bees










I do leave a lot of honey on hives (about 70 pounds for the strong “adult” hives), because there won’t be any strong nectar flow in my up river areas for another two months. So I like to see the honey.

The downside is that they can get honey bound.

Bee hive top bars covered in honeybees

A nice late winter sight




Bee hive frames with bees

Bees top to bottom

Opening Up The Bee Hives

Which means time to move boxes and frames around.

Bee hive disassembled during winter check up at Brookfield Farm

Waiting for reassembly









The brood and pollen frames move as a group.

While the stack of boxes are separated, this is the magic moment to clean up

Clean the Bottom Screens

The bees were last tidied up in September during harvest. A lot of bees have been born, worked, and died in that time. Most are on the bottom – it’s too cold to go cleaning up the hive in winter, so they fall to the bottom.

Dead honeybees cover a hive's bottom screen

Before Cleaning












Bottom Screen of a bee hive after cleaning

All Cleaned Up









All my hives are on open bottom screens year round. This helps keep the hive dry as the decomposing bodies “leak” down though the screen. I have not found any detrimental effects of having the screens open all year (although I did bite finger nails the first time I tried this).

The bees, of course, are momentarily confused. “Hey, when we left there was a hive behind this ‘door’.”

Honey bees gather at a hiveless site

Where’s the Hive?









But confusion passes as the brood box is set on the screen.


Bee Hive Manipulation

The entire brood box, usually with pollen, moves into a new, lower, position in the stack.

If stores are low, honey frames are added on either side of the area (usually positions 1,2, 9 and 10)

Thoughout the process I’m always being aware that the queen can be anywhere – easy does it.

Usually, there’s a second brood box, which is placed on top of the first. The “sealed brood” box gets position number two, because as they emerge, they will leave room for more eggs.

honey bees on sealed brood

Bees on Brood









This tends to leave me with two boxes: one empty and one of honey. I over winter in 4 boxes (3 on nucs) the winter bottom box is filled with pollen, so by February only empty frames are left.


Drawn, empty, frames of comb from a bee hive

Empty Comb









These are interspersed with the combs of honey

honey bees on a frame of honey

Bees on Honey









The combined open comb and solid frames of honey are placed in the third box – if the hive is large enough to need a fourth box it is added – with frames of honey interspersed with the open comb.

Painted honey bee hives

Rebuilt and Ready for Spring












Then I’m done…and move on to do it again at the next yard.

That’s the news from Brookfield Farm Bees and Honey in Maple Falls, Washington.  How are your bees looking coming into spring or heading into fall (that old hemisphere thing).  Having seen and heard from beekeepers back east, my hopes are that your bees are happily weathering these days in tight clusters.

It has been mentioned that I should end with where you can find us in the “real world”.  I am at Seattle’s Ballard Farmers Market every Sunday these days (some days away for festivals) and Ian, aka the husband, can be found at Seattle’s Fremont Sunday Market on Sundays.  Come by and visit if you’re in the area.


Posted in 1 Beekeeping, 4 Hive Components, 8 Brookfield Farm & Bees, 9 Brookfield Farm Bee Yards | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Making Bee Patties at Brookfield Farm

Twice a year my bees get some essential oils in their diets. The aim is for general health, to strengthen their immune systems and to combat varroa mites, from the inside. Before I go any further, let me say there is no science involved in any of this. It all makes sense to me. I take supplements; the bees take supplements. The oils I use and the amounts have been derived though researching what other beekeepers use and experiments (aka: “that seemed to work”, when all went well or “well, it seemed a good idea at the time,” when all went wrong).


Good-bye Syrup – Hello Patties

Until fall of 2014 I had always used cane sugar syrup to deliver the oils.  The bees got their supplements in 2 ½-gallon servings of syrup delivered one to two weeks apart (however long it took them to consume the syrup). This always worried me a bit because I was adding liquid to the hive. Now, in some areas that is fine, and might even be good, but I live in the northwest corner of Washington state – land of rain. Here in Maple Falls, we can get 67 inches of rain in a “normal” year.   We’ve had years where it rained for 6 weeks straight during the height of flower bloom. A friend calls the area “nosema central.” So adding water to hives that are already facing the challenge of a wet environment troubled me.

Then a friend and brilliant beekeeper, Clyde Caldwell, came across some research that showed liquid feed could aid and abet nosema. Then I got really worried. In the meantime,  beekeeper  Stan Kolesnikov ,  had been having great success with bee essential oil patties.   Thus the experiment began.

Fall Patties:

They seem to be working. There are lots of bees about. Now, I don’t open my hives in January – it’s usually snowy and cold. Even though weather’s gone weird and I’m writing this outside on a 47F day, I still don’t want to pull the hives apart. But this odd warm weather has a lot of bees flying. A popped a few tops to peak at the top bars, and no sign of nosema,  even where the bees had moved to the top boxes.

Spring Patties

On to phase two of patties over syrup: I spent part of the other day making bee goo – most people would say “patties”, but I do this in a big pot and then measure it out in the field – every hive gets 2.5 oz of goo. If I get inspired maybe I’ll make patties out of it, but I bet I won’t.

The Recipe for Spring 2015

The following makes 4 pounds of bee goo – which would be about 25 patties.
I can easily mix 4 pounds at a time at present. I need to buy some bigger pots/bowls.

For 4 pounds of goo or 25 essential oil patties at 2.5 oz per hive(1/2 pound left over):

3 Pounds of Cane Sugar

  • If chunky – grind in blender

1 Pound Solid Shortening

Essential Oils:

  • Spearmint             5.75 teaspoons
  • Thyme                        5.75 teaspoons
  • Tea Tree            3.75 teaspoons
  • Lemon Grass             7.5 teaspoons

3 Tablespoons Honey

1 Tablespoon Vinegar

4 Tablespoons Nozevit

Notes and Pictures:

The Sugar

  • Cane Sugar because beet sugar in the US is now GMO
  • I put this through a blender – Because all my sugar has solidified into solid 50 lb blocks (such fun).
  • It does make the sugar fluffier.
Sugar before bleding

Before : Chunky sugar

Sugar in a small grinder

After : Smooth Sugar

Sugar being poured

Pouring Cane Sugar

The Essential Oils

  • I put these in next, mixing with a spoon as I go
  • I would mix with a hand blender – if I owned one.
Stirring essential oils and sugar for honeybee patties

Mixing It Up

 The Honey

  • Was in an on-line recipe and sounded good
  • I used honey from my own hives

The Vinegar

  • Based on the amount per pound of sugar that I was using in the syrups
  • Because vinegar brings sugar closer to the pH of honey and is thus makes it easier for bees to digest the sugar.
  • The suggested vinegar is white vinegar, but I used organic apple cider in this case – I have it on hand for the goats – that’s another non-bee story). Again basing the amount on the amount I had been using per hive in syrups.

 The Nozevit

  • I added in Nozevit – mainly because I had tried some in the syrup in the past– it did no harm, and although tests did not impress me.
  • I like to mix this into the sugar last because I can see it disperse (I can’t see the oils)

The Shortening

  • I used Organic Palm Oil Shortening
  • I can get it at my local Coop and I like to use organic when I can afford it
  • It’s a smaller amount than many patty recipes, but bees don’t eat shortening, so as little as possible is good, I think.
  • I mix this by hand – mashing until all the chunks are gone (see “if I had a hand blender” note above – or sing it to “If I Had A Hammer”….)
Palm Oil Shortening being weighted

Organic Palm Oil Shortening

The End Result

  • It should hold together in a huge “patty”
  • I could make little patties from this point, but I usually measure in the field. It’s a time thing.
Essential Oil pattie mix for bee patties

Bee Goo Done


How I figured the Amounts

1) I took the amount of each oil that each hive would have gotten from 1 gallon of syrup.

2) I took all the amounts of sugar and shortening (organic palm oil in this case) that were suggested for each hive by different on-line sources.   Last fall I settled on the 2.5 oz/hive amount.

3) Vinegar and Nozevit were based on amounts per hive from the syrups I had made

3) I figured how much sugar/shortening/oils/etc. per hive – multiplied by 83 (the hives I have)

Awaiting February Sun

Now it’s made and in a pot. February is just around the corner and if the temperatures stay up, I’ll go around the hives and put in the “patties”. I’ve also got about 2 gallons of crystallized honey from my hives standing by in case any of the hives are low on stores.

The quick top-bar peek showed the hives had lots of honey left. But then I leave about 70 pounds of honey on my big hives and 50 pounds on my over wintering nucs each year. Because no matter how good (or bad) our bee feed is, it’s never as good as honey for the bees.

That’s the news from Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey, in Maple Falls, Washington. Where I’m writing this outside at the farm! Hey, it’s usually snowing and cold right now. Today is 47F and sunny – go figure.

What preparations are you all making for the coming bee season, or for shutting down hives for the coming winter – in the southern portion of our planet? Any and all suggestions about bee patties are welcome – as I say, it’s not science, just gleaned though reading what others have done, and what has worked and what has failed.

Posted in 1 Beekeeping, 2 Diseases/Pests/Treatments | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments