Updated: Oct 23, 2021
When preparing for winter in the Northeast, many beekeepers use a quilt box to insulate while absorbing moisture from the hive. The quilt box is a box that sits above your top box in your winter setup or above your candy board if you so choose to use one. The quilt box can contain pine or cedar shavings, burlap and other porous natural materials that will absorb moisture from the hive as the hive clusters and creates heat over winter. Moisture in winter can be deadly to the colony, as cold temps are less of a threat. When making a quilt box bee sure to add ventilation holes of some sort so that the moisture can escape and you have supplied sufficient air flow for the hive during winter months.
An ideal hive setup for winter will have a bottom entrance with mouse guards, your brood chamber/overwintering setup with honey available for your bees to feed over the winter, a candy board as "insurance" for your hive in case there is a food shortage, and then your quilt box, inner cover and outer cover. There are many variations of these winter setups. Some are an "all in one" box setup, some setups are created in layers to allow easy access to each layer.
To make a quilt box DIY, use a shallow or medium super or a spacer. Make sure you obtain one that matches the size of your setup.. 8 frame, 10 frame, etc. Use a plastic queen excluder or hardware cloth cut to size of your box and fasten to bottom of box. Line box with burlap or weedblock, some breathable material to hold your cedar or pine shavings. Drill several holes in box to create ventilation. If drilling large holes, cover holes with small screen to protect from mice and critters. When finished with box, paint outer edge if you wish to weather proof. Fill your box with shavings, put your inner cover back on, and sit atop your setup. Add your outer cover and place on your hive when temps drop consistently into 30s, usually November in our area.
You may wish to wrap your hives as well. More on that in another post. But we want to emphasize that your bees need airflow and access to the outdoors for cleansing flights come winter. Some wind block and insulation can be helpful, but remember your bees are living organisms that need food, air and a clean hive.
**Quick side note, keep an eye on your bottom boards come winter. On a cold day when your bees are clustering, you may want to take a yard stick, remove your bottom entrances and clean out dead bees from the hive that may be clogging your entrances and air flow. Seeing a few dead bees in front of the hive is a sign that your bees are alive and working and cleaning house, however they may need a little assistance. It's when you don't see ANY dead bees being discarded that you may want to check that your hive is alive and well. Full inspections are not encouraged in dead of winter however opening the lid and checking for signs of life are ok. Shining a flashlight inside or giving a small knock to see if bees are alive and well can make the difference in saving a hive in time before its too late. Check your candy boards and add winter candy if need bee. Make sure your hives are weighed down or strapped to your hive stand or bricks. Winds can be super strong in nor-easters and polar vortex and your hive should be stable to withstand winds!
Feel free to reach out to us for any questions and join our group on facebook to meet other local beeks in the Blooming Grove NY area! Search "Blooming Beez" to join the conversation.