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  1. #1
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    Default Interim report on effectivenes of quilt boxes in very cold weather

    I'm in upstate NY and we've been having January-like weather for the past month, with temps running on some days 10-15 degrees colder than normal. We've also had very short periods of normal, warm-for-early-winter days with occasional highs in the 40-57 range. Then followed by 7-10 days of below freezing days and nights at or or below zero.

    I have three hives (Langs of various heights from 2 X deeps to 2 deeps plus 1 med.) that are snuggled together on a raised platform. On top of each stack is a "quilt box" made up from an old comb-honey depth box filled with pine shavings.(Box size chosen by what I had on hand more than anything else.) On the bottom of the box is a very tightly stretched layer of unbleached muslin for a floor. Some people have reported using wire screening as the floor, but I was worried the wires might be a condensation plane and create drips, so opted for fabric instead

    Below the quilt box (just above the top most frames) is a shim with a semi-occluded top entrance, I use this space for winter feeding; above the box is a 1 7/8th" shim with two vent holes 1.5" diameter, one closed and one open. Above it all is a tel. cover with 1.5" of foam insulation stuck up under its rim.

    The quilt boxes have been on the hives for about six or seven weeks. Whenever I've had a chance to peek in the hives, they seemed quite dry. I have a sticky board inserted at the bottom and I see no evidence of any drips or moisture there.

    Today I opened and examined the quilt boxes after 10 days of very cold weather. There was condensed moisture on the bottom side of the insulation close to the position of the open vent hole in the front. The shavings on the top (where condensate from the underside of the insulation had dripped down on them) were palpably damp: slightly darker color and more flexible than totally dry ones. In the center of the hive (above the cluster space) the shavings all the way to the fabric floor felt slightly damper, although the fabric itself felt , and looked, dry.

    The temperature of the shavings was warm to the touch, and really quite warm at the layer just above the fabric over where the cluster is. In fact, it felt so warm I am revising my earlier belief that the quilt boxes were almost entirely moisture management tools, not also thermal barriers. They are clearly containing some of the heat from the cluster, while still doing exactly what I had hoped: allowing vapor dispersion through the shavings to be vented to the outside. And being an absorptive barrier for any drips from condensation on the under surface of the top.

    My boxes were filled above the rim into the shim space and I only had one vent hole opened, so perhaps I wasn't venting as much as possible the way it was set up. I opened the other vent hole.

    And I replaced the slightly damp shavings today with fresh ones and brought the damp ones in to dry in a wood heated room. I didn't fill them as high as I did the first time, hoping to increase the vapor loss somewhat.

    So far, I am happy with how the quilt boxes are working, though I won't know for months if the hives survive. My reason for posting an interim report is that other beekeepers in cold areas may be wondering if there is anything else they can still do, at this stage of the winter, to increase protection for their hives. Quilt boxes are one such tactic. And they appear to be working very well for me.

    Materials needed: a shallow-height box (normal shallow or a comb-depth box, even a medium would do in a pinch, I think); enough plain cotton fabric to stretch across the bottom; 1/2" staples and staple gun; (optimal, but not necessary: plastic greenhouse batten tape as an edge-maker for the fabric margins); dry wood shavings (I got mine at Tractor Supply for about $6.00 and one bale has filled 3 quilt boxes, twice, and I still more left over); and an extra shim with at least one large, preferably two, holes in it. Two of my comb-honey boxes are so old and over-used they are in bad shape on the bottom edge so they didn't make good contact with the new shim below. I solved this with that stick-on, 1/2"-wide foam insulation used for tightening up leaky windows. It closed the gaps nicely and also had the beneficial effect of anchoring the boxes better in the stack since the bees aren't going to stick them togther with propolis at this time of year. But if your boxes are in better shape than mine, I wouldn't bother.

    If you made and filled the boxes ahead of time, you could pop them on in a very short interval with the hive top open. With two people working together, it probably could be done is less than 15 secs., so doable even in pretty cold weather.

    (I should also add that I have foam side insulation panels -inside and outside of the hives - and additional layers of wool blankets and a loose tarp around the whole shebang. I don't think any of this somewhat eccentric arrangement has any effect - for good or ill - on the function of the quilt boxes, except perhaps to slightly impede the flow through ventilation of the top holes above the quilt box. I remove the tarp on days when there is no precip. I don't have the hives wrapped in tar paper or a plastic bee-cozy)

    Enj.

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Interim report on effectivenes of quilt boxes in very cold weather

    I am using quilt boxes as well on my two colonies with the same results and outcomes. I am in.Michigan and have had a cold winter so far.
    I have solid inserts in my SBBs with 3/4" holes drilled through at the 4 corners and reduced entrances.
    Both colonies seem to be doing well.

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Interim report on effectivenes of quilt boxes in very cold weather

    I think shavings have R3 per inch, so definitely you are having insulation effect. It is kind of handy to know if they are raising brood by placing your hand inside the shavings. If it is in the 90's you have brood, else, you do not.

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Interim report on effectivenes of quilt boxes in very cold weather

    I have built quilt boxes into my top covers. Been using them for about 4 years now. Work great.
    NM desert/mountain beekeeper - Black Mesa Honeybees.

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Interim report on effectivenes of quilt boxes in very cold weather

    Oh, gosh. I sure hope I don't have any brood, yet! I would think it's too early for my very cold climate.

    The temps at the bottom layer of the shavings are quite warm, but I assumed that was because my clusters had moved up to munch on my sugar bricks during the slightly moderated weather (30-42 F daytime highs) we've had for the past few days. That brief break is already ending and I expect that the bees will soon be retreating down into the lower regions. For the past few days the bees have been just hanging out on the underside of the fabric in big, soft, freeform masses (not on comb where brood might be cooking). There are a couple of inches of free space within the winter feeding shim. I think the clustered bees might be raising the temp of shavings, even w/o brood.

    I will take a peek in with flashlight and mirror today and, if I can, slip an instant read thermometer into the quilt box to assess temps.

    Interesting to know the R-value of shavings; if accurate for the shavings and density that I have then I have R-12, plus the R-7.5 of the foam above, so nearly R-20 in the roof. (Far more, I might add, than I have in my own uninsulated, pre-Civil War house!)

    Enj.

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Interim report on effectivenes of quilt boxes in very cold weather

    Enj- A simpler version that works great in MN (rarely above freezing) is using a deep full of wood chips placed over the inner cover with a piece of window screen covering the hole. The screen is held in place by the weight of the chips (no need to alter existing equipment) and keeps the bees out of the chips. The moisture rises into the chips and before things thaw in the spring I can take off the cover and pull out a chunk of ice and wood chips about the size of soccer ball. If left above freezing, I believe the wood would still keep the water from dripping back down (just wet chips), but pulling it out frozen in one big chunk and leaving the rest of the dry chips behind works wonderfully.

  7. #7
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    carney, maryland, USA
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    Default Re: Interim report on effectivenes of quilt boxes in very cold weather

    You guys are a lot colder than us in MD. Starting this winter I placed quilt boxes, one on the 10-frame is a shallow super. The other 2 are 8-frames, where I made them from finished 1X4's (3-1/2" finished width). I bought the Walmart cedar shavings, applying 2 to 2-1/2 inches deep in each quilt box.

    Starting on top of the hive I placed a frame for winter feeding, where I placed sugar cakes and pollen patties. These feeding frames are also made with finished 1X4's, equipped with one 5/8 in. hole in the front. Next I placed an inner cover, on top of which I placed the quilt box. Then the outer cover. I like the idea of an inner cover UNDER the quilt box, as if there is any condensation on the bottom of the quilt box, it will drip onto the inner cover.

    So far, when a warm day allows me to check the sugar and patty stores, I have found the inner covers to be bone dry. The underside of the outer covers are damp.

    How many inches of shavings do you use?

  8. #8
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    Default Re: Interim report on effectivenes of quilt boxes in very cold weather

    Philip- I pack a deep (9 5/8") full of aspen horse bedding (very absorbent), each $3.50 bag can fill about 4 deeps. All wood chips, no foam, fiberglass, etc.

    I should probably mention that I notch my inner covers and put the notch facing down in the front for an upper entrance (used that way all year) Rising moisture can either go through the inner cover hole into the chips or over and out the entrance. I've never seen the bottom side of the inner cover frost up, but the bottom side of the outer cover (above the chips) does, which doesn't matter much up there.

    Another note, when spring is late like this year, I dig a hole through the chips, pull out the piece of screen and feed with quart or half gallon jars on top of the inner cover hole - which means I don't need to add any kind of box/space for feeding. Packing the chips back around the jar seems to keep it a touch warmer for the bees too...

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Interim report on effectivenes of quilt boxes in very cold weather

    Quote Originally Posted by philip.devos View Post
    Starting on top of the hive I placed a frame for winter feeding, where I placed sugar cakes and pollen patties. These feeding frames are also made with finished 1X4's, equipped with one 5/8 in. hole in the front. Next I placed an inner cover, on top of which I placed the quilt box. Then the outer cover. I like the idea of an inner cover UNDER the quilt box, as if there is any condensation on the bottom of the quilt box, it will drip onto the inner cover.
    I am in a similar climate to Maryland: I just put on some feed frames with wire mess inset. I opened one hive today and noticed holes in the sugar blocks were the water was dripping down through the sugar. I put Reflextix insulation on top of the wire mess, then the inner cover, then the outer cover. Now I am wondering if I should get rid of the Reflextix because it is plastic and might hold the moisture like putting the hive in a bag even though the dew point is still the outer cover.

    Question: Should I take out the Reflextix and build a proper quilt box with wood chips and place it above the wire mesh frame or the wire mesh frame and inner cover.
    3 years-5 hives-T
    brooklyn-queen.com

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Interim report on effectivenes of quilt boxes in very cold weather

    Quote Originally Posted by Margot1d View Post
    Question: Should I take out the Reflextix and build a proper quilt box with wood chips and place it above the wire mesh frame or the wire mesh frame and inner cover.
    Or could I just put on a medium supper and extra chips with spacers for ventilation under the outer cover. The chips would be held up by the wire mesh. Sounds like less work but straying from the blue print makes me nervous.
    3 years-5 hives-T
    brooklyn-queen.com

  11. #11
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    Default Re: Interim report on effectivenes of quilt boxes in very cold weather

    Margot,

    I'm not sure exactly what you've got set up, but if I do understand correctly you have the Reflectix material directly above the bees? In that case I would move it, because as you say it it may be interfering with the upward movement of warmer air and the vapor dispersion out of the hive. If it's drippng down on the sugar then it is functioning as a condensation plane when the warm, moisture-laden hive air intersects with colder air, causing the moisture in the air to go from nearly gaseous state to liquid (drips).

    It may help to picture the set-up I have that's working well: in order, DOWNWARDS (I have used colored type to illustrate what's cold (blue) and what's warmer (red), no color is the empty and open-to-the-outside air shim.The condensation plane is bolded)

    Telescoping cover;

    Foam insulation tucked up into it;

    (condensed moisture visible on bottom of foam insulation)


    1 7/8ths high empty wooden shim with vent holes open to the air (some chips from the box below are mounded up slightly into this space);

    Approx. 4.75" deep quilt box filled with wood shavings and with a fabric floor;

    1 7/8ths wooden shim used as a winter feeding space (my sugar bricks are just laid on top of the frames inside here), it also has a 1/2" dia. top entrance hole;

    Upper most box of the stack with the bees.

    (The rest of the hive.)


    You can see that the only place where I have condensation - where the warmer air from within the hive meets the colder outside air - happens on the under surface of the insulated tel. cover. If it drips back down, it is dripping on to the shavings which retain the moisture until atmospheric conditions (temp., wind speed and humidity) allow the shavings to give off the moistrure to the outside. Unless things change radically, the bees can't get wet because the drips (if any occur) are only falling onto the shavings, not my bugs.

    If your Reflectix material is not separated from the bees by a similarly absorbent material it may create drips which are reported to be harmful to the bees. (I am qualifying this because it is not from my own personal experience but the oft-repeated statement of people with much more experience than I have.)

    You could make a quilt box by tightly stretching and stapling some sturdy fabric over the bottom of any size box and filling it up with pine shavings. The advantage of having a quilt box with its own floor is that you can lift it up and insert food (or perform other hive chores) without disturbing the shavings as they are contained within the box. You can use any breathable fabric: old cotton sheets, lightweight denim, cotton muslin, etc. I used unwashed med-heavy muslin from Joannes (all this sort of thing is now made in China) because I wanted to harvest the additional tightening that shrinking it after applying it might provide. It did shrink and tighten somewhat more (I shrunk it by getting it wet and ironing it dry at the hottest temps), but it gunked up my iron's soleplate which made me wonder what fabric finish had been applied. And, of course then I worried it might be harmful to the bees.... Next time I think I would wash it first and forgo the additional tightening. It does hung down a bit into the space below when filled with shavings, despite my efforts. Fabric has the added advantage (over wire) of containing the considerable amount of dust and small bits that would otherwise fall into the hive and on the bees.

    Set the quilt box directly over your winter feeding shim/frame.

    If you have a helper and are organized, I think you could whisk off the covers above the feeding frame and plop on the pre-filled quilt box in a matter of seconds. Once it's on the bees have some protection from cold air and you could get the layers above it squared away with a bit less urgency. (If your bees are contained within their feeding area - as it sounds as though they may be -by a wire mesh ceiling above them, so much the better as you won't risk losing any flying up at you during the installation. Some people have said bees on sugar are docile, mine have mixed reactions and having them restive will complicate matters if you are adding the box in less-than-optimum weather.)

    I think the quilt will be most effective if you have a shim above with vent holes, but in a pinch to get you through the next cold snap I would just go with a filled box with the inner cover above it with the notch down for ventilation, then the Reflectex ABOVE that as insulation. That way if the Reflectex does create a condensation plane it will just make the inner cover or the shavings wet, not the bees. You can easily add a shim later as the hive can be opened for a few minutes above the quilt box in almost any weather as the bees are not exposed at all when one is in place.

    I have taken my inner covers off for the winter as I don't want them to be constantly damp. They are a permanent part of my hives' equipment, whereas the shavings can be dumped on my blueberry bushes at winter's end. I don't care if they get a little funky by then. (Though as I noted above, yesterday I removed the damp shavings and replaced them with dry shavings and am re-drying the damp ones for another go-round. I don't want the bees exposed to any decomposition of the shavings that could happen if they stay wet enough, long enough. Unnatural levels of mold spores can't be good for any creature.)

    It does seem a little counterintuitive to have the insulation above an open hole to the outside. But there are two different processes going on: the open vent shim above the quilt box is to allow the moisture given off by the bees to be safely collected and dispersed outside the hive. The insulation above the vent holes is to moderate the radiant heat loss from the hive, which is another issue. Remember the bees aren't heating the hive like we heat our houses. They heat themselves in the cluster, not the hive.

    I hope my explanation has made things easier to understand, not less so. I wish I was as adept as Laurie Miller at posting pics. I have learned so much from close study of her pictures.

    Enj.

  12. #12
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    Default Re: Interim report on effectivenes of quilt boxes in very cold weather

    deleted douple posting - one was plenty!

  13. #13
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    Default Re: Interim report on effectivenes of quilt boxes in very cold weather

    Thanks for the explanation Enj. I found an old thread on bee source last night that hashed over the quilt box debate pretty good.
    http://www.beesource.com/forums/arch.../t-274437.html

    Speaking of Lauri here is what she does:
    This is an easy one.
    Last year I bought some food grade burlap sacks from a Starbucks supplier for $1.00 each. I put a small scoop of shavings in each one and folded it like a pillow. Here are my screened top covers:
    (This hive actually has two colonies..3 deep frames over 3 on the left- double stack of mini deep frames on the right)
    This is a recent photo taken October 15th-good fall scenario.

    http://i425.photobucket.com/albums/p...s/DSC07221.jpg

    The problem is, if you put shavings or leaves directly on the screen, you will foul the comb below with 'crumbs' and you can not easily remove the insulation material to see the cluster below. WIth the pillow, all you do is lift he cover and lift the pillow to make a quick visual check in winter without losing too much heat.
    http://i425.photobucket.com/albums/p...cinstalled.jpg

    Insert the pillow in an empty super and you can still use you migratory tops-and still insulate. My screened top covers have a 1/2" x 1" notch for top entrance and ventilation. I never get moisture problems. I am in the Pacific Northwest, near the coast. Known for our wet weather. Even a large cluster like this will not create condensation in the hive with this set up. But you Must have some venting near the top.
    Note: the shavings are not for absorption, they are for insulation.

    We have a high of 38 today so I am debating whether to go in and snip the corners of the Reflectex and better vent the top with a match stick under the inner cover, or whether to slap another shim, deckle, frame and quilting material as described above.

    I noticed the drip holes in the sugar before I put on the Reflectex. In some ways I think it is good that it would not absorb because I don't like the idea of moisture trapped above the bees. I am worried the vapor not being able to travel up through it so I thought maybe clip the corners. I am not that experienced and so I really don't want to experiment with material that others have not tried. Anyway, we hare heading in to a cold snap so I guess it's time to get off the fence
    3 years-5 hives-T
    brooklyn-queen.com

  14. #14
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    Default Re: Interim report on effectivenes of quilt boxes in very cold weather

    Margot,

    I think you could do a quick quilt box by putting the shavings in a pillowcase that filled up any super you had on hand and just setting it on above the wire ceiling on your feeding frame. I completely agree with Laurie about not using just screening under the shavings to contain them; there's a tremendous amount a shaving-scurf that would make a big mes in the hive. The pillow case wouldn't interfere with vapor-transmission in any way.

    Just put your inner cover on above the quilt box with the notch down so moisture can easily migrate (mostly I think by the process of sublimation) out of the shavings. Moisture is not really trapped above the bees if you have a clear opening above the shavings (even the "damp" shavings I removed on the weekend would hardly qualify for being moisture laden, removing them was probably an excess of caution driven by my inexperience with quilt boxes.) And at any rate the moisture is already inside the hive, it's just becoming visible when the warmer air meets a cold surface (underside of the Reflectex, for example). Warm air can carry more water vapor than cold air, but at the temperature intersections that water vapor just condenses out. Quilt boxes are simply a low-tech, fairly-efficient, temperature-controlled way of managing the vapor's transition to the outside.

    Someone mentioned above that pine shavings have a R-value of 3, so a six inch deep medium would give you ~R-15-18, probably more than the foil-faced insulation panel, and without condensation issues.

    You could re-evaluate next week when it warms up a bit.

    I have even less beeekeeping experience than you as this is my first winter, but I decided to try the quilt boxes a couple of months ago and am, so far, very pleased as they are doing exactly what I had hoped. Hence the interim report when I realized other folks were still looking for ways to add some additional winter protection at this (late) stage of the game.

    I'd be interested to hear what you decide to do, and how it works out.

    Enj.

  15. #15
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    Default Re: Interim report on effectivenes of quilt boxes in very cold weather

    Enj,
    I just put the boxes on. I set them up like you said with the foil at the top between the inner cover and the outer cover. Cold day, I set up the box and then slid out the foil insulation, but still. I feel better now, the bottom of the foil was definitely wet. My bees will be happy when I am off christmas holiday and I stop messing with them.
    3 years-5 hives-T
    brooklyn-queen.com

  16. #16
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    Default Re: Interim report on effectivenes of quilt boxes in very cold weather

    Ok, so here is one of the sources that talks about R value of wood shavings. http://hometeamhomeinspections.blogs...-insulate.html. It is about 2.5. A little lower than I remembered but still not bad. My bees are moving up to stay next to the shavings, I think they feel much warmer there. There is plently of honey underfoot, but they are aggregating there.

    The thing to keep in mind with this whole discussion is how wet are your winters. If your air humidity is high, you need to manage humidity in the hive with something like a quilt box. If it is low, then simple TC or IC shims and foam insulation might just do the trick for you.

    I saw a video of a Russian beekeeper who stacks his nuc hives in the winter storage building and just put an overlapping piece of fabric instead of the top cover. They come out just fine. I bet he has little humidity issues as long as the storage building vents out stale air.
    Last edited by AramF; 12-31-2013 at 02:38 PM.

  17. #17
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    Default Re: Interim report on effectivenes of quilt boxes in very cold weather

    I put my quilt boxes on mid-November. I popped the plastic tanks out of my Mann Lake type feeders, lined the shallow boxs with burlap, filled them with a mix of sawdust and shavings, folded the burlap over, sat the boxes on top of candy boards (board side on top, candy down, and put them on the hives. The candy boards have one large hole and 4 wine cork sized holes for the moisture to migrate into the quilt. The boxes have 1” by 4” screened vents on each side. I duct taped the windward vent closed. The candy boards each have a notch for an upper entrance. Since the joints where the candy board met the top hive box and the quilt box was not protected by the telescopic cover, I slapped a strip of duct tape over the junctures, leaving the notch unprotected.

    I haven't opened the hives since then, but we 40+ temps last weekend and all hives had bees flying.
    We have had a couple on nights in the single digits and expecting a couple more this week. I hope they are cozy inside because it sure is bitter outside.

    Bob

    BS001.jpg BS003.jpg BS005.jpg BS007.jpg BS010.jpg

  18. #18
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    Default Re: Interim report on effectivenes of quilt boxes in very cold weather

    Quote Originally Posted by enjambres View Post
    Margot,

    I think you could do a quick quilt box by putting the shavings in a pillowcase that filled up any super you had on hand and just setting it on above the wire ceiling on your feeding frame. I completely agree with Laurie about not using just screening under the shavings to contain them; there's a tremendous amount a shaving-scurf that would make a big mes in the hive. The pillow case wouldn't interfere with vapor-transmission in any way.


    I'd be interested to hear what you decide to do, and how it works out.

    Enj.
    I like the pillowcase idea. This year my quilt box has a plastic screen which holds cedar shavings. Next year I will package them in my ancient pillow cases. The debris dropping down is not too bad, and I have the quilt box sitting on a winter sugar box, so very little debris gets down into the hive. The idea of being able to lift the "quilt sacks" out to take a quick look really is appealing to me.

    I like many others are like worried parents at this time of year.

  19. #19
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    Default Re: Interim report on effectivenes of quilt boxes in very cold weather

    if you go that route, make the pillowcase much larger than you think. Otherwise you'll have a bunch of empty space around the sides.

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