Insulating the Top Bar Hive for Winter

I did a lot of searching around for the best way to protect my bees from a cold Canadian winter. I’ve read that honey bees like to keep their indoor winter temps at about 20 degrees Celsius. They eat, and snuggle (make a bee ball/cluster) and exercise (flap their wings) to accomplish this. The popular consensus is that it’s not the cold that’s harmful to the bees so much as it is the possibility of condensation. So, air flow is necessary along with the insulation.

I picked up a package of foam insulation and cut it to size to cover the top, bottom, and two long sides. I had to be careful to cut out sections for the landing bars below the doorways, and, of course, to make sure I made an opening on each side for the bees to escape and to allow some airflow through the hive.

Removing the latches for the window cover.

I also had to remove the door and latches for the window so that the insulation would rest flush against the side of the hive. You’ll notice in the above photo that there is soft foam insulation in the window frame to make sure it stays cozy warm – that was always there, even in the summer.

For adding insulation to the ends, I used a follower board as a template and cut some foam to fit inside the hive at each end.  I moved the follower boards closer together and shrunk down the area of the hive the bees would have to keep warm.

I wrapped it all up and secured it with bungee cords. I used four really small bungees to attach the bottom foam insulation to the side foam so that when I remove the large bungees that cinch everything together, the whole thing doesn’t come apart. This makes it easier for one person with only two hands to manage. The side foam panels sit snugly between the end boards, keeping them in place when I remove the bungees, and the bottom foam stays in place because it’s attached to the sides.  Because the lid/cedar roof sit loosely on top of the hive to begin with, it still fits over the insulation and bungees, albeit more snugly.

I’m a little concerned about the amount of food they have. According to various forums I’ve read, my hive should feel around 100 – 150lbs in order to contain enough honey for them to survive the winter. We had a lot of thieves in the hive this fall – mostly yellowjackets, but I also suspect from nearby hives (there are 4 others within a kilometer of here) – leaving the food supply quite low. The hive is certainly much heavier since I fed them a few rounds of 2:2 sugar syrup (which I felt necessary), but I’m not convinced that the hive is heavy enough. One of the issues with feeding them late in the season is the time it takes for the new honey they produce to ripen. As it ripens, it can create condensation, which wreaks havoc on the bees when the temperature drops. So, I stopped before the temps dropped too much.  In the last week or so, Montreal has become a frigid winter wonderland.

My other option to supplement their food is to give them organic honey directly in the hive at various times throughout the winter. I’ll want to do it on “warm” days, which, for Montreal winters, are few and far between.

photo from

I will use a turkey baster to drop some honey into a shallow dish I placed below the first few top bar/comb. This site suggested first mixing the honey with a little warm water to make it easier to transfer. I’m not sure I will do this. I want to avoid any excess moisture. Because this was my first season with the bees, I don’t have any of their own honey on hand (I did get a small amount in the summer, but that is long gone). I can otherwise supplement with organic honey, as I mentioned above.

So, please cross your fingers with me that my bees tough it out this winter. I can hardly wait for spring!

If you have a top bar hive (or otherwise)  and have suggestions for me, please comment!!

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    • Do you mean that they drown in it? Have you tried placing small stones or sticks in it for the bees to rest on while eating? I don’t imagine it’ll prevent everyone from bathing in it, but it will help. 🙂