What On Earth Is the Purpose to an Inner Cover?
"Perfection in beekeeping is not found in a multiplicity of appliances, but in simplicity and the elimination of everything not absolutely essential"
~ Brother Adam, In Search of the Best Bee Strains
Have you ever seen that board with a hole in the center at a beekeeping supply site and wondered what it was? Well, I'm here to kind of explain it's purpose.
An inner cover goes on a Langstroth style beehive under the lid. Some people use an inner cover to make it easier to take the lid off, especially if they're those propolis-happy bees. However, in the 10 years I've been keeping bees, I've never had a lid be too difficult to take off, so this purpose has always baffled me.
Some place the inner cover over the hive and then a feeder on top along with an empty super. This prevents the bees from going up into this empty super and building honeycomb everywhere. You can use the inner cover for this purpose, but usually when you're feeding bees, it's a low nectar time and the bees don't build much comb at this time. This is because 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. Also, if there's not much honey coming in, then there's no need to build more comb because they don't have anything to put in it. Although this purpose has some validity to it, I place my feeder directly over the top bars with an empty super around it and never had bees build inside the empty super.
Reason number 3 to use an inner cover is to allow insulation. This purpose completely boggles my mind. What about every other side of the beehive? How can it be helpful to insulate only one side of a beehive?
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, 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.
Some people say the inner cover allows moisture to get out of the hive. This may be true, but again, there are other ways to allow air and moisture to escape other than using an inner cover and you need a notch in the inner cover for this to work.
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 potentially 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.
How to Use an Inner Cover
When using an inner cover, you should have a telescoping outer lid. This is really just a fancy term for a lid that wraps around the top of the hive. Your other lid option is the migratory cover. This is a fancy term for a lid that is pretty much a flat board on your hive that has two little pieces on either end so you can pick it up easier. I've actually gone to Home Depot, bought a large piece of non pressure treated 3/4" plywood, had them cut it down to as many 16.5"x20" pieces that I could fit on the sheet and had about 8 lids made for me in 5 minutes. I didn't have to use a single tool and it cost me $40. The lids you buy online are made from a heavier wood and won't warp like the plywood will, and they don't have the little piece to make it easier to lift, but they work well in a pinch.
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.
If you live in an area where it does not go below freezing in the daytime, I would definitely not use an inner cover.
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