I have just been reading a great bee book called ‘The Honey Factory’ and it says that bees have no ability to measure humidity in a hive. It is speculated that this is because in a bees natural home there is practically never any condensation that forms on the inner surfaces. the bees are able to perfectly regulate conditions and so have never had to evolve a capacity to assess humidity levels. I also read in another book that bees can cope with cold way better than they cope with dampness. This makes a lot of sense to me- bees can survive in Australia with hives completely exposed just hanging off a branch in a tree. Of course they would need to eat more honey to keep the brood warm but they can do that.
For these reasons i agree that I would much rather keep my hives dry. here in adelaide we see quite a lot of condesntion in hives over winter. Oftentimes this year i have lifted off the lid to find it completely wet underneath. I mitigate this issue by ising hive mats to stop the water dripping down over the brood frames- but there is still mold all over. That is why I plan to experiment with quilt boxes and/or insulated lids.
so far my quilt boxes seem to be working well: I use a layer of wood chips about 2 inches deep. The top of this layer is soaking wet when I open the lid- but when I dig down the bottom layer is completely dry and warm. The one issue I will have to keep an eye on is propolis- it may be that the bees end up propolising the mesh and thereby make the quilt boxes non-functional. However I don’t think they will do this here in Adelaide- as I have found our bees produce far less propolis than bees in NSW where I have recently been working with an urban beekeeper in Sydney. I would estimate Sydney bees produce 5 times more proplis than Adelaide bees do. I have no idea why- perhaps they find it more easily or maybe they need it more in those conditions. On average Sydney bees are about 5 times less aggressive too! Bees in Adelaide tend to be darker brown- and feisty- whilst the bees in Sydney are the lighter yellow type and very relaxed in my experience.
Fun fact: Propolis comes from the greek- pro meaning before and polis meaning city. Bees traditionally ‘proplolise’ around the entrance to their hive so we call it propolis- as it is placed ‘before the city’.