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How to Build a Langstroth Beehive Top Cover

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The Langstroth beehive top cover is very important due to its primary function of protecting the beehive. The top cover keeps the elements out, prevents water and solid items such as snow entering from above. It works in conjunction with an inner cover to keep everything dry. The top cover can be telescoping and flat or garbled (sloped). The inner cover is always flat and does not telescope over the sides of the beehive. This article shows you how to build a Langstroth beehive top cover as well as the inner cover.

A beehive top cover is placed over the uppermost beehive box in your Langstroth beehive stack. The inner cover traditionally keeps the space at the top of the beehive within the limits of bee space so that honey bees do not build comb or use propolis on the covering of the beehive.

Beehive Top Cover Plans

There are two main plans you can use to build the top cover of a Langstroth beehive. The regular top cover is a telescoping and covers about 2 inches of the outer beehive box surface at the top of the beehive. It works with the inner cover to provide ventilation and protection to the beehive stack.

The standard top covers have up to 3 sizes they can be built in. These are 8-frame, 10-frame and for the 5-frame nuc beehives. In beekeeping, the 8-frame and 10-frame Langstroth beehives are more of concern than nucs used to temporarily house honey bee colonies. This article therefore focuses on top and inner covers for 8-frame and 10-frame Langstroth beehive boxes.

Migratory Covers

This traditional approach to covering the Langstroth beehive is being replaced by migratory covers by some beekeepers. The advantage of migratory covers is that they do away with the inner cover, and they make it easier to stack beehives on top of each other. Migratory covers have their disadvantages too, which make them not very suitable for use over long periods of time on a Langstroth beehive. Their value is only realized when used as temporary covers when you have to move Langstroth beehives, thus the ‘migratory’ in the naming of these covers.

Migratory covers are poor at allowing ventilation of the beehive and keeping out the elements. They easily allow condensation to build up in the beehive. They may also allow water to enter the hive since the cover lie flush with the uppermost beehive box.

If you must use migratory covers, make sure to remove them from the Langstroth beehives when winter approaches, and for the duration of winter. Failure to do so will easily result in the loss of the honeybee colony in beehives covered using migratory covers.

Migratory covers are used when beekeepers are moving beehives and need to stack them on top of each other. Migratory covers are cheaper and easier to build than top covers. They do not need to be used with an inner cover and thus allow faster access to the beehive when it is time to carry out an inspection or other activity that requires opening up the beehive. Due to their not being mainstream, migratory top covers are made from cheap plywood material and do not last for long.

Garbled (Sloped) Roofs

Langstroth beehive top covers are seeing modifications by beekeepers to make them better. One popular change that many beekeepers have adopted is the use of a garbled roof. It allows for ventilation at the top, provides a humidity regulation area, and provides an entrance for the bees. A garbled roof allows water to drip down the sides without touching the beehive, and removes snow from the top of the hive better than a flat telescoping cover. The garbled roof can be made using wood or metal, with metal giving better performance than wood.

Between the garbled roof and the inner cover, quilting can be added to help with humidity regulation in the beehive. Wood shavings or other suitable fillings are used in the making of quilt. With proper management, the garbled roof top can also be used to provide ventilation for the beehive. One thing you must be careful about when using garbled roof beehive covers, is the supposed entrances to the beehive left at the top. It is best to screen them so that they do not become entrances that can be used by mice or insects to gain access into the beehive.

Inner Cover

Top covers work best with inner covers. There are two main designs you can use with the inner cover. The common inner cover is made using wood and plywood. It comes on top of the uppermost beehive box and the top cover lies on it. The inner cover can be modified to make it insulated. It helps with heat conservation in the beehive. However, you may not be able to use the insulated inner cover for feeding honey bees. Insulated inner covers are great for beekeepers running beekeeping operations in very cold regions where winters pose a serious threat to honey bee colonies.

 

Building the Inner Cover

A Langstroth beehive inner cover is used to keep the hive well ventilated, and to ensure that the correct amount of ‘bee space’ is maintained at the top of the beehive. Without the inner cover, honey bees would build honeycomb onto the top cover, or seal it in with propolis. The inner cover prevents this from happening. The inner cover is also useful for removal of bees from super boxes that are set to be removed from the beehive.

Beekeepers use a oval hole in the middle of the inner cover to hold a bee escape. The bee escape allows unidirectional movement of honey bees. They can go out of the honey super, but not back in. This clears the bees for the boxes in about 4 days, so that you may remove the box without having to brush bees from the frames into the super beehive box. This is only necessary when it is time to harvest honey from the beehives. Nonetheless, the beehive inner cover greatly helps in this process.

When used in this manner, the inner cover is called an escape board. It is placed under the box to be cleared of honey bees. An escape board is used with a bee escape device. The escape device has light springs that ensure the unidirectional movement of honey bees.

Inner covers are best made using a single piece of wood. Those made from several pieces of wood often fall apart. This is because the very small thickness of the inner covers does not allow for strong joints. On average, inner covers made using more than one piece of wood do not last for their projected lifetime. Maintain the oval hole in the inner cover when you are building one to use in your beehive.

Materials

To make a Langstroth beehive inner cover, you need the following materials and equipment:

  1. Table saw, or router, or dado stack
  2. Scrap lumber can be used if it is not too spoilt and warped
  3. Plywood
  4. Hammer, or crown stapler, or brad nailer
  5. Wood glue
  6. ½ inch nails or staples
  7. 1 ½ inch nails

The inner cover is made of a frame enclosing a ¼ inch plywood in its middle. The completed inner cover measures 20 inches x 16 ¼ inches. It is made using ¾ inch wood pieces. Rabbet joints are used for best results. The plywood of a completed inner cover has wooden rims on both sides. The smaller rim is 5/16 inches thick. It holds the plywood above the frames of the uppermost beehive box at ‘bee space’. The other rim is thicker; it is about ½ an inch to give enough room for placement of bee feed such as pollen and sugar patties on the top bar when necessary.

Some top covers leave a 3/8 inches space at the front of the cover to allow honeybees an upper entrance into the beehive. Somewhere near the middle of the top cover, an oval hole of 2 x 3 inches is cut in the plywood. The hole can also be rectangular if you prefer a such a shape in your inner cover.

Steps

To make an inner cover for a 10-frame Langstroth beehive, follow the procedure below:

  1. Cut the pieces of wood that make the outer frame of the inner cover. Two pieces should be 18 ½ inches long and 1 ½ inches wide, and two pieces 16 ¼ x 1 ½ inches.
  2. Cut rabbets at the corners of the wooden pieces. The rabbet ledges should be ¾ inches wide with the depth equal to the thickness of the plywood – ¼ inches in our case.
  3. Join the frame using rabbet joints in the four corners. Nails or wood staples can be used. Be sure to apply some wood glue to the joints for the extra strength.
  4. Make the cover piece from the plywood sheet. Cut the plywood to 14 ¾ x 18 ½ for it to fit well into the frame of the inner cover.
  5. Cut out the opening for the vent on the plywood. The vent is centered, and measures 1 1/8 inches wide and 3 ¾ inches long. It has rounded ends and should be sanded for smoothness.
  6. Install the plywood cover onto the frame of the top cover to complete the job. Use some wood glue and then reinforce the whole cover with some ½ inch wood staples. The plywood must be flush with the frame on one side, and leave a rim of about ½ inch on the other side. The side that is flush is the bottom of the inner cover. It faces the uppermost beehive box in your Langstroth beehive stack.
  7. You can paint the completed inner cover if you wish to.
  8. Once completed, the inner cover is to be placed with the wooden rim facing upwards. It presents the rim to the top cover so that the top cover rests on the wooden rim. You can reverse the position of the inner cover when you have feed patties placed at the top of the beehive frames in the uppermost beehive box.

Measurements for an 8-frame Hive

The measurements for 8-frame beehives are: 18 ½ and 13 ¾ inches for the frame length, 12 ¼ x 18 ½ for the plywood insert. The complete inner cover measures 20 x 13 ¾ inches.

Measurements for an 5-frame Nuc Hive

For 5-frame nuc hives, the inner cover is smaller. It measures 20 x 9 ¼ inches when complete. The lengths of the side pieces of wood are 18 ½ and 9 ¼. The plywood cover insert is cut to 7 ¾ x 18 ½ inches.

Escape Board

The opening in the middle of the inner cover has to be to exact dimensions if it is to be used as an escape board with a bee escape device. You can use a template to cut the hole to the right measurements. Other precision methods and equipment you can use to get the hole right include using a router, a jigsaw and sanding to make the ventilation hole smooth while eating away any inaccuracies in the measurements.

Insulated Inner Cover

You can make an insulated inner cover if you are keeping bees in a very cold region. The inner cover made with insulation is thicker than the one we have described here. It uses thin plywood sheets to enclose the insulation material such as Styrofoam or polystyrene. Use a sharp blade to cut Styrofoam to get accurate cuts. If there are any spaces between the insulation material and the inner cover sides, fill them in.

Notches

Some beekeepers advice notches to be cut into the inner cover to give bees an upper entrance and exit. However, this is counterproductive for hive security. Additionally, notches in the top cover make it difficult to properly seal the hive when you need to. The only upside of such notches is the passive ventilation they may give the beehive –  something that can be achieved by other means such as inserting a small stick under the inner cover on hot days, when you really need to.

 

How to Build a Beehive Telescoping Roof

The telescoping roof is so called because it hangs over the sides of the uppermost beehive box in the Langstroth beehive stack. Most telescoping roofs hang about 2 inches over the uppermost super box. Though, some beekeepers experimenting with 3 inches of overhang have found better results with their telescoping top covers.

Materials

A telescoping cover is not difficult to make. You require the following equipment and materials:

  1. 5 inch nails
  2. ¾ inch pinewood
  3. ¼ inch plywood
  4. Aluminum trim stock
  5. Staples
  6. Wood glue
  7. Paint
  8. Metal Brake or Hand-seamer for bending the aluminum sheet

Steps

The telescoping cover is made up of a frame with plywood and aluminum sheet coming over it. The frame is made using the pinewood. Plywood is then added to the frame, and the aluminum sheet cladding comes over everything. With that in mind, follow these steps to make a telescoping cover for a 10-frame hive:

  1. Cut the frame ends and sides from the pine wood. You need 4 pieces. Two pieces are 22 inches long and 3 inches wide, while the other two are 3 inches wide and 17 ½ inches long. These pieces will be joined using a rebate joint.
  2. Assemble the telescoping cover’s frame. Use a rebate joint to minimize the exposed wood grain. It is stronger and requires you to cut rabbets that are 3/8 inched deep and ¾ inches wide at the ends of the four wood pieces. Use glue and nails on the joints. Check for square of the frame during joinery.
  3. Make the plywood cover from the ¼ plywood sheet. Cut a piece that is 18 ¼ inches wide and 22 inches long. Glue and nail the plywood cover onto the frame.
  4. Make the metal cover piece using aluminum sheet. Cut a sheet of aluminum that is 24 inches by 20 ¼ inches. The additional lengths allow for a 1-inch skirting around the top of the completed telescoping cover. Bend the aluminum using the tool you have by centering the bottom side of the metal sheet so that there is a 1-inch overhang on all the four sides of the cover. Trace the cover on the sheet using a pencil and then use a hand-seamer or other tool you have to bend the metal. Start along the edge on one side of the metal sheet and bend the metal a full 900. Test for the angle of bend and fit as you work. The metal forms V ends if you bend it well. The point of the V should be at the exact corner of the sheet and your cover.
  5. Install the metal cover over the wooden part of the cover. It should fit nicely and tight on the wooden cover. ½ inch staples do the job well. Fold the pinched V corners of the aluminum sheet against the sides of the cover to form seats. They make the corners watertight.
  6. If you would like to, paint the outer surfaces of the telescoping cover. Painting prolongs the life of the cover.

Measurements for an 8-frame Hive

For 8-frame Langstroth beehives, the telescoping cover is 22 inches long and 15 ¾ inches wide. The frame wood pieces are cut to a length of 15 and 22 inches, the plywood is 15 ¾ x 22 inches, and the metal cover is cut to 24 inches x 17 ¾ inches.

Measurements for an 5-frame Nuc Hive

With 5-frame nuc hives, the telescoping cover is 22 inches long and 11 ¼ inches wide. The frame wood pieces are cut to 10 ½ inches and 22 inches. The plywood is cut to 11 ¼ inches x 22 inches and the metal sheet is 24 x 13 ¼ inches.

Rebate joints

Rebate joints are great for the telescoping cover. If you use butt joints for your telescoping cover, reduce the lengths of the longer side pieces of wood by ¾ inches.

Considerations

The telescoping cover of a Langstroth beehive should be weighed down to keep it from being blown off by strong winds. Storms can make the top cover come off the beehive and allow the honey bee colony underneath to be drenched. Water entering the beehive in such large quantities almost always causes the death of the whole honey bee colony.

Metal sheeting is best for the top cover’s outer surface. It does a great job at keeping water out of the beehive. When using a telescoping cover, provide a means of ventilation at the upper sections of the beehive to prevent condensation. In very cold climates, it is acceptable to use a layer of Styrofoam between the inner cover and the telescoping top cover to improve insulation.

Disadvantages of Telescoping Covers

A disadvantage of the telescoping cover is its tendency to hold snow and small amounts of water at the top of the beehive. This is due to its flatness. The snow and water are not a problem for the beehive or honey bees inside, but can cause the metal sheet used on the telescoping cover to oxidize and wear out faster. As a result of this weakness, beekeepers that can afford a garbled roof for their Langstroth beehives are likely to go for the garbled roof.

A Final Word

Honey bees are able to survive cold temperatures if they are dry. They beat their wings to warm their flight muscles and the heat is spread through the hive. Wetness such as from rainwater or condensation in the beehive makes the bees unable to heat the hive and large numbers die in a short period of time. The top cover and inner cover work well in Langstroth beehives to prevent condensation while keeping water from other sources out of the beehive. Both the telescoping top and the inner cover of Langstroth beehives are easy to make. They are excellent DIY projects for beekeepers. Both experienced and beginner beekeepers can build these covers for their beehives with ease. Use the information in this article to keep your honeybees warm and dry all year round.

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