How to Control Moisture in the Beehive

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Moisture in the beehive has several negative effects on the well-being of the hive, the worst of all being that it endangers the honeybee colony living there. Proper ventilation of the beehive ensures adequate moisture control. There are various ways you can go about ensuring moisture levels in the beehive do not go too high. This article shares tips on how to control moisture in the beehive and looks at the various beekeeping equipment you can use to achieve this. Too much moisture leads to organisms such as fungi, finding it easier to establish themselves in the beehive. It can also lead to condensation and droplets falling on bees. Honey bees can die when the cold water droplets fall on them.

How Moisture Affects Honeybees in the Hive

With a lot of moisture in the beehive, the cold and the inner cover turn into the beekeeper’s worst enemies. The cold causes water to form into droplets on various surfaces. The inner cover is the most common surface on which condensation is found in a beehive. Its surface gets cooled and causes the air in contact with it to cool too. Any moisture in the air is also cooled on the surface of the inner cover. Excessive condensation on the inner cover leads to water droplets forming. In the event that these droplets of water on the inner cover drip down into the beehive, they may cause the death of the honeybees they touch. The droplets are very cold and make bees wet. Honeybees can survive cold very well, but not when wet too.

Winter Moisture Control in a Beehive

Winter and spring are two seasons in which moisture control is important in the beehive. In winter, the cold temperatures trigger condensation if the beehive is too humid. The honeybee colony over winter clusters in one place and may not be able to warm the entire hive. The level of moisture is controlled over winter by using top openings, among other measures. Spring is a wet season with a lot of rain. It can make the air entering the beehive very moist. Increasing numbers of bees in spring can also cause beehive moisture levels to rise as a result of their respiration. Nectar collected from fields in early spring is wet and gives off moisture as it dries off in the beehive.

Winter Beehive Ventilation for Moisture Control

Regulation of moisture during winter is achieved with ease, if you allow for at least one opening at the top of the beehive and one at the bottom of the beehive. Air enters through the bottom opening and flows up and out through the upper opening. It ensures the air in the beehive has the same humidity as the air outside the beehive. Ventilation over winter greatly improves the chances of a beehive making it through winter season. Screened bottom boards are also an interesting option to explore for beehive moisture control. The screened bottom board allows for better exchange of air and humidity regulation. When used through winter, you should install a windbreak of some sorts around the bottom of the beehive, so that cold air currents do not blow directly into it.

Equipment for Winter Beehive Moisture Control

In addition to proper ventilation, you can introduce some equipment into the beehive to help with moisture regulation. An absorption blanket somewhere at the top of the beehive and under the inner cover works well. Wood shavings, newspaper and dry pine needles are popular fillers for making absorption blankets.

You may use an empty beehive box to hold the absorption filler material in place over the top of the beehive. When there is a lot of moisture in the beehive, the absorbent material takes some moisture in and prevents condensation from happening. During dry weather conditions, the air in the beehive gets less humid. The filler material releases moisture into the beehive.

Use of absorbent material is the best way to go about controlling moisture in the beehive. If you cannot make a moisture absorbent blanket of some sorts, you can purchase a moisture board that is ready for use. Various other options are commercially available to beekeepers, including equipment to warm the beehive and improve ventilation.

Beekeepers with Warre beehives do not have to worry much about moisture control in their beehives. A properly setup Warre hive has a quilt box for moisture control. The quilt box comes at the top of the Warre hive before the roof. It is filled with wood quilt or suitable material that absorbs moisture from humid air and releases it back when the air is drier.

Filler material used in moisture boards and quilt boxes, can become saturated with water. It is necessary to check them regularly so you can replace the saturated filler material. Newspapers are notorious for getting saturated with moisture quickly. Poor weather conditions accelerate the rate at which your filler material gets saturated.

Moisture Board for Beehives

Beehive Moisture Control - Moisture Board
An example of a beehive moisture board.

A moisture board is used in a beehive to absorb moisture and keep honeybees dry. In beekeeping, a moisture board can be made of many materials, including various wood products. Moisture in the beehive is a leading cause of honeybee colony losses over winter. The moisture board replaces the inner cover in most cases and negates the need to have a top entrance for ventilation in the beehive. It wicks moisture from the inside of the beehive and releases it to the outside of the beehive.

An advantage a moisture board has over a top entrance for ventilation, is that it prevents loss of heat from the beehive. It actually insulates the beehive and improves heat retention while removing excess moisture from the air in the beehive. Heat loss through the top opening in a beehive over winter, causes bees to eat through their food much faster since they need to produce more heat for warming the beehive. Excessive heat loss causes increased food resource use and the colony can exhaust its honey stores before winter is over. Using a moisture board greatly reduces the chances of this downward spiral of heat loss and food consumption happening.

A moisture board is best used without the beehive inner cover. In fact, it replaces the inner cover. A beehive shim placed over the top of the uppermost hive body, helps keep the moisture board in place over winter. On top of the shim, place the beehive moisture board with the darker side facing up. You may add an inner cover insulation sheet or pad to improve heat retention. The beehive may be wrapped in a winter hive wrap too.

Choosing a Beehive Moisture Board

Moisture boards for use controlling moisture in beehives come in various sizes. They are also made using different materials based on the manufacturer’s preferences. The common moisture boards you can use in your beekeeping operation are made of Homasote, which is a cellulose-based fiber wallboard. Its composition closely resembles that of papier-mâché. The boards are made by recycling paper and compressing it at high temperature and pressure. Some adhesive is added to the paper to make it form a board once it dries. Homasote typically comes in boards that are 4 feet wide and 8 feet long. Typically, the board is ½ inch thick.

Use appropriately sized moisture boards in beehives. The moisture board for 10-frame Langstroth beehives cannot fit in smaller beehives. There are great moisture boards available to beekeepers for use in the different sizes of Langstroth beehives. 8-frame and 5-frame nuc hives have their respectively sized moisture boards. Optionally, you may buy a large Homasote board and cut it up, to make moisture boards of appropriate sizes for respective beehive configurations.

Beehive Moisture Quilt Box

Beehive Moisture Control - Beehive Moisture Quilt Box

Another option available to beekeepers when they need to control moisture, is a quilt box. Typically, the quilt box is a beehive box modified to hold material that absorbs moisture from the air. It is used inside a beehive to reduce the humidity in the air. A quilt box may also have holes for beehive ventilation. The holes allow moisture to leave the beehive. They also enhance air flow through the beehive to keep bees supplied with enough oxygen for their use. In very cold conditions, you should make sure the ventilation of the beehive does not lead to excessive heat loss.

Choosing a Quilt Box

You can purchase a quilt box, modify an existing beehive box, or make one for own use. Traditionally, Warre beehives require moisture quilt boxes at all times. In Langstroth beehives, the moisture quilt box is added only when needed. If you are purchasing one, be sure to get the right size box for your beehives. The quilt box for 10-frame Langstroth beehives will not fit in an 8-frame beehive.

Modifying a Beehive Box into a Quilt Box

Modifying an existing beehive box is a very easy way to make a moisture quilt box for use. Shallow beehive boxes used as honey supers are best suited for this purpose. The beehive box is sealed at the bottom and filled with quilting. Canvas or any other material that allows air through it is best for sealing the bottom of the box. The material you use should not allow honeybees passage through it and into the quilting material.

Wood shavings are best for use in a quilt box. If you do not have wood shavings, use other materials such as pine leaves and newspaper. The thickness of the quilting material should be at least 2 inches in the drier regions. When conditions make the air very humid, you might need up to 4 inches of quilting.  Regularly check quilting material for wetness and replace it if necessary.

Converting a beehive box into a moisture quilt box can leave the box unusable as a regular beehive box again. Holes drilled into the sides of the beehive box and other modifications necessary to make it a functional moisture quilt box, are often irreversible. On the plus side, you reuse the modified quilt box over successive winter seasons.

The modified beehive box gives a large moisture quilt box that can be filled with a lot of wood shavings or other quilting material. They give excellent moisture control in the beehive and insulate the beehive at the top too. Their large size can however make the beehive appear too high. Filling the box with quilting material can also be challenging since the box is big. If you cannot fill it with quilting material, aim to fill it to at least 2-inches depth. 4-inches of quilting material are enough for beehive moisture control even in the wettest regions.

Beehive Moisture Board vs Quilt Box

Beekeepers looking to control moisture in their beehives have many options to use. Many beekeepers go for either a quilt box or a moisture board. The use of any of these beehive moisture control methods has its advantages and shortcomings in various aspects. The final decision in the choice of equipment to use is made by the beekeeper. To help you with making that choice from an informed position, here is a juxtaposing of the moisture board vs the quilt board.

Cost

The cost of purchasing equipment is an important consideration for beekeepers. In large beekeeping operations with a lot of capital, budgets can allow for the purchase of highly priced equipment. Smaller operations running on tight budgets however, have to go for the most cost-effective solutions they can get their hands on. In beehive moisture control, the use of a quilt box is the more expensive option. All factors considered, a moisture board is cheaper to purchase and use in the beehive. It comes as a board that does not have too much put into it. A quilt box makes use of multiple materials and its production process is more complex than that of a moisture board.

Effect on the Height of the Beehive Stack

Both a moisture board and a quilt box must be built in exact size for the beehive they are going to be used in. Any beehive moisture control equipment made for an 8-frame beehive will not work well in a 10-frame beehive. In the same manner, equipment for 10-frame beehives will not be applicable for use in an 8-frame beehive.

The effect of use of these beehive moisture control equipment on the height of the beehive varies by equipment. A quilt box raises the height of the beehive by at least 4 inches. On the other hand, a moisture board is ½ inch thick. It can sit on a beehive box replacing the inner cover of a beehive comfortably. Its contribution to the height of the beehive stack is not significant.

Ease of Use

Apiary and beehive management in your beekeeping operation requires you to know how to use the various equipment deployed in beekeeping. Moisture control with a quilt box or moisture board has varying degrees of complexity in use. Deploying a moisture board in the beehive is easier than setting up a quilt box. The box requires you to source for wood shavings or other quilting materials. You also have to ensure sealing of the bottom of the quilt box. With a beehive moisture board, you only need to see if the board is of the right size and is structurally intact, before using it in the beehive to control moisture.

Durability

Both these beehive moisture control solutions are durable when used well. They can last many years as long as they are not subjected to a lot of rough treatment. Beehive moisture control boards are made using different materials. Their production makes use of recycled wood and paper. If poorly done, the board can swell up when it absorbs moisture. Such swelling, expanding or warping lowers the effectiveness and aesthetic appeal of the moisture board. A beehive moisture control quilt box retains its shape and function for its entire lifetime. It does not expand or change due to absorbing moisture. Saturation of the quilting material with moisture only needs replacement and the box is ready for use again.

Insulation

The top of the beehive is exposed to the elements. Some insulation and ventilation are needed at the top for proper functioning of the beehive. Moisture control equipment is used at the top of the beehive. It can provide ventilation and insulation for the beehive. A moisture board often replaces the top cover of a beehive when it is used. It provides little insulation value to the beehive in comparison to a quilt box.

The larger depth of the quilt box and use of quilting material that slows airflow, makes the quilt box a better insulator for the beehive than a moisture board. Ventilation of the beehive is however better with a moisture board than a quilt box. This is because using a moisture board requires you tom make holes for ventilation. They allow air to flow through the beehive uninterrupted. This is unlike where a quilt box is used. The quilt material in the box slows air flow and thus causes reduced ventilation of the beehive.

Ease of Making One

It is easier to make a moisture board than a quilt box. The moisture board requires few cuts and sizing before it is ready for use. Making a quilt box is a more complex process that requires tools and many materials. It takes longer and requires more labor than making a beehive moisture board.

Pests, Parasites and Diseases

A beehive moisture board is a single piece of equipment. Even though it is not solid, it is dense enough to prevent entry of insects and other critters into its material. Pests and parasites of honeybees have a difficult time making a home in the moisture board, even when they have access to it. Additionally, the board does not have any replaceable parts on it that can introduce harmful microorganisms into the beehive.

On the other hand, a beehive quilt box can be a habitat for harmful organisms. Pests and parasites of honeybees gaining access to the quilt box can hide in the quilting material. They can turn into a persistent problem in your beekeeping operation. Changing the quilting material also creates an opportunity for bacteria and fungi to enter the beehive. You should use clean quilting material and treat it for pest, parasite and disease control where possible.

A Final Word

Keeping beehive humidity within proper levels is important. It ensures survival of the honeybee colony in winter. Moisture control in a beehive also prevents the establishment of some microorganisms inside it. Honeybees have their own methods of regulating beehive moisture. They ventilate the beehive to kick out wet air, or release water into the air to increase humidity. In some situations, they cannot do this and require assistance from you. Options are available and you are now better informed to make a decision about how to control moisture in the beehive. Go for the most suitable equipment you can get, and enjoy the benefits of having healthy honeybee colonies in habitable beehives.

What methods do you use to control moisture in the beehive? Leave a comment below and let us know.

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