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Friday, September 25, 2015

Moisture-Absorbing Packets

All the forecasts for this winter promise a season equally bad or maybe even worse (!!!) than the polar vortex of 2014. As a result, I've shifted into prep mode and am thinking about how to deal with condensation and cold this year.

There seem to be a number of ways to deal with moisture. Since I have 7 colonies, I may try two or three of the following methods to see what works best for me.

  • Top entrances.  A small gap is left open between the end of the hive and the first board to allow moisture to vent out.
  • Vent bar behind the divider board. 
  • Moisture absorbing packets. Silica-gel packets will be placed in the hive to absorb moisture (instead of venting it).
  • Just insulation & nothing else. A local expert beek with lots of TBH experience, does this with his nucs. 
  • Just top insulation. Nothing else. This is what Sam Comfort told me he does.
Top entrance on Peach

Top entrances, vent bars, and moisture absorbing packets are the methods I think I'll be most likely to try. The top entrances are easy to make, and I've already opened them for Hippolyte & Peach. The vent bars should be a snap, too. Just drill some holes in a bar and cover them with screen mesh. However, figuring out how to use moisture absorbers has been giving me a headache.

In Beekeeping with a Smile, Lazutin off-handedly mentions that he prepares for winter by attaching a board with silica-gel packets on it behind the divider board. The only other detail he drops is that the packets have to be exposed on one side to absorb the moist air. However, he fails to provide any other info. The main question that's been plaguing me is how many packets/grams of silica are needed??? How much water do the bees produce? How much water will the silica gel absorb? How much silica gel is too much? I have absolutely no clue. Bubblegum and Elsa will have to be my guinea pigs. So now I'm not only concerned about them drowning, I'm also concerned about drying them out, too.

Some large food-safe silica-gel packets I ordered from Amazon.

Another challenge of mine is deciding where to place the gel packets. Lazutin's hives are quite large. Each frame is about 18"-20" high, I believe, and hold something like 8 lbs of honey each. In his hives, the bees do not work backward toward the honey  stores. Instead, they cluster toward the bottom of the frames and work their way up. In fact, when he harvests honey, he says that he leaves only one frame of honey next to the cluster. Then from what I can gather, he places his divider board and the board with the silica gel. In this arrangement, the gel is quite close to the cluster, so it makes sense that it would control condensation.

In a TBH, the cluster is quite far removed from the divider board, so if I add the silica behind the divider, will it actually do anything? Or should I consider moving all of the bars back a bit and placing the moisture-absorbing packets near the entrance so that they are nearer the cluster? This might mean modifying the entrance somehow, though to ensure the bees can still get in and out.

Decisions, decisions. These are making my head ache, so fortunately, my kids have just arrived home and want to go to the movies, so I can put this off for little awhile. ;-)



4 comments:

  1. I think the top entrance/vents would go a long way to avoiding the moisture buildup you had last year. If you use different methods in each hive, it will be interesting to see which ones fare better than the others. In Colorado, we have almost the opposite problem sometimes. We generally have very low humidity and when I go into the hives in the early spring, everything is very dry and brittle. Not that I'll be adding trays of water any time soon, though. ;-)

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    1. Your bees will be so sorry to hear that you're not planning on passing little drink trays around. ;-)

      That's interesting that your hives stay dry even in winter. In communication with beeks across the globe, it seems that everyone has very different regional issues. Kind of amazing really. Goes a long way toward explaining why one gets so many answers to what seems like 1 simple question.

      BTW, I'm pretty close to scrapping the idea of silica gel. In rereading Lazutin's book, he found where he actually does give some figures for how much moisture a strong colony can produce. It's about a couple cups per day, if I recall correctly. Meanwhile, I read somewhere that silica gel can absorb only about 40% of its weight, so that's not going to put much of a dent in the condensation, I think.

      Currently doing some research to see if polyacrylamide (sp?) crystals -- the stuff in diapers -- will absorb moisture from the air, or if it has to be in direct contact with liquid. Polyacrylamide will absorb something like 800% its weight. The other thing I'm thinking of is just stuffing the back of the hive with straw like beeks used to do in the very old days. This won't help the nucs, though, since they don't have enough room.

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    2. Just stick some Pampers in there. ;-) I'm not sure how much space you have under your roof, but maybe using some vent bars in the back and have a quilt box (like in a warre) above them to absorb the moisture? It wouldn't have to be too deep. That would also act as an insulating layer on top as well. Another thing I'm going to do this year is put some of the foil-lined bubble wrap insulation in the space between the window and its covering. I'm sure that's a real cold spot each winter.

      Love the little drink tray notion - after all, this is "Happy Hour at the Top Bar". I wonder if they like their martinis shaken or stirred! ;-)

      The only time I've had a moisture problem out here is this past spring when it rained for a whole month and I was feeding a new package. It was almost raining in the back of the hive. I had a terrible mildew problem which might have attributed to BnB1's problems this year.

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    3. LOL! Because of my kids, I actually have a ton of polyacrylamide crystals lying around in the form of Orbeez, science kits, and Nerf accessories. Diapers, not so much -- and that's a good thing!!! :-)

      However, the idea to vent up into a diaper (I had been thinking laterally) is genius!!! Thanks!

      Good luck this winter experimenting with insulating the windows. Ironically, though, you might find that it helps to condense moisture lower in the hive. That's what happened to me last year. The only hive that survived was the one with glass windows. I put some styrofoam between the window & cover, but the window was still colder than the roof, so I think it caused more condensation on the glass (instead of moisture raining on the bees).

      Fingers crossed, this spring will won't be so wet.

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Thank you for your comment! I can't wait to hear what you think!