Preparing Bees for Winter at Brookfield Farm Part Two: Physical Preparation

Bee hives with winter rain covers at Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey, Maple Falls, WA

Ready For Rain

I was going on about winter stores, feeding, and mite treatment in the last blog post.  This posting is about the more physical aspects of winter preparation at Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey, here in the land of wet, windy, and cold (aka northwest Washington state).

Reminder: I prep the hives for winter starting in the third week of September (following harvest in the second week).  I just don’t have time to write it all up then, thus what follows occurred from Mid-September to Mid-October.


Burlap and insulation for bee hives at Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey, Maple Falls, WA

ready to install

All my hives get a bit of two-inch insulation at the top of the hive in the winter.  This is placed on top of a piece of burlap that sits on the top bars.  The collar that sits on the hives year round provides the space for this.
The collar has the top entrance(s), and a bit of screened ventilation at the back.  The two-side ventilation is based on the same principle as our barn (the hay loft has open areas at each end to allow for ventilation).

The fall feeder that sits in the collar is removed. The faint circle at the front is the upper entrance (7/16″ – anything bigger and mice slide in – smart and skinny mice in Maple Falls).

Empty hive top feeder on top bars at Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey, Maple Falls, WA

Bee hive getting ready for insulation at Empty hive top feeder on top bars at Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey, Maple Falls, WA
feeder removed

The burlap that covers the open top bars year round is laid back down, and a new one added if the girls have removed too much of the material.

Bee chewed burlap covers top bars on hive at Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey, Maple Falls, WA

Bee adapted burlap

Burlap covers top bars of bee hive at Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey, Maple Falls, WA

New Burlap

Winter burlap showing bee space on top bars of a bee hive at Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey, Maple Falls, WA

Space For Bees To Roam

The insulation is placed on the burlap, and the top cover put back on.

Winter bee hive insulation atBrookfield Farm Bees And Honey, Maple Falls, WA

Insulation with Bee Space

There is enough space left above the insulation to allow the bees to walk up there if they are inspired.  In the spring, I find them exploring this area.

Close shot of insulation on top bars of bee hive at Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey, Maple Falls, WA

Bee checks out bee space


Did I mention it’s wet and windy here?  I use rolled asphalt mineral roofing for rain hats.  This is the kind of roofing that’s used in the U.S. for flat, or gently sloped roofs – not the tarpaper that goes under the rolled roofing asphalt.  It amazes me that I can find the rolled roofing here, as roofs like that seldom meet building codes due to our snows.  I cut 26 inch pieces of the roofing – one for each hive.  My hives usually set side by side in pairs (on concrete blocks), but they are seldom the same height.  Sometimes due to a hive loss one hive will sit alone.

I know a beekeeper who has 2-story hives on pallets of 4-hives-to-a-pallet.  He just rolls the roofing over them all.

But roofing alone will not stay down.  So each hive or pair of hives has a tie down.  I got all fancy this year and tied a separate rope around each concrete block, on either side of the hive or hives.

Knot that holds hive tie downs to blocks at Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey, Maple Falls, WA

around the block – up to the hive

This allowed me to just tie the hold-down rope on, toss it over the hive(s) and tie to the other side.  Took more time to set up, but I think it will allow faster access to the hives in the spring.

Rally tall hive with rain hat and ropes at Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey, Maple Falls, WA

hive and nuc ready for winter rains

The above is a hive (first 4 boxes) and a nuc (top two boxes).  Most of my hives are four boxes tall, strong nucs are three boxes tall, tiny nucs are two boxes tall.


This could come under “experiment number three” for this winter.  I use “commercial” hive tops, not telescoping, (the edges of my tops sit flat with the boxes, no overhang).

Hives in tarpaper & roofing "hats" at Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey, Maple Falls, WA

Wrapped hives ready for winter

I have always loosely wrapped my hives with tarpaper, pinning the billowing sides in with pushpins.  I figure this as a windbreak / horizontal rain excluder.  Friends have mentioned that it might be causing more troubles than it is solving: that it keeps water in the hive.

This year the majority of my  hives will not be wrapped.

Snow atop Wrapped bee hives at Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey, Maple Falls, WA

Before The Snow Storm

Up-river (the land of deep snow) I am going to wrap about 50% of the hives, trying to make sure I have ones of comparable hive strength.

We shall see.  I will say that as of this writing it has been pouring rain for 4 days.  When I went to put rain hats on the final bee yard, I peeked under the tops during a break in the weather.  They were dry.

Personally, I would be very happy if I did not have to wrap hives.  It takes a lot of time.  But I shall worry for the entire winter.  But then, to say I worry is like saying the earth turns; it’s not really news.

Thought I’d just mention what I’m doing now (it’s raining), other than sitting at the library posting this (did I mention this is the land of dial-up only and no cell/mobile service?).   The honey shed is finally painted and the last lamp installed.  I left that off in the spring.  It’s nice that it’s finally done.  That’s the news from Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey, Maple Falls, Washington.

What winter chores are you on to – or spring chores if you’re south of the equator?


About brookfieldfarmhoney

Brookfield Farm, a small off-grid apiary in Maple Falls, WA focuses on the beauty and bounties of Washington’s wilderness. I sell honey from our bees, whose naturally-treated, antibiotic-free hives are home to bees who fly Washington’s mountains and farmlands. Herbal salves and lip balms from Brookfield beeswax. Delicately infused honeys and vinegars. Varietal honeys from independent Washington beekeepers. Karen Edmundson Bean: beekeeper, photographer. Her love of the wilderness inspires her to discover new ways of bringing the wonders of nature to others. Brookfield Farm : the tastes, textures, sounds, and images of nature.
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9 Responses to Preparing Bees for Winter at Brookfield Farm Part Two: Physical Preparation

  1. Emily Heath says:

    I use polystryene as insulation, with an open mesh floor for ventilation. The hives don’t get wrapped. So far I haven’t lost any bees over winter, but then UK winters perhaps aren’t as cold as yours. We usually have snow, but not for weeks at a time.

    • Hi Emily – that sounds pretty much what I do… Do you use the insulation just at the top or on sides as well? That’s good to hear that you don’t wrap, because I figure you all have about the same amount of rain as we do (if not the snow). So far it looks like the hives are drier without the wrap (and we’re in week 2 of non-stop downpour).

  2. As Emily has said we don’t get the cold winters over here in southern England. I haven’t ever insulated the hive and so was interested in seeing your approach. Different beekeepers have different theories (no surprise there), and one of the is that the winter stores surrounding them should provide insulation. Great post!

    • I do sometimes wonder if the top insulation does anything. But I have a shed that has no roof insulation in it (too long a story), and it is harder to keep warm. So it may be anthropomorphism. In depending on the stores for insulation, my fear would be that if we had a warm fall (which we are) followed by a hard winter/spring the girls may have consumed much of their stores…not enough to starve, but to little to act as insulation. It’s an interesting thought, though, and you are so right. Put 5 beekeepers in a room and you’ll get at least 6 different ways to keep bees.

  3. Heather K says:

    Hi Karen, I’m trying to tilt one of my hive’s back-end up 1/2 ” to allow chance of wet ceilings to drain towards the front, rather than drip throughout the hive. Have you heard of anyone doing this? I’m concerned I’m throwing my hives sense of gravity off balanced, and that they won’t like having their verticle frames being tilted. I hear you’ll be coming to speak at our Nove 15th Mt Baker Beekeepers club…Is this true? Hope so!

    • Hi Heather – yep, giving a slight tilt forward to a hive is very common. In concept, it will help drain water out the front of the hive. It gets the worst out, but the floor will still collect some water and damp because, as winter progresses, the bees toss the cappings wax down as they eat their honey, it lands on the floor, it’s wax, so it collects water, and can make little dams. If you have a screen above your solid floor, and a way to slide out the solid floor (see country rubes design – google them, they’re great), then you could scrape off the wax bits during the winter without bothering the hive. I don’t have this issue, as my hives are over screens only : the water and damp drain right though – I think bottom screens are better than solid, but it’s all a matter of opinion. More than you wanted to know, eh? But as to the bees objecting to being tilted, it’s not a problem. Hives are not often set really level to begin with (I’ve one that could be the leaning tower of Brookfield – I think a mole dug under one block on one side). And most trees are not perfectly level, and bees have no issues there. So tilt away.

  4. Adam says:

    I am using quilt boxes this year, after semi unsuccessfull tries with insulation boards. I used to get lots of mold and precipitation over the top bars, but thankfully no more. THe hives are bone dry.
    I staple burlap on the bottom of extra deep or medium hive bodies and then load them to the brim with with pine shavings. This is similar to how they used to insulate homes in early 1900s. It works very well, and shavings have a fairly high R-value, so I am confident that I am not loosing too much heat, yet letting all of the mosture saturate the shavings. I heared about this the first time from Rusty Berlew, our fellow WA beekeeper and I am glad I took the time to make the quit boxes. Well worth it.

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