As any beekeeper, new or seasoned, knows, honey bees are high-maintenance creatures.
Each season brings new challenges and tasks. For anyone who lives in an area that experiences a winter season, it’s important to know how to keep your bees safe through the cold months.
Follow this guide to help you determine how to use honey bee hive winter insulation.
Keeping Honey Bees in Winter
While honey bees can live almost anywhere in the world, they do best in warmer temperatures.
This means that in order to keep them in colder climates, you may need to take a few extra precautions to protect them. This is especially important because they are unable to leave the hive when the weather is too cold, wet, or windy. They will need proper preparation to allow them to stay inside as long as they need to.
Overall, you want to ensure they can maintain the right temperature inside the hive and stay dry for months.
Helping the Bees Stay Warm With Honey Bee Hive Winter Insulation
There are many factors that go into getting honey bees through the winter, and it’s a different situation for every apiary.
Many beekeepers opt to add honey bee hive winter insulation. This helps the bees with temperature regulation. A colony will form a cluster in the winter around the queen and spend most of its energy producing heat.
Using honey bee hive winter insulation prevents heat loss, so the bees don’t have to work as hard to stay warm.
It’s not necessary to insulate your hive, and some beekeepers don’t, but it’s usually low risk. Adding insulation is usually a good idea as long as you don’t add it too early or leave it there for too long in warmer temperatures.
Types of Honey Bee Hive Winter Insulation
There are many ways to add honey bee hive winter insulation, and you can choose whatever makes the most sense.
There are available products made just for this purpose, or you can use common materials you may already have on hand to save money. If you have more than one hive, you can even experiment with more than one honey bee hive winter insulation to see what works best.
Hive wraps are a product created just for insulating beehives in the winter.
This type of beehive insulation is usually made from some kind of black plastic sheeting stuffed with material like cotton or other fluffy fabric. The black plastic helps absorb heat from sunlight, and the material traps it so it stays in the hive.
Some beekeepers prefer to use hive wraps because they’re specially made in the perfect size and shape. They usually come in two different sizes to cover either 1 or 2 brood boxes.
Foam Board Insulation
A great lightweight material to use for honey bee hive winter insulation is simple foam board.
This is a more DIY type of hive insulation, but it’s super easy to put together. All you have to do is measure the four sides of your hive and cut pieces of foam board to size. It doesn’t even have to be precise as long as they all fit snugly.
Place each piece against one side of the hive and secure it with a rope, bungee, ratchet strap, or even duct tape. Try to avoid leaving empty spaces where cold air can get in, and you can always add smaller pieces if needed.
Foam board insulation is inexpensive-if you don’t have some lying around already-and easy to find. It’s also reusable. Just remove it in the spring, store it, and put it back next year. It won’t damage your hives at all.
Silver Bubble Insulation
Silver bubble insulation is another great option for honey bee hive winter insulation.
All the little bubbles trap warm air inside, and the metallic material also helps reflect heat back into the hive. It works best if you have the bubbles facing inward.
Luckily, this beehive insulation is quick and simple to put together. Just wrap it around your hive, cut it to the right length, and attach each end with duct tape. This is basically a hive wrap you can make yourself.
This kind of bubble insulation is cheap and readily available. You can customize it however you need to, no matter the size of your hives. Remove or replace it easily any time, and save it for next year to use again.
Quilt Box Insulation
Adding a quilt box to your hive is a popular way to use honey bee hive winter insulation.
A quilt box is basically an extra empty hive body that sits on top of the other boxes. Inside is an absorbent and insulating material.
It adds extra space for better airflow, and the material inside will catch or absorb condensation before it can drip on your bees. At the same time, heat that rises to the top will be kept in the hive.
This quilt box is great because it includes extra ventilation holes so as much moisture as possible can escape. The material of your choice absorbs any remaining moisture.
Materials you can use include shavings, newspaper, cloth, and burlap. You can even use dry sugar as a dual-purpose feed and moisture absorber.
Hay or straw bales are great to use for honey bee hive winter insulation.
All you have to do is stack them around your hive to block wind and maintain heat inside the hive. Of course, be careful not to block the entrance to maintain airflow and allow the bees to fly out on warm days.
You may have some old bales already lying around. If not, you can usually find them for free or very little money. They don’t need to be perfect as long as they’re free of mold.
If you get heavy snowfall as soon as winter hits, you might be able to use it to your advantage.
Snow is a great insulator; you can let it pile up around your hive. Make sure to regularly clear hive entrances for ventilation so the bees can come and go as needed.
Using snow as honey bee hive insulation is great because it’s free and creates no waste. It even does less work for you because you don’t need to bother digging out your entire apiary.
It’s a bigger investment, but insulated hives are a great way to ensure your hive is well insulated.
These hives are usually made of plastic and do well in the elements. They provide insulation for all seasons, so you have less to change throughout the year. They’re lower maintenance than wooden hives and will last a long time.
Be Aware of Moisture Levels and Airflow
The only added risk if you decide to insulate your hive is moisture, regardless of the method you choose.
This is always a concern, but having more insulation can also lead to more moisture in the hive. It can condense at the top and drip back down onto the cluster of bees.
Too much moisture is usually the cause of death. Winter temperatures are often survivable, but the water dripping on the whole colony is not.
Manage moisture levels by ensuring you have plenty of ventilation to move moisture up and out through an opening in the top of the hive.
You also want to be careful not to cover any hive entrances with your insulation accidentally. This helps maintain ventilation and allows your bees to leave the hive on cleansing flights or forage on warmer days.
Keep Your Honey Bees Toasty Warm With Beehive Winter Insulation
With a little extra help, honey bees can survive frigid temperatures with no problem.
Honey bee hive winter insulation is a great way to help them out so it’s easier for them to maintain a comfortable temperature inside the hive. You can insulate hives in many different ways and at different price points depending on what works best for you.
Read up on all the other important techniques and practices you need to keep bees on our honey bee page!
- About the Author
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Hope Schwartz-Leeper is an avid reader, writer, and lover of all things nature with degrees in English and Philosophy.
Born and raised in the Northeast, Hope has always had an affinity for spending time outside. Growing up and attending college in New York, then living on Cape Cod and finally settling in Rhode Island has given her plenty of experience with the climate and environment of these areas.
She loves growing her own food and plants and is always trying to grow something new. She’s hoping her apple trees will one day bear fruit, but for now she’s excited about anything that comes from the garden.