How to make a moisture quilt for a Langstroth hive

For years I’ve been trying to reduce moisture accumulation in my wintering hives. Then last summer, after much reading about Warré hives, I decided to modify a Warré-style quilt box into something that might work on my Langstroths here in the Pacific Northwest.

I spent quite a while thinking about this and a long time building the quilts, but at this point I am ecstatic about the results. They are really working—no moisture at all is dripping down on my bees. The funny thing is this: the quilts are working in a way that is different from what I predicted—but more on that in a bit.

Here is what I did:

  • I bought a bunch of two-inch supers that were designed to be used as mountain camp rims.
  • Using a one-inch hole saw, I drilled four holes in each frame for ventilation.
  • After I painted the frames, I stapled a piece of #10 hardware cloth over each hole to keep out critters.
  • I bought canvas by the yard, cut pieces to fit the frames, and finished the edges so they wouldn’t fray.
  • I stapled one piece of canvas onto each rim, stretching it as tightly as I could.
  • I filled each “quilt” with wood chips leftover from brood rearing (chicken brood rearing, that is.)
  • I put one quilt frame on each hive. In most cases I placed it above the top brood box and below the telescoping cover. In some of the hives it is above a mountain camp rim and below the telescoping cover.

For some reason my brain was muddled on the next point. I thought the moisture would wet the quilt from the bottom up. In other words, I thought the warm moist air would rise and condense on the canvas and wood chips nearest the brood nest. So I was surprised and confused the first time I opened the hives and discovered that just the top layer of wood chips was wet and the rest of the quilt was dry.

Now that I have de-muddled, it all makes sense. The wood chips are light, fluffy, and basically the same temperature as the air above the brood nest, so the moist air does not condense on the wood chips at all. Instead, the humid air rises and goes right through the canvas and the two inches of wood chips until it hits the cold inner surface of the telescoping cover. Once it hits that cold surface, the moisture condenses (just like in a regular hive) and then rains back down. But instead of the drops falling on the brood nest, they land on the wood chips and are absorbed. It is just so cool!

I’ve opened all my hives several times since I installed the quilts and in each case the inside of the telescoping cover and the top layer of wood chips have been wet. When I stir the chips, it is easy to see that only the surface layer is wet because the wet chips are a yellowish-brown color compared to the dry ones which are almost white.

My original plan was to change the wood chips whenever the quilt became saturated, but so far I haven’t had to. It seems the ventilation holes are allowing the chips to dry in spite of all the rain. The moisture hasn’t seeped down more than one-quarter inch.

While building the quilts I was worried that the 2-inch super would be too shallow, but it seems to be about right for this climate. I think that a very cold climate would warrant a thicker layer—perhaps a three-inch rim like those used for baggie feeders.

I should also mention that the four ventilation holes are providing the sole top-of-the-hive ventilation for each hive. Four holes may seem like a lot, but the canvas and the wood chips prevent a cold draft from flowing across the bees—the air movement is more diffuse because of the quilt. I keep a very small entrance in winter, but I have the Varroa drawers removed so air flows in through the bottom of the hive and out through the ventilation holes.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

First I drilled holes in the supers.
First I drilled holes in the supers.
I painted the supers inside and out.
I painted the supers inside and out.
I stapled hardware cloth over the inside of the holes.
I stapled hardware cloth over the inside of the holes.
After finishing the edges, I stapled the canvas to the rims.
After finishing the edges, I stapled the canvas to the rims.
Finished quilt box from inside.
Finished quilt box from inside.
Quilt box filled with wood chips.
Quilt box filled with wood chips.

Comments

Beekeeping
Reply

Thank you so much for sharing this and including the pictures. Every time I read somewhere about a quilt I picture something similar to what is on our beds. Soft and flimsy. But this makes so much more sense. This is easier to construct and maintain than what I was imagining. I’m encouraged by your success as well. Thanks again. I love your blog and everything you share here. Keep it up!

jess
Reply

You’re going to sell these, right?

Mike Fetting
Reply

I had the same idea, made four using shallow supers. I appreciated the additional information about the moisture, please post your results in the spring.

So far my bees seem to be doing great with the bee quilts I put in place.

Rusty
Reply

Mike,

That’s great; I’m glad to hear they are working for you. So far, my bees are looking good. We had a warm day last week and all the hives were busy.

I will definitely post my results and observations at the end of winter. Thanks for asking.

Freda Marlow
Reply

Could you please advise what type of canvass material
you used for the ‘quilts’. Thanks

Rusty
Reply

Freda,

I don’t know what weight the canvas was, but when I went to the fabric store I bought the lightest weight all-purpose canvas that they had. It is 100% cotton with no dyes. A heavier canvas would have worked just as well; I don’t think the weight matters that much.

I cut it to size, then finished the edges with an overcast stitch. Then I stretched it as tightly as I could across the bottom of the super before I stapled it.

These moisture quilts have worked unbelievably well. They eliminated all the winter moisture problems I used to have, and I have managed to go all winter without changing the wood chips.

Margie
Reply

You can also use jute (gunny sack) material for the quilt bottom. I think what was used here is like a duck cloth. Check out http://thebeespace.net for what Nick H. in Oregon used for his. Jute can be obtained either online or a good feed/hardware store. I save the seams for using in the smoker or to stuff an entrance if moving a hive.

For the topbar cloth in the Warre fashion, I just make a wheat flour paste and brush the jute and hang on the line to dry. Keeps the bees from chewing, but they’ll propolise this.

I live in Interior Alaska, and have since have gone to Warres, but have converted my deep Langs into either end tables, apiary stands, or cut down into feeder ekes and the like for my Warres. My leftover Lang stuff I set up as bait hives, but have the quilt box element and a sump for the bottoms for them now.

Paul Guernsey Player
Reply

Margie,
Where can I read more about keeping “Alaskan” bees?
Paul
Clearwater, Florida

Manuel
Reply

What goes first, the inner cover or the quilt?

Rusty
Reply

Manuel,

Put the quilt box on top of the brood box. Put the inner cover on top of the quilt.

If you are using a baggie feeder, it goes between the brood box and the quilt. So, brood box, baggie feeder, quilt box, inner cover, outer cover.

Jeff
Reply

How do the bees get out for a cleansing flight this way then?

Rusty
Reply

The regular way, through their front opening. Nothing is changed down there.

Judd
Reply

Quilt question.

I have built my wood vented inner covers with a 3/16″ bee space so bees can go over top the top bars and move freely from between the top of the brood box and inner cover. If I build the quilts as you suggest then the canvas will rest on top of the brood frame top bars, correct? If yes, then did I build my inner covers wrong with the top bee space, or does it matter you think?

Rusty
Reply

Hi Judd,

I’m a little confused–maybe I don’t understand the question. The moisture quilt would go above the brood box but below the inner cover. Because the quilts can sag a bit, I usually put either a 3-inch feeder rim (eke) or a 1-inch Imirie shim between the brood box and the quilt. So directly above the brood box is the feeder (or shim), then the quilt, then the inner cover, then the outer cover.

The feeder gives the bees plenty of room to move around and solves the sagging problem. The bee space sounds perfect for summer, but the bees won’t be using that space in the winter if you use quilts.

Joel
Reply

Rusty,

Just found your site a week or so ago, and have been a regular nightly visitor. Thank you very much for this great resource.

I made these quilts for my hives, but I am worried about the fact that the rolled and stapled edges of the fabric on the bottom of the quilt keeps a tight seal from being made between the brood box rim and the rim of the quilt . . . and what about sagging over time . . . if the fabric contacts the brood box top bars, wouldn’t that create a barrier preventing the bees from staying in a cluster as they moved around the hive for food?

Rusty
Reply

Joel,

The fabric itself forms a seal between the brood box and the quilt box, sort of like the cotton caulking they once used in ships. The fabric is soft so it deflects from the weight of the lid and makes a tight seal. I never had a problem with it, although I did keep my hem as thin as possible by zigzagging the cut edges rather than rolling them. Still, I think it will work just fine.

I like to keep a 3-inch feeder rim between the brood box and the quilt. This gives me a place to put candy cakes or dry sugar as the winter progresses, and makes some “sag space” for the quilt. For less sagging you can insert a cross bar in the center of the quilt box, which is what I’m planning on doing for my top-bar hive.

Joel
Reply

Rusty,

Thanks for the reply! I can’t wait to try these things out . . . I have a cousin who is president of the local bee club and my mentor, and he’s curious about how these will work before he makes some for his 30-plus hives. I’m the guinea-pig here.

I have some baggy feeder rims that I drilled holes in and covered with hardware cloth earlier this year to use for ventilation during the heat of the summer here. They look exactly like what you are using for your quilts. Instead of building more rims, I’m going to cut and fit some dense pieces of Styrofoam in the holes and cover with aluminum tape to seal out the weather . . . hopefully this will work.

Rusty
Reply

Joel,

Remember that it’s the ventilation holes that allow the canvas and wood chips to dry out. Without ventilation holes the quilts won’t work properly.

Joel

Hi, Rusty -

I understand about the ventilation . . . it makes sense when you read the whole original post . . . again, I am really excited to try these out, and appreciate very much you sharing this. As a first year beekeeper, I am really nervous about getting these 4 hives through the winter in good shape . . .

Living here in Tennessee, you cant help but understand the importance of ventilation when it comes to your livestock. The summers here are boiling with 100 degree days and humidity you can actually see in the air. I am completely serious when I say that even our milk goats have their own ceiling fan in the barn!

The rims I used during the summer for ventilation are still on the hives, sitting between the inner cover and the telescoping cover. Currently they have just had one hole open, however.

We have had a string of nights in the mid 30′s, so I have winterized the hives the traditional way (entrance reducer, flipped inner cover, closed screened bottom boards) with the exception of extra ventilation via the rims.

The quilts I built have screened holes in them, just as in your photograph, with the exception being I built mine with two 1.5 inch screened holes rather than the 4 you use . . . reading some of your other posts, it seems our winters get a bit colder than yours with many nights in the upper twenties and some in the low teens.

My plan is to remove the ventilation rims, cover their holes with Styrofoam and tape, then use them as rims to set the ventilated quilts on to prevent possible sagging blocking the tops of the frames . . . it’ll just save me spending an afternoon going through scrap lumber and knocking together more rims.

I wonder if instead of using rails across the bottoms to prevent sagging, maybe hardware cloth could be used? Say by creating a small ledge or rim on the INSIDE of the quilts, stapling the hardware cloth to it then covering the bottom with cloth . . . that way the wood chips rest on the hardware cloth which won’t sag, and the cloth on the bottom not only seals the bottom, but any condensation that might be caused by using metal hardware cloth would be kept from the bees by being caught or absorbed by the cloth . . .

What do you think? Don’t know if I have been clear . . . maybe I could knock one together and take photos?

Joel

Rusty

Joel,

I understand completely what you are saying. I was thinking of trying hardware cloth instead of canvas cloth on some of my quilts this year but I was afraid of condensation on the metal. I never thought of using both of them together. That’s an idea that might work.

I live in a USDA hardiness zone 8. If you look at a hardiness zone map, you can see how similar your low temperatures are to mine.

Anthony Planakis
Reply

Hey Rusty,

I know it’s been a while! Thanks for your wonderful posts! I built three quilts and did just that with the Imirie shims to accommodate for pollen patties. I also put a second support, 3/4×3/4×15 1/8 down the center and stapled the canvas to it to prevent sagging. Works great!!!!!!! Unbelievable how much moisture is transferred out of hive!!!! By the way, you can pick up #10 canvas untreated at Home Depot (painters drop cloth) 100% cotton chemical free. I can make 15 plus quilts per pack!!!

Keep up the good work!!

Tonybees!!

Rusty
Reply

Tony,

Good tip about canvas at Home Depot; I’ve been looking for some.

Don
Reply

I’m also building a quilt inspired by your website. It occurred to me that the sagging problem could be addressed by using foundation wire across the bottom of the quilt – maybe two strands in each direction. What do you think?

Rusty
Reply

Good idea. I’ve been thinking about the sagging problem and have run across several possible solutions. I’ll put them altogether in a separate post.

navi
Reply

Hello Rusty,

First time posting but stumbled on your site mid-summer. Thanks for the site and all the info. This was my first year keeping bees and I tried something similar to your quilt idea last spring and will use it this winter. I cut a hole approx. 5″x5″ in the inner cover. Stapled some wire screen over the hole. Put the inner cover on. Put a medium super on. Bought some polyester pillow cases, filled them with pine shavings and laid them in the medium super.

Made an “eke” with vent holes (holes covered with wire screen). Placed the “eke” on the medium super and then put my outer cover on. Of course I had no idea it was called an eke, I figured it was a cobbled up solution to a problem. I think it gave the girls a leg up on their honey journey. Of the 4 hives, 1 allowed me to harvest about 150 lbs., 2 produced approx 200 each of which I left for them to enjoy this winter, and 1 got demolished by a bear. I think he really enjoyed the honey because he tried getting to the hives a couple more times without any success. I went foundationless, seemed to work ok. I reside in north western Wisconsin. I am excited for year number 2. Thanks again for your site. Very enjoyable reading.

Rusty
Reply

It sounds like you did great this year in spite of the bear.

I can’t believe all the variations on moisture quilts I have read in the past month. This one is also clever. I imagine you could change the pine shavings, wash the pillow case, and go for another year. I’m planning on putting together a list of all these interesting variations, and I will be sure to include yours. Thanks for writing.

Rusty
Reply

Bruce,

There’s no need for an inner cover with a moisture quilt. I don’t use one, but they do lift the telescoping cover higher–a consideration if your vent holes are being covered by the telescoping cover. Your invention is totally different, though, so it wouldn’t need one.

Jon Harman
Reply

I have 2 comments. Last year a Polish gentleman overwintered 75 10-frame Langstroth hives in the orchard behind my house in east-central Missouri. He had quilts on all of the hives similar to yours. They also had upper entrance holes on all of the boxes. My wife and I have had a few Langstroth hives for a few years. I built two Warre hives this spring as a trial. I made a mistake by not placing a wire screen under the fabric quilt and both hives ate through the fabric in 3 days and dumped the chips into each hive. The wire screen helps hold the quilt above the top bars and keeps the bees down. A Warre is only about 12″ x 12″ inside, so a quilt for a Langstroth will be much harder to support with the extra area and wood chip volume. It definitely keeps the moisture level down when damp and acts as an attic insulation to keep cool in the hot summer.

Rusty
Reply

Hi Jon,

I’ve had so many people write about supporting the quilt from underneath that I will have to re-write my how-to post. As I’ve said earlier, I think the feeder rims that I keep between the top brood box and the quilt kept the bees from eating through the quilt. But for people who don’t use a feeder rim, something is definitely needed to support the fabric. And as you point out, the Langstroth arrangement requires a longer span and, therefore, better support.

Thanks for writing. I’m surprised quilts aren’t more popular. Those who use them seem to overwinter their bees really well, just like your neighbor. I haven’t heard about them being used in summer before–definitely something I need to try.

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