You can move nucs inside for cold weather

I just did something I said I would never do. Based on predictions of unusually cold weather for the next week or so, I decided to move my three nucs into the garden shed. At the last moment, I decided to move the top-bar hive inside as well.

Now for those of you living in the frozen north, it doesn’t get that cold here in western Washington. Normal winter temperatures are in the 40s, maybe dipping into the high 30s at night. But we’re due for a week in the 20s, which is pretty cold for a small nuc without much bee mass.

How to move nucs inside

If it stays in the 40s a small nuc can get by without any help, provided it has a good store of food. But last year I lost two nucs when the temperatures went down in the teens for almost two weeks, and I didn’t want to risk losing more this year. So now they’re in the shed which stays in the mid to high 40s most of the time. They’re making a racket—so they’re probably annoyed with the whole “let’s move in November” concept.

I moved the top-bar hive in because of that old adage, “A swarm in July is not worth a fly.” The colony in the top-bar hive came from a swarm that moved in—much to my astonishment—last July 3. Colonies that relocate that late in the year are often low on stores because the summers often don’t supply much nectar. I’ve fed this hive, but it doesn’t seem exactly robust. I decided it needed the help. All the other colonies around here are going to have to fend for themselves.

Bees keep warm in the winter by staying in a cluster. They continually rotate their positions so that the ones on the outside go toward the center, and the ones that were in the center take their turn on the outside. This works as long as there are enough bees to keep the center of the cluster in the 90s. A very small cluster can’t pull this off, and temperatures below freezing hasten their demise.

And back out again

Like I said, I’ve never done this before so my plans are sketchy. I think I will put them back outside when the temperatures are normal. I had to screen their entrances so they can’t get out, but since they were able to take cleansing flights only a week ago, they should be okay for a few weeks.

I don’t know if they will make it, but I’m pretty certain they would not have made it through the cold snap, so I figure it is worth a try. I’ll let you know what happens.

Honey Bee Suite


  • Rusty,

    I’m wondering how your experiment with bringing nucs indoors went. I found your post on this after making the decision to bring my little nuc indoors. I knew it couldn’t survive a week of freezing temps at this point, the cluster is just too small. We had warm enough temps in the city last week; they were flying around a bit.

    Rather than just block the entrance, I clipped a larger piece from a roll of synthetic door screening and taped it around the entrance so they could actually walk out onto the landing board, and move around a bit (kind of like the space behind a regular size robbing screen). That probably wouldn’t qualify as “cleansing trips”. Where I put them has mostly darkness, but it’s not 40F, it’s closer to 60F. Not sure that’s optimal, but they’d be doomed for sure if I left them outside. My plan is to leave them indoors until the night temps moderate; the forecast says not for most of the week. Any thoughts on this?

    • Mary Ann,

      Comments like this left on old posts are interesting because they force me to go back and read what I wrote. This post was written in 2010 but I remember it clearly. All three nucs and the top-bar hive did fine. We moved them back outside after about a week, and it was as if nothing happened at all. The colony in the top-bar hive is still going strong, eight years later. This is my “wonder” hive. I opened the lid yesterday, stuffed some sugar cakes inside, and closed it again in 20-degree weather. I didn’t see any bees, which worried me. Then I went back with a hammer to fix a split in the roof and holey-moley! They let me know they don’t like hammers.

      Anyway, I expect that 60F will have your bees itching to get out, so it’s probably best to put them back outside as soon as the weather breaks, just like you said.

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