Spring Hive Manipulation

Brookfield Farm Bees in the Spring (Maple Falls, WA)

Happy Bees in Sunshine!

It’s spring (ok, four days of sun, we take what we can in the Pacific Northwest).

In the spring, I manipulate my hives.  At least that’s what I call it.  I think the bees think “oh no, she’s messing with our home!”  But it needs to be messed with.  Bottom screens need cleaning (and weeding at times).  Empty bottom boxes need to be move to the top.  The brood nest needs to be moved down, so the bees won’t swarm.

I try to do this on the first feed of the year.  This year, that first feed was done under stormy skies, so I did not want to open hive only to have it rain.

Thus, hive manipulation was moved to week number two of feeding, when the sun came out.

Winter Set Up (in brief)

All my bees are in mediums (aka westerns).  So I use more boxes than those folks who keep bees in deeps.

A tall bee hive of medium boxes

Stack of boxes I call hive (there’s a nuc on top)

Bottom Screen : I don’t use a solid bottom, just a screen of 1/8th inch hardware cloth
Bottom box: is pollen – that’s where the bees put it in fall.  That’s where it stays.
Next box up: brood
Next box up: brood (if there’s that much) or honey
Next box up: honey
Next box up : honey (if there were 2 boxes of brood and that much honey)
Collar – a 2 inch high frame the same dimensions as the hive boxes.
Burlap over the top bars
Insulation on the burlap

You can read more about how I prepare winter hives on this blog page


Spring Traditions (at least to the bees):

By April the bottom box is empty.  The bees have eaten all their pollen either in the fall or the spring (I don’t ask about the timing, they don’t tell).  If I find pollen left, it’s usually a hive with a problem: a failing, or failed queen.

When all is right, the queen and brood can be anywhere.  Sometimes they’re in the top box.  This is worrying, as they’ve eaten all their food.  Sometimes they’re in the second or third box.

The bottom screen is usually covered with the dead bees of winter.  By November it is too cold to break cluster and the bees just drop the dead to the bottom of the hive.   These need to be piled up and removed from the bee yard.

Bottom of bee hive before Spring Cleaning

The Dead of the Winter









Spring Movements:

In General:

The bottom screen is cleaned of dead bees and put back in place.

Any empty frames that have been in use for five years are removed.

Any brood frames that have been in use for three years are removed.

These are replaced with either drawn comb or foundation.

The empty bottom box is removed.

If an empty box is needed on top, it will find a new position there.

Bee Boxes being removed for spring cleaning

Empty frames and boxes








Specific Spring Manipulations:

1) The bottom screen is cleaned of dead bees, old pollen, and grasses that may have grown through the screen.
2) The box with eggs (and probably the queen) is moved to the bottom.
3) Any box with sealed brood is placed above it.  As the brood emerges, this will give the queen room to lay.
4) Any box(es) with honey are placed above the brood, with a eye to leaving the queen laying room
5) If the “honey” box is pretty full, and empty box goes on that.  If there is no, or very little, honey, the empty box goes above the brood.

Folks who over winter in 2 deeps will recognize the system as : put the top box on the bottom, and the bottom box on top.  It’s just more complicated with mediums.  But I can lift them.

Nice thing about mediums:

The nicest thing is that I can lift them.  But there’s another nice aspect if you live in a land of rain, as I do.  The lowest box can get manky – damp, even with ventilation and a screened bottom.  Wet just gets in everything around here.  But with a stack of mediums, the bees are far away from the damp lower box by spring.  At least mine are.

Spring : with a fine tooth comb

I only have about 50 hives.  So that lets me take a good look at my hives in the spring, and I take that time.  I check for diseases, for queen laying patterns, the queen’s existence (and if none, eggs are given to the hive), and, of course, stores.  It can leave you wondering if you can purchase a new back, but it’s worth the time and effort.  I keep notes on everything.

This spring’s results:

I lost 2 hives and one nuc.  That’s less than a 5% loss so that’s good.  Of course, spring’s around the corner, and this area is hard on bees in the spring.

Two hives had brood, but no eggs – either a failing queen or a lost queen.  These have been given eggs with which to build new queens.

On hive, which was 3 failing hives tossed together with “let the best queen win” came out OK.  The “best queen” – or most adaptive – and her group moved to one side of the hive and came though the winter just fine.

The 2 hives that went down showed failed queens.  I am suspicious of 3 hives that are doing well – empty frames looked like American foul brood scales.

AFB scale photo from Fera, UK

American Foulbrood Scales (photo Courtesy The Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera), Crown Copyright

Samples have been sent to the Maryland Bee Lab.  But the check this week (the third week) shows no sign of AFB.  We shall see….






Report on Winter Experiment : Not Wrapping Hives.

Bee hives tied and covered for winter

The new way

This is the first year I have not wrapped my hives in tar paper.  Remember, this was a mild year here – it just rained all the time, not much snow after January.

The hives STAYED JUST AS DRY OR DRIER WITHOUT THE WRAP.  Big letters because I’m so amazed and pleased.



Strong hive below nucleus hive wrapped for winter

The old way (hive and nuc on top)

I will no longer wrap hives.  I will be forever grateful to the Liam (whose last name I cannot remember) of the Mt. Baker Beekeeper Association for gently suggesting I might try not wrapping.  It was just fine for the bees, and saved me a lot of work.





That’s the news from Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey.  How did your bees come though the winter?  Any new techniques you tried that worked (or didn’t work)?  Beekeeping’s all about sharing and learning.


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 Spring Hive Manipulation

  1. Drew says:

    Hi Karen!

    It’s always interesting to hear about the farm and beekeeping. Especially since us city folk will never experience it on our own.
    All my cats are doing OK and i have picked up another male. he showed up as a starving kitten and is now the biggest cat of all. Fixed, of course.
    And this week my friends and I will be preparing our ground for the spring planting (about half a dozen heritage type tomato plants. The soil is so bad here that we are going to try something new to us. We are getting straw bales and giving them a soaking with water abnd a plant food mixture. letting them sit outside in the sun for a few weeks until the internal rotting temp falls to 90 degrees, then dig a small hole in the bale and plant a tomato plant in each bale. No soil at all.
    I will try to take a pic of the plants and send them up to you.
    Hope everything else is going OK. Are you still doing the hiking travelogues?


    • Hi Drew So good to hear from you! You know your backyard would be perfect for 2 or 3 bee hives — plus you have all that nice warm weather (bet it’s warm, sunny, and people are swimming in the ocean down there, it’s raining here). Glad to hear all the cats are doing well. You’ll need them with straw bales, but that sounds a good idea for tomatoes. Have you visited Xerces.org? They’re the big invertebrate conservation center in Oregon – lots of great “how tos” on creating bumblebee habitat (a must for pollinating tomatos), and mason bee boxes. As to the Walking Wild hiking DVDs, no – I packed them in. The market was not really there any there. These days I go out with a pin hole camera! I started a blog about them (http://pinholewildernessphotography.wordpress.com/), but then beekeeping took more time than posting. So I still do the photos, but will probably only put them online in the winter… I’m about to go hike Paria Canyon in Utah — then the High Pasaytan in the late summer. I can bring the pack goats on the second walk, but not the first. So good to hear from you.

  2. Linda says:

    I am a new bee-keeper with a question about Tar Paper. I was told that bees do not like tar, and I could use tar to dissuade bees from re-hiving the certain spot that we do not want them to be. So… why do you use tar paper?

    • Hi Linda – The tar paper wrap never stopped my girls. And it never stopped bees from getting into the sides of houses and causing issues there. I actually do not wrap at all any more. But the reason I did was to keep wind-chill down. It was never set tight around the hives, but pinned in with push-pins (tacks). I don’t like plastic – some people use tyveck, some people like strofoam; hay bales seems a grand invitation to mice…tar paper is inexpensive. But a beekeeper acquaintance suggested I see what happened without the wrap – and he was right (one can always learn) – The bees do a fine job of sealing what cracks they want to seal with their propolis. The wrap was actually adding water to the hive – think being inside a windbreaker and sweating – so I was creating more problems rather than solving them with the wrap. So no more wrapping for me. 2 things I’d add: 1) We are really, really wet here, so things I do here might not work in other areas, 2) I do not open the tops of my hives after October – it breaks the seals the bees have made and it’s too darn cold to get out of cluster long enough to repair them.

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