Honey Bee Hive Winter Insulation: Protecting Your Bees and Maximizing Honey Production

Did you know that almost 50% of the U.S. honeybee population died in 2022? Scientists blame parasites, pesticides, starvation, and the climate crisis for the large die-offs. Scientists say a 21% loss over winter is natural, but beekeepers report much higher losses. 

As the winter season approaches, beekeepers must take necessary steps to ensure the survival and well-being of our precious honeybee colonies. One crucial aspect of winter beekeeping is proper hive insulation. Insulating a honeybee hive for winter serves two primary purposes: protecting the bees from the harsh cold and maximizing honey production. 

This guide helps new beekeepers explore the importance of insulating beehives for winter, various methods, materials for insulating beehives, and tips for managing hive entrances and ventilation. 

Why Insulate Your Hive for Winter

The honeybee requires an internal body temperature of 95°F (35°C), the optimal temperature for flight, maintaining the nest to develop the brood and wax creation. Bees are cold-blooded creatures. They rely on the warmth generated by their collective body heat to survive. 

Insulating the hive helps seal cracks and retain heat, ensuring the bees’ survival throughout winter. Cold air infiltration can lead to frostbite and even bee colony collapse. A well-insulated hive helps conserve the bees’ energy. This energy conservation allows the bees to focus on other essential tasks, such as brood rearing and honey production.

Why Does Honey Crystallize In Winter?

One common issue beekeepers face during winter is the crystallization of honey. Why does honey crystalize? Honey crystallization occurs when the glucose in the honey separates from the water content, forming sugar crystals. The cold temperatures of winter accelerate this process. Crystallized honey appears solid and grainy, making it difficult for bees to access and consume.

The main reason honey crystallizes in winter is the high glucose content in the nectar collected by bees during the summer and fall. When the ambient temperature drops, the glucose molecules begin to arrange themselves into crystals, resulting in the solidification of the honey.

While honey crystallization is a natural process, it can pose challenges for beekeepers and bees. Insulating the beehive helps prevent temperature fluctuations that can accelerate honey crystallization. Reducing or preventing crystallization ensures sufficient honey stores throughout the winter and reduces the risk of starvation. Click here for a case study of how a honey producer solved their crystallized honey problem.

How to Insulate a Beehive for Winter – DIY Methods and Materials

Throughout the history of beekeeping, keeping bees alive over the winter has always been a concern. Fortunately, DIY beehive insulation is a relatively simple project. Here are some effective materials and techniques:

Wrapping Beehives for Winter – Bee Blankets 

The best method of insulating bee hives is wrapping them with bee blankets. Electrically heated bee blankets provide an additional layer of insulation and even heat to the entire hive. They have built-in low-level internal thermostats that prevent overheating. The Powerblanket Bee Blanket keeps a consistent hive temperature, reducing the bee’s energy consumption and increasing honey yields.

How to Use a Bee Blanket

Before wrapping the hive, remove any excess honey supers or unused boxes. Reducing the hive’s volume makes it easier to insulate. Next, wrap the hive with the bee blanket, covering the entire hive body. It should fit snugly without obstructing the entrance. Secure the blanket using straps or bungee cords.

Alternatively, you can use other insulating materials.

Other Beehive Insulation Materials

If you don’t have access to electricity for bee blankets, here are some proven materials that will insulate the hives.

Hay Bales – Stack hay bales around and on top of the hive. Straw or hay are excellent insulators that protect from wind and cold temperatures.

Blankets and Rugs – Old blankets and rugs will block wind and insulate. Cover them with plastic or a tarp to prevent rain from saturating them.

Foam – A closed-cell foam, like styrofoam, insulates well. Cut the foam to fit the dimensions of the hive and attach it to the outer walls using adhesive or straps. It’s not very durable, so cover it with a tarp or Tyvek wrap to keep it intact.

Sawdust – If you can access large quantities of sawdust, pack it around the outside of the hive. Cover it to prevent it from blowing away or becoming saturated with rain. Do not use sawdust from chemically treated wood.  

While insulating the hive is crucial, managing hive entrances and ventilation during winter is equally important.

Managing the Hive Entrance and Ventilation for Winter Insulation

To manage hive entrances, beekeepers can reduce the entrance size using entrance reducers or blocks. Are entrance reducers necessary? The reducer helps minimize the ingress of cold air while allowing for sufficient airflow. They can also act as a mouse guard to prevent rodents from entering the hive and causing damage. However, you want to remove it when temperatures remain above freezing to prevent overheating.

Proper hive ventilation is necessary to prevent moisture build-up. Bees generate moisture through respiration and hive activities. They require proper airflow to prevent excess moisture build-up inside the hive. Excessive moisture can lead to mold growth. It can also collect at the top of the hive, condense, and drip back onto the bees. Install moisture collection boards made from homasote or other absorbent materials to absorb the excess moisture. Also, beekeepers can use a top ventilation board or a small upper entrance for air circulation to ensure adequate ventilation. 

These measures help maintain a healthy hive environment and reduce the risk of moisture-related issues. Go here to view a video demonstrating a summer and winter hive configuration.

Maximizing Honey Production – Ensuring Sufficient Honey Stores During Winter 

During winter, honeybee colonies rely on stored honey reserves as their primary food source. Before winter arrives, beekeepers should assess the honey stores in each hive. A general rule of thumb is to leave at least 30 pounds (14 kilograms) of honey for the bees to consume during winter. This amount may vary depending on the local climate and the colony’s strength. It is best to err on the side of caution and provide more honey stores than necessary.

To assess the honey stores, beekeepers can visually inspect the frames or use a refractometer to measure the moisture content of the honey. Honey with a moisture content above 18.6% is at risk of fermentation and should not be considered suitable winter food.

By ensuring sufficient honey stores and providing supplemental food when necessary, beekeepers can help their colonies survive during the winter months.

Using Sugar Syrup As Supplemental Food for Bee Colonies In Winter

If the honey stores are insufficient, beekeepers can supplement the bees’ diet with sugar syrup. The syrup provides a source of carbohydrates for the bees and helps bridge the gap between their honey stores and their nutritional needs. 

To make it, dissolve granulated sugar in warm water in a 1:1 or 2:1 sugar-to-water ratio. The 1:1 ratio is suitable for early winter feeding, while the 2:1 ratio is more concentrated and suitable for late winter or emergency feeding.

Place the sugar syrup solution in feeder jars inside the hive. Ensure the feeders are easily accessible for the bees and do not obstruct the hive entrance. Monitor the sugar syrup levels regularly and refill as needed to ensure a constant bee food source.

It is important to note that while sugar syrup can provide supplemental nutrition, it should be a temporary measure to support the bees during scarcity. This video shows additional ideas for feeding with solid food like fondant (cake icing), winter patties, or solid sugar.

Heat Transfer and Reducing Heat Loss in Insulated Hives

Bees utilize the principles of heat transfer to survive in cold climates. They generate heat through shivering and clustering to conserve heat. Beekeepers can manage heat loss by adding hive insulation, which resists the natural heat flow and retains the bees’ body heat.

Heat transfer in a hive occurs through conduction, convection, and radiation. Insulating materials can reduce conduction heat loss. Bee blankets can add heat to reduce stress on the hive. Minimize convection heat loss by sealing hive gaps that allow cold air in. 

Some beekeepers use reflective materials like aluminum foil inside the hive to reduce radiation heat loss by reflecting the bees’ body heat back toward them. By understanding heat transfer principles and applying appropriate insulation, beekeepers can create an optimal winter environment for their bees.

Professional Services for Honeybee Hive Winter Insulation

While DIY methods of hive insulation can be effective, some beekeepers may prefer to seek professional services for hive winter insulation. Professional beekeepers and beekeeping supply companies offer specialized products and services tailored to insulating beehives.

These services may include hive inspections and assessments, where experienced beekeepers evaluate the current honey stores and recommend the proper insulation. They may also provide professional installation of insulation materials.

Tips for Properly Insulating Your Hive

Effectively insulating your hive is crucial for the colony to survive until spring. Let’s explore some helpful tips for properly insulating your hive.

  1. Choosing the Right Material: The insulation material should withstand harsh weather conditions.
  2. The Correct Placement: Properly placing the insulation is vital. The insulation should cover the hive’s top, sides, and back, not the entrance.
  3. Ventilation is Crucial: Insulation should not compromise the hive’s ventilation or block the entrance. 
  4. Consider the Season: Insulate only during the colder months. Remove or reduce the insulation when the weather warms up to prevent overheating.
  5. Regular Checks: Regularly check the hive after installing insulation. Ensure the insulation is holding up and not causing any problems for the bees. 

Remember, the goal of insulation is to help the bees maintain the hive’s temperature, not to do it for them. Bees are remarkable creatures that can handle most temperature changes; we just give them a little help.

Additional Tips for Keeping Your Bees Healthy and Thriving During The Winter Months

Here are a few more tips to ensure your bees survive during the colder season.

  1. Maintain Adequate Food Supply: Bees require an ample supply of honey to survive the winter, and if their reserves are low, supplemental feeding is necessary. 
  2. Mite Control: If necessary, check regularly for Varroa mites and treat them quickly to help keep your bees healthy during the colder months.
  3. Winter Cluster: Bees form a cluster to keep the queen and themselves warm during winter. Avoid disrupting this cluster when inspecting the hive. 
  4. Hive Protection: Position the hive in a location with natural windbreaks such as walls, fences, or shrubs. Create a windbreak using hay bales or similar materials.
  5. Moisture Control: Install absorbent moisture collection boards at the top of the hive to collect excess moisture.
  6. Pest Prevention: Use mouse guards and regularly check for signs of pest infestation to keep your hive safe.

Remember, every colony and every winter is unique. Be observant and adaptable to maintain your hive over winter successfully.

Protecting Your Bees and Honey Stores During Winter

Hive insulation is crucial for protecting honeybee colonies during winter. Insulating the hive helps maintain a stable internal temperature, protects the bees from cold air infiltration, and conserves their energy. Conserving their energy means the honey stores will last longer. Assessing honey stores and providing sufficient food sources, such as sugar syrup, ensures the bees have ample resources to survive the winter.

By implementing DIY methods and using appropriate materials such as bee blankets, foam insulation boards, or natural insulators like straw or hay bales, beekeepers can create an ideal hive environment for winter. Managing hive entrances and ventilation is equally important to prevent moisture build-up. 

By implementing these strategies, beekeepers can ensure their honeybee colonies’ survival throughout the winter.

The Powerblanket Bee Blanket will maintain the same temperature as a hive, ensuring your honey is always at the perfect temperature. Explore Bee Blankets

The Powerblanket Bee Blanket will maintain the same temperature as a hive, ensuring your honey is always at the perfect temperature.


Shelby Thompson

Shelby Thompson is the head of standard product sales for Powerblanket. He has a distinguished military career, having served in both Afghanistan and Iraq. In his time in the Marines, Shelby acquired an impressive skillset that he now uses in his current role. When he's not working, Shelby loves spending time outdoors with his wife, son, and daughter. He is also a semi-keen hunter, fair weather fisherman, and shooter. Unfortunately, Shelby also has something of an unlucky streak when it comes to Fantasy Football at the company.

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