Multi-Function Inner Cover

*** Disclaimer *** I have no idea if this brilliant idea will work out as planned or not. I read various things that various beekeepers recommend on various beekeeper forums and in various bee books, and I thought to myself, “Self, I wonder if a lot of those various things couldn’t be accomplished with just one piece of gear?” To which my self replied, “Hmmmm … ”

*** Disclaimer Part II *** I may very well have seen this exact design developed by someone else somewhere in the virtual world and flat-out stolen it. I am not 100% comfortable claiming that this design is fully original. In fact, if anyone has seen this tchotchke before, or knows where my subconscious may have picked it up from, tell me in the comments and I will make sure whoever deserves credit gets it!

After the big “robbing / virus / whatever that was” kerfuffle at Thyme Hive, we put entrance reducers on both of the colonies set to their very smallest entrance. The next day, the hubs made robber screens for them. When we installed the robber screens, the girls had a very hard time finding their way back in. Okay, granted, that is the point of robber screens – to make entry very very difficult. The idea is that the bees who actually live there will be persistent and eventually find their way in, but the strangers who are just there to steal won’t.

Well, the girls from my colonies had more trouble finding their way in than I was comfortable with. After two days, there was at least a pound of bees clustered underneath the bottom screened board on each hive. Just – hanging there. They were close to their cluster, but they couldn’t seem to get in. So I took the robber screens off and put the entrance reducers back in. But there were still a bunch of “lost” girls hanging off the bottom screen. I brushed them off a few times, and some went in the entrance – but some didn’t. They went right back onto the bottom of the screen board. Even terribly smart animals can get confused when humans come along and fiddle about with their environment.

It does seem that the entrance reducers helped. There are still quite a few dead bees out front of Thyme, but we haven’t seen any fights in several days. But with the smallest entrance installed, there was a lot of traffic backing up on the landing board, and it’s been in the 90s all week so there was also a lot of bearding in the hottest part of the day. (Bearding is what you call it when the hive gets so hot inside that a whole bunch of bees come out and just sit on the outside of the box. Like Southerners sitting on the front porch drinking sweet tea. A lot of Southerners.)

So I decided the time had come for this build, to increase ventilation – especially in case I need to close off the screened bottom board for a while. I sketched this design (hold your criticism, I never claimed to be a draftsman!) for the hubs, and he built me two of these things. Actually, I just made this “drawing” (such as it is) in Skitch for blog purposes. What I gave him was even rougher, done in ink with a fountain pen on the back of an old insurance billing document. But he got the idea, anyways. He has become accustomed to my unconventional ways of communicating ideas. Good man.

Line drawing of screened box.
Just a rectangle made of 1×3″ boards, with screen stapled to the bottom. Another frame of 1×1 to hold the screen in place, with a small entrance at the front. 1″ ventilation holes drilled near the top edge, with screen stapled over them to keep critters out. Because nobody wants mouses in their hives!

My intent (we’ll see) is for these doohickies to serve as a combination of:

  • Upper entrance
  • Extra ventilation source
  • Quilt box in winter
  • Spacer for winter feedings
  • Sifter for powdered sugar dusting

Upper Entrance: Some beekeepers swear by top entrances. It increases ventilation and allow excess heat and moisture to escape, and there is some speculation that honey and pollen storage is enhanced by making it easier for the foragers to get to the food storage area without having to fight traffic all through the brood frames.

Extra Ventilation: Air movement is always good. In the summer the reasons are obvious, but even in winter airflow is pretty important to bees. They have at least one thing in common with me – they can tolerate coldness, but they cannot tolerate damp coldness. Cold water condensing on the roof of the hive and then dripping down onto the bees while they are trying to stay warm is a very, very bad thing. The 1″ holes drilled through the box should keep air moving along and give both heat and moisture a nice easy way out.

Quilt Box:  A quilt box is commonly used on a Warré style hive, but there are some reasonable arguments for using them on a Langstroth as well. They absorb even more of the moisture in the wintertime, further reducing the aforementioned cold-water drippage, and they buffer extremes in temperature. So when winter comes along, I plan to fill up the top of this box with wood shavings.

Spacer for Winter Feedings: If the bees don’t have enough honey saved up by the time the cold weather hits to get them all the way through the winter, I will need to give them either fondant or sugar emergency feedings. Both of those feed solutions go right on top of the frames, so normally you have to put a shallow super on to make space for the food. A normal inner cover doesn’t leave enough room to put anything on the top frames. With that 1″ of space below the screen, there will be plenty of room for food without a whole super’s worth of extra dead air space to try and heat.

Sifter for Powdered Sugar Dusting: Some beekeepers dust their bees with powdered sugar to control varroa mites. So far, most (but not all) of the available data indicates that this doesn’t work well enough to rely on, at least not without taking other measures to go with it. However, Randy Oliver at Scientific Beekeeping does advocate what he calls “whole-colony mite drop accelerated by sugar dust” as an effective way to monitor mite levels. Well, that’s a mouthful!

In simple, un-sciency terms, whenever I need to know what my mite levels are, I can use the screened box to apply powdered sugar to the hive like Don Kuchenmeister, the “Fat Bee Man,” does in this short video. The sugar will cause many of the mites who are on adult bees to lose their footing and fall off, and even more to be groomed off as the bees work to clean the sugar off of each other. Then, after 24 hours, I can look at my bottom sticky board under the screen and count mites. I should get a clearer picture of the real mite situation this way than if I just count how many mites fell off naturally, without the sugar to “help” them down.

So, this is what the boxes looked like when we went live with them earlier today:

Yes, that front piece of wood on the bottom is just a spare entrance reducer that we had laying around.
Yes, that front piece of wood on the bottom is just a spare entrance reducer that we had laying around.
Wow, hubs' handiwork looks a lot better than my lame Skitch sketch, doesn't it?
Wow, hubs’ handiwork looks a lot better than my lame Skitch sketch, doesn’t it?
All installed and ready for action!
All installed and ready for action!
Even without honey supers, this hive is getting tall. I may be shopping for a stepladder soon.
Even without honey supers, this hive is getting tall. I may be shopping for a stepladder soon.
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