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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Brand new beekeeping enthusiast here (no hives until spring, so not really a beekeeper yet). I've read a couple books, and I have some questions about overwintering bees in colder climates (I'm in New England).

Why are bee hives not better insulated? We pack our houses with insulation to the gills, but our hives we leave with a mere inch of wood? Bees die of cold, and sometimes of hunger because of the cold (can't move far enough to get to the honey).... so why not insulate your hive to maximize the bees' heating efforts? I know about carbon dioxide build up and moisture build up, but I would think you could keep proper ventilation while still protecting the hive from the ravages of those 0º F winter nights.

Insulation just seems like a cheap, easy way to keep your girls safe in the winter, and more of them alive to rush back to the action in the spring.

Along the same line - we have chickens and use a heat lamp to help keep them warm in the winter... other than the expense, would it be helpful to actually heat the hives?

Just some idle questions I haven't seen answers to yet.

Thanks!
-Nate
 

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Bees don't heat their homes like we do. They keep themselves, the cluster of bees, warm by being close together and sharing body heat.

Your chickens would do the same thing. And as long as your chickens don't get so cold that their wattles freeze, they would be better off w/ only a well insulated coop to stay out of the wind and to retain what heat they themselves create by body mass.

No one heats the beehives that are beetrees that have been around for millions of years.
 

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More important than insulation is making sure that bees have enough food and proper placement of the food. Bees seldom die of the cold, as long as the cluster keeps in contact with cells of honey they can make it through just about any amount of cold. Prolonged severe cold spells can kill them if the cluster can't physically move a couple inches to get to new stores, it does happen occasionally. Making sure your hives have good exposure to the winter sun from the south is beneficial, or wrapping with black building paper so the sun can warm the hives up easier, enabling the bees to move to new stores during the warmest part of a winter day. John
 

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Bees die of cold, and sometimes of hunger because of the cold (can't move far enough to get to the honey).... so why not insulate your hive to maximize the bees' heating efforts?
-Nate
Bees don't die of cold overwinter. Typically, they starve (which I suppose can be accelerated by cold if they can't move to stores) or, more often, parasite loads or moisture in the hive kills them. My bees overwinter in ND where we have weeks at a time of (nighttime) temperatures at -30F and below.

I make sure that they have plenty of stores (at least one full deep of honey on top of them), wrap them (which I suppose is a form of insulation) in roofing felt or hive wrap (mostly to serve as a windbreak), leave the bottoms open and provide them with an upper entrance for ventilation. They (mostly) do fine now.

There has been some discussion here, in the past, of heating hives overwinter (I think that Michael Bush has experimented with it), but for most, it just isn't practical. My beeyards are anywhere from 3 - 15 miles away from my home, on river bottoms and hedgerows in the ND prairie with no available sources of electricity. The bees are going to have to get through winter the 'old fashioned' way - as sqkcrk suggests!

Additionally, anything you add to the hive makes it HEAVIER! That isn't good when you have to be moving them around - as many do.
 

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Insulation just seems like a cheap, easy way to keep your girls safe in the winter, and more of them alive to rush back to the action in the spring.

Thanks!
-Nate
Part of that issue would be that most insulation you could use would have to be exterior to the hive and thusly likely to get wet and then freeze and basically form a cocoon of ice around the hive which wouldn't be too good.
Insulation added in side the hive would be prone to chewing and also could absorb moisture from the bee respiration and again form frost on the inside of the hive.
Having an open bottom board and an open top entrance will allow through ventilation that will disperse the interior moisture while the beeks keep themselves warm in their cluster. The main issue is having enough stores to get them through the winter. You're just down the road from me and we reckon her that you would need approximately 100lbs of honey to make it, so that means you really need a 2 deep brood box set up where the bees will go into winter with the top brood box full of stores. Even then it may be necessary to feed later in the winter so you check the hive aound early to mid February and possibly add fondant to keep them going.
 

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Good Question.

In the fall I wrap my nucs and hives in 1" of foam sheet insulation and then also put 3" of insulation on top of the inner cover around the feeder. I think the trick is to ensure there is good ventilation to allow for the moisture to have somewhere to go. The type of insulation is also important because there is a lot of moisture to deal with. I'll remove the insulation after my first spring inspection in Feb.
 

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Nate, I am also in cold, old, Massachusetts. My understanding of bees and chickens (I have both) is that it isn't the cold that gets them it is the condensation that drips on them and sticks to them and basically freezes on them.

My chickens have an open hardware cloth roof with an open door beneath. you can check out the coop design at theGardenCoop.com. I don't heat them at all. they do not frostbite. ventilation is key. sparrows don't get heat lamps but they do okay.

My bees have a screened bottom board. 2 deeps - as full as they can get them and I add a super with a sheet of paper + 5-10 lbs of granulated sugar on top. this is often called the "mountain camp method" you may want to do a search on it. this gives an unheated attic space with some insulation (sugar) that also absorbs any condensation and keeps it from dripping back on the cluster. Plus - on those warmer winter days - the girls can eat a little if they need. it. I paint the boxes dark colors to increase any winter solar gain.

the problem with heating bees is that the warmer they are the more active they are. the more active they are, the more stores they consume. and you definitely don't want the queen to think it is time raise brood and have her start up too early.

keep them dry and let them keep themselves warm
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Thanks everyone for the replies. Sounds like it's not really necessary. I still may experiment once I get established, but the tried and true is definitely the way to go for my first few years, I'm sure.
 
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