Honeybee Food Foraging : Where? Why? How Far?

I get asked a lot at market: how do you know that the bees actually went to “that” honey. “That” honey may be Buckwheat, Alfalfa/Wildflower, Fireweed/Wildflower, or Wildflowers of particular regions in Washington State.  Really it is all about flight distance, desirability, and availability.

How Beekeepers Figure The Honey Source
(without laboratory tests)

Honeybee with lots of pollen : Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey, Maple Falls, WA

Honeybee On Dandelion

  • Bees tend to fly about 2.5 miles from the hive
  • Bees have been known to go to 7 miles, but few are ever found beyond 4 miles from the hive. The further they travel, the energy they use begins to be greater than the energy they get from the distant forage.
  • Bees tend to eat what’s right in front of them In that way, they’re rather like us: there is undoubtedly a great Indian restaurant in Seattle (2.5 hours away), but I tend to head down to Bellingham (45 minutes away).
  • Bees will fly further if the immediate forage isn’t their favorite: not enough nectar, pollen, or protein – bees tend to over-fly alfalfa because they apparently never been not all that keen on alfalfa (even before the advent of 21st century agriculture).

Bees check out plants by sight and smell, but it’s way different from ours: large swatches of color are easier to see than a single brilliant plant, and smells can tickle their “toes” and legs.

Mono-Floral Honeys

These are the ones that might say “Buckwheat” or “Fireweed” or “Chamisa”

This means that the primary floral source for that honey was the flower on the label.

There are probably a few other flowers in the honey but factors can override the lesser flowers including:

Rabbit Brush

Chamisa by Stephen Baker, BLM via wikimedia commons








Chamisa (aka Rabbit Brush)

  • Other flowers are so minimal their nectar is diluted under the primary flower.
  • Other flowers are so light you’re not going to taste them (buckwheat honey covers any light honey)
  • Very few flowers are in bloom at the same time in the area (Big Leaf Maple and Fireweed are types here in Washington state)


Fireweed In Bloom by By Rosendahl [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons












Bees, Beekeepers, Farmers, And Pesticides

Beekeepers and farmers consider another aspect of foraging distance to be equally, and potentially, more important. This is the distance of the hives from pesticides, fungicides and herbicides.

Bee-Harmful Pesticide Avoidance Distances

How far away do hives need to be from a potentially harmful location?

  • This location may be fields using neonicotides (banned in the EU and in some areas in the US, but still used in abundance US agriculture), or an area sprayed with other pesticides, fungicides or herbicides, that are harmful to honeybees.
  • This harm from these poisons may be immediate, as in the bees are sprayed and they die. The harm can also be pesticides, herbicides and fungicides in stored pollen and nectar. In these instances, the bees die when they eat these tainted stores later in the year.

Total Pesticide Avoidance Distances:

Beekeepers may be in search of stands of untreated bee forage. The mileage between a seemingly pristine meadow and sprayed crops can be critical. The 2.5 mileage the bees fly from their hive is an average – so some bees may be foraging further – into areas of pesticides.

Separation of GMO from non-GMO crops and wild plants:

  • Farmers who want to keep their seed crops free of Genetically Modified genes can see all pollinators as a benefit or a problem.   Cross pollination by foraging bees hauling pollen from a GMO plant to a similar, but non-GMO plant can cause havoc, and potentially destroy non-GMO’s farmers’ operations.

In all of the above cases, hives would have to be in the center of about 25 square mile pesticide-free area to be pretty sure they are not going to encounter harmful chemicals.

To be absolutely certain that the hives and/or fields are isolated from pesticides and/or GMO pollen that distance expands to 196 square miles.

How Far Honeybees Might Fly: The Math

Place a hive in the center of a square Draw a 2.5 mile line “east” and another “west” : you get a 5 miles.

Do it again north and south to get 5 miles

2.5 + 2.5 = 5 miles
5  X   5 =   25 square miles

You could knock off a little on the four corners because it really should be a circle

But some bees fly further – up to seven miles:

This gives 14 miles per side or 196 square miles. Depressing isn’t it? Not the math, the distance – if you’re trying to get as close to a “pure” varietal honey or get away from agriculture.

How Do We Know How Far Honeybees Fly?

Back in the 1920’s J.W. Eckert conducted a three-year study on bees foraging in Wyoming. The area had “islands” of irrigated areas – there was little to no forage beyond the irrigation. The bees were placed at increasing distances from the forage, and then monitored for honey and pollen collection. The results, published in 1933, were incredibly specific:

Honeybees Flying:

  • 1 mile   covered over   2,000 acres (about 3 square miles)
  • 2 miles covered over   8,600 acres (about 13.5 square miles)
  • 3 miles covered over 18,092 acres (about 28 square miles)
  • 4 miles covered over 32,166 acres (about 50 square miles)

60 years later, in 2008, in their research entitled “Crop Pollination” Hoopingarner and Waller came up with slightly different numbers: their honeybees could cover 12,000 acres during flights reaching 2.5 miles from their hives. Their bees also flew 5 to 8 miles to collect forage they found attractive.

It’s all down to flight distance and the attractiveness of the forage to the bees – a bit of working knowledge, observation and the hard work by researchers and scientists.

Reading Honeybee Research Can Be Fun

An aside: I like research and enjoy reading the papers that result from scientific studies, but at times it seems like translating.

“Optimal foraging theory predicts that animals will behave in such a manner as to maximize their energy intake (benefit) with the minimal output of energy (cost).”

Simply Stated: Animals want food that gives them more energy than they used to get the food.

I can so relate.

That’s the news from Brookfield Farm Bees and Honey here is chilly, but not snowy – I’m happy to say – Maple Falls, Washington.  The bees here are all in cluster although they all popped out about a week ago when we had an unseasonably warm day of 50F – break out the bathing suits….

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How Honeybees Smell

Scent means a lot to bees.   They use their sense of smell to check queen quality, sort out friend from foe, locate their hive or new hive after swarming, and find forage. Their sense is so acute that they can they can catch a scent while in flight.

Bees are able to detect scents with their mouths, antennae and tips of their legs (tarsi). In all these areas bees have sensilla: tiny, hair-shaped organs that incorporate receptor nerve cells.

They have 170 of these odor receptors in their antenna; double the number that mosquitoes have, according to a 2006 paper published in the journal Genome Research.


When it comes to food, bees’ legs play the biggest role. Receptors in the tarsi and the tarsomeres allow bees to tsense both salt and sweetness, according to a study by Dr. Gabriela de Brito Sanchez, researcher, University of Toulouse, and Dr. Martin Giurfa, Director of the Research Center on Animal Cognition, in University of Toulouse, France.

Apparently sweetness is in the “claws” – at the tips of the legs

Salt sensors lie further up on the legs on the tarsomeres.

“The claw’s [the tip of the legs] sense of taste allows workers to detect nectar immediately when they land on flowers. Also, bees hovering over water ponds can promptly detect the presence of salts in water through the tarsomeres of their hanging legs,” writes Dr. Giurfa.


Bees’ sense of smell is a wondrous thing, but humans are again throwing more problems in the bees’ path.


Diesel fumes can mess with bees’ odor detectors.

English scientists published a study in Scientific Reports  which demonstrated that elements of diesel fumes, nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide, are masking the scent of flowers. Tracey Newman, a neuroscientist at the University of Southampton. “The [effect of diesel fumes on flower scent] could have serious detrimental effects on the number of honeybee colonies and pollination activity.”


Researchers Sally Williamson and Geraldine Wright showed in a 2013 study that these much  used and now notorious chemicals lessen the ability of honeybees to distinguish odors and to learn new scents.  This, in turn, adds to the memory loss in honeybees associated with these substances.



We humans may well be messing with the bees ability to smell, but we also depend on their ability to detect odors, and not just for pollination and honey. Like other animals, bees can be trained to relate a smell to a food rewards


The Stealthy Insect Sensor Project at the Los Alamos National Laboratory has trained bees to detect bombs. Researchers trained bees to link the smell of sugar syrup to the smell of bomb ingredients. When a bee detected sugar or explosives, she extended her “tongue” (proboscis)


Cancer patients may soon breath into a glass ball with bees in it.

A Portuguese designer, Susana Soares, created a glass dome with two chambers. A small area is the “diagnostic space”; the larger area is where bees are placed during the test. “People exhale into the smaller chamber, and the bees rush into it if they detect on the breath the odor that they were trained to target,” writes Soares.

The bees train quickly, according to Soares. In ten minutes her bees area able to detect forms of early stage cancer, tuberculosis and diabetes.


I cannot write a post on “how do bees smell” without caving into the obvious. I just have to say it: honeybees smell nice. The odor of a healthy hive in summer is a wondrous thing. To me the scent brings thoughts of blue skies, light clouds, cedar branches bending on ridges above slopes of flowers – and honey and a healthy hive. That’s how bees smell.

That’s the news from Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey in Maple Falls, Washington. A side note is that I’ll be giving a talk on Honeybees at the Mt. Vernon, WA, library on November 20 at 6pm. It’s the basics: from bee reproduction to the hazards bees face to honey.

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How Much Honey Per Hive?

“How much honey did you get this year?” is a questioned often asked by beekeepers of each other. “How much honey do you get per hive?” is a similar question asked by customers and folks contemplating going into beekeeping.

The first question I hate. It’s a bit too much like a competition. How far can you throw? How much can you lift? It all depends on a lot of factors, so comparisons between beekeepers are at best silly.

The second question: “How much honey can you (or did you) get per hive?” is a good one.

The answer will still depend on a lot of variables.


  • Weather (Rain? Drought?)
  • Temperature (Too hot, too cold?)
  • Hive placement (some locations look good, but turn out bad)
  • Hive moments (pollination can supply honey, but some plants produce little nectar)
  • Diseases
  • Pests
  • Pesticide exposure
  • Competition (a nice bee yard will take less if a lot of pollinating hives are dropped near-by)
  • How much honey one leaves for the bees (a very important question)

But it is nice to know the average in your area, and what other beekeepers are going though.


Eastern Washington State burned this year. Not just in the sense of burning hot temperature. It actually burned – for weeks. Rain has been scare there in the past few years (as with many places in the US and world-wide). This year was horrid. Wildflowers did not produce nectar – they need water for that. One commercial beekeeper I know found that over half of his hives did not have honey in them.

Think about your business. What affect would if have on your income if you could only produce half of what you create, be it widgets or proposals or bees or honey. To say the situation is troublesome is an understatement.


Western Washington did OK this year. When it’s “dry” here, that means we might get a few weeks of clear weather in between rainstorms. Which means that the drought’s effect in the northwest corner of the state was to produce a remarkably good honey harvest this year.

Washington State Map with Cascades highlighted

The range runs north-south (courtesy of http://tspwiki.com/)


I have two friends, Ron Babcock and Pat Ray, who have been beekeepers in Western Washington State for over 20 years.

Beekeepers Ron and LaVonne Babcock, Arlington WA

Ron and LaVonne Babcock, Beekeepers

Beekeeper Pat Ray and some of his queen cells

Pat Ray holding queen cells he grafted



I asked each of them how much honey they figured they would get from a west Washington hive in an “average” year. Each one promptly said a study had shown the state average is 30 pounds of honey per hive.

Bear in mind that average is for the state of Washington. The majority of Washington’s honey is produced east of the Cascade Range, a drier area than our wet area lodged between the Salish Sea and the towering mountains.

Ron mused a bit on the 30-pounds-per-hive average, adding that could be used as a guide “ if it’s all letter perfect – but you can’t count on that. No diseases, no vandal knocking over your hives. It’s farming and dealing with Mother Nature…rain, contents of the soil, the temperature that some plants produce at and some don’t produce.”


Robert Niles, the editor of the Skagit Valley Beekeepers Association  newsletter ran a voluntary survey of members this year about how much honey they got (my hated question) and about how much per hive (the question I like.)

Skagit Valley is in the county just south of Whatcom County, where I live and keep bees. Skagit Valley is about 50 miles south of the Canadian border and stretches from Puget Sound to the high Cascade mountain range. It has agricultural areas, river valleys, cities, towns, and high mountains. The Association has beekeepers from a range of these areas.

Beekeeper Ray begins to put honey supers on Some of Bruce Bowen's hives

Pat Ray in Skagit Valley bee yard

Robert asked members to volunteer how much honey they harvested from their hives and how much honey they averaged per hive. All reporting would be anonymous.

A number of beekeepers supplied the answer to “How Much Honey Did You Get”. You know my view on this without knowing hive numbers, but here’s what Robert found: “the median [was] 35 pounds and the most common harvest reports being between 30-35 pounds of honey.”

Seven members supplied the more important question: “How Much Honey Per Hive”.

The lowest was 5 pounds-per-hive, the highest 62 pounds-per-hive.

“The average was just over 29 pounds per hive (with the outliers removed, the average still was close at 27 pounds per hive).” Robert reported in the newsletter. “The median being 25 pounds and with the sample being so small, the mode isn’t figured in.”

Chart Survey of honey per hive in Skagit Valley, WA 2014

Responses to SVBA’s Editor Robert Niles Honey-Per-Hive Question



I took an average of 18 pounds from each of my hives. This is an average: some hives delivered nearly 80 pounds of honey; some delivered none.   Often these were in the same bee yard – every hive is unique, some have better foragers, some decide to replace their queen or swarm in the middle of a honey flow (a good moment for them – lots of food; a lousy moment for the beekeeper – little honey for harvest).

I could have taken more, according to all “bee wisdom”, but I leave a lot of honey on my hives: 70 pounds for each full hive; 50 for smaller hives. We have some long winters here.

Snow covered bee hives at Brookfield Farm, Maple Falls, WA

Winter Bee Hives at Brookfield Farm


The smaller hives are often nucs that were started earlier in the year. By fall they have enough bees to over winter, but have often not put up enough stores. We do not see nectar in my area from October to March (that is if it does not rain throughout March).

The extra honey for these hives is pulled from the honey I’ve harvested for sale. I would rather harvest less, but give the bees real honey and not feed syrup (I do good syrup, but it’s not honey). Diseases can be passed between hives this way, but I am willing to take that risk to give a smaller hive honey for the winter instead of feed.

In the spring, I sometimes have to rearrange frames of honey because the bees have clustered in a manner that they are missing their stores, but at least it’s still honey.


The bees are still buzzing around, but there are few flowers in bloom here. The rains have arrived (always after October 13 for some reason). The hives are pretty much shut down for the winter.   Me? Well, I’ve got boxes and frames to make and stain. Frames to wire. Salves to make. As with most beekeepers in this area, the work never really ends, it just changes to inside work as we stare out at the hives and hope that all is well with the bees until we see them in the spring.

Bee hives at Brookfield Farm Bees and Honey, WA

Brookfield Farm Hives in the spring


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

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Extracting Honey at Brookfield Farm 2014

The last post was about harvesting honey, so what else could follow but one about honey extraction at Brookfield Farm?  There’s not really much to say other than : Decap Honey (still with a hot knife), Put honey in extractor, fill buckets, clean room.

Thus is this more of a photo essay:

My extraction room is small: 8 foot by 8 foot, with a second room beyond, which got turned into the new water pressure tank room!

The Honey Extraction Room

Boxes of Honey stacked for extraction

Honey Stacked for extraction


You can just see the motor of the extractor on the left.

Extraction Room at Brookfield Farm

Extraction Room View Two


 Honey Before and After the Decapping Knife

This year’s honey:

Frame of Capped Honey

Honey Frame Before Uncapping


Turns out it’s quite light – they found the thistle and fireweed.
I’m still using an uncapping knife.  Next year I’m testing a new tool.

Raw Honey in Frame : uncapped

It’s a Light Honey Year – lots of thistle and fireweed


 The Honey Extraction Process – at Brookfield Farm

Once uncapped; it’s into the extractor.  I have a Maxant 20 frame Extractor – and I love it.



Honey Extractor (centrifuge) loaded with frames of honey

Loaded and Ready to Spin


Honey frames spin in a honey extractor

Extractor Spinning (don’t open spinning extractors, it’s dangerous)


My husband, the woodworker, built me the extraction stand.

Small but serviceable Honey Extraction Room

Waiting On the Extractor


The wonderful thing is that it tilts. The out-flow on the extractor does not allow all the honey to flow out, so to get all the honey, it must tilt.

Maxant 20 Frame Honey Extractor on Brookfield Farm Tilting Stand

Going For The Last Drop


How it sets on the stand:

Details of woodworker Ian Balsillie's tilting honey-extractor stand

The Details


But it does need the “high tech” shim to keep the extractor from turning in the wooden collar that holds the extractor

Shim in place on honey extractor stand

The all important extractor stand shim


 Participating in a Honey Authentication Protocol Study

While extracting, I cut two samples of from honey comb for a research study that University of California, Davis, is doing in conjunction with the US Food and Drug Association (FDA).  I did use frames which were being decommissioned, having served their 5-years in my hives.

Honey frame sampled for honey study

Sampled area : cut from older honey frame


The study is “aimed at identifying honeys made by bees that have been fed a sugar source other than natural flower nectars.”  The study aims to develop “standardized methods and protocols for authentication of honeys,” writes Amina Harris, Director, Honey and Pollination Center,Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science,UC Davis.

Cut comb honey - sample for UC Davis honey study

Honey Sample for UC Davis

A good protocol is greatly  needed in the US, in my humble opinion.  Too much  “honey” bought in many US stores is not honey, but rather a substance created by bees who are given non-nectar sugars (cane, beet, corn syrup….).


Fall Hike With Pack Goats

Once done with extraction – a small vacation was needed.  The packgoats, my husband, our small dog, and I took off over the high Cascade Mountains for a 5 day walk.  I’ll write more about “what I did on my fall vacation” later in the depths of winter, but here’s two pictures of the “boys” on our journey:

Pack Goats in Northwest Washington State

A fun walk – For a Pack Goat


Only the big goat wears a pack.  He is an Oberhasli  – he’s the only one old enough to carry a pack (3 years).  The other two are a 1.5 year old boer goat X cashmere, and a 6 month old cashmere.   2 Plugs here:  the Northwest Cashmere Goat Association and the Northwest Pack Goat Association are both worth checking out if you like goats, and – if you hike – especially pack goats (none of us are getting any younger).  Pack goats are great – small enough to fit in a pick up, able to walk nearly any terrain, and obey quite like a dog – you do have to train them.


Pacific Northwest Mountain Pond with Pack goats

Pack Goats relax without packs


Tiberius, the big goat, in the above image is wearing a rain coat.  He’s the Oberhasli and doesn’t have a thick coat like Speedy – Speedwell Thyme is his whole name – (the small cashmere X boer goat). Tibo’s also has to wear his red raincoat because this is hunting season here – and so some hunters he looks like a deer.

That’s the news from Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey, Maple Falls, Washington.  We’ve dropped into a long-lasting rain storm here – the arrival of fall in the Pacific Northwest.  Must not grumble though – east of the Cascades has has one of the worst drought/fire seasons in years.

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Harvesting Honey, Treating Hives

Harvesting Honey, Treating Hives

I have been pulling honey and putting thymol on the hives this last week. This blog’s been silent for quite a few weeks. July and August simply got out of control.

Busy Times: July to August

In general I was:

Doing a festival a week. These were usually 2-3 day events, often preceded by a day of set up.

Some of the honeys sold by Brookfield Farm at their Market Booth

Introducing some late season queens from Northwest Queens. I like to have some nucs to over winter. This gives a fast replacement for any queenless spring hive or a quick start to hives in the new year.

Making frames, wiring frames, hanging foundation, making supers, and supering hives.

Putting in a new water system at the farm – an on-going project to be completed before snow flies. (Which will be followed by the new solar panel system, which can be done in the snow if need be).

In the upcoming weeks I’ll post a retrospective of what I was doing at the hives.

Harvesting Honey

I run about 80 hives in Whatcom County, Washington (state) – the most northwest corner of Washington.

Bee hives at Brookfield Farm Bees and Honey, WA

Farm Hives before Harvest

I used to pull honey in September, but I’ve upped the date to the third week of August. Two reasons: 1) more time for the bees to harvest late season blooms and set themselves up before the rains come in mid-October and 2) September has better hiking weather here. It’s win-win for me and the bees.

I leave about 70 pounds of honey on each strong hive after pulling the honey. They add more and eat a bit as time progresses towards winter. I don’t weigh the hives.

All my hives are mediums (westerns). I figure an average frame of honey in my hives weighs 4 pounds (I weighed a lot frames, then averaged). If the bees in a strong have 18 frames of honey I figure they’ll be ok.

How The Hives Are Set for Winter

The line up this year (a slightly crazed year) is basically:

  • Top box: Full Box of honey
  • Next box down: 6 frames of honey (positions 1-3 and 7-10) Center: Brood
  • Next box down : 2, or more, frames of honey, depending on the brood count (positions 1, 10)
  • Next box down (bottom box) : Whatever the bees have put there. Usually it’s filled with pollen.

If the hive has a huge load of brood there’s usually a fifth box that is the 2nd or 3rd box up.

Even if there’s no honey for me, I leave this amount of honey on the hives. I need the girls alive for next year. I have not figured the harvest yet, but I think I’ve averaged about 6-7 frames per hive (some gave little to none; some gave nearly 20 frames).

Before And After In A Few Bee Yards


Tall beehives at a Brookfield Farm (WA) bee yard



Colorful bee hives in Washington state

After The Harvest


Colorful hives before honey harvest

Brookfield Farm Hives at Spring Frog Farm before Harvest

Brookfield Farm Bee Hives, Washington

After the harvest: Spring Frog Farm

My Farm Helpers

I run dark bees. These are “known” to be not very nice. I disagree, as do my “hive grounds maintenance crew” who work at the farm.

Goats eating clover by bee hives

Brookfield Farm ground maintenance crew

Rudy Goat seemed to wish to emphasize the gentle nature of my dark bees.

Happy Goat and Open Bee Hives

Rudy Goat And the Bees During Honey Harvest

Or perhaps the bushes at the front just looked particularly nice.

Goat eats amid Bee hives

Bees? What bees?

Naturally Treated Hives

I treat every year with either thymol (Apiguard) or formic acid (Mite Away Quick Strips). Both occur naturally in hives. Neither seems to have a negative affect on the bees (no clustering at front, and fast removal).

The two treatments are alternated each year. This comes from my years of raising goats. You never used the same wormer twice in a row. You want to avoid having the pests become resistant to the treatment.

This year is an Apiguard year.

Apiguard, scale, and hives

2014: an Apiguard Year

I hate Apiguard years. The treatment is fine. The cost is reasonable. The effect is good. So what’s my problem? You have to give a first treatment, and then repeat with a second treatment, and then remove the card the gel was on (if the bees haven’t done so). It’s one extra trip around the bee yards. One more time lifting all those boxes.

All those boxes: I use Randy Oliver’s idea: I use half the amount, but put it between brood boxes. So each time I go I need to lift at least 2 boxes. I’m not as young as I used to be (we can all say that).   That’s what the scale is for: to measure the dose.

September: Hiking Season in northwest Washington

It takes a week for me to pull all the honey, prepare the hives for winter (all that organizing of brood and honey), and treating the hives. Plus it rains every so often here. But when I can, I head for the local mountains. I live near the second most glaciated volcano in Washington. It is absolutely beautiful here.

Pack goat at Cascade Mountain pass Washington

Pack goat at rest on High Pass


pack goats in Training

Two pack goats in Training
Mount Baker in background

That’s the news from Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey, in Maple Falls, Washington. How are your honey harvests going in the northern lands? How is your honey year shaping up south of the equator?

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Cutting Grass in Bee Yards

As spring moves into summer here in northwest Washington, the grass grows – with authority.  What looked like a tidy-ish bee yard one week can be a jungle two weeks later. So armed with my trusty power scythe, I headed out for the bee yards.  This is one of those things that folks do not mean when they say “I’d like to spend a day with a beekeeper.”

First the before and after shots of one of my down-river bee yards:

Honeybee hives in tall grass

The yard needs a bit of a trim








Honeybee hives in Northwest Washington state

After The Clearing










As you can see, the grass gets quite tall

Tall grasses obscure honeybee hives

It’s a jungle out there for the bees












The bees have challenges at their lower entrances.

Honeybee hive entrance obscured by grass

Before the “gardener” comes









They do all have an upper entrance as well, but even in tall grass, they seem to like the lower one.

It’s a lot of work, but it is made easier by my Husqvarna power scythe.

Power Scythe used to cut grass

The Power Scythe









I love it, but they seem to be made for folks over five foot seven inches.   I wind up hoisting it up into uncomfortable positions to make it work.  But it does the job.

Surprisingly, the bees don’t seem to mind the noise or the blade, even when it is right in front of them.  Which means that I can do this without a bee suit (or as I call it on hot days: the wearable sauna).

Beekeeper in Tee-Shirt while cutting grass at hives

I am so glad the bees don’t mind the scythe












Of course I try to clear the grass on warm days when the bees are otherwise occupied pulling in nectar and honey, so that could be the reason for the total disregard of the noise and moving blades.

They seem pretty happy when I’m done -

Honeybees fly from hives

Wide Open Spaces












We are now back into our “normal” June weather: wet and cold.  Which means the grass is getting nicely watered to continue its summer growth.  Oh well, that’s nature.

We’re almost on the solstice – so happy summer to those in the north, and a hoping a gentle winter to those in the south.


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New Queens In New Hives

The queen bees have come – with more still coming.  The first queens have been placed in their hives (the splits I wrote about in the previous blog post), and are laying.  This post covers how I put them in and the result.

I should have taken a photo of one of the queens and her attendants in her box.  I got involved in my work and forgot to do that; so all these photos are from when I pulled the queen out.

My hives are all 10 frame hives.  To install the queen in her hive I pull out one frame and open up the area in the center of the hive.

Queen bee installation box in place

Workers check out empty queen box











I place the queen’s box with candy up and the net area on the queen box facing towards the front of the hive.

Queen honey bee transportation box after queen release

The queen has been released.











These queens came with candy plugs.  I drop a drop or three of water onto the candy to dissolve it a bit and give the workers a start on freeing their queen.

After 4 to 5 days, I went back to pull the boxes.

Worker bees and empty queen box

Worker Bee Checks Out the Empty Box











I’m pleased to say that all the queens were released and all had started to lay eggs.  One queen got a bit excited and layed two eggs in one cell and none in another cell.  No problems, it happens when they’re just out of the box.

Honeybee eggs in frame cells

Eggs – with a few misses











The empty queen transport boxes were pulled out, but before I could push the frames together and replace the frame I had pulled for space, the burr comb had to be replaced.  It is amazing how much comb the girls can build in four to five days.

Nine out of ten of these hives are doing fine.  The second boxes have been put on; honey, eggs, and larvae are in place.  One hive had queen failure.  They let her lay some eggs, then she either died of travel stress or the bees killed her.  I’ve some nice supercedure cells in that hive, so I will wait to see what the queens look like who emerge from them.  I would always prefer 10 out of 10 on queen success, but I’ll take 9 out of 10.

How goes your summer work in the bee yards?  Or how is the “winter’s coming” prep going down south?

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Making and Moving Bee Hive Splits

Every year I raise and purchase queen bees, each of which requires her own hive.  Thus every year I make and move splits (also known as artificial swarms).   I use the “over night split” method to make the splits.  The move is pretty standard, except that I use my screened beehive bottoms, turned upside down, as the base during the move.


My favorite time to make these is when the bees are bringing in lots of honey and pollen.  That’s because 1) the bees ignore me when they’re busy and 2) I have a good variety of frames to pull for the split.

Basic Overnight Spilt for a hive where a queen will be introduced:

Get out queen excluders and tops : one per each split
Fill new boxes with foundation or drawn comb : one per each split
Take them to the hives

Equipment for making over night splits

Loading the Gear











In bee yard :

Empty the new frames on ground next to parent hive – the hive frames come from.

Set empty box on top of an upturned top on one side of the parent hive.

Take frames from parent hive, shaking off all, or most of the bees as you pull them out.  Making sure there is no queen on the frames removed.

I take:
2 Frames of capped brood

Honeybee Brood

Capped Brood











The more completely capped the better

Try to avoid those with any eggs or young larvae

These will soon bee empty frames and there will be lots of new workers

1 Frame of Nectar

Frame of Nectar with bees

Frame of Nectar











1 Frame of Pollen

Honeybees on a frame of pollen

A frame of pollen











1 or more Drawn, but unfilled foundation (ok a little filled is ok)
I usually use one from a previous year, but I had this image.

Honeybees on drawn bee hive foundation

Drawn Comb











1 or more sealed frames of honey if available.

I’ve done this with one brood frame, one pollen frame, and one nectar frame, but results are better if I give the split some nice materials to work with.

Split Frame Set Up

Brood in the center (positions 5 and 6)

Pollen to one side brood

Nectar to other side of brood

Drawn, but empty next

Honey next

Then I fill in the rest with either drawn comb or foundation – depends on what I have available.

Parent Hive frame replacement

Brood is pushed together so the brood nest is not broken up.

Foundation or drawn comb replacements are put in depending on how the hive looks.  I might checker board a honey-packed hive, or put the frames in positions 2 and 9 in two different boxes.  It really is a spur of the moment decision based on what’s happening in the parent hive.

Of Queen Excluders

I don’t use queen excluders on my hives, except during splits.

Once I’ve got the parent hive filled in with replacement frames:

I place the queen excluder on top of that hive.

The split, without bees because they were all shaken before they were put in the split, is now put on top of the queen excluder.

The “Over-Night” Of Over-Night Splits

I leave them for 24 hours or more.  If I’ve done this in the morning, I come back early the next morning.  If it has gotten on in the day by the time I’m doing the splits, I come back the evening of the next day.

During the night nurse bees will come up to cover the brood.  Honey-working bees will come up to work the honey.  Pollen packers head for the pollen.  Even foragers will come up.

The foragers are why I return in the early morning or evening.  I want those foragers to travel with the split.  Mind you, if the bees are only moving to a new spot in the same bee yard, or to a bee yard within two miles of the parent hive.  I move the split at any time after the 24 hours.  That’s because any foragers I pick up will most likely fly back to the parent hive.


When I return to pull the splits I carry bottom screens for every hive, plus one extra screen – why the extra in a moment.

I use bottom screens on my hives; no solid bottoms anywhere.  I find this helps keeps the hives dry (have I mentioned it rains quite a lot here in western Washington?).  Even in winter the bees live above screens – they can deal with cold; they can’t deal with wet.  The bottoms are 1/8 inch hardware cloth.

Bee hive bottom screen

A Brookfield Farm Bottom Screen











My husband makes the bottom screens – he normally makes fabulous handcrafted furniture – but he’s willing to put his skills to work for the bees as well.

The design is based on bottom screens that came with my first two hives : from Roy Nettlebeck of Tahuya River Apiaries.  He used solid bottoms below the screens.  I just eliminated the solid bottoms.

The base, below the screen is a 2-inch high rectangle.  Which, when the screen is flipped over makes it the perfect moving platform.  Two tie down straps make it ready for the new split to be pulled, covered, and moved.

Bee hive moving screen

Reversed bottom screen with moving straps in place











The bees have plenty of ventilation and cannot escape during the drive to the new location.

Bee hive splits loaded in truck

Loaded To Roll











That’s why I carry one extra screen : One screen has to be put down before the first hive is lifted off of its bottom screen / moving base.

All Tucked In

The bees moved in these images are all tucked into their new locations, including this little lady who decided to ride “free” during the move.

Honeybee on bee box

A Not So Easy Rider













As of this time, they have had new queens installed.  The queens came from Strachan Apiaries in California as they have both New World Carniolan and some Caucasian genes – both of which I like.  Normally I’d be out today checking to see if the queens were released and releasing those still in cages, but it is pouring rain.  Hopefully tomorrow will see some sun.

Spring is busy here with splits, queen making, opening new bee yards, markets and festivals, and thinking : “when will the rain stop long enough for me to paint my wooden ware?” How are things going in your bee yards?  If you have other ways of making splits, do share – we only learn by pooling our knowledge.






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Preparing for Splits and Supers

Spring is upon us.  Flowers are blooming, drones are flying, it is time to put supers on the hives and/or split some of the hives to create homes for the newest queens.  What follows are photographs of what I am doing to prepare boxes that will be used for splits and supers.

(If you are looking for the post about why we are leaving the Bellingham Farmers Market as of June 30, it is here.)

My work area is the hayloft of my barn.  It can be awkward, because of hauling stuff up and down the stairs.  However I have a lot of room to work in because I only have 8 goats these days.

Bee Box Work area Brookfield Farm, Maple Falls Washington

The Work Area











As boxes come in from the bee yards. They get stacked around my desk.  These boxes are usually the the bottom boxes of my hives, which are empty by spring.

Bee Boxes to be cleaned

A few of the boxes to be cleaned











I stack the boxes on a tarp that I have laid on the “deck” – this process gets very messy.

Bee Boxes Stacked for scraping

Waiting for Cleaning













The frames are removed and quickly examined.  Any frame older than 5 years is discarded.  This is because pathogens can build up on the older foundation.  Is this painful to do? You bet.  But I had some experience with American Foul Brood, and discarding old frames is way less painful.










I just toss them off the deck. Then pick them up at the end of the day – the tossing part’s fun.

Then I look at the remaining frames: Any frame over 3 years, is put in the “for honey” area.  Frames that have been drawn 2 years back get put in the “for brood” area.  Thus 2012 and 2013 can work brood this year along with 2014 drawn comb.  2010 and 2011 are in the “for honey” area.  Usually the bees concur.

But regardless of which area the frames are headed for, the frames and boxes need to be scraped.

Boxes get the frame rests, top edges, bottom edges, and inside walls done.  Usually, it’s the frame rest areas that are the most heavily coated with propolis.  If left on, the frames become very difficult to move.

Frame Area Before:

Lip of bee box with propolis

Propolis on the Edge











And After:

Brookfield FArm bee box - edge clean

Clean Edge











The frames get a lot of build-up as well.

Where they rest together:

Propolis Thick on a Bee hive foundation frame

Frame Thick with Propolis












Clean foundation frame

Frame cleaned of propolis











Even the tips of the frames can get “extended”.

Propolis extends edge of bee hive foundation frame

They build it everywhere











Once everything is scraped (and this goes quite quickly once you get a rhythm going), the frames are organized into the cleaned boxes.

I use 6 frames of new undrawn foundation, 2 frames of “brood foundation” – the most recent years, and 2 frames of “honey foundation” – the older years in each box.

The line up from left to right:

New / Older / New / Younger / New / New / Younger / New / Older / New

Frame Placement in Bee Box

Organizing the Frames











The new foundations in positions 1 and 10 will be swapped with the Older in positions 2 and 8 when the new foundations at 3 and 7 are drawn out — hope that makes sense.

If the box becomes a super, the new foundations at positions 5 and 6 will be replaced with brood frames from the box to be supered (bringing the brood up), and the new frames will go to positions 2 and 9 in the lower box.

The arrows on the tops of the frames (see photo above) mark the direction of the foundation – as per the Housel Position Method . This has worked well in my hives.

The year that the undrawn foundation was placed in the hive is written on the edge of the frame.  If the bees do not draw it out that year, then the next year date is entered.  I could do this when I pull them out, but I’m usually hurried, so I find it easier to just to correct the date as I put the boxes together

Dates on frames to record year drawn

The year foundation’s drawn













Then the box is all ready to be hauled down to the truck and taken to the bee yards.

Frames in Bee box

Ready To Load











This and supering and making queens and splits has taken up a lot of my time.  However I always make time to walk my pack goats (and the retired goats).  We’ve had a new addition to the group: Jerry Lee Lewis (his mom’s Good-Golly-Miss-Molly).  He’s a handsome 5-week old kid, who is already doing the daily walks with the group.

5 week old cashmere goat, Brookfield Farm, WA

Jerry Lee – Future Pack Goat











That’s the news from Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey, Maple Falls Washington.  How go your beeyards?

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Why We Are Leaving the Bellingham Farmers Market on June 30

Honesty can be a hindrance to business it seems.  We sell raw honey from naturally-treated, antibiotic-free Washington state hives.  Some of this honey is from our hives here in Whatcom County (northwest Washington state).  Some of this honey is from beekeeper friends, who, like us, feel that chemicals and antibiotics have no place in the hive.

We have been selling these raw honeys at the Bellingham Farmers Market for over a year at both the summer and winter markets with the Market Board’s approval.  Suddenly the Board wants us to remove all our friends’ honeys by June 30.  Because the removal of about 50% of our established product makes attendance at the market economically unviable, we will be leaving the market.

All of our Raw Honeys will still be available at other markets and festivals including Seattle’s Fremont Market, the US mail, and free local delivery.

Free Delivery to locations in the cities of Bellingham, Everson, and Nooksack, plus along the Mt. Baker Highway from Bellingham to Glacier.

We ship nationwide via US Post.  It’s just the cost of the honey and whatever the US postal service charges, no shipping or handling fees.

If you would like to see all of our Raw Honeys from Naturally Treated, Antibiotic-Free Washington hives stay at Bellingham Farmers Market; we do have an online petition.


We are allowed to sell all the raw honeys (ours and our friends) under the rules of the Washington State Farmers Market Association.

We, as sellers of these raw honeys, meet all the printed requirements to sell these honeys under the Bellingham Farmers Market’s Bylaws and Vendor Requirements.

If we had followed a standard practice in honey sales and did not state the source of our raw honey on every label, implying that the honeys were from our hives, we could have continued to sell the honey.  We would have never have been questioned.

However, we feel that customers should know the source of their honey, and that all beekeepers, including ourselves and our friends, should be acknowledged for our hard work in maintaining hives using only natural treatments and no antibiotics.

Sadly, in this area, the “norm” is for beekeepers to purchase honey from other beekeepers but label it as their own honey.   In fact, I know of only one other beekeeper in this area who, like us, insists on labeling the honey she sells at her Whidbey Island Farmers Markets with the name and location of the apiary that produced the honey.


The first reason the Bellingham Farmers Market Board gave was incorrect.

The Board sent us a letter that said that we in violation of Washington State Farmers Market Association rules.

This surprised me, so I called the Farmers Market Association.  A representative asked about the source of our honey, how it was processed to keep it raw, and about our labeling.

She then told me that we are perfectly in line with the Associations’ rules.

The Bellingham Farmers Market Board Tries To Find Another Reason To Remove Our Honeys

We pointed out that we were obeying the Association rules to the Bellingham Farmers Market Board President.  She acknowledged that we were correct.  Then she said : “The letter misspoke.”

(Side note: Beware of typed and signed letters. They are apparently taking their revenge for all our emails. Letters now speak, or misspeak for themselves – rather than represent the people who write and sign the letters.)

I then asked the Board President: “If the reason you gave was not valid, then why do you want us to remove the honeys?

Her answer stunned me:  “That’s what we’re trying to work out.”

There was no reason.  They just wanted our honeys gone.

You Can’t Fight Feelings

The Board then decided that they “felt” that we did not meet their requirements as food processors.  Our Bellingham Market designation has been food processors because we sell our own raw honeys, and also process our friends’ raw honeys while keeping the honeys raw.  This can be a bit tricky, time consuming, and requires knowledge and skill.

We take 650 pound barrels of our friends’ solid Raw Honey and through a laborious series of warm rooms, warming blankets, and water baths, which never exceed 100F, create bottles of Raw Honey from Naturally Treated, Antibiotic-Free Hives our customers, can use at home.

None of our friends’ raw honeys are available in “kitchen size” containers in any local farmers markets, except where we sell, and my friend who sells on Whidby Island.

Still confused as to why we were not considered farmers/food processors, we asked the Board President for a statement of the requirements and regulations we were not meeting.

The Board President never stated any requirements. She only said that there was already honey at the market.

We pointed out that we are the only sellers of Raw Honeys from Naturally Treated, Antibiotic-Free Washington hives at the Bellingham Farmers Market.

It did not matter. The decision was final.  In the end, the removal of our friends’ Raw Honeys from Naturally Treated, Antibiotic-Free Washington hives is based on the Board’s “feelings.”

Unanswered Questions

The above all took place over a three-month period.  With three letters from the Board and a letter and an email from us.  You can read the correspondence at our Walking-Wild.com site the Board, and the Board receiving one letter and an email from us. (You – Warning, their letters are about a page long. My answers range from four to seven pages – I thought they wanted details and needed to understand our process.  Turns out they weren’t interested.).

Every time I wrote I would ask the Board to explain why we would be treated differently from coffee roasters.  This is the Pacific Northwest; we have at least two coffee roasters at the market.

The question was never answered.

My reasoning is that both us and the coffee roasters:

1) Take a product that most consumers do not want. 

Us: 650 lbs of crystallized honey in a barrel

Coffee: 50 – 100 lb bags of green coffee beans

2) By using equipment with precise temperature controls we transform that product into something consumers want:

Us: Power Blankets, Water Baths, Warm Rooms (I love the warm room – I like sitting in 92F heat)

Coffee: Coffee Roasters

3) Package the Product:

Us: from 2oz jars to 1-gallon glass jars.

Coffee : nice portable 1 pound bags.

The question was always ignored by the President and the rest of the Market Board.  Perhaps because there is no answer other than: they are similar processes.  Which would mean our products could remain or the coffee roasters would have to leave (which I wouldn’t want – who can have a market, or a street, in the Pacific Northwest without coffee roasters).

Feelings Triumph Over Rules, for the Bellingham Farmers Market Board:

There never was any rule sited to back the demand of the removal of our honeys.

We were left with the “feelings” of the Board.

We cannot respond to the “feelings” of the Board, because feelings cannot be documented.

A Chance to Express your Feelings

You can express your feelings on the issue.  I have created an on-line petition (it’s amazing what you can do on the internet these days).  Or if you want to tell the market what you think, you can contact our Market Board President and Vice-President:

President : Margot Myers margotbmyers@gmail.com

Vice-President: Alex Winstead, cascadiamushrooms@gmail.com

You can still get all our raw honeys from naturally-treated, antibiotic-free hives.

We will continue to sell at the Market until June 30 (the “get the honey out of here” date demanded by the Board).

We also do Free Delivery to the cities of Bellingham, Everson, and Nooksack, plus all along the Mt. Baker Highway from Bellingham to Glacier.  Just email us (or call, but I was told never put a phone number in a blog – so email us or pick up a flier at the Bellingham Farmers Market before June 30).

There, I’ve put it all down and inputted all the correspondence, so my next post can get back to the more important things: bees and beekeeping.  During all this I’ve done the spring hive assessment, have supered most of my hives, and am now about to split at least 15 hives and start to raise queens for my apiary.  Oh yes, I went to Kauai and got to visit some of the beekeepers there — coming up soon on a blog.  That was really interesting – a completely different world with some fewer concerns (no varroa), and some additional concerns (small hive beetle).  There was something really special, to me, about burning coconut fiber in a smoker – how romantic (well, not to them).

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

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