Cold bees brave the New York winter in a tree

This colony of cold bees was found in New York hanging from a tree in winter.

The central part of New York State has cold winters, 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. Then they fit it 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.

A new home for cold bees

The hive now faces southeast and is protected from prevailing winds by a woodpile. Since they took the photos, Pam and Jay have raised the hive 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 platform immediately above the cluster, but I don’t see how to do that. Any ideas? Because they really want to give these bees a chance, I know they will appreciate your ideas.

Honey Bee Suite

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.


  • Rusty, they could make a kind of Imirie shim (a 2″ high super) to give room to place sugar or fondant, put this very shallow super over an inner cover with a good cutout in it, and put the outer cover over all.

  • I’d make a slatted rack to fit on top of the box but under the cover. Make sure to give enough room over the slats for the cakes.

    Beautiful hive. Good on Pam and boyfriend for working to save the bees.

  • How about cutting a sheet of 1/4-inch hardware cloth and placing it above the cluster with the sugar cakes on it. Bees can go thru 1/4-inch.

  • The bees look like my Carniolans.

    I like the idea of 3/8-inch wire mesh or hardware cloth under a 2-inch high spacer or super with the inner cover over that. Heck, even use 1/2 inch. Better yet use a Warre’ type quilt on top of the super.


  • These bees are way better off than they were in the natural hive hanging from a tree. It’s getting cold and may have been lost if the winter gets very cold for an extended time.

    If the hive is a freebie, spending a little for sugar and adding a 16-ounce bottle of honey to help them along would be money well spent.

    They may need help during the winter; an inspection camera would be a good idea to look in on them without opening the hive. I have one and it’s less intrusive to take a peek.

    • Pam,

      Harold is right as long as the honey comes from a known source that you trust. Honey is infamous for carrying the spores of American Foulbrood, so if you use honey, get it from a local beekeeper who will be honest with you.

  • Kudos to Pam and her boyfriend! I have several suggestions for them for helping those bees survive the winter.

    1) Food: Perhaps build a small box (3-4 inches high) to put above the larger one, with a bottom and a hole in the center. The fondant or hard candy could be placed inside that box. Maybe use some anise to encourage them to eat the food.

    2) Dryness: Make a second small box with a bottom and a hole, but meshed over with window screen or something bees cannot get through but air and moisture can. Put some holes in the sides of the box and wood chips or a wool blanket inside the box to absorb the moisture from the hive.

    3) Warmth: I understand NY winters can be quite cold; perhaps an insulating wrap around the hive to help them retain their heat and perhaps eat the food since they would be warmer.

    Just some ideas. I wish them well with the bees!

  • You can take the shallow box noted above and for the bottom fit hardware cloth inside and staple to the insides of the sides of the box to put your candy boards on which will set right over the bees.

  • Beautiful swarm! Thanks for your efforts to help them get through the winter.

    First I want to commend Jay for building that box on short notice that would accommodate an odd sized cluster, and then cutting the branches, and mounting it inside the box. Good job Jay!

    As far as feeding is concerned, I think the least amount of disturbance at this time of the year, the better. If I were faced with this situation here is what I would do. With a roundish cluster inside a squarish box there has got to be some empty space in one or more of the corners. I would take some 1/2 inch hardware cloth and construct some tall triangular cages or baskets that would fit in the triangular void in one or more of the interior corners. They might have to be secured in place with wire, screws, or nails. Then fill these containers with your customary emergence feed; Sugar bricks, fondant, Ted’s Mush, or whatever you normally use. You may have to refresh the food supply during the winter but that will be minimally invasive. Assuming that the bees live you will have a whole different challenge. I suggest that you go to and do a search for Cleo Hogan and “trap out.”


    • Jay is definitely the mastermind of getting them out of the tree and building the box! Grass does not grow under this man’s feet! I was the somewhat nervous helper, but the whole execution of cutting them down and moving them went beautifully.

  • Being more north then them I would say some styrofoam around or other form of insulation if they are leaving them in the box for the winter. I think ventilation of the box is also critical.

  • Wow . . . I want to thank everyone for their interest and comments. We are so grateful for this site and the hearts of the people on it.

    Not sure how bad this is but Jay had already put some of the cakes in the box on top of the combs before I read the blog article and these responses to it. What is the danger of doing it this way and do we have to un-do it immediately or is it ok for the time being? We are trying to keep box interference at at minimum despite our curiosity.

    Will spend some time re-reading everyone’s comments and looking up all these unfamiliar terms. Keep in mind we are not active beekeepers and for me at least this is all brand new! Jay kept bees a long time ago for awhile but is also not familiar with some of these terms

    Yesterday was warmer and they somehow were out of the box obviously checking it out by crawling all over it buzzing around it etc.

    • Pam,

      Placing the cakes directly on top of the comb is okay for the short term. But if these bees have no honey stores, it will takes many pounds of sugar to get them through the winter. Because it is not good to disturb them (as you already know) you will require a more robust system to support the weight of all that sugar.

      We can help you with unfamiliar terms; just ask away.

      The bees outside exploring their new digs is a great sign.

    • Rich,

      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.

  • 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!

    • Margaret,

      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.

      • 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 –

        Thank you so very much!

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