Have you ever seen that board with a hole in the center at a beekeeping website and wondered what it was? Well, I'm here to kind of explain it's purpose.
Photo: This is an inner cover with an opening in the front.
The inner cover goes on a Langstroth style beehive under the telescoping outer cover. A telescoping outer cover is really just a fancy term for a lid that wraps around the top of the hive. Read this blog to learn the difference between your lid options.
Some people use an inner cover to make it easier to take the outer cover off, especially if they have propolis-happy bees. In the 10 years I've been keeping bees, I've never had an outer cover be too difficult to take off, so this purpose has always baffled me, but a few beekeepers have messaged me to say that where they live, an inner cover is almost essential when using a telescoping outer cover. If you're having trouble getting your outer cover off, or if you have aggressive bees, try using an inner cover directly underneath the outer cover.
Photo: This is a photo of a beehive with a telescoping outer cover on top. Notice that they extend past the sides of the beehives keeping the hive safe from the elements.
Some beekeepers put the inner cover over the uppermost box on their beehive and then place a feeder on top of the hole in the inner cover. They then put an empty super over the inner cover and feeder. This prevents the bees from going up into this empty super and building honeycomb everywhere when you're feeding your bees.
You can use the inner cover for this purpose, but I just put an empty honey super on the hive without an inner cover and never had a problem. I believe this is because when you're feeding bees, it's a low nectar time and the bees don't build much comb at this time. In order to secrete wax, a bee has to consume a lot of honey. She won't do this if there's not much honey coming in. Although this purpose has some validity to it, I don't use an inner cover when feeding and haven't had any issues.
Photo: This is a photo of the beekeeper using an inner cover when feeding. The inner cover is placed over the top of the uppermost box. Then a feeder is put over the hole in the center of the inner cover. An empty honey super is put on top of the inner cover so the feeder is the only thing inside this super. The lid is placed on top of the super.
Reason number 3 to use an inner cover is to allow insulation during the winter. This matters to the beekeepers, because when the warm air produced by the bee cluster rises, it will hit the cold air and can produce condensation. If the condensation drips onto the cluster, it can kill your bees. Although you should have a moisture board, or some other piece of equipment under your lid to insulate your hive as well as something to absorb moisture and condensation like a super or eke filled with wood shavings or dry white sugar, some people do like that the inner cover can act as a piece of insulation.
The fourth reason to use an inner cover is because it can be an extra upper entrance as well as opening for ventilation. In the winter, during a big honey flow, and when it's hot out, an upper entrance is almost a requirement. If you choose to use your inner cover as an upper entrance, make sure there is a notch already in yours or make a notch in one side of the cover. If you don't have an inner cover, don't buy one just for this purpose. You can also drill a 1/2" hole into your uppermost super or if it's warm out, put a small rock or twig under the lid, in one corner to prop it open.
The one time I did find an inner cover useful was in the winter. Having one under the lid allowed me to take the lid off and look inside the hole of the inner cover without letting too much warm air escape. I have read that bees don't heat the entire hive, but just their cluster and so you shouldn't be too worried about this, but I was so afraid my bees were going to freeze, I took every precaution I possibly could to keep them warm and well fed.
How to Use an Inner Cover
If your inner cover has a lip on one side but the other side is flat, you want the side with the lip to face up, towards the sky. The only time you would want to flip it over is when you have something like a pollen patty on top of your frames and you need that gap between the inner cover and the tops of your frames.
If you want more ventilation for your hive than the little notch cut into it, you can take popsicle sticks or a thin piece of wood and put it under one side of the inner cover. This will give the bees a larger entrance.
In short, should you buy an inner cover? No. It's not necessary. However, if you live in a cold weather state and want to add every precaution possible, go ahead and add it to the list or if you live in an area with Africanized bees or high heat, an inner cover will make prying open the telescoping outer lid easier and disturb the bees less when inspecting your hive.
Photo: This is a photo of beehives with migratory lids on top. Notice how they sit on top of the uppermost box. There is often a small gap under this style lid which is why this isn't a great option when it's below 60F or a lot of precipitation.
If you live in an area where it does not go below freezing in the daytime, and you're already using a screened bottom or don't have heavy rain, I would save some money and stick with a migratory lid and not use an inner cover.
Want to learn more about the parts of a hive? Check out our other articles:
- 5 Reasons Why I recommend a Langstroth style hive for every beginner beekeeper.
- Migratory Lid Vs. Telescoping Outer Cover
- How to Light a Smoker & Put It Out Safely
- Deep, medium, shallow. The boxes of a beehive explained.
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