honey bee management wintering

Hives with real quilts

Call me crazy; you won’t be the first. When I got word that the temperature was going down in the teens for five days in a row, I decided to give my bees a little boost. I suppose normal bees in North Dakota or Ontario would be fine in such temperatures, but I have wimpy bees. It hasn’t been this cold for this long in my memory (or theirs). All my bees think winter should be 40° F and raining, not 15° and dry.

My husband suggested that if I covered the hives with blankets that I might be able to conserve a degree or two. So I raided my supply of junk quilts and blankets that I use for such purposes, and I even stole the blankets from the cats and the dog. They, after all, have the luxury of a wood stove.

Then I collected bungee cords from the truck, garage, and garden shed. I loaded up with sugar patties and was ready to go. I lifted the moisture quilts about a half inch in 20° weather, slid in a sugar cake, and then draped each hive with a blanket and secured it with a bungee. I’ve gotta tell you, it looks ridiculous. And all those ratty blankets are embarrassing. Oh well.

That was Monday, this is Saturday. So far, I can hear the bees humming away. One hive is active enough to be removing dead bees and leaving them on the landing board. That’s the hive with the gabled roof, which is a really nice feature in cold weather.

Right now it’s warming—we’re all the way up into the 30s. I need to get the blankets off before it starts raining, but I first I wanted to share with you the latest in beehive fashion.



Every junk quilt and blanket I could find.


  • Thanks for sharing this. You are amazing with your bee-concern, bee-action, and whimsical practicalness. I value you and the wisdom you share! May you continue to enliven and enlighten all of us for a long time!. Thanks!

  • Last night we were down to -25 C or -15 F. That’s a normal winter in Calgary and last year both our hives made it through fine. I expect this year we’ll lose some hives as they didn’t seem as strong going into the winter and the weather has swung more to the warm side than normal. We’ve had days of +15 C or +60 F. I believe that the wild swings in temperature are more worrisome.

    • Andrew,

      I agree and that is one reason I was so worried about my bees. We had unusually warm weather in January with many fly-days. Then all of a sudden the temperature dropped like a stone. It can’t be good for them.

  • Hi Rusty
    I have been following your winter warming ideas, but here in Australia we are having a heat wave. Yesterday was another day of over 40c (104f). I had 1 hive that the comb melted and the entrance was blocked with honey. I made a top entrance and the hive seems to be OK. Will need to check next weekend. I will be using your winter ideas as it gets to below 4c (38f) with lots of frost here in winter. I am only about 100km (60 miles) from the Australian Alps that get snow most years.
    Thanks for the ideas. I have only been helping my bees for 1 year now.


    • Wow, David, that sounds like a mess . . . I can just imagine a gooey mass of honey and wax blocking up the entrance.

      Maybe I need to put out a southern edition—six months out of phase. Hmm.

  • Ditto here in St. John’s, Newfoundland. We had a cold snowy December, then a warm January, and we’re back to a freezing February averaging about -20°C / -4°F with the high winds during the day, colder at night. The poor bees don’t know whether they’re coming or going.

    I recently switched from hard insulation over the inner covers to moisture quilts. Now I’m worried the moisture quilts won’t provide enough insulation from the cold.

  • Thanks for the wonderful pictures and ideas. I live in Georgia and prior to our recent snow storm I covered my beehive with a sleeping bag, except for the front, and then a tarp to keep the sleeping bag dry. Unfortunately, my colony died right after the freeze and I’m scratching my head in distress! Rusty, do you have a solid bottom board or a screened one? If it is screened did you place a board under it to protect the colony from the cold? I did not because I thought the sleeping bag would create enough of a barrier, but I was obviously wrong. I’m a new beekeeper and am open to any thoughts. The hive was flourishing until the snow arrived. The hive had 3 shallow supers of beautiful honey and very little beetle activity. There was no evidence of varroa or disease either.

    • Linda,

      I did slide in the drawers for the duration of the cold snap, but I don’t think that would make the difference between a colony surviving or not, especially one covered by a sleeping bag and tarp. Remember, cold air can’t come in the bottom unless air is leaving through the top. In fact, that’s the whole idea behind ventilation: you need a place for air to leave so more air can come in. When you block the top air from leaving, you greatly reduce the amount of cold air coming in.

      Also, snow is an insulator. If the snow is piled on top of the hive, it tends to keep the warm air in. Things like flower bulbs do better under a blanket of snow than they do in plain frozen soil because snow prevents heat loss from the soil.

      Of course I don’t know all your variables, but I would look at the size of the colony that died. If it was small, the cold may have been too much for it, but I doubt that your not using a board under the screen made much difference, especially with the sleeping bag on top.

      • Many thanks Rusty for your input. You are right about the size of the colony. When I saw the dead bees in the hive and outside the front of the hive I must say they were in the hundreds and not thousands. I’ll have to now deduce why the colony was small. Again, thanks for your wonderful website and blog. I learn so much from your information.

  • I love your solutions. Straightforward & practical, & so often I feel validated in my own actions! 😉 We recently had a week of frost in the mornings & zero or below temps, like you I resorted to my old (but clean dog) blankets & gaffa tape when the rope ran out. It had to be better than nothing, right? Now my concern is will I remove them to find a thousand cockcroaches & when do I remove them, before they become damp & begin to reverse any beneficial qualities. I also have pitched/gabled cavity roofs with ecowool insulation & corrugated iron rain roofs.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.