A beehive is just like a tiny house when it comes to moisture management and using healthy materials. My hive is built with cedar and is going into its first winter housing a healthy colony.
The male drone bees have now been kicked out of the hive, and I didn’t take any honey in the hopes that these ladies have more than enough food to get them through the winter.
As the temperature drops and the rain moves back into the Pacific Northwest, it’s the moisture that can be a sneaky and slow killer for the bees. A healthy and strong colony without or low mite counts, and substantial food stores can still be majorly affected by moisture inside their hive.
Every single day the temperature drops and increases and thermal bridging happens within the hive. This is exactly what happens through the subfloor and wall systems of a tiny house, but possibly on a more drastic scale in a beehive. In cold climates beehives should be built with thicker wood, just as our homes need more insulation. A higher R-value, thicker wall system, and space for the temperature to transition, creates an interior space that’s less affected as the weather changes.
When it’s cold outside the bees will ball up in the center of the hive to maintain a temperature of 95° F to function properly and survive the winter together as a colony. The moisture and warmth the bees create is attracted to the cold exterior where it condenses unable to escape. In a beehive condensation collects on the inside top of the hive, and drips down the sides or onto the bees themselves. The cold water that drips from above can kill the bees, but it’s also a problem if the bees can’t get rid of the excess moisture. It can grow mildew and mold on the wood inside.
Tiny houses also deal with condensation issues when the humidity inside is too high, and cold temperature transfers through the subfloor or wall system. Just like the bees, breathing and living in a small space creates moisture. Proper air ventilation, dehumidifiers, a wall systems that breaths and insulate well can all help mitigate moisture within the home.
How to Manage Moisture inside a Beehive
I decided to take what I know about building small dwellings and creating wall systems that breath, and adapt it to my hive. Additionally, I love creating in ways that have multiple functions, which is one of my favorite Permaculture principles.
What did I do?
I put another hive box together and stapled a scrap piece of cotton I had to the bottom of the box.
I then covered the fabric on the inside of the box with dry coconut coir, which will be able to absorb moisture from inside the hive. As it absorbs moisture it will expand and become more insulative as well. Another perk is that once it has absorbed a great deal of moisture, I can take it and use it as the organic material in my composting toilet. I will then replace the moist coconut coir with dry pieces to start the process over again.
The bees work very hard to maintain the correct temperature inside the hive. If they are given too much space then they will spend extra energy to heat it up, which can be detrimental to their survival as well. I didn’t want them to have to heat up an extra cold space on top of their hive, so I added natural sheep’s wool insulation to keep the heat in. Also, sheep’s wool is by nature mold and rot resistant. If it get’s wet it will maintain it’s structure and continue to be effective insulation. It also doesn’t have any harsh chemicals that will harm the bees!
The same goes for us. This insulation is a bit of nature’s magic inside our walls.
I will add insulation to the exterior of the hive as we move into Winter. It will probably be the same insulation and material I use to skirt my tiny house.
Fingers crossed that these honeys make it strong into the Spring!