Today, you will learn how to make a quilt box for your beehive and why it may be beneficial for colony survival. Over-wintering honey bee colonies can be especially challenging if you keep bees in regions with prolonger periods of wet or cold temperatures? One ingenious solution that beekeepers find useful is to place a quilt box on the hive.
The purpose of this optional piece of beekeeping equipment is not to really “keep your bees warm” but to help control moisture. Installing a quilt box of some type can be an important part of a winter beekeeping plan.
Facing Winter Challenges with a Quilt Box
During the warm season, workers regulate the temperature and humidity inside the hive. This is vital for proper bee brood development.
However, once the colder temperatures of winter arrive, the colony faces new challenges. Less able to refresh the air inside, moisture can build up inside the hive. Excess moisture inside the winter hive can be a killer.
One strategy used by beekeepers is the quilt box. And no, not every hive needs one. But, if you live in a cold or wet climate, you might consider one as part of your winterizing beehives procedure.
What is a Quilt Box?
A quilt box is simply a structure that you add to a beehive that is designed to help colonies during the winter months in cold climates.
It is a small wooden box that is placed within the beehive and filled with some type of absorbent material.
Typically placed right below the inner cover, the beehive quilt box helps control temperature and humidity inside the hive. This is a standard feature in Warre style of beehives but they can be useful in Langstroth hives too.
The key components of a quilt box include: an outer shell, filler material and ventilation holes. However, you will find many variations among beekeepers who all have their favorite way of making and using one.
The outer shell of a quilt box is normally made of wood. It is the part of the box that you will see from outside. You may build a 4 sided rectangular box that fits on your hive stack (with a wire mesh attached across the bottom) – some beekeepers simply use an empty shallow super!
Within the space of the quilt box – you will NOT find bee frames. Instead – this is the area that is filled with an absorbent material. The items used range from wood shavings, burlap, straw etc.
Small ventilation holes placed along the sides of the quilt box help excess moisture escape. I like to staple small mesh wire inside to cover the holes and prevent intruders.
Bee Hive Quilt Boxes vs Moisture Boards
Moisture boards are slightly different than quilt boxes. Instead of a box filled with material, an absorbent board material (Homasote) is used – often in place of an inner cover. It is effective but rather expensive to purchase for only a couple of hives.
The beauty of quilt boxes is that they can be made inexpensively with many materials that you may already have at home.
1. Make a short wooden box to serve as your outer shell or container. The outside of this box should fit your hive dimensions. You can make a short one or use an empty super box. (Cat inspection is optional)
2. A few holes (even one in each side) will help air escape the hive. A few small pieces of screen over the inside will help keep out unwanted visitors.
3. Some type of breathable material is attached to the bottom of this container. It should allow air to flow through but keep bees out. It will also serve as a holder for your fill material.
4. Fill the quilt box with whichever type of absorbent material you want to use. I like simple pine wood shavings.
Install a Beehive Quilt Box
Install your beehive quilt box right before cold arrives. There are several options for installation:
- if you have a candy board on your hive, the quilt box can go on top of that directly under your top outer cover.
- place the quilt box just under the inner cover.
- some beekeepers do not use their inner cover with a quilt box. This is a personal preference decision.
Expert Tips & Variations
- Canvas or unbleached cotton can be used for the bottom ( you don’t have to use wire)
- A deeper box 4” can be used for extra insulation
- Shavings are better than sawdust which packs tight or straw that may ferment
- check your shavings a couple of times over Winter – they should never be soggy
- watch for unwelcomed pests taking up residence in the quilt box (mice?)
Benefits of Using Hive Quilt Boxes
However, when cold weather arrives conditions inside the hive change. Less brood is being reared and the bees are not as active. Clustered together near the center of the hive, they are not able to regulate hive moisture.
Warm air inside the hive rises off the cluster of warm bees towards the top of the hive. As the air cools, it is not able to hold the excess moisture and moisture collects on cool surfaces inside the hive.
This may be the underside of the inner cover or the outer cover. Like any surface that collect moisture – at some point it begins to drip.
This cold rain drips down on the clustered bees – mostly immobile in the lower temperatures. While honey bees have a good system for winter survival, cold wet bees are dead bees.
No, the majority of beekeepers do not use quilt boxes on their hives. But, if you live in a cold, damp climate they can be beneficial.
Most beekeepers use clean wood shavings, untreated burlap, straw etc. to excess hive moisture.
Your beehive quilt box can be left on the hive during Summer with the shavings removed.It functions as an addition ventilation source – but most beekeepers remove them.
The active colony will propolis the wire or canvas bottom to other hive components. This makes inspections aggravating so it is best to remove them and store until Winter.
Making your own quilt box for your hive is very simple and a life saver for some colonies. Does every beekeeper need to use them? No. In fact, most beekeepers do not use quilt boxes.
However, if you live in a very cold or moist region, it certainly does not hurt to give your colonies this extra bit of care.
As we prepare our colonies for Winter, our focus should be not on keeping the warm – but rather making sure they have enough food reserves and good hive ventilation.
Build a Winter Quilt Box for Your Bees
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- wire cutters
- stapler and staples
- small nails
- 4 pieces wood to construct box 2.5-4” high – same dimension as your hive (or cut off honey super box)
- 1 piece hardware cloth (1/8″ mesh) (cut to fit your wooden frame)
- 1 bag pine shavings (or other absorbent material)
- 1 can exterior paint (optional)
- Construct a shallow wooden box – similar to a shim that will fit smoothly on top of your regular hive boxes. A standard Langstroth box measures 16” by 19 7/8” outside dimensions. The box should be about 3-4” deep. You may also choose to cut down a shallow super to the correct size if you wish.
- Drill ventilation holes if desired. Some beekeepers drill ventilation holes in the sides of the wood box. The 1/2 ” holes are angled to prevent rain from entering. The inside of the holes are screened to prevent bees from entering.This is optional – if you do not have the ability to added holes, use a couple of popsicle sticks to raise the outer cover slightly and aid in airflow.
- Cut hardware cloth (wire). Cut a piece of 1/8” hardware cloth (wire) 1” wider and longer than your wooden box. This allows you to fold the wire sides up and form a wire bottom inside the wood box. This will hold your absorbent material. It should not hang down below the wood. You can add an extra slat inside for support if needed.
- Add absorbent material. Pine shavings (found at any farm supply) are an excellent material for inside your quilt box. Pour enough inside the box to fill it almost to the top-when gently packed down. Another option, create a cheese cloth bag and fill it with pine or cedar shavings. This helps keep things less messy. And, it is handy is any problem arrives and you need to remove the shavings.