Changing Hives from Winter to Spring Mode

Mist and snow covered hill is "spring" near Brookfield Farm, Maple Falls, Washington

What We Call Spring

I was musing a posting or two ago on when to feed my bees.  The time is now (for me).   The alders are in pollen, but the weather is too foul for the bees to come out (rain, snow, freezing sunny days).  The Big Leaf Maples should be in bloom in 6-8 weeks in this area.  They are the first big nectar flow in our area.

I don’t usually like to feed so early, but December was mild and the girls kept eating, so the hives, which had been left with the traditional 50-70 pounds of honey, were getting light.  All things considered it seemed a good time to head off to the hives on a nice sunny day.

From Winter to Spring (we can but hope here in northwest Washington):

Winter wrapped bee hives at Brookfield Farm, Maple Falls, Washington

Still Wrapped For Winter

To feed my bees the hives need to be swapped from winter mode to spring/summer mode.  All my hives are wrapped and have insulation in them each winter.

Off come the ropes, then the asphalt roofing “hat”, then the insulation is removed.  This makes space for the feeder and the pollen-substitute patties.  If the weather is good, I pull the boxes apart and check the hives.

Brookfield Farm Hives: Winter Hive Additions being removed

Winter Bee Debris

Checking & Making Notes:

The weather has not been good, so my checks are: can I see bees and honey without moving any of the top bars?  If no bees, can I see honey and when I knock on the side of the hive do I hear the bees?   I worry in either case, of course.  If they’re on the top: did they not have enough food?  If they’re in the center box: are they too small a cluster to move?  In either case, they get fed.

Notebook for bee hive notes: Brookfield Farm bee yard (Maple Falls, Washington)

Notes are Invaluable

During this I takes notes.  I’ve been teased about this by other beekeepers.  If you are too, ignore the teasing.  It does take longer to make notes, but they can really help you trace both problems you need to address and successes you want to replicate.  It is worth the time.  I had hundreds of hive in each field, I would make generalized notes on the bee yard.  As I never have more than 12 hives in any one bee yard, each hive gets a note.

The Feeding:

Cane syrup feeder & bees : Brookfield Farm, Maple Falls, Washington

Bees check out the feeder before its ready

I feed cane syrup with essential oils: lemon grass, spearmint, and thyme and pollen substitute made with the same mix.

The syrup is poured into in what I call the “dollar store” feeders:  plastic food storage containers (bought at the dollar store), in which I float off-cuts of Douglas fir, from my husband’s furniture creations.  The floats never quite fit, so I put leaves or bunched grass around the edges to give the bees something to walk on (dead, floating bees depress me).  The trays rest inside a collar that sits on top of the hive – rather like a hive top feeder.  The pollen substitute patty sits on the top bars next to the feeder.

Bees check out pollen substitute

Pollen Substitute

A piece of burlap, that covers the top bars in the winter, is now folded over to form a “ramp” for the bees to walk up.  Beyond babying my girls, this burlap forms a first-line-shield for any water that may form under the cover.  There is ample ventilation in the hive, but I’m adding ¾ of a gallon of liquid to the hive, plus this is the Pacific Northwest, so water gets everywhere and there is little exterior warmth to help dry any building – house or hive.

Brookfield Farm hives unwrapped for spring (Maple Falls, Washington)

The winds and rains still come

Because of this, I do leave the asphalt roofing “hats” in place until the rains stop.  The ropes and rocks help hold the asphalt in place in the high winds that can blow here.

In fact the winds brought more bad weather in the middle of my winter-spring change-over.  A storm blew in and dumped 3-4 inches of snow over 2 days.  Which was nicer than yesterday’s 8 inches…. Really, it’s beautiful here, but not the best place to raise bees.

The hives did look good this year.  I only lost 3 hives.  In each case it looked like the queen superceded sometime between November and March – which is a death sentence for the hive.

Brookfield Farm bees emerge from upper entrance: Maple Falls, Washington

Checking out the new colors

I’ll accept that loss.  The rest of the hives look good, and some of the girls even decided to come out and check out their now colorful homes.



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

What’s spring like in your area?  What changes do you make in your hives over the season?  Do share, we can all learn from each other.

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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4 Responses to Changing Hives from Winter to Spring Mode

  1. Michelle says:

    Thanks for all your blogging….I enjoy reading about the things you do. It gives me lots of ideas!

  2. Tom Oppeneer says:

    Weather was 75 degrees yesterday and 37 degrees today, welcome to Wyoming.
    Girls were hauling in pollen big time. Still feeding creamed honey on top of the burlap.
    Will keep feeding for three or four weeks and then look at doing splits. I’m going to try the
    OTS method of splitting on a 10 frame double deep, if all goes well should have 16 double
    deep nuc hives by the end of summer. We shall see. In my second season I’m going from
    2hives to about 45 hives, wish me luck! Thanks Tom

  3. teknomunk says:

    The weather here has been in the 70s since mid February and the forcast has highs in the 80s. Crazy that this is still March. I haven’t done much to my two hives other than remove the entrance reducer; winters are considerably milder here than in Washington.

    • I so envy you your weather – I was in the UK for two weeks and it was sunny and warm. I get back here and we’re expecting a major storm to blow in tomorrow – and here I was thinking of splitting some hives. I really like your blog.

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