One of the possibly most overlooked pieces of hive tech in a conventional bee hive is the inner cover. This is the board that sits on the top-most box in the hive stack and is usually covered by a top cover called a “telescoping cover”.
You can see in the above photo that the inner cover looks like a board with a hole in it. Well, it is, but then again, it has a notch at one end as well. Those cuts give the inner cover a much more important role than one might think.
Let’s start with the board itself. The inner cover acts as a lid or cover to the hive that has a “peek-hole” to spy on bees if need be. Honey bees very often use propolis to seal cracks, crevices, small gaps and and even small holes inside the hive. The crevice created by placing a lid over a bee hive counts as “seal-able” to the bees. A telescoping top cover with sides that fit down around the box can seem nearly impossible to remove if the bees propolise the lid from the inside. Getting a tool under it is not easy because of the edges that extend down and around the top-most box.
Using an inner cover allows the bees to propolise that down instead. This makes opening the telescoping top cover much easier to remove to check in on the bees and removing a propolised inner cover is much easier because you can get a tool easily in between the cover and the box. That is essentially the most basic use of an inner cover.
The oblong hole cut into the center of the adds a new dimension of usefulness to the inner cover. If you set another box on top of the inner cover instead of a top cover and place the top cover over that box, you have a way to feed bees inside the hive year round and keeps other bees from raiding the hive. You can set a jar of sugar syrup over the hole or a fondant patty to the side of the hole and the bees can come up through the inner cover hole and access the food. This is the next most basic use of an inner cover.
Let’s get back to that notch we saw cut out on one end of the inner cover. That notch serves at least two purposes for the hive.
The first purpose is to act as an upper entrance for the bees to the hive. The honey bees store the honey at the top of the hive. If there is only one entrance at the bottom then the bees bringing in nectar have to work harder to get the nectar to the top of the hive to store it as honey. If it is only three or four boxes high, that may not be a very big deal. When some hive stacks can reach 8 boxes high, it’s another story.
It’s at that time that the notch in the inner cover becomes another entrance at the top of the hive. All a beekeeper needs to do is flip the inner cover over so that the notch faces downward and Walla!! There is a top entrance. The bees can now get more direct access to the honey stores areas of the hive at the top of the stack making their job much easier. Of course, this means that the telescoping top cover that sits on top of the inner cover must be shoved forward as far as it can go leaving a gap so the bees can get in and out instead of being covered by the lip that hangs down.
Now we get to yet another use for the inner cover and it’s useful little notch. Again, with the notch facing down, the hole acts as an air vent, allowing hot air and moisture to rise and escape from the hive. This is a very useful function as without an upper air vent in the winter, CO2, condensation and stale air just sit at the top of the hive and can kill a hive in the late winter and early spring.
With the notch acting as an upper air vent, it helps to create an airflow through the hive moving the air, humidity and CO2 out of the hive keeping it dry and with fresh air moving through it. This feature alone can save a lot of bees in the winter from unnecessary death.
The inner cover is an incredible piece of bee hive technology, simple as it seems. It helps beekeepers manage the inner bee hive environment in multiple ways while being easy to make, build and generally inexpensive as well.
There are various types and sizes of inner covers. Some offer extra features and some are made of different materials. However, it is one of the most consistently used pieces of bee hive technology in the world of beekeeping. Some of these “advanced” inner covers will be reviewed in the future ass they make claims to do more than the typical inner cover. Of course, we will bee fair and use the same review procedures as we will for every item of beekeeping technology we review here.