A box of cold bees

The central part of New York State has cold winters, way too cold for honey bees in an unprotected nest. Nevertheless, the nest in the photos was found last week by Pam and her boyfriend, Jay, in that chilly part of the country. The nest was nine feet off the ground in a box elder tree. Silly bees.

According to Pam, the nighttime temperatures are down in the 20-30°F range and the daytime temperatures are hovering around the 50°F mark. Knowing the bees were in trouble, Jay built a box for them. Pam explained that they cut the branch on both sides of the comb, and then fit the branch into the box, screwing both ends of the branch into the walls of the box while allowing enough space for the combs to hang free. Then they moved the hive to their orchard, about a half-mile away.

The hive now faces southeast and is protected from prevailing winds by a woodpile. Since the photos were taken, they have raised the hive up off the ground and spent the night making sugar cakes.

Now here’s a question for you creative beekeepers out there: How can they feed the sugar patties to the bees with no top bars to support them? It seems like they need some sort of a platform immediately above the cluster, but I don’t see how to do that. Any ideas? They really want to give these bees a chance, so I know they will appreciate your ideas.


The colony was found about nine feet high in a box elder tree. Photo © Pam Z.
Unfortunately, the combs look empty. Photo © Pam Z.
The bees in their new hive, locked up for the moment. Photo © Pam Z.
Jay’s bees with a woodpile for wind protection. Photo © Pam Z.


Beekeeper Brian

Awesome photos! Thanks so much for sharing this. And thanks to everyone else for sharing their knowledge too.


I do not see an entrance, even a small one. Shouldn’t there be one, even in winter?



Yes, bees need an entrance, but this colony was just moved from a location a half-mile away. It is being locked up for three days to reduce migration back to the original site.

Margaret Heizenrader

I’ve just discovered your blog! I live in the north end of Tacoma about 1.5 miles from Puget Sound. I have one Langstroth hive that was very busy this summer and one home-built top bar hive that has a rescued swarm in it. It is very small.

I have not harvested any honey. My uneducated theory on this is that why take honey from the bees when they will need it over the winter? If I do harvest honey I’ll do it in February.

What can I do to carry my two colonies over the winter? Do I feed them liquid honey? And how do I do that? Do I feed them a sugar/water fondant or do I feed them sugar syrup?

I’d really like your advice – in three years of beekeeping (pretty much on my own with no mentor) I’ve had only one colony overwinter and it’s the one that did so well this summer.

Thanks for your consideration!



This is not a question I can answer in a single comment. Start by reading “How I overwintered ten out of ten.” And no, you cannot feed them liquid anything now. If you need to feed, it has to be solid sugar or granulated sugar. There are dozens of posts here on feeding, overwintering, moisture control, insulation, etc. Try tags and categories to help you find things.

Margaret Heizenrader

Rusty! Thanks for the reply! Since I sent you my question I have had some very bad news.

I was stung on my neck last Sunday and had to go immediately to the hospital! I broke out in a horrible case of hives and had to have epinephrin administered. I have to give up my bees!

Do you know of anyone who would be interested in purchasing a lot (!) of beekeeping equipment – including live bees? I have a Langstroth hive and a homemade top bar hive populated with some great bees and extras hives, frames, tools, etc. that I have to, unfortunately, sell off.

If you know of anyone who might be interested – including yourself! – please pass the word along – [email protected].

Thank you so very much!

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