We’re starting to experience temperatures in the 30’s here in Michigan. The trees in our yard are bare of their leaves and it’s starting to look like winter. The sky has that long shadowy dreariness where even at the sun’s peak there’s still a hint of dusk.
In the winter, moisture is the bee killer, even more so than cold temperatures. In the winter, the bees huddle together to stay warm. The mass of their bodies along with heat produced by movement keeps the hive toasty warm. The warmth from the bees, surrounded by the cold winter temperatures creates condensation in the hive.
There are many ways to vent/allow condensation to escape in your hive. The tricky thing is to create a situation where you allow moisture to escape without taking the heat with it. Suffocation can also be a problem if the hive is sealed too tightly.
One solution is to make a moisture-wicking pillow.
This pillow took about 5 minutes to make.
I first measured the inside of our hive box. Which was 15 x 19”.
You want your pillow material to be about an inch or two larger than the box to allow for pillowing of the stuffing material.
Then I took an old cotton pillowcase, which was already the right width.
And cut it to length.
I turned it inside out and sewed it ¾ of the opening shut. The hole left me room to fill the pillow with wood shavings.
Don’t have a sewing machine? No problem! You could easily hand sew this with fast large whip stitches. It doesn’t have to look pretty, no one’s is going to see it but the bees.
(See also alternate reusable closure at the end of this article.)
The pillow filling can be any natural product that is absorbent. We had wood shavings on hand but sawdust, straw, or any other insulating, wicking material works well.
We use a product for our duck houses that is actually a horse bedding. It’s super absorbent and made from pressed corn cobs. We were out of this at the time. But I think that material might work really well.
After it was filled, I turned the pillow right side out and sewed the rest of the opening.
When placing the pillow in your hive you want to add an extra box that’s shallow.
We used an extra queen excluder for support and laid a piece of window screen on top of that to keep the bees out of the ventilation box.
Then the pillow can be placed on top, and then the lid.
The bulk and the air trapped between the flakes of woodchips will help lend heat to the hive, while the wood chips will absorb rising moisture.
You can cut holes in the sides of the box above the pillow to allow fresh air to come in and wick away some of the collected dampness in the pillow.
In the future, I might use Velcro closures or even safety pins to keep the pillow closed. That way, in the spring, the pillow can be undone and emptied of the old woodchips. I can wash the pillowcases in the washing machine and refill them with fresh chips for winters to come.