A Practical Comparison of Cold Storage and Traditional Outdoor Hive Wintering Methods in Central West Virginia

Progress report for FNE21-982

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2021: $7,317.00
Projected End Date: 06/30/2023
Grant Recipient: Sugar Bottom Farm LLC
Region: Northeast
State: West Virginia
Project Leader:
Eric Grandon
Sugar Bottom Farm LLC
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Project Information

Project Objectives:
  1. This project seeks to answer the question, " Will West Virginia winter losses decrease by placing honeybees in cold storage?"
  2. This project seeks to answer the question, " Will honeybees emerge stronger and healthier than outside bees when overwintered in cold storage?"
  3. This project seeks to answer the question,  " Will the cost of colonies saved offset the costs of materials for cold storage?"
  4. This project seeks to answer the question, " Will there be a reduction in spring mite treatment cost?"
  5. This project seeks to answer the question, " Will this method be beneficial for all sizes of beekeepers?

I feel the honeybee is the most important part of agriculture today.  Given a third of every bite you take is pollinated by the honeybee alone.  Without this pollinator, we could lose 118 fruits, nuts and vegetables.  Science Times reports that with the loss of he honeybee, we would have no more than 4 years left on earth.  

In the last several years, the average honeybee loss have been at least 40% of all registered hives in the United States.   West Virginia has not been too far off that mark, but is higher than the national average.  These numbers have a huge impact for the farmers.  First, the loss of his bees is costing the farmer for replacement bees along with the loss of their honey crop.  Secondly, because of poor harvests due to the lack of pollination carried out by the honeybee.  Losses have been linked to many things.  The Varroa Destructor, pesticides, loss of forage, monoculture, humans and weather are all blamed.  I believe our winter weather has more to do with our winter losses due to the extreme temperature shifts when the bees should be in cluster.  

In late summer / early fall, the queen begins to lay the winter bees which can live 4 to 6 months allowing those bees to carry the colony through winter into spring when the new brood will start being produced.  By regulating temperature to a constant 38-40 degrees F., bees will consume less honey, age more slowly, and clusters will experience fewer winter weather related losses than those bees kept outside in West Virginia's extreme temperature fluctuations.  

I believe that placing winter colonies into cold storage here in WV will decrease winter losses and will also be stronger and healthier hives.  I plan on using a normal insulated room and window air conditioner tied with th Coolbot system.  It will place the honey bee colonies into a light cluster allowing the bees to be able too eat but at the same time rendering them unable to fly.  



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  • Michael Shamblin - Technical Advisor


Materials and methods:

I believe farming as a business is the most stressful profession in the workforce today.  I spent 20 years in the US Army and completed 6 tours in the Middle East and seen combat during Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom II.  I am Totally and Permanently Disabled through the Veterans Affairs Administration.  I would not trade one minute of my service time to change the outcome my health and well-being. During all that time I was never stressed out like I am today as a farmer.  It seems in todays world everything and everyone is against the Small Family Farm business. 

In the spring of 2022, I purchased 45 3 pound Italian Honeybee packages to not only use for this project but to also sell as established colonies to compensate our farm business due to the tragic death to about 50 colonies last year because of pesticides.  I installed these packages with 2 days of arrival giving the best chance of initial survival and to decrease the amount of Absconding colonies.  Throughout the season I sold bees to other farmers except for the 35 colonies to use in this study  We did not place an identifying number on any colony upon arrival to our farm as written in the proposal.  I felt if we would have identified the colonies to be used in the study then they would be treated better than my other working colonies.  I made the decision to identify colonies to be used in the study in late November 2022 with the cold storage move to be made on or around December first.  

I have learned after attempting to place my control group of bees into cold storage without success because I have  no control over the weather, my customers, my Doctors, and even my family.  Having said that, we were 45 days late and if we had stuck to my original schedule I probably wouldn’t have lost 26/35 colonies due to extreme and extended cold weather during December.  For almost 6 days the temperatures plummeted to near zero degrees Fahrenheit and below rendering the honeybee cluster worthless because at those temperatures the honeybee literally goes into a hibernation mode just to prolong its life hoping the temperatures increase to allow movement again to keep from starving.  

I entered the cold storage room with the control bees on January 15th with 5 hives inside and 4 hives outside.  The Coolbot’s thermostat was set to 39 degrees Fahrenheit and the bees are still living as of now.  

At this time while early in I do feel the study will be inconclusive secondary to the lost time in cold storage in cluster vs the highs in December on my farm which gave the honeybees reason to fly and forage up to five miles for food that was no where to be found.  That does not deter the Honeybee foragers from trying again and again with the right temperatures.  In December alone, my bees flew a total of  16 days wasting precious life that would not have happened if they had remained in cluster. In January they have flown another 9 days with 2 more days remaining in the month.  If these bees were spring/summer bees they would be nearly at the end of their lifespan.  

How did we get here??  Inspections began 4 days of installation of the Honeybee packages into my prepared hives. The initial inspection was only to ensure that all 45 queens had been released from the wooden queen cage and had began her duties as the queen.  After the initial inspection, each and every colony was inspected on a 7-10 day schedule which continued throughout the season  our inspections were driven by a hive inspection checklist.  The checklist were to ensure each hive was inspected using the same technique required by the checklist.  Inspectors recorded findings on the checklist attached to each telescoping top of the hives.  A sticky piece of acetate larger than the checklist kept the inspection list secured to the telescoping top while providing weatherproofing of the blank sheet.  Recordings were made using an erasable wax pencil which was not erased until the next inspection giving the inspector a quick rundown of the colonies health during the last inspection.  This allowed any inspector to base any change from the previous inspection.  The checklist includes a number of critical observations and/or manipulation procedures to ensure colony health.  A few of those worth mentioning is finding and assessing the queens health and functionality by recording the mood of the colony, the amount and laying patterns of the brood found in each hive.. Also the amount of food, pollen, nectar and honey.  Finally the amount of bees, their ratio of workers and drones and completed swarm management techniques. The inspector recorded his assessment of colony health based on the data and observations.  The grade of Strong, Weak, or Normal was given and if any negative discovery was made, immediate action was taken to bring colony back to near normal conditions if possible.  This can be done by feeding an individual colony with synthetic carbohydrates and proteins in the form of Pro Sweet for carb enhancement and ultra bee dry pollen substitute for lack of protein.  Also natural fixes were first choice to increase food stores and increased population through hive manipulation transferring frames and bees from one colony into another weaker colony.  


Upon arrival of honeybee packages, 35 packages will be numbered 1-35 and placed randomly in one of my three bee yards on my farm.  Before installation, woodenware is scraped clean and disinfected in a 50% bleach solution and allowed to dry to reduce the incidence of disease.  After installation, initial feeding will begin and the first inspection will begin on day 3 and 4, weather dependent.  Each numbered hive will have a corresponding inspection checklist and all inspection log sheets will be displayed in the master  inspection log book.  Inspection checklists will not only pertain to the honeybee inspection, but will also provide weather data.  At this point, no colony will be labeled with whether it will remain outside or be placed into the cold storage room for the winter months.  The decision to choose will take place at the end of November, weather dependent.  The numbers 1-35 will be placed on separate small pieces of paper and the control group will be the first 15 numbers drawn.  Someone without ties to the study will draw the 15 numbers.  The individual will be chosen at a later date.  The 15 randomly chosen colonies will be placed in the cold storage room on December 1 and will remain in cold storage until March 1.  During the spring summer and fall, each of the 35 numbered colonies will receive the same management techniques and interventions.  In the case of a mid season loss through Colony Collapse Disorder or absconding, the colony will be replaced with one of the 5 additional replacements.  

After hives are placed in cold storage, I will be recording daily temperature highs and lows, humidity and will record whether bees are flying.  Bees in cold storage will remain at or near a constant 38-40 degrees F. and humidity levels will be checked daily.  Mortality in both storage areas will be checked weekly with a spot thermal camera allowing us to make inferences to weather related losses.  In case of power outage, a generator will maintain climate in the cold storage unit.  On March 1, hives will be brought from cold storage and vitality will be checked in both groups with the spot thermal camera.  As warm weather permits, comparisons will be recorded between the two sets of colonies.  Information will then be used build a case for or against the practice as financially sound.  

Research results and discussion:

Study is still ongoing.  Will continue to add as time goes on.  Only 2 weeks in cold storage.



This has been an exciting study in my opinion. When you take anything out of its natural environment there will always be losses due to our inability to duplicate nature in a wooden box. From the very beginning of learning about the honeybees and their “norms” in nature, I have tried to emulate that natural environment and use their successes and apply that to my management strategies. 

With raising honeybees, it all about measurements, observations outside the “Norm”.  From day one it’s just like a new baby that requires constant attention and once it gets older we start to relax a little, but that’s only seen in the movies.

When installing 12-15,000 honeybees into an empty hive you begin your measurements after day one. When a colony moves into a new home the builders get right to work. These honeybees that produce wax are from the ages of day 14-18 of their lives thus far. It’s amazing to watch a new queen prance around the comb before cells are built up. Once she recognizes the first food coming in she can now begin laying eggs. A good Queen can lay between 1500-2000 eggs a day if there’s enough empty cells

Research conclusions:

Will finish upon completion of study 

Participation Summary
4 Farmers participating in research

Learning Outcomes

4 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
Key areas in which farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitude, skills and/or awareness:

During the 2022/2023 season we continue to learn West Virginia’s weather continues to play a key role on Honeybee mortality and overall health of the Colony as a whole.  At least 5 farmer/beekeepers have expressed sincere interest in this study.  Each of us, (farmers), have suffered loss of Honeybee Colonies during the winter months in the past. During this research, I discovered basically the only outside influence that we have partial control in is indoor controlled storage of the winter Honeybee Colony.  As I continue this research, we will continue to discover relevant information to tweak the methods being used in this study.  Sadly, given the small numbers of studied colonies this will become a multi year study to finally the “Best Practices”, in West Virginia.  Having 5 new Beekeeping farmers in trusting me to find new management strategies to decrease winter losses in this state. Upon completion of this winter season with recorded results we will be able to at least encourage other beekeepers to adopt different strategies to decrease the mortality of our Honeybee populations  

During the course of our project we experienced several unexpected factors and gained knowledge along the way.  Several of the colonies had pesticide exposure on adjacent property which caused eventual death to the colony.  Other colonies were weakened and did not die immediately but during the cold temperatures in October/November they did not survive to make it to the time for cold storage observation.  Due to the death of the colonies and the weakness of the remaining colonies we did not proceed with the cold storage project because the data would have been comprised at that point.  Now that we are aware of the issues we have talked to the West Virginia Department of Agriculture, Department of Highways, Utility companies as well as Columbia Gas pipeline company about the use of sprays that can affect our colonies.  I will be contacting the Department of Environmental Protection to address the use of sprays which harms the entire environment plus collateral damage which I suffered. 

Project Outcomes

1 Farmers changed or adopted a practice
$0.00 Dollar amount of grants received that built upon this project
Project outcomes:

As I look back I witnessed first hand the destruction of chemical inputs into our ecosystem as a whole. If there had been prior warning I could have at least blocked the entrances to my hives. I feel that our Department of Agriculture and the others mentioned above should have to notify one another if spraying is to occur and if any registered colonies are within the area. As a whole the damage I suffered could cost me about $50,000 in lost harvest and revenue this upcoming season. 

The impact of this project is the fact that chemical spraying is having a negative effect in our agriculture communities.  Not only does it destroy the areas that have been sprayed but it effects the water the soil and our livestock in surrounding areas.  It destroys our pollinators species, not only bees but other insects that can pollinate flowers, foods, trees and other agriculture products. This in turn can affect life cycles of all living things and produce a cascade effect for the future.  Sustainability in and environment like this is next to impossible. 

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

There were several challenges during this project and many out of our control.  Due to Covid 19 we were unable to buy the bulk sugar that we needed to feed the bees during the dearth which is necessary for any starting colony.  There was also very minimal honey flow during the fall due to summer weather.  I traveled to a neighboring state to purchase emergency bee feed to help the colonies survive through the winter however this measure was unsuccessful due to the issues with pesticide exposure.  Also due to price of lumber and supply chain issues we were delayed in our cold storage unit completion until midwinter.  A secondary plans had been developed for meeting the requirements of cold storage however the bees did not survive until that point. I also had health issues which limited my ability during the course of the study. We also realized during this study that the decision to put the bees in cold storage should be based on weather versus calendar date.  Given the fact that we were unable to accomplish the study there would be little or no impact to other farmers learning from this study.  Due to this we are requesting an extension until June of 2023 to complete the study.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.