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Beekeeping for All:

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Warré Beekeeping
 

Precursors of the quilt of the People's Hive of Abbé Emile Warré

One peculiarity of the People's Hive is its quilt (coussin in the original French) which comprises a 100mm deep wooden frame, the same size as the boxes below, with a cloth fitted to its underside and filled with some natural insulating material such as chopped straw (chaff), dry leaves or wood shavings etc.

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Above: quilt with quilt contents retention cloth secured as recommended in Beekeeping for All.

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Above: quilt complete with wood shavings filling and contents retention cloth tacked only under the bottom rim.

As regards the quilt in particular, Warré also had precursors who recommended a similar device.

One is the Rev. J. G. Digges MA,2 who was a member of the examining board of the Irish Beekeepers' Association and editor of the Irish Bee Journal. He writes: 'Sheets and quilts are required upon the frames ... to preserve heat; to prevent draught; and to keep the bees from ascending into the roof. The sheet is made of bed ticking or unbleached calico. The quilts should be of felt, carpet or other warm material. [...] From the sheet a circular piece may be all but cut out from the centre, so that it can be turned back when feeding is in progress to give bees access to the feeder; at other times it can be restored to its original position. [...] In summer, a sheet of American cloth [a sturdy, enamelled oilcloth], enamelled side down, may with advantage be used instead of a sheet of ticking; but at other seasons it is advisable that the covering should be of porous material to permit evaporation of the moisture of the hive. Straw mats or chaff cushions are sometimes used on the quilts. In winter, it is useful to cover the brood-nest and quilts with an empty crate or other bottomless box, having a piece of canvas or calico tacked underneath, and filled with cork-dust, chaff, or other warm material.'

Digges apparently has three layers on the frames, a top-bar cloth (e.g. calico), a quilt (e.g. felt) and a tray filled with a natural insulator (e.g. chaff) that performs the same function as the quilt in the People's Hive. Notice that he envisages water vapour passing through the quilt in winter.

Twenty-six years before Digges' first edition, we find Frank R. Cheshire3 describing the same kind of device. The Cheshire hive incorporated what he called a 'chaff tray'. 

cheshire17.jpg (86303 bytes) The Cheshire hive (Fig. 17)

cheshire19.jpg (54772 bytes) Section view of the Cheshire hive (Fig. 19)

Cheshire's setup is virtually identical to Warré's in that both use a top-bar cloth of hessian (jute sacking) and both a wooden framed 'quilt'. Cheshire writes: 'Over the frames is placed a waterproof cloth, a piece of hessian or unbleached calico, according to the season; while at all times when two supers are not on the hive, a chaff-tray (ct Figs. 17 and 19)--unspeakably superior to carpeting--is used over the frames. This chaff-tray consists of a ring of wood, 3in. or 4in. deep, with a bottom of rather loose sacking; so that, when it is placed in position, the chaff beds itself down completely over the top of the hive, fitting any irregularity, and preventing all needless leak of heated air. Fig 19 shows o, a flour cake, under the chaff tray, and explains the statement just made. The loss of numberless colonies is no doubt traceable to defects in the top covering, the non-conductive qualities and close fitting of which are far more important than those of the hive itself.'

In the 'chaff tray' is chopped straw. Here is Pettigrew, a 19th century skep beekeeper, on straw as a material for the top of hives:

"The latest improvement to the bar-frame hive consists in the substitution of "a quilt " for the wooden top. The inventor is of course a dealer, and till the invention was completed, no one heard of the wooden tops being at fault. In the language of the inventor, we shall now let the reader have a description of the quilt. -- He says : " For all crown covers, it is the very best for winter use, because it permits the escape of all noxious vapours from the hive, as soon as they are generated. The quilt arrangement comprises a piece of carpet, or other material of hard texture, with a hole in the centre for feeding purposes; two or three thicknesses of felt, flannel, or other porous materials, each with a hole in its centre of similar size as that in the carpet; a piece of perforated zinc or vulcanite as a feeding-stage; a pad like a kettle-holder to lay upon the vulcanite; a folded sack, blanket, or rug laid upon the whole,—after which the roof may be put on, and should be fastened to prevent blowing off. If closely covered, the whole arrangement will become sopping wet, simply because the vapours cannot escape."
I think no intelligent bee-keeper, after reading this description, will covet or ever purchase such lids; and it grieves one to know that, after discovering the unsuitability of wood as material for hives, the inventor has not hit upon something better and more sightly than a quilt made of carpet, felt, vulcanite, a pad, a folded sack or blanket, and a roof. This quilt will soon be cast aside for something very much better. What will it be? We cannot tell the reader what will come next, but we agree with Mr Quinby that there is "nothing equal to straw for straining moisture out of hives." If wood is unsuitable for the crowns or tops of hives, it is equally unsuitable for their sides."4

 

References

1) Émile Warré, Beekeeping For All, 2010, trans. from L'Apiculture Pour Tous, (12th ed. 1948) Northern Bee Books. PDF available (see link on left).

2) Digges, J. G. (1910) The Practical Bee Guide -- A Manual of Modern Beekeeping. 2nd Edition. Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent & Co. Ltd., London. Pages 50 & 51. Downloadable at www.archive.org.

3) Cheshire, Frank Richard (1888) Bees and Beekeeping -- Scientific and Practical. Vol II. Practical. The Bazaar, Exchange and Mart Office, London. Pages 58-61.

4) Pettigrew, A. (1875) Handy Book of Bees.