Winter is Coming: Options for Winter Wrapping Hives

Thursday 26 October 2023

In Canada, most honey bee colonies are overwintered outside (CAPA, 2022). Given Canada’s cold winter climate, there is a need to protect colonies during the winter by wrapping or covering hives. There are multiple options to choose from when deciding how to best protect colonies from chilling winds. Depending on the choice, wrapping hives will prevent drafts and help with thermoregulation. This week’s blog will discuss common winter wrapping options in Canada, provide insight to help beekeepers get ready for winter, present alternatives to winter wrapping, and discuss the impact of climate change on overwintering.

Winter is Coming: Options for Winter Wrapping Hives

Winter wrapping is an important component to beekeeping in Atlantic Canada. Wrapping hives for the winter will protect bees from chilling winds and help colonies retain heat. There are multiple pre-made covers available for purchase that range from materials such as corrugated plastic, treated paper, or foam. Examples of commercially made covers include the Bee Cozy and the Easy on Cover, which are designed to fit Langstroth hives.

Despite the availability of commercial covers, many beekeepers develop their own way of wrapping hives with various materials, or even make their own covers that can be used for multiple years.  

The type of material is the most important consideration for winter wrapping. Different materials have different purposes for protecting hives in the winter. Black material is commonly used to promote heat absorption from the sun (Sammataro and Avitabile, 2021). Some beekeepers choose to use tar paper or roofing paper, as the black color absorbs sunlight to passively warm colonies on sunny days. One issue with black paper is that moisture does not pass through easily, and water can build up in the colony. Generally, black paper is a good option for the winter temperatures found in Atlantic Canada, but not the best for extreme cold such as in the Prairies.

Some materials will provide insulation to the hive. These types of materials help colonies retain heat when ambient temperatures are low. Insulating wrap, such as plastic bubble wrap, helps retain heat generated by the bees, but heat from the sun cannot be absorbed as easily (Sammataro and Avitabile, 2021). Like tar and roof paper, insulating wrap may also trap moisture inside the hive. A popular option in Atlantic Canada, is to combine black plastic wrap and insulating wrap to provide both heat absorption and insulation.

Yard of winter wrapped hives (ATTTA©2023).

In addition to wrapping hives, beekeepers may put insulating and/or absorbent materials in a quilt box over the inner cover and under the lid to absorb moisture. This helps prevent condensation from dripping into the hive (Sammataro and Avitabile, 2021). Common materials used to insulate and/or absorb moisture include wood shavings, straw, and Styrofoam.

Current research demonstrates that traditional methods of winter-proofing hives are effective for decreasing food consumption and overwintering survival compared to identically managed hives without winter protection (St. Clair et al. 2022). The study by St. Clair et al. covered honey bee hives with corrugated polypropylene board and topped them with foam insulation. Overall, the study provided updated evidence for the efficacy of these types of hive coverings.

Instead of wrapping hives, some newer hive materials, such as polyurethane, provides more insulation than traditional wooden hives. A study done by Alburaki and Corona (2022) demonstrated that polyurethane hives maintained a significantly higher overall temperature than wooden hives with a significantly more optimal relative humidity compared to the wooden hives. Improvements to modern hives, including hive material, have great potential to reduce honey bee overwintering loss. Additionally, polyurethane hives will maintain structural integrity for many years, they do not rot or mold because of their good moisture resistance, they help maintain optimal temperature in the winter and summer, and they are easy to assemble and disassemble (Eldarov et al. 2021).

Remember to check what other local beekeepers advise for winter wrapping. There are multiple options to choose from, and it can be a challenge to know what will work best. If trying a new wrapping option, it may be wise to experiment with a few colonies first before transitioning an entire apiary or operation.

In addition to winter wrapping, changes in climate can impact overwintering success. Seasonal weather conditions affect both forage availability and thermoregulatory success, and thereby directly and indirectly influence honey bee health (Schweiger et al., 2010). During the growing season, weather conditions can affect the onset and decline of specific foraging resources, change the duration in which resources are available, change the quality of these resources, and alter the span during which bees can actively forage (Bartomeus et al., 2011; Scaven and Rafferty, 2013). During the winter, ambient temperature influences the efficiency of maintaining internal hive temperature (Dainat et al. 2012).

A study done by Calovi et al. (2021) found that hot, dry summers reduced overwintering survival. This is likely due to reduced forage availability, which dramatically decreases colony weight gain (Flores et al. 2019). Additionally, altered colony behavior as a result of environmental conditions (such as longer brood rearing) can result in increased disease levels (such as higher Varroa levels) (Nürnberger et al., 2019). Thus, longer summers could result in high Varroa levels in the fall, which negatively affects winter survival (Calovi et al. 2021). 


Alburaki, M. and Corona, M. 2022. Polyurethane honey bee hives provide better winter insulation than wooden hives. Journal of Apicultural Research. 61(2): 190 – 196.

Bartomeus, I. et al. 2011. Climate-associated phenological advances in bee pollinators and bee-pollinated plants. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A. 108: 20645 – 20649.

Calovi, M., Grozinger, C.M., Miller, D.A. et al. 2021. Summer weather conditions influence winter survival of honey bees (Apis mellifera) in the northeastern United States. Sci Rep. 11: 1553.

Dainat, B., Evans, J. D., Chen, Y. P., Gauthier, L., and Neumanna, P. 2012. Dead or alive: Deformed wing virus and Varroa destructor reduce the life span of winter honeybees. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 78: 981 – 987.

Eldarov, B. A., Mutieva, H.M, Eldarov, I.B. 2021. Assessment of wintering of the Caucasian bee in polypeneurethane and wood hives from a comparative perspective. AIP Conf. Proc. 2442 (1): 020001.

Flores, J. M. et al. 2019. Effect of the climate change on honey bee colonies in a temperate Mediterranean zone assessed through remote hive weight monitoring system in conjunction with exhaustive colonies assessment. Sci. Total Environ. 653: 1111 – 1119.

Nürnberger, F., Härtel, S., and Steffan-Dewenter, I. 2019. Seasonal timing in honey bee colonies: Phenology shifts affect honey stores and varroa infestation levels. Oecologia. 189: 1121 – 1131.

Sammataro, D., and Avitabile, A. 2021. A beekeeper’s handbook: fifth edition. Cornell University Press.

Scaven, V. L., and Rafferty, N. E. 2013. Physiological effects of climate warming on flowering plants and insect pollinators and potential consequences for their interactions. Curr. Zool. 59: 418 – 426.

Schweiger, O. et al. 2010. Multiple stressors on biotic interactions: How climate change and alien species interact to affect pollination. Biol. Rev. 85: 777 – 795.

St. Clair, A.L., Beach, N.J., and Dolezal, A.G. 2022. Honey bee hive covers reduce food consumption and colony mortality during overwintering. PLoS ONE. 17(4): e0266219.



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