Insulating the bees

I spent this weekend making quilts for my beehives… Quilt boards, that is!

Quilt boards are basically very very shallow supers that are filled with clean organic matter like dry leaves or wood chips. They’re sandwiched between the top of the bee cluster and the bottom of the metal cover. The quilt board’s purpose is to catch all the drips of condensation that form above the cluster of bees (they keep the center of their cluster at 80* to protect the queen) as their heat rises and meets the freezing metal cover above them. If the bees are kept dry, they can regulate their temperatures very well; but when condensation drips on them and gets them wet it can mean colony death.

I’m embarrassed to say that though I’ve had bees for going on 7 years, I haven’t heard of quilt boards til this year. Perhaps because I’m involved in a county beekeeper’s club now (oh, I wish I’d joined at the very beginning! I could have saved myself so many mistakes!). But they’re very simple to make, so no more excuses.

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Following the example of several other beekeepers, I added ventilation ports on the sides to allow some slow air circulation. Screening these ports is very important so that other bugs don’t get in and make a home there. At this stage all that’s left to do is fill them and stack them on the hives.

…except when have I ever done anything without complicating it?

See, another vital key to honeybees’ survival over the winter is the presence of a candy board (another thing that I’m doing this year for the first time.) It’s an even shallower super, filled brim to brim with cooked, hardened sugar fondant, that is not meant to replace the bees’ food stores but can save them from starvation if it comes to it. It goes below the quilt board, above the cluster.

But I don’t understand how the quilt board can be very effective if the candy board underneath it is blocking all the moist air that wants to rise past it.

So I took my candy board and modified it. Made it a little narrower, twice as deep, and nested it right inside the quilt board.

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Each quilt box is in two parts. First the quilt part, which is deepest on the sides but still a good 2″ thick in the center. Then the candy box, which can be taken out separately (so you don’t have to have lots of huge full-size boxes on the kitchen counter all at once). The candy box is held in place with pegs on opposite faces and offset from each other for more stability.

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The 1/4″ hardware cloth on the bottom of the candy box allows the bees to pass through to eat the sugar, but the window screen above it separates them from the debris in the quilt box.

Because I’m planning on stacking (not consolidating) my two smaller hives over the winter in order to help them conserve warmth and hopefully survive, I only made two quilt boards instead of three. The candy board I’ll put between the two stacked hives will be a regular full width one (but only halfway filled so as to not obstruct the rising warmth). I’ll top it with a screen to separate the colonies so they don’t slaughter each other.

It’s all theory right now, of course – like I said, it’s my first time for any of this. The glue hasn’t even dried on my full-size candy board yet! Tomorrow it’ll be time to fill them and see how they hold together.

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