Okanagan Bee Hives


In cold climates honey bees stop flying when the temperature drops below about 10 °C (50 °F) and crowd into the central area of the hive to form a "winter cluster". The worker bees huddle around the queen bee at the center of the cluster, shivering in order to keep the center between 27 °C at the start of winter (during the brood-less period) and 34 °C once the queen resumes laying. The worker bees rotate through the cluster from the outside to the inside so that no bee gets too cold. The outside edges of the cluster stay at about 8–9 °C (46–48 °F). The colder the weather is outside, the more compact the cluster becomes. During winter, they consume their stored honey to produce body heat. The amount of honey consumed during the winter is a function of winter length and severity but ranges in temperate climates from 30 to 100 lbs./colony. If the colonies are protected with insulation and wind breaks, conditions inside the hive improve and the bees don’t need as much honey to survive. Not only do the bees fair better, but there is more honey left in the spring. The more material (wood, insulation, etc.) there is above brood boxes, the better the chance that moisture buildup will be reduced, increasing bee survival.

The value of insulation above the colony cannot be underestimated.  This research bulletin was conducted by Allison McAfee and Emily Huxter, and is a must read.  The insulation that they refer to is equally valuable in the winter months.

Research Bulletin:  Keeping Nucs Cool in a Heatwave

Polson SupRHive


-MATERIAL: solid pine, 3/8" standard plywood and insulation (R-5).

-TOP COVER: R-5 cover fits flush with the sides of the hive body and nestles into the SupRHive inner cover. It is inverted when used on top of supers without inner cover (in this scenario, there is no room for nestling cover). 

-INNER COVER: This inner cover has 1/8" space on bottom and is about 2" deep on top. It doubles as a feeder;  it has two 2" feeder holes on top for a syrup feeder pail and at same time, bees enter the top cavity to feed on pollen patties and/or fondant or sugar candy. Hole plugs are provided. 

-R-5"rigid styrofoam insulation helps reduce heat loss in winter and heat overheating in summer. This insulation is kept in place whenever the inner cover is not used for feeding.  

-ENTRANCE REDUCERS: innovative permanent sliding upper and lower entrance reducers on provided on top cover, inner cover and bottom boards.

-SUPERS: Use standard deep or medium brood boxes and honey supers.

-BOTTOM BOARD: R-5 insulated construction reduces heat loss through the bottom of the hive. 

WANT TO UPGRADE YOUR EXISTING HIVE TO A "SupRHive?  The above 3-piece kit (insulated SupRHive top covers, inner covers and bottom board) can be added to any hive that is 16 1/2" by 20". Swap out your telescoping cover, inner cover and bottom board at any time of the year by just adding these products to any existing hive.


Our SupRNucs have similar top covers and bottom boards to the SupRHives. The big difference is that the brood box has 1 1/8" frame rests that allows for the 3/8" bottom of top cover to nestle into the top of the box and leaves "bee space" above the frames. Use one or two brood boxes.  The bottom can be attached or detached.  Nucs can be started in these SupRNucs much earlier.

Following are some facts and testimonials regarding the value of insulated hives:



“KEESEY BEES” Insulated ‘Polson SupRNuc’

I worked with Keesey Bees during the winter of 2003/04 to develop a 5-frame nuc box for making nucs during the very early spring period. Prairie Nectar Apiaries has been commercially producing nucs for sale for about 10 years. Until this year we have been purchasing queens and making up our nucs in late March and early April. The weather at this time is cold and the nucs suffer. We have had five-frame nuc boxes with insulated years for quite a number of years. Two years ago we developed insulated “spring wraps” to go around two nucs, side by side. We felt, however that the nucs would benefit (expand faster) with a better nuc box. The Keeseys have built such a product, called the ‘SupRNuc’. I will briefly describe several aspects of this innovative ‘SupRNuc’:

Insulated Cover:

The insulation has been increased from R-5 (1”) to R-10 (2”). I noticed over the past two years that with the few nuc boxes I had with 2” insulation, the bees did not bunch up as much and the population grew faster. The unique design of the lid and box allows the bee keeper to open the nuc box as early as late February and have it reseal from drafts each time the lid is closed. Prior to this, we used telescoping lids to prevent drafts. The new lid has the advantage of a telescoping lid without the cumbersome sides, and also allows nucs to be positioned side by side with no space in between, greatly reducing the cold between boxes. This same design is used in the Keesey Bees ‘SupRHive’.


Prior to this year, we used a five-frame nuc box with a 10” outside width. We have increased the width to 10 ½” and have found that the nucs were easier to remove when hiving into brood chambers. This added width also allowed us to use the box as a 6-frame nuc box if our frames were fairly new.

Insulated bottom board:

After leaving a couple of nucs outside by accident in the late fall, I noticed that there was significant heat loss through the floor board. The ground was soft instead of frozen. 1” of insulation (R-5) in the new bottom board prevents much of this heat loss. This is particularly important in early spring or when wintering two-story nucs outside.

Entrance Reducers:

The main and winter entrance reducers, which are made of a weatherproof rigid PVC foam board material are attached permanently to the box and to the lid. We seldom find it necessary to open the main entrance reducer. The winter entrance reducer is kept closed at all times except when wintering two-story, five-frame nucs outside.

It is Prairie Nectar Apiarie’s opinion that the ‘SupRNuc’ built and sold by Keesey Bees is a significant improvement in nuc box technologies. We will continue to use this technology to provide cold protection for our early nucs and for the two-story nucs that we winter out-of-doors.


Blake Rooks, Mechanical Engineer and Saskatchewan Beekeeper

Firstly one must realize honey bees need a temperature of around 10 deg. C (50 deg. F) to keep alive. Thus they cluster and the cluster gets tighter as the weather gets colder. They shiver to generate warmth. It is interesting to understand the cluster and how it functions and what the draw backs are.

The centre of the cluster is the warmest and also the dampest. Thus the bees need to leave the center periodically because of the dampness and bees on the outside are constantly moving to the inside. If it remains cold the bees will eat all the food in the cluster and then starve to death because it is too cold to move over and get the food a few frames over.

Bees, like us are heat engines. They eat honey and this is what generates their heat. The colder it is in the hive the more they need to eat to generate the heat. The more they eat the greater the chance of them starving before the next nectar flow.

Food like honey is a carbon hydrogen compound. Oxygen is breathed in, combines with the honey and the hydrogen part combining with oxygen forms water in vapour form. This hot water vapour rises and if the roof is cold enough it turns to water from water vapour and condenses. When enough water accumulates it rains down getting the bees wet. If it is cold enough the water vapour freezes. When it warms up a bit the ice turns to water and now rains down on the bees getting them wet and their body temperature drops to dangerous levels.

The laws of thermodynamics are clear. Heat moves from areas of high energy to lower energy. How quickly it moves depends on the thermal difference. If there is insulation then the heat takes longer to leave and does so in smaller quantities.

We tend to think of temperature difference in part because of the ease of measuring. Radiation places a significant role in the heat loss. As an example to show the effects of radiation: On a cold winter’s day stand in the sunshine. It feels OK. Now move into the shadow of a building. It feels almost as if the temperature has dropped. The surface of our bodies radiate out heat and the surrounding surfaces also radiate heat. The warmer the surrounding surfaces the more radiation we receive and the “warmer” we feel. You can sit in a tent in winter with a potbellied stove going full tilt. As with a house or other building, until the walls are warm you will feel cold because of the radiation to the walls and little radiation back. The warmer the hive is (the more insulation), the warmer you will feel. The better the wrapping (insulation) on the outer walls is the less heat loss and the warmer the inside surface is.

This is particularly important when the days start to lengthen and the queen starts to lay. To enable the survival of the offspring the temperature has to be around 35 deg. C (95 deg. F). At that temperature, the bees are driven to help the off spring. If it gets cold they cluster and in spite of hunger will stay with the brood and will starve, thus the warmer the hive the better.

There is an advantage to a nuc over a full sized hive when you have a small number of bees. Think of a house; the larger the house the more heat required to keep it warm. All that heat in a hive has to be generated by the bees themselves, therefore the smaller number of bees benefit from a smaller hive. The amount of honey gathered is directly proportional to the number of bees in a

hive. So you want to have a small colony grow in population and the faster the better. Now a small number of bees can keep a larger frame of brood warmer in a nuc than the same number of bees inhabiting a large hive. Therefore until the serious honey flow starts you are better to crowd the bees and conserve heat to help them expand their population.

If you are making new queens it is better to have a small number of bees making a queen and leaving the original queen with the parent hive with lots of bees to gather honey etc. The name of the game is numbers. The more bees the more honey. A queen in a large colony will lay more eggs and they will survive in a large hive.

It is instructive to understand that heat is lost through 3 modes: radiation, convection and conduction.

RADIATION goes in all directions thus the floor is also subjected to heat loss. Insulating the bottom board helps keeping the hive and the bees warm. A similar argument for hive heat loss through the walls is also valid.

CONVECTION is when the molecule of air expands as it is heated and thus gets lighter. This causes it to rise. So to stop convection losses it is a good idea to have an insulated lid. Another side issue is that the moisture (water vapour) also rises. If the ceiling is cold the water vapour will condense. If it is particularly cold it will freeze. When it warms up the ice will melt and will rain down on the bees getting them wet. Cold rain is an ideal way to get cold quickly. This is deathly for the bees.

CONDUCTION allows heat transfer from one medium or object through to the other. When the cold touches the outer surface of the hive, it is transferred to the hive materials to various degrees, depending on those materials. If the cold has to travel through layers of insulation and wood, heat transfer is slowed.

The bottom line: The more energy it takes to keep the bees warm the more food is consumed and the greater chances of starvation and mortality. Conversely, the less energy it takes to keep the bees warm, the more energy there will be to focus on offspring and overall health of the hive. Winter is not the only time of the year when it is important to conserve this heat. In spring when hive splitting and hive replacement activities are being done, the extra heat helps to produce healthier hives sooner. Considering the above, a well-fitting insulated lid and an insulated bottom board help the bees keep the hive warm. Utilizing SupRNucs along with follow boards and spring wraps to raise queens and start new colonies is clearly a more efficient technique than using supers or traditional nucs. Once the new queens are fertilized and the nuc is ready to hive, SupRHives (insulated hives) are the answer to producing colonies, and, of course honey and other by-products.

Blake Rooks is a Mechanical Engineer. He received a degree in building science at Liverpool University where he studied heat loss in buildings. He worked for INCO in Thompson, MB where he was responsible for all the technical problems with their buildings both domestic and industrial. In that sub arctic climate, heat loss was a big issue.


We usually limit the value of insulation to helping the bees by keeping the cold out and reducing quick fluctuations in temperature. Most of us, however, do not consider the value of insulation in it’s cooling effects in hotter climates! The better insulated your hive is, the longer it will take for heat or cold to penetrate the hive and raise/lower the temperature, and the happier your bees will be. Do not limit use of insulation to the fall, winter and spring periods.


One of the functions of the bee hive is to evaporate the water out of the honey. This is done by the bee’s wings and is improved and time required shortened with proper hive ventilation. If there is only a bottom entrance, more bees are required to fan the moist air out of the hive, and evaporation is inefficient. The use of top entrance in the fall, winter and spring along with a small opening in the bottom entrance allows heated moist air, which rises, to escape and allows for more air movement. If the hive is weak, all or most of bottom entrance and even the top entrance can be blocked off or restricted. During periods of high wasp and hornet activity, the closing of the entrances can help to save the hive. During the winter, the lower entrance cover is closed and the upper winter entrance is opened to allow moisture to escape and to allow the bees to leave the hive when the temperature warms.


‘KEESEY BEES’ follow boards were designed and placed into service in early 2004 by Keesey Bees in conjunction with Prairie Nectar Apiaries east of Hanley and Blackstrap, Saskatchewan. Follow boards were used in conjunction with the newly designed and produced Keesey Bees insulated ‘SupRNuc’ products, but can be used in any nuc box or brood chamber.

Follow boards provide insulation on each side of one to four frames within brood chambers or nucs. Wooden follow boards were first used by beekeepers many years ago. The main purpose was to restrict the bee space available in various boxes, and it made for more contented bees. Our pink styrofoam follow boards serve the same purpose, and also add an R-5 insulating factor on each side of the brood chamber. The bees thrive in boxes when they are used. Instead of being clustered in the center of the enclosed area, they utilize the entire area and often are found in large numbers right against the styrofoam. Wooden top bars allow them to be lowered into box as a frame is.

The following is a reproduction of notes that John Polson of Prairie Nectar Apiaries wrote regarding “more equipment ideas”:

“Follow boards:

I first read about follow boards in an old bee book. The old boards were made out of solid wood cut in the shape of a frame. These likely provided a bit of insulation but mostly helped to constrict the box. Small bee colonies do better if the area they occupy is restricted. My rule of thumb is to crowd the bees in the spring.

In 1984, I made up some follow boards using 1” blue Styrofoam and a wooden top bar. I used these follow boards off and on for a number of years and finally just got out of the habit of using them. 2003 was an unusually cold spring and summer. I had Keesey Bees of Saskatoon make me 1500 follow boards using the 1” pink insulation with a wooden top bar for use in our nuc production. I had forgotten how powerful a tool they were. Nucs were started with two frames of bees, an empty frame and two follow boards, one on either side. The new Keesey Bees insulated ‘SupRNucs’ held four frames and two follow boards. The nucs expanded much quicker than without the follow boards. When we hived the nucs, we hived them into singles complete with the follow boards. We removed the follow boards as the hive grew.

We make our nucs by tearing down our best hives completely. We leave the nuc with the original queen at the site with the same orientation as the parent hive. The other queenless nucs are sent to another yard until the new queens emerge. This year we set up a nuc (two frames of bees plus one empty frame) in the full box and used two follow boards, one on either side of the frames to make the box appear smaller. As this grew, we simply moved the follow boards further to the outside and added more frames.

Returning to using follow boards is the most important change we have made in our nuc operation in years. The next big step is to start using the newly designed and produced Keesey Bees insulated ‘SupRNuc’ products. A final change that has been important is to begin to change all our brood chambers over to the Keesey Bees insulated ‘SupRHive’ products. The most innovative feature of these new products is the new flush edged recessed lid which allows us to open our hives at any time of the year and knowing they will re-seal themselves when we close the lid.”