Humidity in Winter Hives. Has anyone tried...
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  1. #1
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    Default Humidity in Winter Hives. Has anyone tried...

    Has anyone considered or implemented using silica packets (sans Cobalt Chloride) for moisture absorption in a hive while overwintering? I feel like it could work.
    4th Yr. 8 hives. Italian/Carniolan apiary. 3 loss over 4 yr. W.NC location.
    https://instagram.com/jacquelinehinshaw/

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  3. #2
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    Default Re: Humidity in Winter Hives. Has anyone tried...

    I use quilt boxes with wood shavings. Works very well. You need something that can slowly give the water up to the outside without giving up the heat. A 40 lb hive will need to shed four gallons of water. That would take a lot of gel packs.
    Zone 6B

  4. #3
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    Default Re: Humidity in Winter Hives. Has anyone tried...

    Meh, a small upper vent hole works for me... zone 6a.

  5. #4
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    Default Re: Humidity in Winter Hives. Has anyone tried...

    Quote Originally Posted by JConnolly View Post
    I use quilt boxes with wood shavings. Works very well. You need something that can slowly give the water up to the outside without giving up the heat. A 40 lb hive will need to shed four gallons of water. That would take a lot of gel packs.
    WOW. I had no idea it could shed that much water. How did it you calculate this? I like the quilt box idea but I was reading into overwintering nucs on top of larger colonies when I started thinking about moisture problems and I'm not sure how the shavings could work in that scenario.
    4th Yr. 8 hives. Italian/Carniolan apiary. 3 loss over 4 yr. W.NC location.
    https://instagram.com/jacquelinehinshaw/

  6. #5
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    Default Re: Humidity in Winter Hives. Has anyone tried...

    Quote Originally Posted by JConnolly View Post
    I use quilt boxes with wood shavings. Works very well. You need something that can slowly give the water up to the outside without giving up the heat. A 40 lb hive will need to shed four gallons of water. That would take a lot of gel packs.
    WOW. I had no idea it could shed that much water. How did it you calculate this? I like the quilt box idea but I was reading into overwintering nucs on top of larger colonies when I started thinking about moisture problems and I'm not sure how the shavings could work in that scenario.
    4th Yr. 8 hives. Italian/Carniolan apiary. 3 loss over 4 yr. W.NC location.
    https://instagram.com/jacquelinehinshaw/

  7. #6
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    Default Re: Humidity in Winter Hives. Has anyone tried...

    Actually, I have been pondering whether it's possible that quilt boxes may be a little too efficient at through-putting water. In very cold climates it may drive the bees outside to get water when the temps are not survivable.

    Or at least that's the point Randy Oliver raised to me about them. (Yeah, I know he is CA and I am in northern NY, so his "winter" is for me a fine late spring day.) But it did set me to wondering.

    I had devised and ordered the stuff to do an experiment with providing a steady source of drinking water inside the hive all winter to see if they would use it. But when I got sick early in the winter that experiment didn't get set up. And, further, I got sick early enough that there are still a dozen partially-painted quilt boxes hanging on a drying rack in my workshop, so only about half of my colonies are QB'd and the others just have a more or less standard set of upper-assemblies, except they all have an upper entrance in a 2" shim.

    When I finally had a chance to check on them last week, the un-QBoxed ones didn't look any worse, or better, for the experience. It's not quite a fair comparison since the ones which don't a have QB just happened to be the ones that didn't have EFB last spring/summer since I was working on them in separate groups last fall.

    The troublesome moisture (4 to 5 gallons of it) in the hive comes from the respiration by the bees as they metabolize honey all winter. (And the amount of honey metabolized varies with the size of the colony, and the severity of the climate.) It's not coming (unless you have ratty boxes) from leaks or precip. It may be augmented in certain very humid climates from steadily high atmospheric conditions (PNW, perhaps). But in my cold (z4b/z5a) climate in eastern and northern NY where it is often dry in the winter between periods of snow, the QBs may not come into their own until there is a good whack of brood cooking along in late Feb through March. I know that is when I start to see much more dampness within the box itself, and often moisture vapor or actual condensate visible outside the upper vent above above the shavings in the QB. And by then the extreme cold is usually over and the bees go out nearly every day and can safely bring water back in. I see them drinking at their usual funky places.

    I don't plan on stopping the use of QBs next winter, even if my non-QB'd survive OK without them. I'm just not sure I know enough about how they work, yet.

    In the situation of a double-decker colony (two - or more - colonies, strong one under a weak one) I think that QBs may be extra useful because in addition to warmth, the upper colony would be bathed in the soup of all the respiratory moisture given off by the larger colony all winter and that may be too much for them to handle. (Not to mention the heat loss that the stronger colony will struggle with all winter.) I have never set colonies up like that so I don;t know from personal observation.

    The other observation I have is this: when a dead out is examined it often seems hideously soggy. That may be a post-mortem effect more than what contributed to their demise, or caused it.

    Nancy

  8. #7
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    Default Re: Humidity in Winter Hives. Has anyone tried...

    Silica packets absorb water vapor. They are really only good for reducing humidity in a closed container. They need to be heated in an oven to recharge. Some desiccant packs have an indicator they tells you when it's full. I've used these before under normal indoor conditions it does not take long before they need recharging.

    I have top only entrances, never had any moisture problems, even in our wet winters. I've seen the ice crystals form as the warm humid air vents through the top entrance. I also feed syrup during the winter.

    Sugar blocks above the cluster may also absorb some condensation, enabling the bees to readily consume the sugar blocks and remove water vapor at the same time.

  9. #8
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    Default Re: Humidity in Winter Hives. Has anyone tried...

    You don't want to accumulate moisture as much as get it out. A small top vent hole does it, and you can insulate above the top to keep the ceiling warmer. A cold ceiling can condense moisture on it's surface and drip down on them.

  10. #9
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    Default Re: Humidity in Winter Hives. Has anyone tried...

    What DanielD said. Vent hole (inner covers typically have it already) and a 2inch insulation board on top of inner cover does it. And tilt the hive slightly forward so any water just drains out.

  11. #10
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    Default Re: Humidity in Winter Hives. Has anyone tried...

    I ponder the same Nancy. Can one get it too dry within the hive. The bees have no/limited moisture to use on crystalized honey. I have a small bottom entrance(3/8 by 1 inch), a top entrance(3/4 round hole) and a quilt box. My winter air is dry(low humidity).

    Have seen a stringy poop in the spring. Is it a sign of constipation because of lack of moisture?

    Noted Ian's comment that he liked to see some condensation at the perimeter of the cluster with his indoor hives.

    Will lack of moisture cause bees to fly when too cold to search for moisture????? We had a limited flying day recently and next day it was -10C. A concerning number of bees perished in the snow on the second day. I do not know what caused them to fly.
    Zone 3b. If you always do what you always did, you'll always get what you always got!

  12. #11
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    Default Re: Humidity in Winter Hives. Has anyone tried...

    I ponder the same Nancy. Can one get it too dry within the hive. The bees have no/limited moisture to use on crystalized honey. I have a small bottom entrance(3/8 by 1 inch), a top entrance(3/4 round hole) and a quilt box. My winter air is dry(low humidity).

    Have seen a stringy poop in the spring. Is it a sign of constipation because of lack of moisture?

    Noted Ian's comment that he liked to see some condensation at the perimeter of the cluster with his indoor hives.

    Will lack of moisture cause bees to fly when too cold to search for moisture????? We had a limited flying day recently and next day it was -10C. A concerning number of bees perished in the snow on the second day. I do not know what caused them to fly.
    Zone 3b. If you always do what you always did, you'll always get what you always got!

  13. #12
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    Default Re: Humidity in Winter Hives. Has anyone tried...

    Quote Originally Posted by hex0rz View Post
    a small upper vent hole works for me... zone 6a.
    +1

    In some rare cases a quit box may be beneficial, but most people are going way overboard with them. Except for the extreme north (for the U.S.), just an upper and lower entrance is enough to clear the moisture from a hive during winter in most regions.

    The same is true for screened bottom boards - their use is another example of the beek imposing upon the hive his/her own human idea of how the hive should be ventilated, rather than letting the bees, who are infinitely more sensitive to their own needs, manage it for themselves.

    Both are examples of the flawed human tendency: "if it is more work, it must be better."

    JMHO




    .
    Last edited by shinbone; 02-23-2018 at 12:06 PM.
    --shinbone
    (1975-1980, and now since 2011; maintain about 10 hives; Zone 5b; 15" rain; 5500')

  14. #13
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    Default Re: Humidity in Winter Hives. Has anyone tried...

    I have been a great booster of the shavings quilt hive cover but have gone towards 3 or 4 inches of solid foam board to top the hives and a small slot or hole for upper and lower entrance. The water vapor cannot condense unless it meets a surface that is below the dew point temperature. What condenses on the walls will run down and not bother the bees.

    I will see whether it affects my winter survival this year. It certainly is less labor intensive to do and nice not to have to contend with the shavings quilts storage. Much easier to do quick inspections or feed. I am getting lazy in my old age, or is that the Law of Conservation of Energy!
    Frank

  15. #14
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    Default Re: Humidity in Winter Hives. Has anyone tried...

    crofter
    I have been a great booster of the shavings quilt hive cover but have gone towards 3 or 4 inches of solid foam board to top the hives and a small slot or hole for upper and lower entrance. The water vapor cannot condense unless it meets a surface that is below the dew point temperature. What condenses on the walls will run down and not bother the bees.
    Only two winters under my belt and I do the same but with only 2 inches of foam and most have an upper hole but a few don't but my equipment is leaky air wise anyway. I am in a warmer climate though. So far so good.
    Cheers
    gww
    zone 5b

  16. #15
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    Default Re: Humidity in Winter Hives. Has anyone tried...

    Quote Originally Posted by enjambres View Post
    Actually, I have been pondering whether it's possible that quilt boxes may be a little too efficient at through-putting water. In very cold climates it may drive the bees outside to get water when the temps are not survivable.

    Or at least that's the point Randy Oliver raised to me about them. (Yeah, I know he is CA and I am in northern NY, so his "winter" is for me a fine late spring day.) But it did set me to wondering.

    I had devised and ordered the stuff to do an experiment with providing a steady source of drinking water inside the hive all winter to see if they would use it. But when I got sick early in the winter that experiment didn't get set up. And, further, I got sick early enough that there are still a dozen partially-painted quilt boxes hanging on a drying rack in my workshop, so only about half of my colonies are QB'd and the others just have a more or less standard set of upper-assemblies, except they all have an upper entrance in a 2" shim.

    ...

    The other observation I have is this: when a dead out is examined it often seems hideously soggy. That may be a post-mortem effect more than what contributed to their demise, or caused it.

    Nancy
    Nancy,

    I two hives with plexiglass inner covers; one hive with no top vent whatsoever, and one with a very small top vent (1"x.5"). Both hives have 1" R5 insulation on top. I've yet to see moisture on the glass, although I did in later spring of last year. Perhaps the bees are getting moisture from the sides of the hive, but I haven't been able to catch them getting moisture off the glass this year.

    I believe Dennis Murrell reported years ago that in Wyoming (very arid) he put an internal feeder with water into the hive, and it really built up strongly in the Spring.

    I have not personally seen wet bees in a deadout, but I suspect your last observation might be correct.

  17. #16
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    Default Re: Humidity in Winter Hives. Has anyone tried...

    WAG - What is and what ought to be done for winter prep depends greatly on local conditions.

    This topic interests me as bees in primo hollow tree cavities manage to keep the hive warm enough that they either do not cluster or form a very loose cluster. I confirmed this with Dr. Seeley.

    Being curious about all of this, I'll do some experimenting next winter, recording temperature and humidity at the top of 6 Langstroth hives, with and without an upper entrance, insulation, quilt boxes, etc. As I have them, I'll also record readings on a Warre hive (which uses a quilt box year round) and a Kenya type Top Bar Hive, though I'm still thinking about where the probes should go in the TBH.

    I'm being steered toward using Broodmaster probes which would allow me not to have to string wires. That I like, but I'm not thrilled by the cost - $60 each is the list price. Plus another $350 or so if I want the fancy unit that collects the data from multiple sensor and sends it via cell data. Depending on the weather, the yard may or may not be readily accessible. I'M NOT CONVINCED THAT THOSE ARE THE SENSORS TO USE - SUGGESTIONS?

    I'm speculating (and will find out) that an upper entrance vents heat in addition to moisture vapor, heat that if retained in an insulated hive, could allow the bees to freely move to food in the hive. I'm trying to find alternatives to the there was food 2 inches away and it was too cold for the bees to get to it.

    I'm on the Atlantic Coast and prepare hives for winter by getting as much liquid feed into the colony as I think they need in the fall, and then not checking them again until late February.

  18. #17
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    Default Re: Humidity in Winter Hives. Has anyone tried...

    A "lower cash outlay" alternative for monitoring hive temperatures could be a Raspberry Pi or Arduino. Of course, there would be programming and some wiring of probes involved, but if you are a Do It Yourselfer its certainly doable.

    For instance, a Pi 3B is $35 +a microSD card ($6-10$), DHT22 (digital) temperature+humidity probes can be found on Ebay as low as $5 ea, and Adafruit offers a suitable cell modem for about $50. One Pi can handle multiple DHT22 temperature probes.

    Or an Arduino has slightly lower purchase cost, (but not as many built-in features), and is easier to interface with lower cost (analog) probes.

    I'm not going to trivialize the programming needed, but Raspberry Pi Python isn't that hard to figure out if you have a bit of a background in programming concepts. But if you are starting from scratch, and expect to get "paid" for the time you spend to learn Python, then buying a pre-made Broodminder type system is probably the way to go.

    Its similar to the rationale about buying / building frame components - you can't justify the time involved to make frame components unless you are set up to make a LOT, but if you look at woodworking as a "hobby" and an alternative to watching TV, then one can justify it. After all nobody gets paid for watching TV, yet millions use up their free time watching TV with absolutely nothing to show for it.
    Graham
    USDA Zone 7A Elevation 1400 ft

  19. #18
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    Default Re: Humidity in Winter Hives. Has anyone tried...

    Quote Originally Posted by jhinshaw View Post
    WOW. I had no idea it could shed that much water. How did it you calculate this?
    Cellular respiration is the process where sugars are converted into energy in cells. The by-products are carbon dioxide, water, and heat. The carbon dioxide and water are mostly released by exhaling it. (Even people exhale lots of water).

    The chemical formula is 6O2 + C6H12O6 → 6CO2 + 6H20.

    What this formula tells us that that for every molecule of sugar a bee uses to make energy it will exhale 6 molecules of carbon dioxide and six molecules of water. We also need to account for the water that is in the honey, 18% by weight. Every pound of honey has .82 pounds of sugars and .18 lbs of water. There are other trace chemicals, but they are minute enough that for our purposes here that we can ignore them and just focus on the water and sugar. By adding up the atomic weights on the chemical formula we get that 60% of the by product by weight is water. 60% of .82 lbs is .49 lbs. So adding .49 lbs and .18 lbs we get .67 lbs of water after the bees "burn" 1 lb of sugar.

    67% of the honey weight eaten by the bees has to be vented from the hive. The same ratio holds whether you use pounds or kilograms.

    So a 50 lbs hive * .67 = 33.5 lbs of water, which is four gallons of water.
    Zone 6B

  20. #19
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    Default Re: Humidity in Winter Hives. Has anyone tried...

    I've had some of those same concerns Nancy. When I beeked in AZ I never gave it a second thought, but this is the first time as a northern-ish beek that I've had more hives than quilt boxes. Last summer I built a couple of cedar shingled gabled hive lids* and I foam insulated them. So I made sure the two boxes without quilts had insulated gabled lids. They did just fine, the relative strengths of the hives is about what it was last fall.

    My quilts have a canvas under the screen, the bees have partially propolized it, but they haven't kept adding to it since the first season, so I assume they are regulating how well it breathes. After two months the wood shavings are pretty wet so I have to change them out.

    I observed the same thing on the canvas on my Warre, which had a quilt on it year round.

    *PS I don't like the gabled lids because I can't throw them on the ground and stack boxes on them as I unstack a hive. They look nice, but they aren't convenient.
    Zone 6B

  21. #20
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    Default Re: Humidity in Winter Hives. Has anyone tried...

    @Andrew Dewey,

    I noted you mentioned that bees in well-insulation cavities move round a lot in the space. (And that Seeley confirmed that.)

    That is exactly my own experience with my super-insulated (R-15 or R-20 on all exterior surfaces, with quilt boxes plus R-17.5 above that.) The first year I kept bees I was deeply troubled to read (here on BeeSource!)the "conventional wisdom" about winter cluster behavior because that was most definitely different from what I was seeing in my own hives at the time. My bees were obviously moving around within the stacks, according to their own desires and likely affected by outside air temps. So I was in a stew because I figured I had doomed them to freezing and starvation. It was a pleasant surprise to discover them in spring: strong, healthy and building up like rockets.

    None of the dire predictions that were made about my bees came true and I continue to heavily insulate my colonies each winter, and I teach my students to do the same. Collectively, our winter losses are virtually nil. Of course, I also stress timely varroa control and adequate winter resources, but I think plenty of other beekeepers do that as well. I am convinced the difference it is the insulation that provides a significant wintering advantage to my bees.

    I selected R-15 and R-20 (that's three or four inches, respectively, of ordinary XPS foam) because I read somewhere that a typical tree cavity had walls that amounted to R-10 to R-15. I figured since it is technically impossible to get foam perfectly tight around all surfaces (no matter how carefully I stack and how hard I try), that 50% extra would help make up for the inefficiencies. I sometimes even run five inches (R-25) of foam along the backside of my colonies, if I have some extra uncut sheets of it.

    I have no doubt that bees in uninsulated boxes, or even bees in roofing paper-wrapped boxes, have to cluster tightly together in order to survive. But it doesn't have to be that way, that's just the bees' desperate adaptation to the situation we put them in.

    Foam is relatively inexpensive (certainly cheap compared to a dead-out), lasts for years if stored out of the sun and available everywhere. The main problem that I see is that it isn't an environmentally benign product to manufacture - though the companies that make it are trying to improve that. And it is isn't fireproof, as I discovered when my yard burned last March. I think the fumes from the burning insulation were very hard on the bees. The toxic smoke from the fire killed two colonies outright within days (they were not burned, though the fire came with a couple of feet of them and consumed the insulation that was off the stacks at the time). And I believe, it severely weakened the others. Perhaps that stress contributed to the problems I had with EFB last spring. But absent a fire, I think insulation is the way to go in cold areas.

    I am nominally just barely in Z5a on the USDA maps, but actual long term records here on my farm (which has a north-facing aspect) would place me on the southerly edge of z4b.

    Nancy

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