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How to make a removable bee cozy

Nancy of Shady Grove Farm in Kentucky has a problem with large temperature swings. As she puts it, “We are subject to -20º F one day and +60º F the next.” With such unpredictable weather, she wanted an insulating cover/windbreak for her beehives that was easy to remove.

So Nancy designed a bee cozy made from half-inch thick Dow Board, a type of rigid foam insulation, and Tyvek tape. The cozies are easy to put on and take off so she can easily change the orientation depending on conditions: “The backs of my hives face the hillside but that’s also where the prevailing winds come from. So I will mostly use them across the back. But if we have a nasty east wind, they could just as easily go around the front.”

According to Nancy, a sheet of Dow Board is 4 feet by 8 feet, the same as plywood, and the half-inch size has an insulation value of R-4. Other thicknesses are available, so you could easily increase the R-value.

Here are the steps:

  1. First she had to rearrange the cinder blocks under the hives so the cozy would fit down over them.
  2. Next she measured the back and sides of each hive. From the Dow Board, she cut one back and two sides for each hive.
  3. She laid the three pieces flat, butted together, and made “inside hinges” with the tape.
  4. Next she folded the pieces together and made “outside hinges” (so the cozy will fold up) with two overlapping lengths of tape.
  5. She taped all the exposed edges for better wear.
  6. Finally, she made holes in the upper and lower front corners and the middle front and installed grommets. She uses an elastic cord to hold them across the front.

She notes that the cozies are too tall right now but will fit perfectly when the feeder rim is on. She will leave the moisture quilt uncovered for top ventilation.

Nancy paid about $22 for one board. A board is enough to cover two hives, each consisting of two deeps or three mediums. The tape was about $13 and enough for all 5 of her hives.

Since this is a try-it, Nancy wants feedback. She writes, “Please let me know if this is not clear. I would be very grateful for your comments because this is completely experimental. I wish everyone and their colonies a productive fall and a safe, secure winter. And thanks for all your insights and encouragement.”

So, what do you think? Please let us know.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

Nan
Shady Grove Farm
Corinth, Kentucky

Bee-Cozy-Base-#1
The cinder block hive stand is too wide for the bee cozy. © Nancy Ogg.
Bee-Cozy-Base-#2
After resetting the cinder blocks, Nancy measured the back and sides of each hive. © Nancy Ogg.
Bee-Cozy-base-#3
Taping the raw edges protects them from wear. © Nancy Ogg.
Bee-Cozy-base-#4
The enclosure can easily be moved, depending on the wind direction, and can be secured in place with elastic cords. The extra height allows room for a feeder rim. © Nancy Ogg.

Comments

Aram
Reply

I was thinking of making a cozy inside the boxes by putting that same dow board in positions 1 and 10, effectively converting a 10 frame box into a 7 or 8 frame box. Each deep box would get qty 2 of 9.25″ X 18.5″ pieces. This should increase insulation and decrease weight. My dow board is 2 inches thick. I suppose a medium box would also get them but in a smaller size of 6 5/8″ X 18.5″. My clusters span about 4-5 frames.

The quilt box would go on top.

From my experince with mini nucs, hard foam is not chewed by bees, so I expect this to last. In the late spring one can remove the foam to allow for a colony expansion to 10 frames.

Unlike your conditions, I do not have terrible wind problem, so I suppose the front and the back of my boxes will be unprotected.

Bruce
Reply

Looks good. Was there holes cut for the entrances? I’ve made lots of cozys over the years and have had problems with them holding together longterm without inner plywood structure. I also found it better to make two segments so you didn’t have to remove the whole cozy to check on the bees or to feed them. For better heat absorption and wind break I cover the cozy with roofing tar paper.

Dharmadeb
Reply

As a newcomer to Honey Bee Suite, I would like to share how informative this site is and resonating with all the tips and stories. I have switched to Top Bar Hives as the weight of lifting all the Langstroth supers was too much for my 63 year old back. Twice I have lost my hives over winter and wanted to try your idea of feeding granulated sugar with EO. Can you be a bit more specific on how that would work with a TBH? Do you put in a container or just slit the top of the bag open? There is a dedicated compartment where I would usually put the sugar syrup during warmer weather and was going to place the granulated sugar in there. Thanks for your feed back.

Norma
Reply

Ha Ha, exactly how I was thinking of making a 3 sided cozy! But I hadn’t thought of taping the exposed edges, and I was going to tape it rigid, hadn’t thought about making if foldable. I figure when the temps really go down, I could add a front panel. Thanks for all the great information and ideas Rusty, and sharing ideas from others!

Nancy
Reply

To Bruce,

You’re right, the Dow Board doesn’t seem very durable long-term. But at $11 bucks a season, vs. $92 for a new bee package, I’m ok with it.

For feeding, I will have a feeder rim above the brood boxes, which will be accessible just by removing covers and the moisture quilt (search this page for How-To’s on that).

If you look at the front view, the entrance is left uncovered. This is more a windbreak than a complete insulation device.

Here in northern Kentucky, we have discussed and dismissed tarpaper, which our colleagues in Wisconsin and upper Michigan rely on, because it’s NOT readily removable and the black color may heat the hives too much and send the bees out foraging at a REALLY bad time.

Rusty, as I understand it, the temperature within the cluster must be very warm, but outside the cluster within the brood box, it should be somewhat cool so the bees stay in cluster. Is that right?

Thanks for the comments, Bruce. Norma, do let us know what you come up with and how it works.

Nancy
Shady Grove Farm
Corinth, Kentucky

Jackie
Reply

I make mine with oilcloth. It’s waterproof and windproof and easy and cheap to make and easy to fold away over the summer months. We have green woodpeckers here in leafy Essex, UK, and of course they can’t get a grip on the shiny surface.

Jackie

Rich
Reply

The three sided arrangement is likely effective in reducing heat loss due to cold winds. I think a fourth side (with small openings for ventilation, and bee ingress and egress) would be a big help when temperatures drop well below freezing, when the bees have difficulty generating and retaining enough heat.

Nancy
Reply

Thanks, Rich. It would be easy enough to add a fourth side.

Nancy

Dave - UK
Reply

Any and all advice would be greatly appreciated 🙂

I’m curious to know if the 3 sided construction proved useful? I’m guessing the main benefit would be as a wind break rather than insulation as its not sealed. Example, standing outside in a t-shirt with that around you in -20F would do nothing for the static temperature but it would make a good difference for wind chill.

However as far as insulation goes, reduced entrances, mesh floors and an upper entrance would allow cold air to flow through the hive at a rate adequate to keep the inside of the hive colder than nest temperatures (its been said previously the bees wont heat the whole hive, just the cluster), even with a slatted rack reducing blasts of wind, a tray under the mesh floor etc, just convection as rising heat out of the top entrance should create a large/cold enough airflow to make insulation obsolete. Your house could be insulated to 100R but if you leave a bottom and top window open I’d be wearing a jumper!

I’ve made a couple of 5 sided (4 sides and a roof) covers out of 50mm PIR board glued together with expanding adhesive foam and taped with adhesive foil(its about R-13). The foam ends about an inch or two above the floor. I’ve though its more than most I’m highly skeptical how much insulation difference this actually makes as there is a 1 inch air gap between foam and hive walls allowing cold air to touch the sided of the hive because the bottom isn’t sealed. Sometime in Jan/Feb I’m hoping to add a solid floor of foam under the hive to seal the cover up allowing a standard ‘115mm x 7mm’ entrance. The sides will sit on top of the foam floor sealing up the hive.

The only thing I can imagine having decent insulation would be a 6 sided R13-R20 box with a single bottom entrance about 150-200mm deep to reduce wind. Definitely building some slatted racks soon though, already bought the wood! 🙂 I’ve been throwing around ideas with a friend (one of those friends who is smarter than I could ever hope to be) on preventing convection heat loss while having a top entrance but can’t think of a way as yet…

Rusty, I’ve postponed adding the floor to Jan/Feb rather than December when i added the sides. My reasoning is based on an excerpt from a book written in 1915 (Everret 1915) which claims adding insulation in December is dangerous for a hive as it could cause brood rearing to begin due to the increased temperatures, it advocates adding the insulation before first frost. How valid do you see this as being? Are the bees that easily confused? Surely a lack of pollen, low outside temperatures, low daylight hours etc tells them its not yet time? My hives went towards winter(october) with about 13-20 deep frames full of honey+syrup so maybe 40-60kg(i fed like crazy and didn’t harvest beforehand), so how much do i have to worry about them starving in UK with a hardiness zone of 8? I’ve seen you recommending about 40kg but with early brood production i thought i might need more? I could add a no-cook-candy-board…

I thought of adding the insulating floor when they naturally start building up, along with some pollen patties(they do have 2-3 frames of pollen each so not sure how needed these are?). Is January too soon? From your previous posts I’m reading that anytime after the winter solstice increased brood production is natural.

Apologies for the numerous questions, being a young new beekeeper I’m pretty inexperienced and just hoping to do the ‘least’ stupid thing, I’ve resigned myself to the fact I’m unlikely to be doing the ‘correct’ thing.

Dave

Janet Hofmann
Reply

Thanks!! We made our bee cozy three sided with the front (south open) but the sides protrude, providing a wind break for the hive entrances. We also used a quilt box on top, which helped me not worry about moisture in the hive. We were prepared for weather like the last two years, but then had such a mild winter! Even the hive beetles survived the winter – but there are so many bees in every nook and cranny, it wasn’t a problem. Was not sure how long to leave the cozy on, but decided to keep it on through most of March, figuring it would protect them from wide temperature swings typical in spring (65 one day, 27 the next…). To quote Uncle Joe from Petticoat Junction: “How does a thermos know when to keep stuff hot and when to keep it cold?” It just knows, Joe.

Honey Bee Suite is wonderful. Thank you.

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