Preparing Honeybees to pollinate California almonds

The bees at Brookfield Farm in Maple Falls, Washington have a long winter’s rest from the hands of the beekeeper (that would be me).  The hive lids will not be pulled until the weather warms and pollen appears in February.  By the time my bees greet me once again, Bruce Bowen’s bees will be on their way to or in the almond fields of California.

Beekeeper Bowen and a few hives, Mt Vernon, WA

Bruce Bowen In Bee Yard

Beekeeper Bowen moves pallets of bees near Big Lake, Washington

Moving pallets and hives

With that in mind, and a sunny break in our winter weather, Bruce, his assistant Pat Ray, and I worked to check Bruce’s hives and prepare them for their upcoming journey.





1) The hives had to be assessed (you can read about that in my previous blog)

2) Keeping the hives from being honey bound.  Hives, which had solid honey in every frame in, the upper deep had to be adjusted so that the center 2 frames had open, drawn comb where the bees could cluster. To do this we would pull 2 frames of honey from the outer edge of the deep; move the remaining frames to leave space in the center; and add 2 frames of drawn comb.  This keeps the hives from becoming honey bound.  Hives need room to grow or they will swarm.

3) Adding honey where needed. Strong hives that just didn’t have enough food had 2 empty drawn combs removed from the outer edge of the upper deep.  These were replaced by 2 frames of honey.

4) Grouping the pollination hives. Hives that are going to the California almonds had to be gathered in groups of 4 on pallets (4 hives to each pallet).

5) Cleaning the pallets. In the course of moving the hives, we took the opportunity to clean every working pallet.  Bruce runs about 1000 hives, so 250 pallets were scraped.


Delilah checks for mice under bee pallet

Delilah : the scourge of mice

I covered most of this last time.  But I left out one of our key crew members. Pat Ray’s dog, Dalaila: she consideres it her responsibility to check for mice near the hives and drive them away.






Beekeeper Ray works to correct a honey bound hive

Pat loosens the frames

Pat Ray loosens the frames of a honey bound hive, working across the hive.

Beekeeper Ray removes frame from honey bound hive

Outer honey frame is removed


He then removes 2 frames of honey to make room for drawn comb where the bees can cluster.

Beekeeper Ray brushes bees off a comb of honey

Bees Are Brushed Back Into Hive



The  bees are brushed back into the hive;

Beekeeper Ray makes room for drawn comb in a honey bound hive

A space is made for drawn comb





Pat then creates a space for the drawn comb

Honeybee cluster seen where a new drawn comb will be inserted

Bee Cluster Awaits New Comb


A cluster of honeybees in the space created by the removal of solid honey.

Drawn Comb where the bees can cluster

Drawn Comb to be inserted

A frame of drawn comb about to be placed in the center of the brood box.  I got to help, in this process, but one can’t take photos of oneself







Beekeeper Bowen moves hives on a bee dolly

Bruce Moves Bees

Clean pallets were moved in to the work area.Then Bruce moved each hive as one unit on to the pallet.  He has this great dolly that grasps the bottom deep on each side.  Then he manually lifts the hive; pushes it to the waiting pallet; and places it down gently.

Beekeeper Bowen moves honeybees to new pallet

From Old to New Pallet


Beekeeper Bowen sets the hive down on a new pallet
Gently placing the hive

The tool came from Mann Lake, where it was designed to lift one deep. Bruce used his amazing skills in welding and fabrication to adapt the dolly to it so it could move two stacked deeps at one time.  Moving 2 deeps at once hurts my back just to think of it.  He is moving 180 pounds, or more across wet ground in one move.

Sometimes during the hive movements, bees are left behind on the pallets.  These were swept up using a bee brush and a dustpan.  They were carried over to a near-by hive and deposited at the front door, where they walked in on their own. This is always amazing to me.  You can place bees at a hive entrance, and they just toddle on in.



Beekeeper Bean, of Brookfield Farm in Maple Falls, cleans a pallet

Bean cleans a pallet

Pallets get dirty. Things fall to the hive floor. Bees can’t always break cluster to do the cleaning in the winter, and they don’t always get a chance

Honeybee hive pallet to be scraped

In need of cleaning

to go outside to defecate.  Other creatures enter the hive, are killed, and if not moved,

Honeybee hive pallet after a good scrape

Cleaned Pallet

are covered in propolis.

All of this has to be cleaned off to create a healthy environment for the bees.  A drywall pallet knife is used for the initial scraping, then a maxant hive tool is used to get into the corners and edges.



Beekeeper Bean uses wool to stay warm

I don't "do" cold

This was my first time working bees in December.  It’s cold.  It’s wet.  I often see images of how folks keep cool in their bee suits.  I offer you the polar opposite.  Yes, all that wool (and a lined shirt, and long underwear), including the wooly-hat went inside the bee suit.

Do you have tales of working winter bees?  I’d love to hear them.

That’s the news from Brookfield Farm Bees and Honey in the damp, chilly world of Maple Falls, Washington.


About brookfieldfarmhoney

Brookfield Farm, a small off-grid apiary in Maple Falls, WA focuses on the beauty and bounties of Washington’s wilderness. I sell honey from our bees, whose naturally-treated, antibiotic-free hives are home to bees who fly Washington’s mountains and farmlands. Herbal salves and lip balms from Brookfield beeswax. Delicately infused honeys and vinegars. Varietal honeys from independent Washington beekeepers. Karen Edmundson Bean: beekeeper, photographer. Her love of the wilderness inspires her to discover new ways of bringing the wonders of nature to others. Brookfield Farm : the tastes, textures, sounds, and images of nature.
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6 Responses to Preparing Honeybees to pollinate California almonds

  1. Natalie says:

    Fascinating stuff! My bees are all “asleep” for the winter, so my only winter bee story is that I brush the snow away from the hive entrances regularly. 🙂

    Love your blog! I am learning lots.

    • Hi Natalie – thank you for your nice comment. I’m learning all the time too. And, like you, my bees are all in cluster. When they come out they, surprisingly, like to use their bottom entrance rather than their top entrance. I figure whatever makes them happy.

  2. Natalie says:

    I’m learning not to question the wisdom of the bees! 🙂 I have had them coming out both entrances this winter. Today it’s unseasonably warm at 12C, and the girls are zipping out for a quick fly-around.

    Btw, I used to live in BC with a view of Mount Baker. Beautiful!

  3. Paul says:

    I like how you explain all this, good job!!!

    It is very interesting, probably I will buy your honey :)))

    • Why thank you, for the compliment about my explanation – and if you’re in the Seattle area drop round the Fremont Sunday Market and say Hi – I’m usually there on the first Sunday of the month, and my husband is there every Sunday (he’s willing to get up at 3am, and I’m willing to try to understand the internet – it’s a good trade off)

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