Recently, on a balmy spring day, I pulled drone frames out of my hives and discovered the most populous hives were dripping wet under the cover. I had tried to prevent this by using upper entrances, but apparently, the one-inch holes I installed were not big enough to keep the interior dry in spring.
Part of this problem is due to the weather; it has been rainy and cool for the last several weeks so it’s hard to keep anything dry. It’s also partly due to the populations in the hives—lots of bees mean lots of respiration and also lots of nectar collection. Everything, it seems, gives off moisture.
Cold and wet is a lethal combination
Moisture in a hive is not a good thing. Disease organisms, fungi, and molds thrive in moist environments and, in cold weather, water droplets can drip down on the bees and chill the brood. Taken together, it’s easy to see that proper ventilation is important for bee colonies year-round. Honey bees can thrive in cold temperatures, but cold and wet is a different story.
Screened inner covers increase ventilation
I manage to keep my hives dry during the winter with one lower and one upper entrance. But this time of year when the populations are huge and nights are still cold, it’s a bigger problem.
So yesterday I removed the inner covers and replaced them with screen covers that have half-inch shims along the short ends. The shims prevent the outer cover from laying flat against the screen. The damp air can flow from the hive, up through the screen, and out the half-inch space on either side.
These screens greatly improve airflow but prevent insects—such as foreign bees or wasps—from coming in through the top.
Pollen to pupae to breakfast
Drone trapping in the spring can help reduce the varroa populations in your hives. But trapping and removing drones also relieves some of the population pressure in your hives, making moisture control a bit easier.
After I removed the drone frames, I fed the drone brood to the chickens—the ultimate in recycling! The nurse bees eat the pollen so they can secrete royal jelly and feed the larvae, and the chickens eat the larvae so they can lay the eggs which we can eat for breakfast—along with toast and honey, of course. What a system.
Honey Bee Suite
Do you use screened bottom boards? I do, and have never had a moisture problem. My hives sit at the edge of my lawn, and are shaded by trees a lot of the day. I even leave the SBB’s in over the winter (in Massachusetts).
Steven – http://stevensbees.blogspot.com
Yes, I should have mentioned that. I do use screened bottom boards and my hives are elevated so the air can easily flow up through the screens. Here in the Puget Sound region we are blessed with a rainy season that lasts nine months, October through June. It stops raining about the fourth of July and then we have zero, none, nada rain for three months, during which time everything dries to a crisp.
We probably don’t have much more total rain than you do in Massachusetts, put it just kinda rains all the time, enough so that mold and moss grow everywhere. We call it the “mold and mildew capital of the new world.”
Anyway, I think that is the main problem with keeping the hives dry, and it’s why I experiment a lot with screens and multiple openings. My bees have done well over the years, but I never open a hive without a bucket of rags so I can wipe down the inner cover.
I appreciate your comments, however. I’m glad to hear you use screened bottoms over winter. I try to encourage that but lots of people are afraid to.
“Drone brood”? What’s that? Drone’s are male bees and brood are the larvae, right? So is “drone brood” larvae that will become drones? I get why the hens want them, 🙂 but why don’t you want them?
Thanks for writing. You are right, drone brood is brood that will grow into drones. As for why I don’t want them, read about reducing varroa mites by drone trapping https://www.honeybeesuite.com/?p=727. Drone brood produces many more mites than worker brood. It’s nothing personal.
Could you use a moisture board in the hive to help with the excess moisture?
What’s a moisture board? I’m clueless.
I am having such terrible issues with the moisture and mold, too. I have been propping open my lid with a stick to get some air flow, which is helping a little bit but provides no protection from any foreign marauding creatures. I already have a screened bottom board and an elevated hive. I go back and forth about whether I should get a screened inner cover, too.
If this rain doesn’t end soon………. I don’t know! Everyone’s going a little bit crazy.
I have one hive in particular that is just dripping inside. I have a screened bottom board and a screened inner cover. I was wiping out the lid every other day, then I decided I’d split the hive in two. I checked it yesterday after it was split for a week, and now both halves are dripping! What’s going on with these guys, I have no clue. The rest of my hives are not a problem. Weird.
I’ve been having the same issue. Mainly seeing mold on both lids, everything else looks ok. Do you think I should clean it of some how? I’ve cleaned 1 box lid using a wire brush but I know that doesn’t get rid of the mold completely. Any recommendations?
Vinegar helps retard the growth somewhat. Just take a vinegar soaked rag and rub down the inner surface of the lids. It will grow back eventually, but it’s quick, non-toxic, readily available, and works reasonably well.
I have a suggestion that may help with with dripping lids although I know you are now recommending the use of wood shavings in a quilt box and a gabled roof. If the lid could be built so that it had about 1″ of slope from one side to the other and on the low end, the apron board would have a 1/4″ gap below the lid. Line the underside of the lid with aluminum flashing, extending it thru and maintaining the slot.
The moisture should condense on the cold metal and roll down the slope and out of the hive. A cleat could be added under the slot to divert drips off the side of the box and screening could be attached to prevent invasion.
Freeze up? Not sure, but I didn’t experience any problems. At worst, it should stop dripping in the center of the hive and move it to the side where I assume it would do less damage.
And by the way, if drips to the sides would be less damaging, why not use an inner cover with the holes on the sides rather than in the center? You were the one who said something about there not being any dumb questions.
It sounds like a reasonable idea to me. Have you tried this or are you going to? Could be interesting.
I tried it winter of ’11-’12 with a gabled roof over a quilt box with a 3″ thick wool insert; 2″ vents in eaves. The blanket stayed dry.
I will try the slant roof this winter coming, tho I’ve switched to using a piece of 4″ Styrofoam for tops.
Eating my words again. Upon further reflection after reading your post, “SHOULD MY HIVE TILT FORWARD”, I don’t think a sloped inner metal lid would work. The moisture would freeze and form icicles and drip down upon melting. Another wrong idea.
It’s nice to read information and experience on moisture in a beehive when the beekeeper is located in the Pacific Northwest. It is such a different experience from other areas and I’m having much trouble. Here it is mid October and I already have a hive that is molding and smells sour. I’m wanting to try a wool cloth on top with a vent slot. I’m glad to have found your website now and I hope to get some great advice. Screening the top board is something I never thought to do (*slaps head*). Thank you for a great blog.
You are right. Ventilation and moisture control around here is the number one priority, both for them and for us.
After thinking about those screened top boards…are you just adding a screen over the little hole in the inner cover? Or are you adding a whole sheet of screen with just a wooden frame around it? How much top ventilation do you do? All of our hives have very little stores right now. Was this year a poor season for honey stores or have I missed something?
A photo of a screened inner cover is here. For ventilation, I use a screened inner cover and a screened bottom board. I don’t know where you are, so I can’t say if it was a poor season.
Thanks for directing me to the post. Thanks exactly what I was looking for. I live just outside the Portland Metro area. I was surprised when my six hives all have basically no stores. So I am making candy boards already.
I use a 4 inch quilt filled with cedar shavings with a pitched vented roof and have never had a moisture problem. The shavings never get wet. Instead of drilling vent holes, you could save time by just adding shims under the cover.
That makes sense. Thanks!
First year beekeeper here. Im in Charlotte, NC so the weather changes…well constantly. We now have snow and ice on the ground and it’s still coming down. I love to try new things, so this is what I’m doing.
I bought an exterior hose bib heater (6ft). It come on at freezing to about 38-40º. It’s only warm to the touch. I put it under the lid but on top of the fondant/sugar feeder.
I’m no scientist, but it seems that this, along with the fondant, will keep the hive less damp.
What are your thoughts?
Just remember that warm bees are active bees and active bees eat a lot more, so be sure to watch their food supply. Also, warm bees may fly outside of the hive believing it is warmer than it actually is. If it’s too cold out there, some may not make it back. I’m leery of too much heat added to winter hives and much prefer a moisture quilt, which works like magic. That said, if you discover something that works, please let me know.
Rusty I have used the moisture quilt and eek in Alaska and have had great success. I was wondering why the cover assembly is designed for dead air space. Also I hear a lot of chatter concerning hygienic bees. Can it be true.
I don’t know what you mean about the dead air space. Can you be more specific?
Yes, hygienic behavior is a well known and often studied phenomenon wherein worker bees remove brood that is deformed or infected. It is controlled by a number of genes, many of them recessives, but extremely hygienic bees have been bred. Since many of the controlling genes are recessives, and because of the mating behavior of queens, it is hard to maintain populations of highly hygienic bees when they are open-mated to other more average populations.
I’m a long time master beekeeper on the wet West Coast of Canada and have been dealing with the same moisture problems described here. However my architect husband and I have developed a solution that shelters the langstroth beehive from the elements, making it so your equipment lasts a life time and your bees have a better fighting chance year round.
The BEEBRELLA is portable, light, durable and multi-functional for all weather conditions. A responsible architect would never design a house without a large overhang for the sun and the rain, yet we all leave our hives totally exposed to the elements.
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So far, I’ve had good luck with my $20 garden hose warmer under the telescoping lid. Even though it only comes on when it’s below freezing, it only gets to approx. 40º, just enough to dry up any condensation in the hive.
I checked my hive yesterday and they had eaten most of the outermost frames of honey, with plenty to spare (I’m running two deep).
I’ll be sure to report any changes in my hive using the Lowes® hose warmer.
It seems my bees struggle to ripen honey and cap. I’m thinking too much moisture in the air. What to do? Could leaving follower board in help? Provided there is room? Located in Eugene, OR
I like to use a screened bottom board and a screened inner cover which, together, provide excellent ventilation. Don’t worry about high humidity, Eugene will all too soon be dry enough.
I use a hipped roof over my hives. I put a screen across the bottom and fill it with cedar shavings. The ends have large vent holes which allow moisture to vent but the hives stay toasty warm.
I am having moisture problems, this is my first year as a beekeeper so I am stressing, I just put a quilt box on my hives, screened bottom with wood shavings, do I remove the inner cover when I put this on or do I put the quilt box directly on top of the inner cover, appreciate any help.
For the moisture quilt to be most effective, you should put it directly above the brood box or above a feeder rim (eke) that is above the brood box. I just take off the inner covers and store them in my shed.
I want to know the optimum humidity for larva for growing? Is it important really?
Thank you very much.
I’m sure it’s important, but I don’t know what it is.
I want to know the optimum humidity for larva for growing? Is it important really?
Thank you very much.
I’m sure that the proper range of humidity is important, after all you don’t want them to dry up or float out. But I don’t know what the numbers are.
I live in the St. Louis area. It’s been about 0 degrees to mid-twenties for the last 2 weeks. I have a quilt box on top of my hive. Today it’s 40 degrees here and I’ve noticed water on the bottom board. I think moisture is forming on the side walls of the hive and freezing. Any suggestions on what might be happening? I put my ear up to the hive and I can definitely hear the bees moving around
You are probably right. Moisture from respiration is condensing on the inner walls and freezing. On warmer days, it melts and runs down. As long as it’s dripping down the sides and not on the bees, it should be okay.
We live in Northern NY where it gets -20 at times and high winds. I plan on putting straw bales around it to keep the wind off, do I still use the screened bottom to allow air flow or should I close off the bottom. Also We are a heavy clay soil area and clay dries up really fast, why can’t I put that in the top box chunks to absorb moisture or even cat litter? Thank you.
At that temperature, I would close off the screened bottom. As for the clay, I don’t think it would dry out nearly as fast as wood chips. You need the absorbent material to dry out quickly, so it can be useful the next day. Also, all the little interstitial spaces between the chips are what traps warm air and keeps the hive warm. There are no usable interstitial spaces between clay particles.
You could try using female period pads as they are highly absorbent and lock away moisture. Relatively cheap and although they wont remove all the moisture from a well stocked hive they will help a great deal.
Same argument as above: you don’t want to use anything that won’t dry out quickly. You don’t want to accumulate moisture in the hive.
Thanks for the wood chip point and closing the bottom off.
What about using rolled up newspaper under the top cover to absorb condensation during the winter? It’s cheap and can get replaced if it gets too wet.
Personally, I don’t like the idea. Wood chips are light and fluffy which means small ventilation ports are enough to keep them dry most of the time. I think a rolled up newspaper would never dry out, so you would end up with a wet mass in your hive. In addition, wood has naturally-occurring antimicrobial properties that resist mildew and mold. I’ve never had to replace wood chips in the winter, and I often use them year after year. I just stack them in summer and re-use them in the fall.
Hey, I am a first year beekeeper in northern Canada. I put my bees in a root cellar for the winter so they don’t get too cold (a trick I leaned from the man I got the bees from) but my hives have a lot of moisture in them and are starting to grow mold. I’m not too sure what to do because if I try to take out the frames to clean them so of my bees will fly out. Should I just be careful and take out the frames and try to keep the bees in or is there some other way?
Cleaning off the mold won’t solve the problem because it will grow back the next day. The problem is that your hive does not have enough ventilation, so mold spores are accumulating and growing inside an overly damp hive. What you need to do is improve ventilation. After that, the warmth from the bees’ bodies combined with fanning will circulate the air, remove some of the spores, and make the interior dry enough that mold doesn’t grow.
Everything must be in balance for interior overwintering to work. I suspect your root cellar is different in some fundamental way from the root cellar of your friend.