The Longest Winter

It’s been a long winter here in the mountains in the northwest corner of the lower 48 states. It started snowing the first week of December and has just recently stopped. We did have a 1 ½ week break where everything melted away – only to dump 3-4 feet on us in a matter of days.


Hives Under Snow

Snowy Hives

Now, for those of you from colder climates, say east of the Cascades to Maine in the northern lower 48 and folks in Canada and Alaska, I know you’re thinking “that’s nothing”. Compared to your weather, you’re right, but you all are ready for it. We are not ready. It doesn’t happen here.



The Jet Steam is bent out of shape – not angry, just fluctuating. Its normal curves have become more and more extreme as the North Pole melts and more heat is generated there and worldwide. The result is very deep, erratic dips in the stream.  These combine with a La Nina situation.  Which means Arctic air masses for western Washington state. In other words, snow, lots of it for extended periods.


Normally we have a warm spell in February. I go out and check the top boxes to see how the bees are doing on their stores. But the snow’s still deep, the weather’s still cold, and there is rain predicted.   What a year. Even the crocuses have failed to push up. I’d stay in bed too if possible.

In theory, and with out diseases or dwindling, the bees should be all right. The all had about 70 pounds of honey plus the pollen they collected and stored (except for the ones hit by human thieves – a bit less there – whatever I could scavenge).

The snow insulates the hives. Thus the bees should be tucked up and warm.

The hives all have top entrances.

Beehive Upper Entrance, No bees

Upper Entrace to Bee Hive

When there’s no way out at the bottom, they can come out the top. I saw a bit of this in the 1 ½ weeks of “warm” back in January. But why come out? There’s nothing to gather, it’s cold out side.

Each hive has as stack of 4 western boxes to live in, there’s space for sanitary practices away from the cluster. Pooping in the hive is not the best for health, but it beats freezing your little wings off if you try to fly out for a moment.

Bee Hives Partially Covered By Snow

Hive start to be covered – one box under the snow

Water’s not collecting on the bottom board, because I don’t have bottom boards. They have bottom screens. Yes, open “to the elements” – only they’re surrounded by nice snow insulation.

I will check the girls if we ever get nice days near 50F, and the hives are accessible (the snow melts).



In the last storm, I was at the farm with the intension of going to Ballard Farmers Market that weekend. Weather had a different idea. The predicted 1-3 inches of snow became 1-3 feet of snow. My road was inaccessible – ¾ mile of dirt was now covered in snow. Even with chains, my truck wouldn’t make it.

Livestock Guard Dogs Pose with Snow Coverd Truck

Livestock Guard Dogs and Truck after digging out the truck

At this point we’re still walking that ¾ mile. I got a ride to the market van, with the hopes of going to market, but it took all the day to dig the van out of the snow. And there was little hope of getting the van back in place when I got back at 7:30 pm – it would have been a tight fit on an icy spot.

I did manage to get the van out and have the parking area cleared with a bob-cat (not the animal, a small vehicle on tracks with a 5 foot bucket). So I do think I’m set to go to market this coming Sunday.


It continues to be a challenge, this “worst winter since 1957 – according to the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) radio broadcast. But I’m grateful that none of my main buildings were hit by the now ubiquitous fallen trees in this area, that all may animals are safe, and that I have the support of good friends. Soon, I’ll be out at the hives and all of this will just be an “interesting’ memory with good stories to tell.

Sallie Mae participates in snow clearance

Sallie Mae participates in snow clearance


That’s the news from Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey, here in Maple Falls, WA. How is winter, or summer, treating you?

Snow, Bee hives, and Sun

Winter – annoying but beautiful



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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11 Responses to The Longest Winter

  1. cubawashere says:

    For us here in the lower New England area, it’s been the almost exact opposite. A modest, mild winter for which I’ve been glad for. With having hard times financially, we don’t use heat here at all. So this winter was spectacular for feeling somewhat comfortable in our home with “indoor” coats & using a kerosene heater from time to time for eating meals. Our house next year, will hopefully be paid off by then, & in turn making it a little more affordable to heat in the winter next time. *fingers crossed*
    I’m sorry that this affects you negatively on the west side of the country though. I hope the spring will bring better times for everyone very soon. Looking forward to flowers & gardening, or homegrown food! God bless & take care!

    PS, I hope the thieves get their due punishment & no ill effects on your girls!

  2. Ron Miksha says:

    Great photos; great piece! The buried hives look like badlands’ hoodoos!

    I had to look up Maple Falls – I didn’t realize that you are just 10 kilometres from being a Canadian! Here in Calgary, we’ve also had a tougher winter than last year’s ridiculously mild one – but it’s not been that bad. Even a ‘normal’ winter has become unusually cold to us.

    You’ll probably have crocuses before March 1!

  3. freethnkr1965 says:

    This puts the 12 inches we go here in Eatonville in a whole new perspective! 🙂

  4. Drew says:

    Hi Karen,
    Here in Los Angeles we are finally getting a little rain. Enough to cause flooding and mudslides in the burn areas. And according to the California Water Agency the snowpack in the Sierras is enough that a lot of California is no longer considered to be in a severe drought. Here in the south we still have a severe water shortage. Lake Mead need to come up at least a hundred feet to help out with the Colorado River water flow that provides water to the east side of Los Angeles County. here in the west out water comes from the California water project which gets a lot of it’s water from Lake Oroville. Which as the new has been showing is overflowing and flooding.
    But about bees. We don’t have any. All my flowering plant are bloomless. Especially the bottle brush tree next to my front door. It used to be covered in bees all spring and summer. Now nothing.
    And I hope all the flu bugs and terrible cold things pass you by this year. I think i have had all of them.

    • Hi Drew – sounds like someone stopped keeping bees in your neighborhood. I don’t seem to catch colds – mind you I eat lots of honey, and for over a week saw no-one – snow bound…note to self, regardless of what the weather forecast says (1-3 inches) move the truck to the bottom of the hill (turned out 1-4 feet)…Stay dry.

  5. Emily Scott says:

    Oh my, you really have had a winter. Hope the bees all pull through – hopefully they are warm and toasty under all that snow. Love the pics of snowy hives.

  6. Sharon Means says:

    We are new at beekeeping. Our hive is in eastern Washington and we have gotten some advice from locals. After the flowers were pretty much gone and after our first honey harvest we started a top feeder. Our hive was cram full of bees and we wondered if we should have had another super on top for the winter( we only had a bottom brood box, a full super for winter feeding and then the top feeder). The first check we had a few dead bees in the feeder but 3 weeks later our top feeder was full of several hundred bees. Does the inside cover go over or under the feeder? We have now changed to a sugar board box. Any help or advice is appreciated. We are thoroughly enjoying our bees and want to keep them happy.

    • I am sorry that I’m getting back to you so late. Life has been in a bit of turmoil here. Hopefully someone has gotten back to you before now. But here’s my 2 cents. It sounds like you have left enough food. I keep bees a bit differently than you (all in mediums – westerns), but I always have a top (4th box up for me) of honey, plus there’s usually honey in the 3rd box along with brood. Then the bottom box is all pollen (the bees’ choice). Good call on switching the top feeder to a candyboard. I feed liquids once in late Sept, but it may be colder – and definitely wetter here than E. of the Cascades. I don’t use an inner cover or a top feeder so I’m not much use there. I use a piece of burlap over the top bars, then a piece of insulation goes over that in the winter. If I need to candy feed,the candy slips under the burlap. Sounds like you’re doing great

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