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Do beehives need moisture permeable ceilings?

 
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I'm reading about how Warre hives have a quilt box at the top to provide insulation but allow moisture to vent out the top:

"The purpose of the quilt box is to insulate the top of the hive during cold weather, which helps the bees stay warm and, more importantly, prevents water vapor from condensing into water droplets at the top of the hive and then dripping onto the bee cluster."

(from https://www.thewarrestore.com/the-quilt-box-explained)

But conventional Langstroth hives just have a metal roof, and simple log hives are usually capped with a piece of wood, and indeed the natural beehive location for the previous 80 million years was just a hole in a tree, none of which have a layer of permeable insulation above the comb.

So how important is that quilt box arrangement?
 
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Minimizing condensation is essential in cold winters. I don't think it requires a quilt although that is one way to do it. The Langstroth hives have an inner cover (under the metal top) that has a hole that allows bees & moisture to escape. In really cold winters some kinds of hives could benefit from extra insulation. Bees need to stay warm & dry. That's the main things. I don't think it matters too much how that is accomplished.
 
steward
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a couple of points:

first, describing the quilt as moisture permeable isn't quite right. it's more of a moisture buffer. vapor can move either direction between the quilt and the hive, but there's no way for meaningful amounts of moisture to move between the quilt and the ambient air. the roof that goes on top effectively seals the quilt off from the outside air.

second, the top of a tree cavity will wick away quite a bit of moisture. if you've ever finished the end grain of a woodworking project with oil or paint or really anything, you'll understand what I'm talking about here. the ceiling of a hive that's in a tree cavity is also end grain. its capillarity will suck moisture right up.

whether or not condensation is a big problem in a hive is an open question as far as I'm concerned. I've read studies suggesting that winter bees drink the condensation that results from their metabolism to supplement what's in the honey as they aren't able to venture out for water in the cold. I've also seen moldy comb at the top of a hive. probably a lot depends on the particular climate the hive is in.
 
Joshua Frank
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Now that you mention it, I do know exactly what you mean about wood fibers wicking moisture, so that's a very good point. I've already built it, so I'll try the Warre quilt thing and see how it goes.

I wish I had someone like you near me, because I would love someone to put up beehives next to my wildflower meadow. As it is, I have to learn all this stuff myself. I'm starting this weekend with a package of bees that I bought, because if my attempts to catch a swarm fail, I don't want to lose another whole year. Do you have any tips on swarm catching? There are a million of them online and it's hard to know which are most reliable.

Also, have you seen this bottle beekeeping video that seems to be sweeping the (bee loving part of the) Internet:



Plastic is clearly impermeable to moisture, and he seems to be addressing that with extra vent ports covered by mesh, but is that good enough? Also, they seem to be at the bottom, which doesn't seem to me like it would work, because I think the moisture would rise to the top. Any opinion on this approach?
 
tel jetson
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Joshua Frank wrote:Do you have any tips on swarm catching? There are a million of them online and it's hard to know which are most reliable.



have a look at this bulletin: Bait hives for honey bees.

and the plastic keg hives: I think it's an interesting reuse of a disposable product. those bottles aren't available anywhere close to me, so whether to use them for beehives isn't a decision I have to make.
 
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Hi Joshua,


Regarding the swarm traps, myself and my brother caught 12-13 swarms last summer. We designed a 40 litre bait box. We use rose hives, but bait box design is simple.

It fits 6 frames on the top, all empty, perhaps one with wax. Then underneath those 6 frames is the same amount of volume, but with just empty space to make up a total of 40 litres. Small entrance hole about a 1/4 inch. We use lemon grass, a drop or two on a q tip, rub a bit on the entrance, top of bars and throw into the box.

Make sure the box is bone dry with no dampness, or water getting in, and leave at least head height or higher in whatever location you decide. That being said we have caught swarms when the box is on the ground so I wouldn't worry too much about the level of the swarm.

One thing to note, we are in Ireland and in our area we have Apis Milifera Milifera , the native black bee, so I'm not sure how the particular type of bees behave in your climate, but I'm assuming probably similar.

Regarding the quilt boxes, there will be no harm in using them. I have always used a coverboard with a hole, then something like hemp or hessian above that, with a air gap above that and ventilation holes on each side of the roof. This keep the hive warm, damp free and dry. With the native black bee the cold isn't so much a problem, if temps drop to -1 or -2 etc they are fine. But dampness, is the major threat, you don't want major amounts , or any really in your hive.

My hives never have dampness. Now my brother started making quilt boxes for rose hives last summer, and at early season inspections the hives are booming. I have always liked the idea.

Make sure there is an air barrier above the quilt box, and ventilation gaps for the moisture to exit. Chippings will draw and absorb moisture from the hive. Its a old and well practiced at this stage and should work well for you.

Best of luck
 
Dominic Allen
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One more thing, Personally I don't like that plastic bottle approach in that youtube video. The use of plastic, the penetration of sunlight into the give, the heat variance the bees will experience, etc Just not good for bee health in my opinion and  a bad idea. I haven't treated my bees in over 5 years , and I know people who haven't treated in over 10 years. Trying to understand bee behaviour, and work with their evolutionary strengths and needs , makes happier, healthier bees and saves time and money for the beekeeper. Darkness, insulation, dryness etc are important and plastic fails on many levels.
 
Joshua Frank
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Thanks for the info about the quilts.  Do you need the board between the top of the hive and quilt? I don't think that's called for in the original Warre design.

About the plastic bottles, it's not clear unless you watch the whole thing, but he wraps the bottles with Reflectix, which is foil wrapped bubble insulation. He says that 1cm of this stuff is as insulating as 10cm of wood (what a tree cavity might have) and it's also opaque, so inside would be dark. But you can remove it to see the bees (and take video). Would that address your concerns with this approach?
 
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Top ventilation, quilt boards and the like are basically all poor substitutes for adequate insulation rating in the hive lid. If the hive lid is adequately insulated there simply will not be condensation formation on the lid, so this whole issue is moot. This is one of the main reasons that I use polyhives, as the high thermal insulation rating benefits the bees all year round.

Condensation on the lid is a specific problem because if it forms and drips on the bees in winter it can freeze and kill the cluster. That said, some small amount of moisture condensing within the hive on the walls and elsewhere in winter can actually be good, as the bees can drink it and use it to digest stored honey without leaving the nest.
 
Dominic Allen
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Hi joshua,

I don't use cover boards on any of my hives, and most of them don't have quilt boxes. I use cotton sheets to cover the top bars, and then hessian over that as an insulator.

Thanks for pointing out the things I didn't take enough time to see in the video on the plastic bottles.

I'll watch over it again and come back to you on it, I may be just being closed minded but anything that isn't wood just doesn't appeal to me, but that's just a bias and may have no scientific clout behind it.

From what you said about the plastic hives being well insulated and dark, after that i suppose it would be condensation and breathability. That comes to mind. But...I mean it doesn't seem there's any massive issue from the little I understand of them.

But I will give it a watch again, thanks so much for sharing it.

 
Joshua Frank
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@Dominic Allen: Where are you located, i.e. how cold does it get where you are?
 
Joshua Frank
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@Michael Cox: I'm going to see if I can find a better way to insulate this thing. Thanks for the information.
 
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