Wintertime: Ventilation in the Hive

Information taken from ‘Apiculture, An Introduction to Bees and Beekeeping by Dr. Mark Winston, 1983.

As bees in a cluster do not hibernate, the cluster is constantly active throughout the winter months. The bees on the outside of the cluster work in toward the centre and the bees in the centre work outwards. The temperature within the cluster is maintained by the process of body metabolism, thereby generating heat. If an air-tight inner cover is placed over the super, the heated air which is given off by the cluster rises and condenses when it comes in contact with the cold non-absorptive surface of the inner cover. It is this moisture which often results in dead colonies, mildewed combs and fermented honey. A rough box, or an empty super filled with an absorptive pillow consisting of a burlap sack containing approximately 6 inches of loose dry planer shavings, will solve the problem of preventing dampness in the brood supers. This box containing absorptive material is placed on top of the hive. The box may have a bottom nailed to it, in which is cut two holes of at least 3” in diameter to allow moist air to move up into the box. (Remember this is only 1 method to try).

Dampness within the brood supers is the main factor contributing to loss of colonies. It is essential that colonies have a top and bottom entrance to allow a through movement of air to take off excess moisture. The use of a rough box or extra super on top allows the beekeeper to use absorptive material as described above. If an empty super is used, an entrance may be cut in the rim of the inner board and the inner board reversed. If the rough box with attached floor is used, a top entrance can be made by cutting a portion about ½ x 3” from the bottom mid-front area of the box. Also necessary would be the cutting out of a similar area of the box floor adjacent to the entrance in the box.

The use of the rough box or empty super permits easy access should the colony require feeding in late winter or early spring.

A strip of hardware cloth with a mesh site large enough to allow the bees to enter and exit (5 meshes to the inch), will prevent mice from entering the hive and damaging the comb. Do not seal the hive with an air-tight cover. An ideal inner cover material seems to be a piece of 1” (2.5 cm.) thick polystyrene, cut to the same outside dimensions as a super with a corner cut off to provide a top entrance. If tar- paper is to be used as a pack, it is advisable to apply this during a warm day when it will not crack when handling.