Conquering Winters Challenges: Defeating Moisture, Mold and Beehive Losses

It was a winter I'll never forget. At one point, I was very comfortable with my winter bee hive management practices here in southwestern Ontario. As usual, I would add an entrance reducer upside down, flip my inner top cover for a bee escape, add rigid foam to the inside of the top cover, and finally wrap the hive with black tar paper. This process worked for many years and I would lose one or two hives a winter - apparently normal, but nothing like what was in store for the coming winter.

This particular winter was very mild here in southwestern Ontario. We received considerably more rain instead of our typical large snowfalls. The rain didn’t stop for weeks, and when the temperature would drop below zero, everything froze to ice. That was the winter I lost all my hives, and I was devastated. I had to start building all my hives up again from scratch; this is the worst thing that could happen, and I didn’t want to experience it again.

I didn’t realize what was likely the issue until I started researching different possible causes. I went down the rabbit holes of disease, hunger and temperature, but none of those seemed to be the root cause. Then, I read that the biggest risk to bee survival in the winter isn’t the cold but actually moisture. Once I realized this, I started to find clues that made it more apparent moisture was the cause of my hive losses. For instance, I saw sweat under the rigid foam and mould on many frames.

After this discovery, it became a quest to find out what other beekeepers have done to remove moisture inside the hive. Today's hives are far from the natural tree cavities that honey bees usually make nests in. The most popular hive structure, the Langstroth hive, is simple, efficient and relatively inexpensive. Another known hive structure is the Warre hive which tries to mimic a tree cavity more accurately. It does this with smaller boxes, thicker walls and a top moisture quilt; very different from the Langstroth hive structure. Many beekeepers that have switched to the Warre setup rave about its effectiveness, but I didn’t want to replace all my hives, and most beekeeping supply stores focus on supporting Langstroth hives instead. I thought, what if I could take the elements of the Warre hive and apply them to my current Langstroth hive setup?

That's when I created the top moisture quilt. I began by putting wood chips in one of my honey supers with a mesh bottom but realized in the first year that it was too messy and time-consuming to set up in the fall and remove from the box in spring.

Instead I created a bag for easy management: a natural bag made from Jute fabric stuffed with wood chips. It gets inserted in a honey super; it acts as an insulator and wicks moisture much more effectively than other methods I have seen. It’s easy to add, and there is no mess to clean up in the spring. Plus, it can easily be used season after season.

I have been using my hive top moisture quilt for the last four years, and I can’t believe I haven’t lost a hive yet. Of course it's not all due to the moisture quilt as I also implement other good hive management practices, like mite treatments. I no longer see any mold or moisture in the hive and my bees come out much stronger in the spring. They are so much stronger that I must split them in early spring.

I decided to start offering these top moisture quilts to other beekeeping friends, and they too have been experiencing much better results. I’m now offering them for sale to beekeeping supply stores. If you’re interested, contact your local beekeeping supply store and inquire how to buy a Lune’s Forest Garden top moisture quilt.

Happy beekeeping!


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