Why tip my hive?
Sometimes we do things, and pass tips onto others, without really thinking about why. This morning, for example, someone asked me how far he should tip his hive forward. It seems that the members of his bee club said it was necessary to tip a hive forward but didn’t tell him why or how much. Another member took him aside after the meeting and said he should tip it to the side instead, but again, he didn’t say why. This shouldn’t happen to new beekeepers; they are trying to learn.
The first purpose of tipping is to discourage rain water from running into the hive and puddling on the bottom board. Tipping the hive forward enables the water to flow out of the hive entrance. Some prefer the side tip so the water does not sheet over the landing board. This is important if you are using a solid bottom board. But today’s screened bottom boards eliminate this problem. Even screened bottom boards with the Varroa drawer in place leak enough to purge any accumulating water.
The second purpose of tipping is to force condensation that has accumulated on the inner cover to run to the front or side of the hive and drip down the inner wall instead of dripping on the bees. From what I’ve seen, this doesn’t work well unless you have a severe tip—and a severe tip (especially to the side) leads to other problems. In my opinion, you need to prevent condensation in the first place.
I asked this confused would-be beekeeper if he will have a screened bottom and, indeed, he already purchased it. He already built a hive stand too, but after the bee club meeting he worried that he should have built it on a slant instead of level. He was sure he’d end up killing all his bees.
It is far better to understand the issues than try to keep bees based on a set of rules. I would tell any beekeeper that a slight tip forward or to the side may help keep rainwater from accumulating on the landing board, but it is not critical, especially in areas of normal rainfall. Furthermore, you can always try level to start. If rain doesn’t drain from the landing board as fast as you like you can shim the back of the hive for a slight tilt or you can get rid of the landing board altogether.
To prevent condensation on the inner cover try a gabled roof, ventilation holes, an insulated inner cover, a moisture quilt, or a combination. It is far better to prevent condensation than try to move it.