Beeswax Chews : (or the Big Bits Floating On Top Of Honey)

I started selling “beeswax chews” at Seattle’s Ballard Farmers’ Market.   After explaining what they were to customers, I thought – “hey, a new blog topic”. Now “Beeswax Chews” are what I’ve always called the big bits of wax that float on top of the honey after extraction. These bits have a fair amount of Bee Bread (bee adapted pollen) and propolis and some raw honey clinging to them.

How I Use Beeswax Chews at Brookfield Farm:

Bits of Beeswax, Bee Bread, Propolis

Beeswax Chews


They have always served two purposes for me:

1) I chew them like gum. You can swallow them, but I just spit them out (in a delicate lady-like manner of course). They taste good and I figure the bee bread and propolis should be good for me.

2) I feed them back to the bees. Before anyone cries out, let me say that when bees share bees wax or honey there’s a good chance diseases will be passed around. I would not let my bees pick through any other beekeeper’s beeswax bits, but my girls get to share with each other.

Where the Beeswax Bits Come From:

There are 2 sources for beeswax bits in any honey operation:

1) Cappings wax – the wax that is cut off from frames of honey during extraction. At Brookfield Farm, these fall into a vat with a screen at the bottom so dripping honey collects below the cappings wax.

An uncapped frame of honey

Uncapped Honey Frame – Capping Tank Below

2) From extracted frames. When the uncapped honey frames go into the extractor, bits of wax can and do fly off. The extractor is a centrifuge and if wax it loose, it flies off the frames along with honey.

Honey frames spin in a honey extractor

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

When the extractor’s honey gate is opened to let the honey flow from the tank’s bottom, the bits of wax come right along with it.  (They are the white blobs in the honey in the image below.)

Raw honey flows from honey extractor to bucket at Brookfield Farm, Maple Falls, Washington

Brookfield Farm’s very basic set up

In my operation, I just scoop them up with a large spoon and hand held sieve and pop them into their own container. Other beekeepers catch them by having the honey flow through a wire sieve that sits between the extractor and the honey bucket.

In large operations, there is a baffle tank.  Think of a long open trough with three “dams” or baffles in it.  The honey flows from the extractor and into a tank with three baffles – little dams (at least the one I was privileged to use for a while had three – oh, the good old days – baffle tanks are great).

At each step, the beeswax bits float to the surface as the honey drifts under a slot at the bottom. By the third baffle, the honey’s pretty darn free of big bits. It still has bee bread (bee adapted pollen) and propolis, just not big floating bits.

Customers Do Ask….We try to supply

I never really thought about selling them. We just chewed them – especially in winter during the “cold and flu” season – and let the bees have them. Then a customer asked for them. So I thought, hey, I’ll put them out there… My great marketing strategy – ask me for something, if I have it I’ll put it out, if I don’t have it, I’ll try to find out where you can get it. So now you can find them at Seattle’s Ballard Farmers’ Market every Sunday.

Beeswax bits after extraction

Beeswax Chews – Up Close


What’s Happening Right Now

It’s raining. This is not earth shattering news in winter around here. I’m happy to say it’s snowing where it should: 15 to 25 miles up river. That gives good snowshoeing in the forest and good skiing/snowboarding at the Mt. Baker Ski Area (I don’t ski/snowboard, but it’s ski slopes in the midst of a National Forest – beautiful, and I hear world-class runs).

The bees popped out for the two nice days we had. Of course, I had appointments in town (an hour away) both days. I took some quick peeks at the farm bee yard and most look good. Two (this is a blog of 2’s) look like dead outs, but I’ve been fooled before. I start pulling apart a “dead out” and the cluster of bees looks up and say “close the darned box lady, it’s cold out there….” So we shall see

I also got my vacation rental in Glacier onto Air BnB – it was a bit more complicated than I thought it was going to be.  The good photos seem to be still making their way though the system (go figure).  I’ve been trying to sell the house, but with the economy as it is, renting it seems to be the best way, or now.

Oh, and I learned how to use my new Square Register, kind of. I’m getting better at it. But I have had lots of help from the wonderful vendors around me at the Ballard Market. I’m quite pleased it’s working – technology is not my forte.

That’s the news from Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey, in Maple Falls, Washington, how are your bees as we head into spring here in the northern latitudes, and you all head for fall down south?

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Honey Paw Uncapper – my new uncapper

Last year I finally purchased and used a Honey Paw Uncapper.  It works quite well, but it was a pain to buy.  Nothing like sending 200 EUROS (about $215 at this time, I think the exchange made it higher when I bought it) to Narva, Finland based on their video and a few comments in on beekeeping web forums.  It all worked out.  Buying it was the hardest part.

Honey Paw Slit Uncapper at Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey, Maple Falls, WA

Honey Paw Uncapper

The Background:
a short history of uncapping honey at Brookfield Farm

When I had a few hives I had a friend with a huge extraction set up.  60-frame extractor, baffle tanks, pumps, and of course a Cowen Uncapper.

Honey Uncapper, Cowen Manufacturing

Cowen Honey Uncapper – They are wonderful










Easy?  It was a breeze.

Then I got more hives and my friend left the business.  I got a 20-frame extractor and a hot knife.  Efficient, yes, but hard on my hands.

Also, as much as I explained to the bees that I needed flat surfaces on the comb, I got lumpy surfaces.  Bees, they just don’t listen.

Honey Frame about to be uncapped

I tell them “straight frames” do the bees listen? No.









So I kept poking around on the web, looking at options that 1) I could afford 2) could work in my very small extraction room and 3) could deal with the rolling surfaces of my drawn honey frames.   That’s where I found the Honey Paw.


Honey Paw Slit Uncapper at Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey, Maple Falls, WA

Honey Paw Uncapper













The Honey Paw:

Basically, the Honey Paw is a smooth “scratcher” that is warmed by steam.  I thought that was pretty cool, and still do.

The unit is small and handheld.

The warmed unit is passed lightly across the drawn honeycomb, rolling over, and dipping down into all the little hills and valleys of the comb’s surface.

Honey Paw Uncapper on Frame of Honey at Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey, Maple Falls, WA

Sliding Over A Frame of Honey










Furrows are left behind where the honey will emerge in the extractor.


Uncapped Honey Frame After Honey Paw Uncapper

After the Honey Paw










I thought it did a lovely job.  The honey came out in about 15 minutes (pretty standard time).  The best part was that the wax was not completely disassembled on the drawn comb.  It looks good, and leaves more intact cells so the bees will need to do less work to rebuild before they reseal.

HoneyPaw Frame After Extraction

Honey Frame After Extraction











It’s hard to photograph, but the parts that look like they are still uncapped have no honey under them.  Surprised me too.

Ian took a break from woodworking and did some of the extraction this year.

Ian Using the Honey Paw Uncapper

Ian Uncapping Honey










To see what he thought of the Honey Paw, I had him use my hot knife for a bit, then the Honey Paw.  He too felt that the Honey Paw was easier to use, easier on the comb, and was more efficient in uncapping portion the frames.


How The Honey Paw Uncapper Works:

Two hoses attach to the unit: one is steam coming into the unit; the other is the steam (water) leaving the unit. The water goes into and out of the unit itself. The honey doesn’t get wet.  The Honey Paw is just warm enough to melt the wax as you pass over the frame – you don’t linger, which is nice.


Steam Driven

A wallpaper steamer provides the steam.

Steam Connection For HoneyPaw Uncapper

Steam Connection for Wall Paper Steamer Unit










If one had to buy this it would be pricy, but one can rent them at any DIY place in towns.  You get all these amazing tools for removing wallpaper with the rental, but they just sit in the truck.  It’s the steamer unit that’s important.

It’s also the part that worried me (me being worried is a natural state, like the sun shinning).  Would the tubes fit? Would it blow up?  Yes to the first, no to the second.

It’s pretty simple: attach a tube to the steamer and run it to the tool.  Run another tube away from the honey paw and, for me, out the door.

The Tubes For The Honey Paw

The tubes that run from the wallpaper steamer are ¼” clear, flexible tubing.  We have this amazing hardware store in Bellingham Washington, Hardware Sales.  Wallpaper steamer rental: no problem. Small flexible tubing: no problem.  Amazing advice on plumbing: no problem (but that’s another story).

The critical part on the Honey Paw set up is that the tubes should not touch.  Each tube on its own if fine, but the company says you should not let them lay against each other.


Hot tube rigging for the honey paw uncapper - the rustic version

the non-fancy, but functional tube rig





















The Honey Paw Video shows a beautiful rig with ceiling rigging and spiraling wires that keep the tubes separated.

Brookfield Farm is a bit more basic.  The room’s ceiling is low and has beams.  Two C-Clamps did the trick: one C-Clamp for each line.

Put the Steamer for the Honey Paw Outside

At first I ran the out-flow hose into a bucket in the room, but that was putting water in the room. The line was then run outside though a small opening in the door jam (the benefits of doors not fitting properly) and into a bucket outside.

HoneyPaw Outflow Tube to Bucket

no problem finding buckets at Brookfield Farm











The Honey Paw Uncapper: I’m Glad I bought it.

In all I’m glad I bought it.  But I think they need a US and/or Canadian distributor.  It is just way too worrisome to send money to a small, unknown (at least here) company overseas.  They are totally legit, have a lovely selection of equipment, but Finland’s a long way away.  If you are inspired to get one, I’d say go for it (the bank does the hard part: the exchange rate, figuring out the routing numbers, at least mine did for me, I like my bank).  I think I’ll be using the Honey Paw for a long, long time.

Honey Paw Uncaps Frame of Honey

Looking forward to years of use


Happening Now At Brookfield Farm

I’m struggling to learn to use a square reader and the new, used, tablet that I had to get to use the square.  So in 2016 I’ll be able to take credit cards at both our Seattle Markets: Ballard and Fremont.  Really, I’d much rather work bees without a veil than get my head around this technology.  The things we do to make a living, eh?

On the positive side, we’re past the last big snow – I was so tired of chaining up my truck to make it up the last half mile to the farm (and that was with snow tires and 4-wheel drive).   One of my guard dogs was somewhat disappointed that he could not find enough dogs and cats to play a proper game of hockey on the drive.

Livestock Guard Dog seeks hockey team

Livestock Guard Dog On Ice



















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Honey Foam : The White Stuff On Top

Honey foam may be one of the most surprising things about the appearance of raw honey.   It is often greeted with the words: “What’s that white stuff on top?” Regardless of the raw honey’s form, runny or crystallized, it may be topped with a thin layer of froth, which will solidify in crystallized honey. If you find this honey foam in your jar, consider yourself lucky.

Honey Foam on Raw Buckwheat Honey

Swirls of Foam

Honey foam is delicious. It is light, flavorful, and packed with air bubbles that have trapped some of the wondrous stuff that is in raw honey: pollen, propolis, wax, and, of course, raw honey.


Gravity Fed Honey

I don’t get a lot of honey foam in my raw honey because I’m pretty low-tech: gravity flow from extractor to bucket to jars.

Dark, Rich Brookfield Farm honey pouring from the extractor

Gravity Fed Honey


Pumped Honey

Some friends of mine who have a “few” more hives (I have around 80 to 100, they have around 1,700 to 2,000) use pumps to move the honey from their extractors through baffle tanks and then into the large holding tanks.

Maxant Baffle Tank

Maxant’s Baffle Tank (aka a clarifying tank)


The baffles remove the big chunks of wax that fly free during the centrifuge action of the extractor. They are like little dams that let the runny honey flow through but stop big chunks. The pollen, propolis, and tiny pieces of wax flow on though with the honey.

The holding tank is just what it sounds like. A large tank that holds the honey before it’s bottled.

What Air Adds To Honey

Pumps mean air is being introduced to the system. The air bubbles up through the honey becoming involved with the pollen, propolis and wax that is making its way upward as well. The result is the most delicious, fluffy, frothy foam, full of goodness.

Barrels of Fun, and Honey, and Honey Foam

My friends’ honey often comes to me in barrels. When opened, honey foam is floating on the top.

Honey Foam in Barrel of Raw Honey

Honey Foam in Barrel of Raw Honey

As I pump the raw honey and honey foam from the barrels, more air bubbles form and again creates even more honey foam at the top of the honey jars.

Raw Buckwheat Honey with honey foam

Honey Foam at Top of Jar

Foam Forever

Even though the final bottling of raw honeys is done using the incredibly fascinating, but deceptively simple force of gravity, the honey foam stays in the honey and will rise to the top over time.

The pumped air’s effect on the honey foam is further enhanced by the proteins in the honey, according to Wikipedia. “The presence of proteins causes honey to have a lower surface tension than it would have otherwise, which produces a marked tendency to foam…and encourages formation of fine air bubbles,”

I have noticed that lighter honeys produce less foam than the black honeys; in our case the Buckwheat and Chamisa raw honeys from Stan’s hives (aka K Brothers Pollination and Honey). I would guess the higher quantity of foam in the black honeys is due to the higher ratio of proteins in the honey – but that’s just a guess.

Since we carry a wide array of raw honeys from our own hives and those of our friends, when you open a jar of honey from Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey, you just might find a delicious treat on top of the raw honey: Honey Foam

What’s Happening Now

It’s been snowing, then freezing, and the icy road home has been a pain.  I went and bought new chains for my truck to make it up the hill.  Bee wise, just trying to do some paper work that I’ve not caught up on yet.  Exciting, eh?  But I did take some time out to head up river and go walking – have I mentioned that, in my humble opinion, I live in one of the most beautiful places on earth?

North Fork Nooksack River, Whatcom County WA - winter

North Fork Nooksack River – 1/2 hour from home

That’s the news from Brookfield Farm Bees and Honey, Maple Falls, Washington.  You can find me each week at Seattle’s Ballard Farmer’s Market.  No Fremont Market for a bit, Ian, my partner, slipped on the ice and broke his arm.  The “joys” of winter…… Stay safe where ever you are….

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Storing Bee Hive Frames in Winter

I search continuously for easy, efficient, nontoxic ways to deal with bee equipment. Storing frames for winter has been an evolving technique. I am pretty happy with my new set up: stacking frames in boxes set on their sides.

Winter Storage of Bee Hive Frames At Broookfield Farm

When I had fewer hives, I used to hang my frames in the hayloft.

How foundation is stored at Brookfield Farm, Maple Falls, WA

the line on the right is 40 feet long

Stacking is even easier, and equally efficient at keeping wax moths from settling on the the comb.


I pull honey in August or September (that’s evolving too). We don’t see spring here until March at the earliest. So that means 5 or more months during which the supers’ frames are stored in my hayloft.

Mice and wax moths are my two main problems during this time.

Mice I’ve got covered

William Kitten checks out the bee box assembly line

one of our predator control experts

The cats live in the barn. Before anyone becomes worried about them, it’s a 24 by 40 foot barn with a hayloft, hay, stored furniture and bee gear. Goats and livestock guard dogs who live on the ground floor provide “warming elements’. Along with fresh mice, the cats have their own giant kibble feeder, which probably brings mice, but, hey, even cats deserve an easy break in hunting. Mice? What mice? Haven’t seen one in the barn in years.

I don’t get wax moths either – due to hanging and stacking and our cold winters.

Wax moth Damage from Jennie Stitzinge's blog

wax moth damage image
(courtesy of Jennie Stitzinger,


One thing that wax months don’t like is cold, freezing weather. Last year we didn’t have much of that, but it’s already begun this year. This is good for the local economy (we have some of the best skiing and snowboarding in the US) and good for wax frames in storage.

But wax moths can still be an issue if one creates nice, sealed, dark places for them to breed.


I stopped hanging frames as my hive numbers increased.  The technique worked really well, but it was time consuming.

In a long-lost article,  I read about stacking hives on their edges. I gave it a try and it works.

Winter Storage of Bee Hive Frames At Broookfield Farm


The article said you could go three boxes deep. The author further suggested that one put a screen at either end. I think the screen was for mice…believe me cats are easier, effective and prettier (plus, some cuddle).

I go two boxes deep.

Winter Bee Hive Frames Storage showing Space Between Storage

Two rows fit nicely

My barn has gussets – pieces of wood that stick out to allow more weight to fall on the roof without collapsing (did I mention it can snow here, a lot). Two supers on edge fit nicely between each gusset.

The boxes that face to camera are also two boxes deep – I was just running out of room, so I turned them 90 degrees.

Stacking boxes and frames in this way, also makes it easy to pull frames I want in the spring: I stack them with the top bars out, so it’s kind of like going to a frame “library”. I look at the dates of the frames, and page though to get an idea of what condition the frame is in.

Winter Bee Hive Frame Storage - along the row

I like stacking the frames. They are neat, tidy, and easily accessible.   All ready for me when spring finally rolls around.

That’s the news from Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey in Maple Falls. What’s happening right now at the farm? Inverter trauma. We are an off-grid farm. I installed a new piece of equipment only to find that it really, really did not like my 20-year-old inverter. After a number of false starts, thinking that it was an issue of voltage (105 versus 110 – no other equipment cared), then maybe an imperfect ground, I discovered that the new equipment wanted pure sine wave, something that was created over the last two decades. So I’m buying a tiny inverter just for that piece of equipment. (A wonderful company, Backwoods Solar helped me sort this out.  They’re great, they don’t mind answering questions at length.)  OK, the world of inverters is not as gripping as beekeeping, but around here inverters are vital to our operation.

How’s your winter shaping up? Or in warmer climates – how are your bees doing?

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New Honey Pump at Brookfield Farm

I love my new honey pump from Kelley Beekeeping. But like all love affairs, there are ups and downs, issues to deal with, questions to ask before everything works smoothly.

Kelley Honey Pump In - Out Connections

Pump with inflow and outflow

She (all wondrous machines are she, yes?) is a straightforward pump with a ¾ horsepower motor, a large wheel, small wheel, and a fan belt. I added on a series of plumbing connections, a 1-½ inch food grade hose and a small metal hose insert from another pump I own.

The Honey Pump’s Job at Brookfield Farm

I sell raw honey from naturally treated, antibiotic-free Washington hives; both my own honey and that of friends of mine. Most of my friend’s honey is in food-quality 55-gallon barrels. These can contain anywhere from 600-650 pounds of honey.   If you’re working with raw honey, get the 3/4 horsepower pump – because your honey is going to be thick and hard for the pump and motor to move.

Pumping Honey at Brookfield Farm

the basic set up (pump behind motor)

Because I deal in raw honey, the barrels are placed in a 100F warm room and often wrapped with a PowerBlanket, also set at 100F. This allows the honey to stay raw (at a little above optimum hive temperature) but make it flow. It flows, but it remains very, very thick. In the case of Buckwheat honey, incredibly thick. Thus the need for a ¾ horsepower pump.

The Honey Pump’s Issues

Actually, the pump has few issues itself. The troubles all are in a lack of communication – love can be like that.

The pump arrives from Kelly Beekeeping somewhat disassembled on a flat metal sheet which is bolted to a piece of wood. All the bits, wheels, belt and belt guard, are laying flat on the metal sheet. The motor arrives separately.

Kelley Beekeeping Heavy Duty Gear Pump

The Pump As It Comes

The big thing the set-up lacks is directions.

The Wonderment of “How To” put my honey pump together

The lack of directions would be fine if I knew anything about pumps and motors. But I know nothing about them. A pamphlet that came with the pump explained the flow of the honey would depend on if the pump was rotating clock-wise or counter clock-wise. That was all.

It might seem logical. One wheel had a key slot in it. The motor had a key slot. They should work together, right? Wrong. The round gear wheel goes on the motor, which has a key on its shaft – remove that key.

Kelley Honey Pump small gear wheel

Round Interior, so confusing


Honey Pump Motor with Key

The Deceptive Motor Shaft Key (the tiny piece in the groove)- remove it

When In Doubt Call Kelleys

One of the things I like about Kelley Beekeeping is that their people actually talk to you, and listen to you.   I rang Kelleys and they put me over the people in the shop who do know about pumps and motors. They talked me though putting the set-up together, from wiring to assembly.

Perhaps the oddest moment was when I was told “oh, didn’t anyone tell you to take that off the motor?” This was in reference to the key, which I thought was part of the shaft.

My New Honey Pump:

This is what my pump looks like now.

Kelley Honey Pump In - Out Connections

Pump with in-flow and out-flow

You might note it does not have a belt guard. The guard did not work at all. It rubbed the fan belt. If you remove the guard be really careful. Fingers and clothes can get caught and injuries can occur (your hair is pulled back and under a cap, so that’s secure, right?).

Kelley Honey Pump With Guard

Safety Guard On

The motor comes in a different box.

The “How To” on the Kelley Honey Pump

So in aid of anyone else who purchases this pump. What follows is how I put the pump together.

The Honey Pump & Motor Wheels:

The big wheel goes onto the pump. Ignore the fact that the wheel has a key slot. It means nothing.

Big Gear Wheel On Kelley Honey Pump

The Big Wheel

The little wheel goes onto the motor

Lock on Gear Wheel On Keyed Piece

The little geared wheel and lock down

You will need a hex key to set these in place.

Important: Do not tighten them down until everything is in place.

The Honey Pump Motor:

As I mentioned, if the motor you have has a key on it. Lift it out. You don’t need it. It will be in the way and is confusing because its gear is the round one.

I went with the 3/4 horse power motor from Kelley’s. They told me that if you’re dealing in raw honey you’ll need that to be able to pump the semi-fluid honey.  They were absolutely right.  (I could not find a link to their page for the motors – perhaps I simply called them and said “I’ll take one of those too.” I can’t remember).

The Base:

The pump arrives on a metal plate with predrilled holes for the motor.  There are holes drilled in the metal where the motor would be mounted.

Try placing the motor where the pre-drilled holes are. Hopefully it will fit.

In fact, before you order the pump and motor I would suggest calling and asking them to make sure the holes are correct for the motor you’re buying (assuming you’re getting the entire set-up from Kelleys)

If the motor does not fit in the pre-drilled holes: (Now why do I know this part, eh?)

You will need a metal drill bit, 3-in-1 oil, and a drill.

My husband drilled the holes with a regular drill, but he makes furniture and is good at using a handheld power drill.  I would have used my drill press.

Assembly of Honey Pump:

The pump arrived locked down in place by Kelleys

Attach the motor to the plate

Put the wheels on the motor and the pump.

Put the fan belt on the wheels.

If you have to set the motor into new holes you’ve drilled: Move the motor around until:

The fan belt is stretched snug between the wheels

The fan belt looks like it would run straight between the wheels

Mark and drill your holes. The 3-in-1 oil is to put on the drill bit. Drilling metal gets hot.

Align the guide wheels for the fan belt – Important advice from Kelleys:

Tighten the wheel on the motor but NOT to tighten the wheel down hard on the pump    shaft until I let it run a bit – without pumping, just turning the motor on.

That helps to align the wheels as the fan belt pulls it to its logical place.

Then tighten the wheel on the pump shaft.

Wiring the Motor:

My motor may be different from the motor now being used – so please call Kelleys and have them explain the wiring to you. Mine had 8 wires in multiple colors. None of these were the ground wire. It was not logical as to which wire would be neutral and which would be hot, and I worked in electrical for a long time.

Honey Pump Motor Wires

Honey Pump Motor Wires


Honey Pump Wires Marked for Powerd CU

Still didn’t make sense, but it worked

The Foot Switch

I added a foot switch as well.

Honey Pump Motor Foot Switch

The Foot Switch

There is no on/off switch on the motor, and unplugging the unit in a hurry was not going to be pretty, if I needed to do it.

The Belt Guard

I just could not make it work. It rubbed against the belt no matter where we put it. In the end I just took it off. Remember, if you do this just be really careful – the guard is there to protect you.

The Plumbing Bits:

The Honey Hose:

I went with 1 ½ inch hose because that’s what I had on my other pump.

I’m glad I did. When I got to pumping my barrel of 100F buckwheat it was a challenge. Buckwheat honey is really thick. The hose nearly collapsed on itself trying to suck up the honey. But it did it. It worked.

Inflow/ Outflow Bits

Photos will explain it best, but here’s the break down as well:

You’ll need 1” to 1 ½ “ reducers, elbows and bits that the hose will fit over (bet there’s a formal name for that), and hose clamps.

To pump from barrel (incoming): 1” to 1 ½ “ adapter, 1 1/2” female thread to male thread, 1 ½ inch female thread to male hose adapter, hose, with a clip to hold the hose onto the male hose adapter

Kelley Honey Pump Inflow Close Up

The Inflow

From pump outflow 1” to 1 ½” adapter, 1 1/2 “ female to male thread, 1 ½ “ elbow (the pump is in the way), 1 ½ inch female thread to male hose adaptor, hose, with a clip to hold the hose onto the male hose

Kelley Honey Pump Outflow Plumbing Bits Close Up

The Honey Pump Outflow

I wound up buying more than I needed.

Metal Cap For Honey Barrel

This metal insert came from a pump that I got from Mann Lake. The pump was nice, but not strong enough to pump raw honey.

Honey Line Metal End

So the hose does not stick to the barrel

The end cap is magic. It keeps the hose from connecting to the barrel’s side or bottom and stopping the flow.

Partners In Honey

So far the pump has plowed though nine barrels of honey, with two to go. What used to take me all day now takes about two hours. It is faster with more fluid honey, and slower with thicker honey.

As I said I love my honey pump. It is  the beginning of a beautiful friendship (you’ll have to watch the entire clip on the link – but Casablanca, and Bogart are well worth watching over, and over, and over again.)

Kelley Honey Pump In - Out Connections



That’s the news from Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey in very rainy Maple Falls, Washington.  Creeks are running like rivers. Rivers are nearing road level.  In other words, back to normal for November around here.  This is good. The drought was bad.  So it’s pretty quiet in the apiary these days.

I’m doing a presentation tomorrow on Bees and Beekeeping – in naturally treated hives.  Should be fun, and a challenge to see if I can do the whole thing in an hour and half….

What’s happening in your part of the bee world?

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Bee Year 2015 Overview – Brookfield Farm

The Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey blog went quiet for a while – ok, for quite a while. But it’s back.   Bee work, honey work, festivals, Farmers Markets, a bit of fun in the backcountry and some rather massive family issues that had to be resolved absorbed my time. This posting is an overview of the bee, honey work and a bit of the backcountry.

Pack Goats train above Tomyhoi Lake in the High Cascades

Pack Goats In Training above Tomyhoi Lake

SUMMER ACTIVITIES at Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey

In general, the summer carried on with the usual activities, but at a faster pace – some of this can be found in previous posts :

Make frames

Assembling bee hive frames


Wire frames

Wiring bee hives frames at Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey, Maple Falls, Washington

Hang wax

One wired frame and one waxed bee hive foundation frame at at Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey, Maple Falls, Washington

Make bottom screens

Bottom Screens for Bee Hives at Brookfield Farm, Maple Falls, WA


Split and Super Hives

Queen Excluders on a Bee Hive Split

Raise queens

Add purchased queens

Worker honeybees examine a caged Russian Queen : out their new queen (in a cage) at Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey, Maple Falls, WA

Realize there’s not enough equipment and back to wire frames, hang wax….

Sounds simple, but it all takes time doesn’t it?  I just realized I’ve never done a post on making frames and hanging wax – another winter post to come.  Raising Queens solo is a hard one to document: I’m doing the work and can’t really step back while I’m doing it.

AN EARLY YEAR for bees and honey in Whatcom County, Washington

The reason everything moved so quickly is that it was an odd summer here in Washington state. Everything bloomed three weeks early, even in the agricultural areas. At first the unusual sun was interspersed with nice periods of rain here in the northwest of the state – everything grew and flourished

Goats browse in front of bee hives

The Brookfield Farm Bee Yard Grounds Crew

Hives were putting on lots of honey, so much that is was hard to keep up.

Tall Bee Hive at Brookfield Farm Maple Falls Washington

Some hives got very tall


Then the drought really set in, nectar became scarce.  Happily the bees had those stores laid up in the hives, but little more came in.


August was set for the harvest date this year. September is my usual time, and I may go back to it. There is little difference in the harvest; it simply fit better with time constraints and family issues.

This year Ian volunteered to step in and help with the extraction. He’s calm, patient and methodical, so he’s a natural for working in the very small extraction room.

Extracting honey at Brookfield Farm, Maple Falls

Ian Balsillie Extracts Honey at Brookfield Farm



We did use a new uncapper this year: The Honey Paw  from Finland. I’ll write more about it in a later post, but in essence it is a steam driven tool that quickly runs furrows across the honey frames. Rather like a steam punk gentle scratcher.

Steam Driven Honey Paw Uncapper

The Honey Paw Uncapper

I’ve always used a knife, and this was so much easier. I had Ian do a few frames with a knife and he agreed – the new tool is faster, simpler and more efficient for us.


We sell raw honey from naturally treated, antibiotic-free hives: our own honey and that of our friends. Our booths can be found at both the Ballard Farmers Market and Fremont Sunday Market in Seattle, nearly every Sunday.

Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey Market Booth - Ballard & Fremont Markets Seattle

Brookfield Farm Market Booth

Which means we pick up honey from our friends about the same time as we’re pulling and extracting honey.

Beekeeper Stan Kolesnikov and Ian Balsillie (Brookfield's Honey Transport Chief)

Beekeeper Stan Kolesnikov and Ian Balsillie (Brookfield’s Honey Transport Chief)

The majority of these honeys come in 650 pound barrels. Which means I need a honey pump. This year I got a new one.


Again, I’ll go into detail in an upcoming blog, but I’m just really pleased with my new honey pump from Kelley Beekeeping.

Kelley Beekeeping Geared Honey Pump

The New Honey Pump

I sell raw honey, so the honey never goes beyond 100F. This makes pumping honey difficult. But my new pump has a ¾ horsepower motor. It sailed though the more fluid honeys. The buckwheat gave it a challenge, but it pumped that as well (buckwheat – crystallizes faster than any honey I’ve ever seen).



The year had been pretty good for the bees until the drought. Which means that the mites did very well too. I alternate Mite Away Quick Strips and Apiguard  on alternate years in my hives.

(Note: The above links are to Randy Oliver’s site – you’ll have to scroll down for the Apiguard.  This is for 2 reasons: 1) he does very nice reviews, tests, pros and cons and 2) I use his method of application on the Apiguard years.)

This was a Quick Strip year. Some hives showed no drop. Others showed a different tale.

Mite Away Quick Strips with varroa mites

A very “mitey” hive

The treatment is followed by essential oil patties. I’m still trying to perfect the recipe. Mine are lumpy, which beats runny. The bees don’t seem to mind, but I’d like to make it better for them, all suggestions welcome.


This year marks the passing of a good friend and brilliant beekeeper: Ron Babcock. Many people have enjoyed his Raspberry/Wildflower Raw Honey that we were privileged to carry. Ron was a great guy who was always willing to share his decades of experience and knowledge with other beekeepers, while being aware of how touchy we beekeepers can be. He will be missed.

Ron Babcock, Beekeeper

Ron Babcock

NOVEMBER ARRIVES – It’s Internet Time at Brookfield Farm

All my hives are now tucked in for winter. The family issues are nearly resolved.  The days are too short and weather too wet for much hiking in the mountains. There’s the websites to update: the honey site, the everything we do at the farm including honey site and a photography site, which I started then let it drift due to lack of time. And, of course, the blog returns.

I know I’ve glossed over a lot of things, but that will give me something to write about in the long, dark, wet (hopefully snowy) days of winter.

How was your bee year? Or in the southern hemisphere and in warmer climates, how is your year shaping up? Love to hear you tales.

Oh, I used some larger images in this post – better? worse?  do let me know.  It must have some meaning in the world of up-load time and possibly don’t work on some systems.  This internet – it’s all a mystery to me.

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Making Beehive Bottom Screens 2015

I keep mentioning that I’m “making equipment like crazy” this year, due to good weather and bee hive expansion.  One of the things that we make here at Brookfield Farm are our own bottom screens.  I don’t use bottom boards – just screens.  This is a pictorial blog: I took a bunch of photos of the process, and here they are:

The ever so tidy work area for building beehive bottom screens:

Beehive bottom screens

The Exterior Work Area

The wood is cut up by my husband whose normal occupation is making handcrafted furniture.

Ian Balsillie, Woodworker, and pieces of bee hive bottom board

Ian volunteers to cut wood

The beehive bottom screen base:

The base of the bottom screen is two inches tall.  Years back I read that if a mite falls 2 inches or more  it has a hard time crawling back up into the hive.  Will it fall between 1/8″ wire?  I doubt it, but I still do a two-inch base.

First the wood is clamped

 Clamped BeeHive Bottom Screen

Clamped before Nailing

Then nailed – yes, nailed.

Bee Hive Bottom Screen Bottom Being Nailed

Nails! Yes, very retro

Wire for Beehive Bottom Screens

Then the wire is prepared.  I use 1/8″ hardware cloth.  It’s too small for bees and wasps to pass through, big enough for a mite and a lot of bee debris to fall though.

Future base for beehive bottom screen: 1/8inch wire

1/8″ inch hardware cloth


Unrolled Wire and tools for beehive bottom screen

On the Cutting Board with tools


You can see why I do this outside – it takes a lot of space

The long ruler is to  mark the cut lines
The right angle is to keep those line straight
That wire snip was an anniversary gift from me to my husband – romantic, eh?

After a lot of cutting, I’m ready to attach the wire to the base.


1/8th inch wire stacked for beehive bottom screens

Stacked Cut Bottoms

Attaching Wire to the Base of the Beehive Bottom Board

I staple it on with a stapler used for putting tar paper or tyvek onto the sides of houses.

Beehive Bottom Screen Wire Being Stapled

Stapling the Wire


Stapled corners of beehive bottom screen base

Stapled corners of bottom screen base


The staples don’t always go in all the way – that’s why there’s a hammer standing by as well.

Creating the top portion of the beehive bottom screen

At this point I’ve got a 2-inch tall rectangle with screen on it. Now the top of the bottom screen needs to go on.  It’s a one-inch by one-inch wooden rim that goes 3/4 of the way around the bottom screen, leaving a gap at the entrance.

Beehive Bottom Screen Edge top edge

1″ X 1″ wood – bottom screen top edge


Once that’s on,  I cut and put on the front “stoop”.  Metal dry wall corner molds (I think, at least I get them in the dry wall section of the store), which are cut to the width of the front entrance.

Beehive Bottom Screen Front Metal

The front door


These too are nailed in place.

Beehive bottom screen front door metal in place

Metal front in place


Finally it’s done – no, not really….

A nearly finished Beehive bottom screen

Beehive Bottom Screen Nearly Done

Almost Done!


Two uses in one for the beehive bottom screen

When the screen is flipped over, it becomes the base I use when moving single boxes of bees.  The one inch side, in this case pointing down, allows for air circulation.  The two-inch side, now pointing up, keeps the bees from leaving.

Beehive transport base (flipped bottom screen)

Flipped screen: beehive tranport base


The final work on the beehive bottom screens

I make a number of these at a time.  They often, like this year, get placed into service before they are really done.


Beehive Bottom Screens Stacked

Stacked Screens and Tops

As you can see from the above caption, we also make our own beehive tops.  Back to screens: what these lack are the “hanger bolts” – these have screw ends on one side and threaded ends on the other.

Mouse guard support on bee hive bottom screen

Hanger Bolt being screwed in place


These will hold the mouse guards in place (I’ve still got to make more of those)

A Brookfield Farm mouse guard on a hive

Mouse Guard on Hive

Then the outside and bottom of the screen is either painted or stained.  I’m trying out an Eco Wood Stain that  this year.  Supposedly friendly to all creatures and the environment while protecting wood from wet weather.  Will it hold up here?  Who knows. But worth a try.

That’s some of what’s going on at Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey right now.  I’ve just finished doing my last group of splits for the year to accommodate queens arriving soon from Northwest Queens.  That meant clearing areas for the new hives and making sure I had all the gear they would need.  In the course I slated a few hives for walk-away splits that have grown way too tall.  The queenless ones of those will be given some of the new queens.

How is the bee season progressing in your part of the world.  We continue to be unusually dry and warm.  Nice, but worrisome – we do need the rain.

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Walk-Away Beehive Splits

It has been an absolutely busy time in the bee yards. The weather has been lovely, the bees have been out, and it did not pour rain in the middle of the Maple and Cascara flows. Looks like good weather for blackberries too. It’s a very unusual year. A good year…but it has meant I’ve been building equipment like crazy. The nucs are doing great and established beehives growing taller. Too tall.

Beehive nearly 6 feet tall

I need a ladder


Tall Bee Hives – my definition

I figure too tall is when I can no longer see into the top box and when I super a hive I have to reach above my head. I’m 5 foot 7 inches (1.7 meters) – these hives are nearly as tall as I.

Tall beehives at Brookfield Farm, Maple Falls, Washingotn

Hives approaching too tall

Why The Hives Got Too Tall

1) We had good weather.

2) I pull honey once a year, in the fall. This is for two reasons.

  1. a) Probably the most overwhelming is the traditional : I’ve always done it that way.
  2. b) The second reason is that normally it rains during a significant part of the honey flow, so the bees gather nectar on dry days, then hang out inside make and eat honey on wet days, then it all repeats. In this latter case, the honey stores don’t build up to these towering heights.

 Walk-Away Splits

They are called Walk-Away because you walk-away for three days at the end of the procedure.

You can make two hives, three, or four hives out of your tall hive – it depends on what you want, and what’s in the hive.

I divide each tall hive in half.

How I Do Walk-Away Splits

1) Set out a new “stand” (two concrete blocks) and bottom screen (no solid bottoms on my hives) next to the tall hive

2) Put two tops upside down on the ground – these are to set the boxes on as the hive comes apart

3) Divide the boxes between the two up-turned tops.

  1. a) One box honey for one. One box honey for the other. (this goes on for a few boxes)
  2. b) One box brood for one. One box brood for the other. (this too can carry on for a few boxes)

One of the hives might get one more box of brood or honey than the other – this isn’t a precise division

  1. c) The pollen box (usually my bottom box) I do divide this up between the two hives. I move the pollen frames to the outside positions on either side of brood.

4) Now I stack the now two hives back on to their respective boxes:

pollen/brood; brood, honey, honey (from bottom to top)

5) Collars and tops on the top.

6) Walk away.

In three, sometimes four, days I come back and go though the hives. I’m looking for eggs. The hive that has the eggs has the queen. I don’t look for the queen. A good hive should be getting their queen out of my way as fast as possible.

The queenless hive (that with no eggs) is then either given a queen, or a nuc with a queen (newspaper combine method), or a frame of eggs from a hive whose queen I like. Best is the queen option, but things don’t always work out in beekeeping.

That’s it: just break the hive into two hives. Divide up the honey, brood, and pollen. Leave them for 3 days. Then find the queenless (egg-less hive) and give it a queen or some eggs.

Four beehives from two on a walk-away split

Four hives from two hives

Reduction in Honey Harvest

This does reduce the honey harvest. But I can’t harvest honey if I can’t get the super up there or lift it down. I could pull honey twice a year, this year, but habits die hard. If this weather is going to be the new “normal” I just might do a small honey harvest in June.

That’s what’s happening at Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey these days. Still making new bottom screens, tops, collars, frames, and hanging wax for the bees. Markets are going strong and the festival season’s coming up fast. We’re at the Ballard Farmers Market and Seattle’s Fremont Market every Sunday. A list of the festivals we’re doing can be found at the Brookfield Farm Markets & Events page (which needs more added – oh dear, I’m behind on the web again).

Nothing to do with splits

Molly and her kids were at the hives when I was taking the pictures.  So here’s the most recent additions to Brookfield Farm’s landscape team, and their mom.  That’s Marie Marie, The Bopper, and their mom Good Golly Miss Molly.

Goats and Beehives, Brookfield Farm, Maple Falls, WA

The new additions to the landscape crew

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Splitting and Supering Hives

I’m a bit behind in my posts. About 3 weeks ago I went through all my hives, again. The intention was to either split or super the ones that were getting crowded to keep them from swarming. It quickly became split and super many of the hives at the same time.

Over the previous four weeks they had expanded with gusto. What can I say? Our weather in April/May is usual variable from rain and snow to momentary glimpses of sun. This year, we had sun, with a little rain and a very odd morning snowstorm (between 60F degree days). Weather is like bees: Expect the Unexpected.

The Theory and Reasoning

The theory, of course, is that if you give the bees room, they will be less inclined to swarm. Equally, if one removes a box of bees and brood from the hive the reduced population will be less inclined to swarm.

During this process, the removal of swarm cells is vital. Some folks cut and kill. I say “whoopee” and put them in the split or splits. Some of the hives were very enthusiastic in their desire to produce new queens.

honeybee queen cells under construction

Partially constructed queen cells

Leave a swarm cell and the hive will swarm no matter how many bees you remove.

I use the first splits of the year to breed a few new queens from the hives I think showed good promise: good health, good honey stores, and good over wintering.

The splits from down river are distributed amount my up river bee yards, where my bee mating area is located. A portion of the down river area is agricultural.   There are lots of other bees about from beekeepers doing pollination contracts in the fields. I don’t particularly want those genetics. I don’t know who they are and I think many are Italian. Italians are nice bees, but in my view, not particularly suited for or wet, cold weather with long winters. In other down river areas, there is too little diversity in the stock and I fear inbreeding on mating flights.

Up river splits get placed in the same bee yard as their parent hives. The downside of this is I lose the foragers. They fly out of their lovely new home and say “wait, home’s over there” and fly back to the parent hive (darn their multiple eyes).

I could move them to another near-by yard, but two problems would arise: 1) The foragers might fly back anyway – move bees 2 feet or 2 miles, as the old saying goes, or they’ll go back to the parent hive, 2) The queens produced in the new bee yard could encounter a close male relative, coming from the parent hive’s bee yard, on a mating flight. That puts inbreeding back in the mix. There is less chance that a queen will mate with a drone from the same bee yard as the queens fly out low, then rise to avoid mating with their brothers.

It’s not so critical with the splits whose genetics I’m not keeping. They are simply merged with the to-make-queens splits. I put newspaper between the boxes, then a day or two later, the paper is removed and all the brood and bees are moved into the to-make-queen boxes, which now have the title of nucleus hives. Got to love terminology.

The Practical Side: Overnight Splits

Bee hive split with equipment

Splitting A Hive

I mainly do “overnight” splits. You split the hive one day and pick it up between 24 to 36 hours later. A day passes in between the split and pick up. Pick up being done in the morning or evening when bees are in the hive. Later in the year I’ll do “walk away” splits, usually when the hives get too tall to manage.

I learned to do overnight spilts using one queen excluder per hive – I now use two queen excluders per hive. I’m not too concerned about how many bees go into the super, but I want a lot of bees in split. Thus the split is closer to the main mass of bees.

The Super:

I wrote about how I prepare supers in the last blog post. I simply put the super together at the same time that I make the split box.

What’s Needed For Each Spilt:

  • 2 queen excluders
  • 1 box with foundation (or six pieces of foundation and four of drawn comb that have been drawn in the last three years, “new drawn comb”)
  • 2-3 extra tops: one for the split, other(s) to set bee boxes on as I look though the hive.
  • 1 moving board (I use a flipped bottom screen). It is easy, available, and gives a lot of air flow under the bees. If I’m going a short distance on a cool day, and leaving soon after I pull the split, I’ve used a second top (flipped) as a bottom durng transit.
  • 1 frame honey (or full nectar) – these can be pulled from the “parent” hive, but I bring some just in case, if I have it on hand.
  • A bottom screen on concrete blocks: these are already set up in the bee yard to which the split will go.

Out To The Bees:

When I’m heading out to the hives, I’m usually doing quite a number of splits so I take a box of foundation, a box of new drawn comb, and, if I have it a box or two of honey.

On arrival I traditionally groan with the the realization that I should have been doing this a week before.

At The Hive:

This whole procedure is done gently and carefully, as all bee work is done. However, the queen will probably be in the area of frames of eggs, so extra caution is needed.

Bee hive with 2 center frames removed

A bit crowded in there

  1. Set an empty box on an up-turned top.
  2. Open the “parent” hive – the hive to be split.
  3. Take out the following frames brushing or shaking all the bees off of each frame and back into the parent hive:
  • 2 or more frames of sealed brood
  • 1 frame full of honey or unsealed nectar on both sides.
  • 1 frame of pollen – both sides is best
  • If I want to have a new queen from the hive’s genetics, I take
    • 1 frame of eggs and very young larva – best if the larva has NOT achieved a “u” shape.   The bees will want to use larva that has been hatched for 18 hours, so a frame with a lot of eggs and very young brood will provide this, or will do so within a few days. Eggs are good as they will most likely hatch while the bees settle down in the new bee yard.
  • If I don’t want the genetics from the hive I’m splitting, but just the bees I will take another frame of sealed brood instead of eggs and larva. I don’t want to give those bees an option of raising a queen.

Open hive of bees

Spilt in Background. Crowded Box foreground

The New Split:

I place the bee-less frames taken from the parent hive are placed in the new box in this order:


Sealed Brood

Eggs/Larva (or Sealed Brood if I don’t want the genetics)

Sealed Brood


If I think the parent hive is heading for swarm time soon, I might pull two more sealed brood from it to add to the split. It’s a judgment call.

The other three to five spaces in the split are filled with either drawn comb or foundation. It rather depends on what I have available.

Back at the Parent Hive

I use foundation to replace the frames of brood, honey, and pollen I removed. The hive is strong and has lots of bees, or I wouldn’t be doing a split. I do keep the brood nest together, but I often put a foundation piece between the edge of the brood and the pollen frames (there are usually lots of pollen frames). Again, because of all those bees in the hives I split, they seem to work around the foundation just fine – and build it up quickly.

The idea is to not only remove some of the brood, and thus bees, to keep them from swarming, but to give the bees something to work on: drawing out comb, filling it up… A friend of mine who has been working bees for decades once told me “give them something to do. A busy bee doesn’t think much about swarming.” A bit anthropomorphic, but I like the idea.

Rebuilding the Parent Hive and Putting On The Split Box

The box with the new frames is still on the ground without any bees in it.

The super is also on the ground without any bees in it.

The parent hive is restacked in the same order that the boxes were removed.

The queen excluder is put on top of the parent hive.

The new split is put on top of the queen excluder.

Queen Excluders on a Bee Hive Split

2 Queen Excluders In Place

One could stop here and just put the top on.
I used to do that, but now I:

Put the second queen excluder on top of the bee-less split.
Put the super on top of that queen excluder.
Put the top on.

Then it’s done for the day: a parent hive with an excluder on top, a split over that, another queen excluder, a super on that, and the top. It looks a bit like a tower for the moment.

Tall Hive

Tower of Bees

I use the 2nd excluder on top of the split and below the super because the bees are not removed from the frames in the super – the queen can be anywhere.

If I’ve not done so already, I head to the bee yards the splits will go to and set the blocks and bottom screens in place to receive the bees.

What’s Happening In The Hive

During the next 24 to 26 hours bees will walk up into the new split and further on into the super to tend to the larva, feed emerging bees, tidy up the place, pack a little pollen and all the other jobs that bees get on with during their day. By the time I return to pick up the split the frames will be covered with bees, both nurse bees and foragers, but no queen (oh those lovely queen excluders).

Picking Up The Split:

The evening that follows a 24 hour period, I return.

  • A moving board is placed on the ground with two straps under it to tie the split together.
    • My moving board is one of my bottom screens turned upside down.
  • The super is pulled off the parent hive and set to the side.
  • The split, now filled with bees, is pulled off the parent and set on the moving board.
  • The new top is placed on it. Bees now trapped inside. Straps are cinched down.
    • The split is ready to move
  • Both excluders are pulled off during this and set to the side – I put them on each side of the front of the hive so the bees hanging on them will go back in. Sometimes they need a gentle brush.
  • The super is put on top of the hive.   The collar put on that.   Then the top. All done

The split then travels to its new location and placed on its waiting bottom screen.

Goats browse by bee hives

Hives, Nucs, Goats (the landscape crew)

I narrow up the entrance using bits of 1/8 inch hardware cloth. This is to make the split easier for the bees to protect.

Then I put a few sticks in front of it. This slows the girls down a bit as they emerge, so they stop and take a good look at their location.

It’s pretty simple, but it does take time. All beekeeping takes time.

What’s Happening At Brookfield Farm Now

Three weeks have rolled by too quickly.   I’ve been making frames, wiring frames, and hanging wax.

Bee frame wire equipment & hives

A nice view from wire-central

And I’m still behind. I’ll be making bottom screens this week, as I need four more to accommodate some queens coming in from California later this month.

On the raw honey sales front I am pleased to say we now have another location carrying our raw honeys and raw honey infusions: Boxx Berry Farm. Another fabulous company JW Merc and the Bellingham Food Coops also needed more honey. So a lot of honey was poured and delivered

As usual Brookfield Farm and our honeys can be found on Sundays at two Seattle markets: the Fremont Sunday Market  and the Ballard Farmers Market .   This weekend we’re going to be the University District Fair in Seattle. Oh, and the second eye surgery went well – it is really interesting being far-sighted in one eye, and odd wearing glasses under a bee veil. Life remains interesting at Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey, in Maple Falls Washington.

How is the spring, or fall in the southern lands, progressing for you? Are the changes in the weather affecting the manner or timing of your beekeeping?

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Spring Supers For Bee Hives

Spring arrived early here this year. So I’ve supered the strong hives, many of which were packed with brood, and fed honey to those that had eaten nearly all their stores.


Bees cover brood on Medium Frame

Bees On Brood


This is a spring that follows a very odd winter, which, after a freezing December, was warm and wet. The ski areas in this area (a huge economic portion of our economy) barely opened, and many have shut early both here and in Canada. Bees were out and about in January and February – probably remarking, in a complicated dance-step, about the absolute lack of flowering plants.

What’s Out There For Honeybees?

The first pollen plants, Hazelnuts and Alder, do come out around the turning of the year. However, hazelnuts are scarce in my area. Alder is plentiful, but bees need a lot of for any nutritional benefit.

The first nectar flows are Oso Berry Flowers in February, which I think are worked more by native bumblebees than honeybees.

Oso Berry Flower, Washington state

Oso Berry Flower
They are followed by Big Leaf Maples, usually in early April.

Big Leaf Maple Bloom courtesy of Encyclopedia of Life

Big Leaf Maple Bloom courtesy of Encyclopedia of Life

This year the Big Leaf Maples started about 4 weeks ago down river, and popped about 2 weeks ago upriver. This, by my notes, is about 3 weeks earlier than in previous years.

There are a lot of Big Leaf Maples upriver, and they deliver a lot of honey. So supers need to be on before they bloom.

Setting Up Supers

I rotate out older comb. The goal is to move anything out over 5 years old. The dates start from the year the comb is fully drawn out.

Supers are put together before I head out on the road to visit the bee yards.

The frame pattern is pretty standard, for me:

Frames 1 and 10 are older drawn comb: somewhere in the 3 to 5 year old range or less. Frames 2,3, 8 and 9 are foundation. Frames 4 and 7 are drawn, 3-years-old or less. Frames 5 and 6 Foundation. Confused? Here’s the scheme:

O/D = Older-Drawn Foundation

F = Foundation

N/D = Newer-Drawn Foundation

O/D     F     F     N/D     F     F     N/D     F       F       O/D

New Bee Hive Super and Bees

The drawn comb for frame position #4 is not in place yet.

At the Hives

New Supers Stacked By Bee Hive

Supers Stacked by Hives

  •  I set a prepared super on the upturned top next to the hive being worked
  • Remove the foundation from positions 5 and 6 (I also take out one of the N/D frames to make some space to work).
  • From the hive I pull up the two center frames of brood
  • These are put in the center of the super – making sure the side that faces front still faces front.
  • I then put the N/D (newer drawn) frame back in the super.
  • In the top box of the hive (not the super), I leave frames 1 and 10 in place, but push the others towards the center
  • This leaves spaces 2 and 9 open in the hive.
  • The two foundations that traveled with the super, but were removed in the first step, are placed in spots 2 and 9.
  • The super is then put on top of the hive.
  • The hive is closed up.

Works Every Time

No it doesn’t. Sometimes there’s too much honey left in a hive and I pull some of that up as well. Then I use the other frames to make up the difference in the lower boxes. But at least I’ve got a starting set-up that works in about 80% of the cases.

I also carry a box of foundation, a box of drawn comb, and, in the spring, usually 2 boxes of honey along with the prepared supers.

Honeybee supers in the back of a pick up

Supers to Go
I hate being 40 minutes away from supplies when a surprise hits me. Beekeeping: expect the unexpected, eh?

The Frame Numbers

The numbers on my frames represent the year that the comb was drawn out.  The arrows are because I use the Housel Method of frame placement.

Bee Hive Super With Dates And Arrows

Why the numbers get changed:

I tend to number as I wire and hang wax, so sometimes, I have to write new numbers as the frames don’t make it in the hive on their first year. Sometimes the frames don’t get drawn out until the next year, or the next year – it just depends on the hives and the honey flow and the positions of the frames.

Later In the Year

Later in the year, this won’t work. The brood will be any number of boxes down. Then I usually checkerboard honey and drawn frames, or draw up honey to surround sections of foundations which are lined up together.   When that happens, I’ll take pictures

What’s Happening Now:

Spring is well and truly kicking off. The Big Leaf Maples are heavy with bloom and have buds still coming on. are about to set flower. Skunk Cabbage (honeybees like this) and Salmonberry Flowers are in bloom.

Yellow bloom of Skunk Cabbage

Skunk Cabbage

Salmonberry Blossom

Salmonberry Blossom

As I mentioned, it’s all moving faster than previous years around here.

How do I know? I write down when the flowers bloom on a calendar every year, then keep the calendars in the office so I can go check. I find keeping notes of flowers, the weather, and bee activities, from brood to swarms to supercedures, enables me to have a notion of when and possible ideas for why things are changing in the hives and what I can do to best work with the bees – it’s a symbiotic relationship, I need to hold up my end.

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