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Lesson 4: Inner and Outer CoversThank you for joining me for these free online beekeeping lessons. Tell your friends! They can easily start with the very first one.
Today, we continue becoming familiar with the actual beehive box. It is important to know and to understand how the wooden ware fits together. In previous lessons, we started at the bottom and worked our way up the hive. Now we are ready to take a look at the two most top pieces, the inner cover and the top cover.
It might seem unusual to have two covers on a hive, the inner cover and the top cover. This is the common configuration, to place an inner cover on the top super, then place the top cover on top of the inner cover. Why? Good question. Here's the inner cover.Before I answer that question, let me say it is not essential, at least not in my opinion to use an inner cover. I believe it is good, and can certainly aid the bees at times, to use an inner cover, but it is not always necessary. It is suggested that an inner cover, with an oval shaped hole in the middle, provides a dead air space between the top of the hive and the outside world. Many claim this insulates the hive from the heat or cold. But if this is the case, what about the sides? Others claim that the inner cover is to keep the top cover from sticking to the frames. But if this is the case, what keeps the frames from sticking to the inner cover?
Others make notches in the inner cover rim, allowing the bees to have a top entrance or exit if they so choose. This, to me, does make good sense but I have never seen my bees use it. However, it makes good sense to me because it can provide passive ventilation, meaning that the bees can use their wings to circulate air through the hive since the top has a slight opening.
However, inner covers with notches make it difficult to seal the top of the hive in the event it becomes necessary, like when you want to seal your hive to move them, or keep them in when farmers spray chemicals or when other hives may try to rob the hive.
So, to add ventilation, I simply find a small stick, and put it under the top cover, when provides a slight opening, a slight air vent at the top. I use this on hot days, and during strong nectar flows when the honey is ready to be capped.
Therefore, we do not provide notches in the inner covers we sell. Our inner covers do come with the oval shaped hole in the center. About half of our hives in our bee yards have inner covers. Some of our hives just have what is called migratory lids, just a flat wooden lid that covers the top of the hive.
We recommend the use of the inner cover because it does become useful throughout the year. If nothing more, it does make the top cover easier to come off.
The inner cover has a rim of wood, a wood strip on one side only. Customers often wonder which way this goes on the hive, with the rim down or up? Typically, the rim of wood faces the sky. In other words, the top cover goes down and lands on the rim of the inner cover. This provides the 1/4" spacing if the bees want to hang out between the inner cover and top cover, and a few do hang out there. I'm not sure why some bees like to hid up there. I suspect they don't have anything else to do, so they go up there to socialize or to free up space for other work below.
There are times to reverse the inner cover position, and place the rim down. I do this when I place pollen patties on the top bars of the frame. The extra spacing the rim provides is just right to accommodate the thickness of my patties and to place my top cover back on.
Throughout our years of keeping bees, we have bee disappointed with inner covers that are made out of several pieces of wood. These seem to always fall apart. We build our inner covers from one piece of wood.
What's the oval shaped hole in the inner cover for? Good question. Obviously the bees can go in and out, but there is a reason it is oval shaped. We cut our holes perfectly to accommodate a bee escape. This is a small, usually plastic device, that many beekeepers use to get the bees out of the honey supers just prior to removing the supers full of honey. Here's how it works.
First, when you see that your honey super is sealed or capped with wax, you know it is ready to be harvested. But, there are still bees crawling over it. So, simply take the inner cover off, insert the bee escape in the oval shaped hole, and place the inner cover (rim up) under the super or supers you wish to remove. The bee escape is designed so that the bees can walk through the escape, but cannot get back in. Over the course of 3-5 days, most of the bees will be gone out of the super. Pretty cool huh!
Migratory lids are often used by pollinators because it allows hives to be easily stacked. I do use migratory lids on many of my hives simply because I find them easy to work. No inner cover, just one flat piece of wood covering the top. My bees seem to do just as good with a migratory lid as without one. However, I don't like to winter my hives this way. I live in central Illinois and the winters are hard. Migratory lids don't keep out the elements the way an inner cover and top cover do. Notice two of my hives side by side. The white one on the left has an inner cover and a telescoping top cover. The green hive on the right simply has no inner cover, but a migratory lid that I added a piece of metal to.
Finally, the top cover. It is often called a telescoping top cover because it hangs over the hive body. Most telescoping top covers hang over around 2". However, we have designed ours to hang over 3". We have found that the extra 1 inch provides a lot more area that keeps the lid from blowing off. However, ALWAYS PLACE SOMETHING ON TOP OF THE HIVE TO KEEP THE LID DOWN. I've lost several hives because of strong winds and I did not have a brick or rock on the top and the lid blew off and the storm drenched the hive.
Tops do not have to have metal, but it does protect the wood from the weather. It is very important to allow for some ventilation at the top of the hive in the winter. Without some top ventilation, condensation can develop on the inside of the top of the hive, and drip cold water down onto the winter cluster of bees. This can cause the bees to die, not from the cold, but from being cold and wet. A little ventilation at the top can help the condensation to evaporate.
Tomorrow, we'll start taking a look at the honey bee. Can't wait!! Tell your friends!