Hive Tops and Bottoms

If your hive swarms today do you have the equipment you need to set up a new colony?  More than once I’ve had to scramble to hammer together equipment for an unexpected new arrival. There’s always an old box, but never good tops and bottoms or enough frames.  Last weekend I readied myself with a new hive cover and bottom board.

If I have a pet hive peeve it is the quality or lack of it for hive covers and bottom boards.  I don’t need a “migratory” top that seems designed to warp and let bees out of cracks rather than keep the rain out.  Bottom boards are no better, especially if you want a good quality screened hive stand that is not going to rot, will support a heavy colony, and allows for easy screen-board inspections.  Fortunately, these are simple construction projects, well worth the time and effort to build yourself.

Lets us start with the hive cover.  The design I’ve come up with has plenty of overhang to keep the rain off of the hive with a gable roof to shed water effectively.  I live in Oregon!  The plan below should be self-explanatory.

The inspiration for this cover came from the fence boards that I had on hand. Two 6′ fence boards make a top, with the leftovers enough for the landing board of the hive stand below. The width of two boards on each side overlap just enough and still provide a little overhang on the eaves. I had some left over 2×6 cedar decking scraps that I use for the gable ends. You could certainly get away with 1×6 material instead.

A little table saw work gets the basic gable end shapes. I rip the side boards and the top two roof boards for the correct angles. When nailing on the sides to the gable ends I drill first to make sure those critical points don’t split. Before nailing on the roof boards, install a couple of cleats on the inside of the gable ends for the top to rest on the ends of the hive inner cover. It will also be supported by the roof boards on the edges, but it will work better and sit flatter with the end cleats as well. When nailing the roof boards, figure they will grow and shrink with the weather. Nail near the top and let the bottom half of the board “float” so it is not forced to split itself when it shrinks. Put a couple of nails in the lower roof board into the side board to add to the overall strength.  The cover will rest on these edges as well as the cleats on the ends.

I made the overall inside length an extra inch bigger than the hive. This allows me to pull back the inner cover an inch to open up a little ventilation and still fit the cover over the hive.

Screened bottom boards started out as screens on top of bottom boards.  I still have one like that, and it accumulates trash the bees can’t clean up, and provides a place for wax moths to develop where the bees can’t do anything about it.  The solid bottom board under the screen is worse than nothing – so I use nothing – other than the witness board when it is in place.

I use cedar 2×4’s for the main supports, and cedar fence board for the landing board.  The main supports are grooved on the inside to accept a witness board – an old campaign sign works well.  I use 1/8″ hardware cloth for the screen, stapling the selvage edge to the front entrance and securing the other edges under the hive spacer.  I’ve settled on 1/2″ as the height of the front entrance although anything from 3/8″ to 3/4″ is common.

Print out the plans and you have a nice project for a rainy afternoon.

When they are all built, add a coat or two of paint.  You want your efforts to last at least ten years, so don’t skimp on the paint.  Bee hives are a good way to use up those odd colors of house paint you have sitting in the garage.  Color combinations add personality to your apiary.  Grey was the theme this time.

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