Of all the changes I made to my hives over the years, nothing has helped more than the moisture quilts. I’ve used quilts for five years now, and on average, I went from overwintering 50-60 percent of my hives, to overwintering 80-100 percent.
Many people have criticized my design. Most of those who criticized said my wood chips were not deep enough to be effective. Mine are only two inches deep, and in the beginning I, too, thought they should have been deeper. But the fact remains that my survival rate shot up and, in any case, the moisture collects in only the top one-quarter to one-half inch. I’ve never found the moisture to go deeper than that, even in very large triple-deep hives.
However, all beekeeping is local and my winters are not that cold, just wet. My quilts are designed primarily to capture moisture, but if you are also using them for insulation, there is no reason not to go deeper . . . four inches, six inches, it really doesn’t matter.
Changing canvas to wire
The other common criticism was the use of canvas to hold the chips. They said it wouldn’t last a season. I elected to use canvas after I read that Warré beekeepers use burlap. Canvas was easier for me to get, so I used that. I figured I could rip it off and replace it every year.
As it turned out, most quilts lasted three years before I changed the canvas. I didn’t see this as a big problem, but nevertheless, this year I replaced the canvas with #8 hardware cloth. Why #8? Simply because I had a roll of it on hand.
The thing I didn’t want was wood crumbs raining down between the frames. I figured the bees have enough to do without cleaning up sawdust, so I cut a piece of cotton fabric to fit just above the hardware cloth. With the fabric in place, I poured the wood chips on top.
So far, I like what I see. No chips are falling into the hive, the moisture is collecting in the surface layers, and so far I’m still at 100% of my hives.
Simplicity is key
As before, I keep a feeder rim just below the quilt. If I want to feed, I simply raise the quilt on one end, slide in the sugar, and close it back down. It only takes a few seconds, which allows me to do it on a cold and rainy day, if necessary.
As I mentioned previously, I now aim for simplicity at every step. If the chore is simple and easy, I am much more likely to get it done on time . . . and that is the important part for me.
Meanwhile, other beekeepers in other climates have made all kinds of ingenious variations on the moisture quilt, often with awesome woodworking to match. I will soon share photos of some of the designs . . . and in the meantime, the comb honey series will continue.