Honey Harvest Surprises

I have been derelict in the writing of this blog.  It’s been busy weeks – ok, busy months in the bee yard.  I tend to stop working when the sun sets, and until recently, that has been 8:30.  With darkness arriving early now, I have time to write (and sit in my truck at the local WiFi spot)

2 frames of honey about to be uncapped at Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey, Maple Falls, Washington

Brookfield Farm Honey

In the mean time I’ve harvested that honey, found some nice, and not nice surprises, extracted the honey, bottled up the up-river and down-river honey, fed the hives, and am preparing them for winter.  Which is all way too much for one blog, so I’ll concentrate on the more interesting aspects.

Surprises at Harvest
(ah, if they were only wonderful ones).

I do not open my hives much.  I judge the need to super by the degree of fill in the top box. If I can see seven frames full of brood, nectar or honey, it’s time to add another box.  If there are brood in the top box, two frames of those get pulled up to the new super’s center. If it’s only nectar and honey in the nearly full super, then I will use some of those filled frames to alternate drawn comb with honey/nectar with foundation in the next super.

All the above is to say that harvest is the only time I open up the hive all the way to the bottom box.  Which is where the surprises can occur.

Queen Failure:

This hive was a bustling bunch of bees until about 2 weeks before harvest.

Empty Supercedure queen honeybee cells - Walking-Wild.com

Supercedure queen cells eaten from side

Pollen and honey coming in, supers filling up, top bars packed with bees. By harvest the hive was dwindling.  What I hadn’t known was that the bees had decided to supercede – unsuccessfully.  In the bottom box of a 7 story hive, chocked with honey and bee bread, were these queen cells, clearly eaten by an emerged queen.

Only one problem: there were no eggs, and no brood.  The queen who had emerged had failed to mate or had not made it back to the hive after a mating flight.

On the positive side there was honey for me and honey/nectar frames for other hives.

Sad Little Queen

Wingless honeybee queen

What Wings? Depressing, isn’t it?

One weak hive had this little lady in it.  Look at the wings.  What wings?  Yes, that’s the point.  I’m figuring deformed wing virus linked to varroa, but perhaps she just fought another queen? If so, it’s a case of “you should have seen the other girl”, because her attendants really like this queen.

The problem?  Well, if she were bred, it wouldn’t matter because she’d be like a clipped queen.  But she was not laying, so I figured a virgin queen brought down by deformed wing virus brought on by a varroa infestation… I gave her more time, but she never laid.

She was removed and her hive added to another hive.

American Foul Brood (again – ahhhhh!)

AFB raised its ugly head again.  Last year I lost 7 hives to this horrid disease.  Killed the bees, burned the frames, charred the boxes, tops, bottoms, scrubbed them with bleach…the whole 9-yards.  Checked the other hives, which looked clean.  Clearly I missed something.  (I am going to assume I did, it would be far worse to think that my bees encountered this elsewhere, in a location I cannot control).

American Foul Brood : Cut to send to the Bee Lab in Maryland

Sliced out and ready to wrap

It was clearly AFB, but I still sent a sample off to the USDA  Bee Lab in Maryland.  I always hope it will be varroa – and sometimes it is.  That’s the troubling thing, a heavy varroa infestation can resemble other diseases.   These days I always carry a copy of “A Field Guide to Honey Bees And Their Maladies” an indispensablebook from Penn State (you can also download it, but it’s a really handy little book)

Honeybee cells infected with American Foul Brood

American Foul Brood

The saddest moment was a 5-story hive of beautiful black bees.  The top brood box looked lovely: all brown and fluffy, just perfect.  The box beneath it was depressing.  AFB, clear as ever.  (The arrow in the above image points to goo that once was a larva)

Conceptually I could have shaken the bees into clean boxes with new frames that had strips of foundation (or foundationless frames), then 4 days later I could have shaken them again into another box of new foundation. – Burning all the frames in the first and second group of boxes.  That would have kept the bees.  But this is September in northwest Washington state: no forage until next April!  Thus that endeavor would have ended in dead bees or unhealthy ones living on vast amounts of sugar syrup.

Remnants of burnt honeybee frames

5-Story’s of Frames, Post Burn

This is end of that 5-story hive.  On the positive side, it was a strong hive so the possibility of it being robbed was low, but one never knows who is sharing what in the bee yard.

Small up date: I’m sitting in that same bee yard, waiting for sunset, so I can kill the bees in another hive that, yes, has AFB.


What’s a Bean to do?

I’d already been removing all combs after 5 years of service, and moving out brood comb after 3 years.  Clearly more is needed.  Being a tad obsessive, I went though all my non-working comb and removed all combs that showed signs of being used for brood at all.   Overkill, possibly, but it’s really depressing killing bees.  I’d rather burn frames.

Hopefully that will help.  I guess I’ll see in the spring if other hives partook in the contaminated honey.

New Hives Prosper:

On the positive side five hives that had to be rapidly moved due to a lost bee yard (change of owners) exploded with brood and honey in their new down-river bee yard.  They must have flown out and been amazed that their world had suddenly been filled with easy pickings in agricultural lands rather than their previous up-river wilderness.  Happy bees.

Bustling Hives:

Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey Beehives in a westerly bee yard near Bellingham, WA

Brookfield hives at Spring Frog Farm

Over all the majority of hives looked good.  The honey harvest was pretty fair for what turned out to be an 8-week season (June rains had the bees inside eating all their spring honey).    I kept the down-river and up-river supers separate, and now have two styles of honey from this year’s harvest.  All very yummy.

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

Here’s hoping that all your honey harvests went well and surprises, if any, were positive.


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 Honey Harvest Surprises

  1. Bruce says:

    Sorry to hear about your AFB. I’m lucky to have never encountered it yet. Our early beekeeping weather this year was terrible (We’re just across the border from you) but the late summer made up for it somewhat. We had a pretty fair honey harvest about a month ago (very dark honey) and will do another in a few weeks. Hope you and your bees stay healthy and happy.

    • I hope you never get AFB – I think Emily’s comments (below) are well spoken – written. I think AFB is in all hives (nicely confirmed by Sue Cobey) – and it just takes the perfect storm of weather, stress, lack of resistance, the bess raiding an infected hive and something missed by the beekeeper (that would be me) to create an outbreak. It’s a pain.

  2. Emily Heath says:

    It’s awful to lose a hive, hope next season is better for you. Thanks for the book recommendation.

    Here in the UK our National Bee Inspectors recommend changing brood comb annually to guard against diseases such as foul brood and nosema, preferably all in one go during spring using a shook-swarm or Bailey comb exchange method. The shook-swarm method is also a chemical free anti-varroa technique, as all the old brood frames with varroa breeding inside are burned and the bees shaken onto new foundation, meaning a short break in brood production. I try to do this, but then I’ve never had more than two hives. It must be a lot more time consuming with the amount of hives you have, but perhaps worth it if the AFB infection rate is reduced.

    • Ah, it’s not the time that delays comb replacement, it’s the money that’s a real pain.  Hard to make the hives pay for themselves and destroying comb that runs about $2/each by the time the frames and foundation get shipped, can be costly.  But it’s far more costly to kill hives and burn the comb anyway.   But I think you’re right.  I’m tossing (well melting for use as furniture wax), every comb I have that has had brood on it.  Then, in the spring, when I normally swap out 3 year old brood comb, I’m pulling all brood comb.  My friends think I’m nuts, but it’s the only thing I can figure to do as it’s the only natural method I’ve not tried yet.  (Why do they think I’m nuts?  Well in the US, most beekeepers consider drawn comb to be like gold: the bees don’t have to do that part and so you get more honey to sell or more brood to make splits and honey.)  I always enjoy your blog – keep on keeping on….

      • Emily Heath says:

        I see… frames cost me slightly less as I can buy them from my local beekeeping association, who bulk buy in at a discount. And of course I don’t have many hives. The super comb I reuse as brood isn’t up there.

        I’ve been reading “A Field Guide to Honey Bees And Their Maladies” and it’s great, thanks very much for the recommendation. Best of luck with the hives next year, hope new comb helps.

  3. Yes, it’s the number of frames, a bit here and a bit there and it all adds up (plus the shipping kills you here – wax from Kansas, Frames from northern CA…). But if I render the brood comb and use the wax then it recoups some of the costs. Glad you could find the Field Guide, it’s the best book I’ve found here.

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