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Bee-Ginner's Guide
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Bee-Ginner's Guide

One of the main jobs as beekeepers is to provide proper ventilation when needed so the inside of the hive will have the optimum environment for the bees. As long as the colony is strong enough, they can do a good job of controlling the temperature inside the hive. We just need to make sure the environment is the best it can be. The discussion of ventilation is most common during the hot summer and fall months but it is equally important, if not more so, in the winter. Ventilation in the winter helps in deterring one of the hives most dangerous problems during that time; moisture.

As hives are sealed up for the winter, the temperature difference between the warm inside of the hive and the cold outside can cause moisture buildup within the hive. There are also other factors in a hive that can produce moisture such as respiration from bees or evaporation from honey. If ventilation is not properly provided then the moisture can condense and fall from the top of the hive onto the bees and brood below. Cold weather is fairly easy for bees to manage. Cold weather and being wet, however, is a different story. As the bees get wet it gets extremely hard for them to control their temperatures and there is a strong possibility they will die from freezing. The brood can also be damaged by condensation.

One of the simplest ways to provide ventilation to relieve moisture is by opening up their upper entrance on their inner cover. Not only will it provide an additional entrance for bees if the bottom hive entrance gets cluttered with snow or debris but it also provides an escape for building moisture. An alternative method is propping up two corners of the inner cover with Popsicle sticks or thin pieces of wood. The Popsicle Sticks provide larger gaps for moisture escape but not large enough for bees to get through.

If the inner cover still isn't enough to control the moisture then there are several other resources and tricks you can use. Some of these include:

-Place an empty medium or shallow super above the Inner Cover and fill with crumbled newspaper or hay. These items help absorb excess moisture as it rises through the hole in the inner cover. You will need to check the newspaper often to make sure it doesn’t get too saturated. If it does then just replace it with fresh newspaper.

- Replace the inner cover with a Wintering Inner Cover or a Vivaldi Board. Both can be used year round and can be manipulated to control moisture.

Wintering Inner Cover: Place the deep side down if you intend to feed your colony with hardened candy. The moisture that rises will actually help soften the candy enough that the bees will be able to feed off of it. It takes moisture and turns it into a resource. Insert a Homasote insulation board into the deep chamber and place on the hive with the shallow surface down to allow the Homasote to absorb excess moisture.

Vivaldi Board: It comes with screened opening on both short sides which can provide constant ventilation all year while still protecting from robbing insects. For feeding it works roughly the same as the wintering inner cover but instead of filling it with sugar candy, you sprinkle a ring of dry sugar around the central entrance and place the provided screened box over the sugar. Placing a folded burlap sack over top helps soften the dry sugar to make it easier for the bees to feed and the burlap sack absorbs any excess moisture. Of course you can also just use the burlap sack to absorb moisture, but just like the newspaper you will want to check it and replace if it gets oversaturated.

- Replace your hive top with an Ultimate Hive Cover (available for 10 frame size hives only). It has been designed to provide ventilation via the air space built into the walls. It does not require painting but you may need to place something heavy like a brick or rock on it to keep it from coming off in bad weather.

Even though moisture is a big issue most beekeepers experience during the winter, with a few simple tricks it doesn't have to be. You can even use it to your advantage when trying to provide feed for your hive. When temperatures get below 55 degrees F you do not want to open up your hive otherwise the heat they built up will escape. Tools like Vivaldi Boards or Wintering Inner Covers provide ways to assist with moisture control without fully exposing the hive to the cold. Just like everything else with beekeeping, it's just a matter of observing your hive and seeing what their needs are before you decide what method(s) to try.