Our honey bee colonies work hard to get ready for the cold months of Winter. Are you keeping bees in regions with wet, cold Winters? If so, your colonies may benefit from some extra help to control moisture in the hive. Learning how to make a quilt box for your beehive is a great way to prevent excess moisture and offer some insulation too.
Why Moisture in the Hive is a Problem
During the warm season, thousands of worker bees work diligently to keep the temperature and humidity inside the hive at desired levels.
This is especially important for bee brood rearing. Developing bees requires certain levels of both for proper development.
When cold weather arrives, life inside the hive changes. Less brood is being reared and the bees are clustered together in the center. They are unable to regulate hive moisture like they can in Summer.
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Warm air inside the hive rises off the cluster toward the top of the hive. As the air cools, it is not able to hold the excess moisture. Moisture collects on cool surfaces inside the hive. This may be the underside of the inner cover or the outer cover.
Then, the cold rain will drip down on the clustered bees. While honey bees have a good system for surviving cold temps, cold wet bees are dead bees.
Quilt Boxes and Moisture Boards
Some beekeepers routinely add a quilt box to their hive. This is a standard feature in Warre style hives but they can be useful in Langstroth hives too.
A hive quilt box is a wooden structure that is filled with absorbent material. This material absorbs moisture that drips from the cool surfaces. Thus, saving the bees from being chilled.
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 for bees is that they can be made inexpensively with many materials that you may already have at home.
Build a Winter Quilt Box for Your Bees
Here are some basic instructions on how to build a quilt box. And, some ideas for substitutions too.
Time needed: 1 hour.
Make a simple wooden quilt or moisture box for a Langstroth beehive.
- Assemble Shallow Wooden Box
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 is Needed
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.
Install a Beehive Quilt Box
Install your beehive quilt box on your hive 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.
Some beekeepers place the quilt box on the top box of the hive, with the inner cover over that for more insulation and then the top cover. Other beekeepers do not use their inner cover with a quilt box.
Tips for Quilt Box Construction and Use
- Canvas or unbleached cotton can be used for the bottom
- 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 shaving a couple of times over Winter – they should never be soggy
- watch for unwelcomed pests taking up residence in the quilt box
Benefits of Using Hive Quilt Boxes
Your beehive quilt box can be left on the hive during Summer with the shavings removed. In this way 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. For more people it is best to remove them.
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.