Spring Hive Check List

It is spring here: periods of sun between bouts of rain.  I’ve taken the sunny days to do the spring hive assessment, which requires opening all of my hives (about 80) to check them and give them their spring essential oil supplements (in cane syrup).

Bee Boxes being removed for spring cleaning

Empty frames and boxes








I do apologize for the lack of pictures.  The sunny days are short, so I’ve not stopped to take many.


Determine WHY the hive died

This year, the dead-outs I’ve encountered have failed from:

  1. “Seemda” – you know Seemed A Good Idea At The Time
    1. Two bee yards that looked great in summer turned out to be way too wet
    2. The bees couldn’t stay warm and dry
    3. As they were new yards, each had only 2 hives, so a 4 hive loss
  2. “I-Thought-They-Could-Do-It” : Nucs that weren’t big enough to be alone
    1. Enough food, not enough heat  – 2 down to that.
  3. Mid-winter queen supercedure – 2 lost to that

On the positive side: No American Foul Brood (so far)


As I descend through the hives I check for :

  1. The amount of honey the bees still have stored.
  1. Queen presence (in the form of eggs, open brood, or sealed brood)
  1. Queen viability – looking again at eggs and brood

a) Laying Patterns

b) What is she laying – if there is a preponderance of drones, she’s on her way out.   If there is a high percentage of drones, this can be laying workers.  BUT if there is a single egg at the bottom by the foundation of the laid cells (“bottom being next to the foundation), then I figure it’s a failing, or badly mated queen.

Side Note :  Queen supersedures can happen at any time a queen starts to fail and there is a larva (or larvae) with which the bees can create a queen.  However, there are no drones flying in this area until April at the earliest, so any virgin who does manage to find good flying weather, will find few or no drones with which to mate).

4) Laying Workers : A high percentage of drones plus the tell-tell sign of  double eggs, and eggs stuck to the   sides of the cells.

  1. Diseases– looking for anything from American Foul Brood to Nosema to Varroa.  Any diseased hive is marked. To be dealt with that day or evening.
  1. Clean the bottom screen.
  1. Remove any unneeded boxes.  I overwinter in 4 to 5 medium boxes (I only use medium – aka western – boxes).  The bottom box (where their pollen was in fall) is always empty.  Sometimes the next one up is empty.  If the remaining boxes have ample laying room for laying, pollen, and nectar, the empties are removed
  1. Remove older frames that are not in use by bees. All frames over 5 years old leave the hive  Brood frames over 3 years old are pulled and, if they still look good, will be stored for  use as honey frames later in the year (I know, I know, I should get rid of these too, but so far so good on this system)


Reorganize Boxes – probably to great annoyance of the bees.

  1. Replace removed older frames with newer frames (I date all my frames)
  2. Break up “walls” of honey

I leave a lot of honey on the hives in winter, so I may find hives that are becoming  honey bound.  I don’t mind this – It’s like when I hike: if I come back from hiking with no food in the pack, I have seriously messed up.  I want to come out of the backcountry with extra food.  I want the bees to have “extra” honey when spring hits.

3) The boxes are manipulated to:

Keep the brood area together as is, with its pollen where the bees put it.

Move honey next to the brood area (sometimes it’s a few frames away)

Give 2 frames of drawn comb above the brood area with honey near-by

Bring honey from outer edges towards the center.

If this is a strong hive the frames are “checker boarded” : One honey frame, One drawn frame, One honey frame, and on…

  1. Put in the “dollar store hive top feeder
  2. Feed the bees:  The above link will give a detailed explanation of what I feed.   Basically it’s a cane sugar solution with essential oils  (Lemon Grass, Spearmint, Thyme Oil, Tea Tree),  and a touch of organic apple cider vinegar.  (The link doesn’t have the vinegar, it’s a new addition)
  3. Place top on hive.


  1. Queenless hives are marked
  2. Hives that are small, but with good queens marked – to go to any queenless hive
  3. Deand and/or Disease hives are marked.
  4. If they have an immediate need they are delt with
  5. If they can wait – a healthy dead-out can wait – “I shall return”


Give bees a pep-talk “OK girls, you can do it, you know you can.  You’re brilliant”

You may doubt my sanity.  But I talk to all my animals (and the truck, and the tractor)


I know this takes time.  I can do about 2 hives in 30 to 45 minutes depending on what I encounter.   Somehow the problem hives always come right at the end of the day, or just before the massive rain cloud parks itself overhead and lets loose with a torrent of water.

The time is well spent.  When the maples flower and the dandelions bloom (some of our first flowers) the bees will be ready for the nectar flow with the resulting increase in their numbers, and not be bothered by me ripping apart their hives.


All the pulled boxes still need to be scraped.  I am so not looking forward to this, but it must be done.  I did have a photo of them, but now wordpress won’t let me load images (it’s my very old computer).

That’s part of what’s going on at Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey, Maple Falls, Washington.  How do you prepare your bees for spring or fall – depending on where you are?  I love learning new things, so please share.




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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14 Responses to Spring Hive Check List

  1. Kristin says:

    Hi there;
    I keep bees in Pennsylvania and both my hives died over the winter. They both had plenty of honey, I attribute the deaths to varroa mites weakening the colony and then not having enough bees to keep warm.
    Two Questions:
    1.What should I do with 70+ lbs of leftover partially capped honey? I am starting over with a nuc and my dad has several hives so my current plan is to share the wealth and distribute a few frames of honey in each colony. I am tempted to try to harvest it but i think since almost every frame is only partially capped it might ferment.
    2. Do you have varroa mites in Washington? If so how do you manage them without using chemicals?
    Thanks! Great Blog!

    • If you’ve a place to store the honey, and you know that the hive did not die from nosema or AFB then I’d do what you intend: give it to the new bees. Remember, the bees can share diseases though honey. But if it was varroa knocking down the numbers so too small to overwinter…give it to the new bees. An old beekeeper told me that if you take your partially capped frame, hold it flat and give it a shake : if you get drops from the open areas, it’s nectar, if no drops, it’s almost honey. I’d be tempted to eat some of it, but again – best for the bees. Varroa, oh yes, saw a few today in fact while moving burr/drone comb off the bottom of some frames. I treat for varroa once a year. (if you go on the site and put in “naturally treated” you’ll get a post about it) I use MiteAway Quick Strips (formic acid, natural, occurs in hives), and the thymol treatment that come in the big blue tub apisomething, but everything is apisomething, but it’s on the post. I alternate because I figure the mites get knocked back, but some survive and adapt to the treatment – so each year I alternate the type of treatment. I also use essential oils in their feed 2X/year, but that’s more for general health. The best bet is breeding. Having queens that have been bred for resistance, and for your area, is the real solution to the whole issue. What kind of bees did you have? I’m not keen on Italians, except in warm areas where there’s no real winter. My preference is for Russians (not as mean as people say) and New World Canriolan (and now from Stachen they have a bit of Cacasian in them, which is great), ferals, and my own farm-bred bees (not for sale, that’s too fraught with issues) I just breed off the best of the queens — but my area is pretty dominated by my hives..I’m lucky that way. Good luck with the new bees…. and thank you for the compliment

  2. Emily Heath says:

    Great explanation of how you manage your bees, thank you.

  3. Dennis says:

    Really good and usefull writeup. One question: what do you mean by wall of honey – and what problem does that pose?

    • A wall of honey to me, is either: A box (like a super) that’s completely filled with honey. The bees won’t cross it – they seem to think there’s no room beyond it (or maybe they’ve got it all done). So you can wind up with a swarm even though you’ve put a box on top (or you can run 2 queens in the same hive: one below the “wall of honey” one above the wall). I also like to make sure that there’s some frames with undrawn foundation in spaces 2 and 9 – again this seems to signal to the bees: “this way up” if they are looking at a 4-frame-wall mid-hive, or perhaps it just means “we’re not done here yet. oh look, there’s more room up there….” Hope that makes sense, if a bit anthropomorphic

  4. Hannah Iris says:

    Just checked my hive. the bottom box had a few outer frames empty. Saw eggs at all stages, and tons of honey. The second box is fulled out to all frames with honey (some center frames with brood) The bees seem quite active! We put on a 3rd box. Moving 2 of the outer frames from the second box (honey frames) to the center frame position on the 3rd new box. Does this seem right? I figured since the frames were filling up a top box (the 3rd new box) is appropriate. Is that correct for this early in spring?

    – We also found a little greenish mold on one of the outermost frames of the bottom box. The frame was empty. We replaced that frame with a new one. Any other suggestions?

    • Hi Hannah – Are you all in westerns (mediums)? If not, what I’m about to say will make no sense – all my frames are the same size. When I put a new box on a hive I do one of two things: In the spring, I move 2 frames of brood from the center (frames 5 &6) up into the new box, then I place 2 foundation frames in positions 2 and 9 in the box I just moved the frames from – drawn comb in 2 & 9 work too. This keeps the brood nest together, but says “hey, lots more room up here, ladies” as bees will always try to cover brood. (I’d be wary of putting honey right above the brood nest if you’re bees are expanding – honey can act like a wall if the bees want more brood space). Later in the year, when the hive is full of honey, I “checker board” frames in the new box and one below (ie honey, empty, honey, empty…) but alternating with the one below — honey above empty, empty above honey – again it’s this “honey is a wall thing”. Hope that makes sense.

      The green mold, most folks in wet climates get it. Dry off the frame, scrape it off…the bees can clean it no problem, but I do a bit of house cleaning for them…..

      sounds like you’re off to a great start in the spring. I’m just about to peak into some of my hives, as we finally have about 5 days without rain!

      • Hannah Iris says:

        That sounds good. i thought that if we added a third box it would be more for honey storage than brood. But maybe thats not correct? Can you email me?

      • Hannah Iris says:

        I had 2 boxes. Now i have 3. All the same size 9 5/8″ deep. Each with 10 frames, 9 1/8″ frames. Would it be wise to encrouage the brood into the 3rd box or keep that acting as a honey super? Not sure really how much space vertically brood will take up.

      • Hannah Iris says:

        I think i made a mistake. I move the outer honey frames from the 2nd box and put them in the center of the new 3rd box. Will the be detrimental? my hive is about an hour away and i won’t be able to get to it for a week or so. is that a bad move? should i go back and rotate the frames as you recommended?
        Thanks for all the help!!

        • Hi Hannah – Remember, everyone keeps bees differently, so I’d never say someone did something “wrong”, just differently. I pull up the center 2 frames into the third box and put new frames (drawn or not drawn) into spaces 2 and 9 of the 2nd box. I learned this off a Dee Lusby post, and it works for me. It does inspire brood into the third box. That’s fine by me. 3 westerns (mediums) is said to equal 2 deeps, so brood in box 3 is normal in my world. I actually don’t care where the bees want to put brood…it’s their home, they didn’t read the books, and they certainly don’t listen to me (darn them). If they’re happy, I’m happy. I would not worry about a week away, you didn’t break up the brood nest, so the ladies might just decide to have the queen go up into the frames you put in the third box. The not breaking the brood nest up is the important bit…like don’t put an empty frame between frames of brood…but you know that. And if the queen’s started work in the third box, let her be…. I find the bees will start making “honey only” supers when they’re ready to…usually at a big honey flow. then it’s the work of not letting them get honey bound….Sounds like you’re doing great.

        • Hannah Iris says:

          you helpful!! thank you!

        • I’m glad it was of use to you…

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