beekeeping equipment

Honey bee quilt show

Well . . . not exactly. But mention moisture quilts to a beekeeper and his creativity takes flight. Although our “quilt show” wouldn’t feature bright cotton fabrics meticulously cut and sewn, I’m sure it would be equally inspiring.

The post I wrote last year about making moisture quilts for a Langstroth hive garnered more comments than any other, and my recent post about creating a quilt for a top-bar hive re-energized the conversation.

I still haven’t made my top-bar quilt because I’ve been toying with the idea of using hardware cloth instead of canvas. The switch, I hoped, would lessen the sag that would necessarily occur in such a large expanse of fabric. On the other hand, I’m still wondering how much condensation would form on the hardware cloth itself and whether it would get absorbed by the wood chips or drip back onto the bees. In any case, I decided to support the fabric with two crossbars regardless of whether it’s cotton or metal. But in the meantime, quilt-related ideas have been pouring in.

Alternative uses for moisture quilts

One reader wrote early last year saying he used moisture quilts during the summer as ventilation ekes. He just dumps out the wood chips in spring and puts the eke upside down over the inner cover to increase ventilation. The fabric rests against the telescoping cover, but no harm done. I have tried this and it works well.

Mountain camp or else

I used mountain camp rims available from Kelley Bees for my quilt boxes, but others suggested using baggy feeders, shallow supers, or even medium supers. All these would work and I think those in colder climates might find the deeper boxes beneficial. If I were making mine over again, I would use 3-inch baggy feeder rims instead of the 2-inch mountain camp rims–or just cut them from 1″ x 3″ lumber.

The sagging saga

A number of people have been concerned that the quilt will sag in the center and press against the top bars, preventing free movement of the bees. I never experienced this problem myself because I always keep either a baggy feeder rim or Imirie shim between the brood box and the quilt. I use this space for pollen patties, grease patties, sugar cakes or whatever I need to give the bees, but it easily takes up the sag. Plus winter bees are not that into bridge comb, so it works well.

I stretched the canvas fabric as tightly as I could before stapling it in place. I found that, once it gets damp and then dries, it shrinks till it’s as tight as a tambourine. Seriously. Other readers have suggested preventing sag with wooden cross bars or foundation wire. I will probably try each of these ideas over the coming winter.

Canvassing for fabric

Beekeepers report using canvas, jute, burlap, duck, terry cloth, and denim. It sounds like you can use pretty much whatever you can find. I’m told treating the fabric with starch keeps the bees from chewing it, and I know that’s what Warré beekeepers have been doing for years. Last year I had two quilts that showed chew holes by spring. I just ripped out the fabric and stapled in a new piece . . . but you may want to try starch.

Creative quilting

Two of the most creative ideas take quilt-making to all new levels. Bruce (or is it Dan?) of Strathcona Beekeepers designed a quilt from a homemade eke, a piece of landscape cloth, and a couple inches of wood chips. On top of that he has a wooden separator (with convenient handles) topped with Styrofoam insulation. Well, you kind of have to see it to believe it. According to the inventor, this creation is patented by the C.H.P.—Canadian Honey Police. Po . . . lice get this guy outta here.

And winning my blue ribbon for creativity beyond all reason is Navi who enlarged and screened the hole in an inner cover and put it above the brood box. On top the inner cover he put a medium super in which he inserted a polyester pillow case filled with pine needles. Then he added a ventilation eke on top of that and covered the entire thing with a telescoping cover.

And you all thought I was crazy . . .


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  • Yes, you are crazy but keep in mind your loyal following is crazy also. Your site is my favorite because you CARE about your bees. Your followers care, too. If that’s crazy I will wear the label with great pride.

    I made a quilt but I live in SW Wisconsin so made the following adaptions for our harsh winters. I will describe what I did by layers, starting from the 4th top medium super (I’m in my 60s so work with mediums because of weight).

    • on the top super I have a 1.5″ spacer where I have grease patties (mineral salt & organic essential oils Varroa treatment)

    • next is a 6-hole 1/4″ piece of underlayment using screen with wide mouth canning jar rings pressed into the holes to keep the bees below. I added this to make spring feeding less disruptive for the hive.

    • then I have the quilt: 3.5″ deep with a layer of screen, a layer of 1/4″ hardware cloth to prevent sagging (feeder board also prevents sagging), 3 layers of light weight cotton canvas fabric washed to remove the sizing, ironed, sewn with the top layer of fabric turned back and then top stitched for a clean strong edge. I put three .75″ ventilation holes per long side on the quit frame.

    • a 2″ spacer

    • wood chips gathered from my woods and put through my chipper fill the 3.5″ quilt and 2″ spacer

    • a ventilated inner cover

    • a regular inner cover

    • a telescoping cover

    In the next few weeks I will wrap the hive in black roofing paper (up to the quilt box) also using roofing paper on the outside of the telescoping cover.

    I hope this will keep the bees buzzing all winter. They have plenty of stores but we sometimes get temps of -40F, not for more than a couple of days. I’m also thinking of getting a stethoscope to see if I can “hear the health” of the hive. Have you ever done this??

    • Carol,

      Wow, the plot thickens: this is even more complex than those quilts I mentioned. I like the mason jar feeder boards all ready to go–that’s a cool idea. And I also like the combination of hardware cloth and canvas. It’s funny how some of us wash the sizing out, while others add it back to the fabric in the form of starch.

      I’ve never tried a stethoscope but I have used an empty drinking glass to amplify sound. If a hive is healthy, though, I can hear easily without any assistance.

      Thanks for writing. Your method is a good addition to the “quilt show.”

  • Rusty,

    I forgot to add that I cut a round hole the exact size of a mason jar lid and then inverted said jar as a syrup feeder. The medium super accommodates a quart jar nicely. Of course that could be controversial to feed or not to feed. The pillow case wrapped snugly around jar. Love all the different variations. Same end result: happier bees.

  • I am going to take a screened inner cover full if shavings with a metal pot lid suspended above it, support it over a pot of boiling water, and see if water condenses on the screen or moves on through the shavings to the lid! I may need foil “sides” hanging from this contraption . . .

    • Creative idea. Let me know how it works. I think the screen should be cool when you start–as cool as it would be inside the hive.

  • Hi,

    I am a beekeeper in the U.K. and I just love your website as it is full of ideas that are new to me and it is a site that is so actively supported.

    Amongst other articles, the ‘Quilt Show’ was fascinating as it contained so many interesting variations on the quilt theme – all duly noted ! I certainly will be using a similar wood-shaving quilt on my hives this next winter. Many of the beekeeping equipment names are the same everywhere, but some are very different, so I show my ignorance and ask, “What is a ‘telescoping cover’?” This is not a piece of equipment I have come across over here. Maybe we call it something else.

    Hoping you can answer this and maybe this is also a piece of kit I can adopt here over ‘the pond’. Keep on supporting this great website.

    • Graham,

      You have telescoping covers but I don’t know what you call them. Maybe some of my U.K. readers can help. The term just refers to a lid that is slightly larger than the brood boxes and supers, such that the sides of the lid fits down over the top box by about 5 cm and provide some rain resistance. A telescope has pieces that slide inside of one another, hence the name. Basically, it’s just a standard hive cover.

  • Hello Rusty and all other readers of this marvellous site. I am about to make a quilt cover this very afternoon. I hope I can do it well. I am not a very experienced carpenter, I am almost 60 and I am a lady so this is an experiment. I have the drill and the bit that cuts round holes, I have the canvas which I still have to hem but will wait until the other parts are ready. I would appreciate more pictures or diagrams though. I haven’t seen the spacer thing you all talk about here in the Dutch or Belgian catalogues. I will ask about that at our club soon. Also I seem to be having many wasps inside my telescoping cover. They fly up under the sides and can get at the washing-up bowl I use with the winter food. The bees don’t seem very bothered by them and neither the bees or the wasps are agressive towards me. Has anyone an idea if and how I should prevent the wasps from getting to the bee food. Thank you all Lindy

    • Lindy,

      Wow, I know nothing about the type of wasps that live where you are, but as a general rule, I would say you don’t want wasps around your bee feeder. For one thing, it can get expensive to feed wasps. In the second place, wasps are omnivores, and after they eat the feed they may start eating the bees. I would try to screen them out; they shouldn’t be able to get up under the telescoping cover.

      A spacer or feeder rim is just like a super except very shallow, say 2-4 inches, and it doesn’t have have a place to hang frames. It is the simplest thing, just four boards fastened together to make a rectangle. I can show a photo, but I might not get to it today. See the post “How to use an eke” for more information.

  • Hello Rusty,

    Thank you for you quick answer… What do you mean with “screen them out?” The hives are new red cedar hives all from one supplier, no added on strange ill-fitting parts or anything like that. The wasps fly up against the outside top of the honey super which is empty of frames but is only there to hold the washing-up bowl with the winter food supply. The lid fits snugly over the top but there is space about the thickness of the my hand between the honey super wall and the side of the lid but when I try to put my hand up the side there seems to be no space for the wasps to get into the honey super but that is what they do. They are certainly not getting in through the bee entrance at the bottom. Can I put some sort of netting like on the holes for the Langstroth quilt somewhere but where? Lindy

    • Lindy,

      Okay, I thought maybe you had an upper entrance or unscreened ventilation ports, but apparently not. First thing you will have to do is figure out where they are getting in. Are you sure they are not going through the main entrance?

      I’m a bit worried. Honey bees will fight off wasps unless they get overrun by them, and then they let them in freely. You said earlier they weren’t fighting. How big are these wasps? How many do you see attempting entry? If you open the hive do you see them inside? Do you see dead bees or wasps laying around? Do you have a reduced main entrance? How long has this been going on?

  • Hi Rusty, I was thinking of using the ventilation eke that I’ve been using all summer and convert it to a 4 inch quilt. My question is… can I place it directly on top of the inner cover which will be inverted for room for pollen patties etc, and between the inner and outer covers? This would eliminbate the need for another short rim between the frames and the quilt. Many thanks for the information on liquid feeding when it gets cold. The information you provide on so many topics can’t be easily found elsewhere.

    • Barbara,

      Moisture from the colony may condense on the inner cover before it has a chance to be absorbed by the quilt. If this happens, the moisture may rain down on the bees and negate any benefit from the quilt. I’m not completely sure this will happen$#151;it will partially depend on how cold the inner cover gets. You can experiment by setting it up that way and then checking to see if moisture condenses on the underside of the inner cover, but I’m guessing it won’t work as well.

  • Rusty,

    I just made 4 ventilation “ekes” with 3 holes on the long sides and 2 on the shorter sides. I placed them on my hives today, on top of the inner cover. I am planning on making and using your moisture quilts for the winter. I live in Minnesota (Zone 4), so pretty cold in the winter, and very long.

    In the winter, do I have to cover any holes from the ventilation box? I am worried that it will be drafty and difficult for the bees to stay warm?

    Thank you for all your very pertinent information, I love your site!


    • Karine,

      Read the following post: “Are your honey bees ready for winter?” Like most animals, honey bees are very good at handling the cold as long as they are dry, but once they get wet they are history. Picture yourself on a 20-degree day in a nice dry jacket vs a wet one. The concept isn’t much different for bees. The wood chips in a quilt do two things: they collect moisture and they slow down the airflow through the vent holes so you don’t have a wind tunnel. I encourage you to read the comments under “How to make a moisture quilt for a Langstroth hive“–lots of people with lots of experience in there.

  • I had my dad make a 2-inch eke with a hole in the center front the exact size to be plugged by a rubber wine cork. The intent was to be able to use it as an upper entrance in summer that I could close easily if robbing or treating. BUT it has had an unexpected benefit for winter feeding: if I dump a four-pound pack of sugar in a pile right against this “hole” I can easily and extremely quickly see if there is sugar left by popping the cork and peeking in. So that’s the good news.

    Questionable news is that here in coastal Maine we have gotten about 36-40 inches of fine powder in the last week with more coming for the next seven days. And it is COLD—highs in teens and twenties at best. I converted a medium box to a winter quilt with hardware cloth on the bottom, left over cotton upholstery fabric atop that, and then filled the box to within two inches of the top with pine shavings. Across the top two inches of the box I have six or eight cork sized bore holes with hardware cloth across the inside to allow evaporation and prevent mouse entry. Over that I have my screened lid then telescoping cover and the whole shebang is double strapped together because the winds here can be ferocious (regularly 25mph) off the ocean.

    The issue is that fine powder is blowing into the top of my quilt. I opened it after the first blizzard and scooped out about two cups of fresh powder, above at least 4 inches of wood shavings, plus fabric. It hadn’t melted obviously. I’m sure there is more in there now.

    So, do I go in again to scoop it out (which is a massive undertaking (shoveling, deicing straps, freezing fingers the thought of which I dread), do I cork up the windward ventilation ports (probably two thirds of them- leaving only two open) and rely on that and screened cover to be enough upper ventilation? Do I just leave all the ports open to maximize evaporation when it does start to melt? Do I just wait till it’s warmer and the threat of whatever snow is in there melting is more real? With four inches of insulation from the bees and screened top and telescoping metal topped cover is probably three inches of open air on the top do I really even have to worry much about melting till it gets pretty freaking warm (my quilt box is dark blue like all of my hive bodies)? I have a screened bottom board with slatted rack. Any ideas on how to address this issue for next year? Burlap over ventilation ports?

    • Joanna,

      I guess at this point I would cork the windward side holes and then, when it begins to warm up, go in and remove the snow. If it has already melted, I would see how far down the wetness goes and then make a decision to dry or replace the wood chips, or just let them dry out on their own. Also, if you remove the inner cover, the telescoping lid might protect the vent holes more. My lid half covers the vent holes, but that has always been enough to do the job. Burlap might work just fine for next year. Even a fine-mesh screen (like window screening) may keep out a percentage of the snow—maybe enough.

  • I made a quilt with a medium super, denim bottom, be sure to wash if fabric is new, a plastic queen excluder to reduce sagging, and sitting atop a super feeder and finally a vented 2″ frame. Finish with inner cover and top tele cover. Also cedar wood shaving. Middle TN aera. I really enjoy your blog with so many ideas and usable answers. Thank you, Rusty

  • How do I clean my quilt box for the next season. There are mould stains on the plywood inside the box.

    • Donna,

      Mold stains won’t hurt anything. If you want to kill any spores, you could rub the stains with alcohol and then let the wood thoroughly dry before refilling the box. Alternatively, just set the box in the sun to make sure it is completely dry.