The telescoping top.  One of the most unchanged pieces of beekeeping technology related to the bee hive.  Let’s see what makes the telescoping top so important to so many beekeepers.

First of all, the telescoping top really is made to be an outer cover of a bee hive.  This is especially true when it is used in conjunction with an inner cover, which we discussed in an earlier article.  The inner cover sits on top of the top-most box and the telescoping top sits over, and on top of, the inner cover.

In almost all cases, the telescoping top is made of wood.  In perhaps most commercial offerings, it is also covered with tin or even copper.  The telescoping cover doesn’t really need to be covered with metal though if it has been painted thoroughly.  There are some telescoping tops being sold that are made of poly plastics as well.

telescoping top

One of the biggest benefits of the telescoping cover is that it allows a beekeeper a relatively easier experience opening the hive to inspect the colony or harvest honey.  This is because of propolis.  The bees gather plant saps and create a sticky, tar-like substance called propolis.  They use this to cover any an all cracks, crevices and any gaps inside the hive that they don’t want exposed.  This includes where frames sit in the hive boxes and where a lid or top makes contact as it sits upon the box.

If only a telescoping top is used, the bees have been known to “glue” the lid into place with propolis and because  the edges of the top make a “cap” of sorts, a beekeeper has one heck of a time trying to get a tool under the edges to pry the top off.  A very frustrating and messy situation.  the bees aren’t usually fond of it either.  The noise and vibrations caused in the struggle alert them to an invader and they have plenty of time to gather a repelling force.

However, when the telescoping top is used in conjunction with an inner cover, the bees can only minimally add propolis to where the hole of the inner cover meets the telescoping top.  This makes it very easy to remove the telescoping top and then the beekeeper has easy access to pry off the inner cover which the bees may have glued down to the box with their propolis.  You can see below how the telescoping top sits on top of the inner cover.

telescoping top and inner cover

Another trick with the telescoping top also has to do with using an inner cover.  Most inner covers have a notch cut into the front of them.  This notch has a twofold purpose.  The first is to allow bees to use it as an extra, upper entrance into the hive.  The second purpose is to assist with ventilation.  By allowing airflow to move through the notch, the inside of the hive is kept drier and CO2 is reduced.  How does the telescoping top accomplish this feat?  Simply by pushing the top toward the front of the hive or toward the back of the hive.

A telescoping top is made just a bit larger than a typical box.  This gives the top some room to move if the beekeeper chooses to do so.  By moving the telescoping top to the rear of the hive, it effectively closes off the notch in the inner cover and prohibits bees from using it as an entrance as well as restricting airflow.

Alternately, by pushing the telescoping top to the front of the hive, it allows for bee traffic and increased airflow.  A pretty cool trick for such a simple piece of technology.  It reminds us that just because a technology is simple, that doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable.  Sometimes we don’t really need a complex solution to solve what might seem to be a complex problem.

Think about it, this one board with sides around it solves multiple concerns.  It protects the hive so that rain, wind and other elements aren’t able to get in through the top.  It allows for an easier opening of the hive even if the bees have used a lot of propolis.  Depending on how you slide it, it can allow bee traffic and increase airflow or it can restrict bee traffic and reduce airflow.  That’s not bad for a simple technology.

Beekeepers, you can build your own telescoping top with the plans provided by Ed Simon at the Bee Shed.

Beekeepers are faced with countless challenges.  The use of creative technology is a trademark of a good beekeeper.  With the increased use of the World Wide Web by beekeepers, we are able to share our ideas, inventions and creations with each all over the world.  Some of them are simple, others complex.  All of them are the result of beekeepers solving problems with what they have at hand.

Brushy Mountain Bee Farms: Telescoping Top For Beehives

About the author

Tony Sandoval

Beekeepers in the 21st century use technology in ways most people never think of. I will take you into sunlit valleys where you can see the sunshine through a browser, inspect hives with portable devices and harvest products of the hive using all manner of technological devices you might have not thought of before.

I am a Master Beekeeper and President of the Omaha Bee Club, I am a published author in Bee Culture magazine (a nationally published beekeeping magazine), and a Linux junkie who plays with servers and wireless networking for scientific experimentation in bee science projects.

Let's take a look at tech through the eyes of a scientific apiculturist, shall we?