beekeeping equipment wintering

A tip for torrential rains: hive shelter

Last night brought the first really heavy rains of the season to western Washington. It reminded me that beekeepers should keep their hives tipped slightly forward so rainwater doesn’t run into the hive.

This is especially true if you are using a solid bottom board. If you are using a screened bottom, the water will run through even if you have the “drawer” in place because most Varroa drawers fit only loosely. But if your bottom board is watertight you need to prevent puddles inside the hive and at the entrance.

In any case, excessive moisture in the hive is a bad thing. If you live in an area with much rain, a simple roof made of a piece of plywood secured in place with a ratcheting tie-down goes a long way toward keeping a hive dry. You can also keep your hives under a permanent roof.

Many urban beekeepers have their hives on a covered porch or balcony which can provide excellent rain protection. Or you can build a covered hive stand.

What you do—if anything—depends on how much rain you get, how water tight your hives are, and how much time and effort you want to spend. But tipping the hive forward is both quick and easy—and provides lots of benefit.

Honey Bee Suite

A tip for torrential rains: a hive shelter made from plywood and attached with a tie-down.

A plywood board held in place with a ratcheting tie-down makes a great hive shelter. © Rusty Burlew.

This covered hive stand also gives good protection for most non-windy rains.

This covered hive stand also gives good protection for most non-windy rains. © Rusty Burlew.


  • Rusty,

    I’ve been trying to figure out all this nomenclature for hives. Varroa drawer, slatted Bottom rack, follower boards etc…

    What is a Varroa Drawer? Is it just a piece of plastic board placed under the screened bottom?

    In the pictures above, it looks like the slatted bottom rack is on top of the entrance but below the first super. Is that correct? (I’d love a photo of this. I found plans on the internet but it is a drawing and difficult to figure out.)

    And finally, the slanted landing boards that your hives are sitting on, what are they called and are there plans for them on this site?

    So many questions, I know… thanks for your wonderful blog posts. I read them almost daily and have learned so much.


    • Michelle,

      For sure, terminology can be confusing . . . and when you don’t understand what the words mean, nothing else makes sense. Yup, a Varroa drawer is just a piece of wood or plastic that slides under the brood boxes. It is usually sprayed with oil to catch the mites that fall onto it. Why it’s called a drawer is anybody’s guess.

      A slatted rack goes between the bottom board and the brood boxes. After the bees go in the entrance, they go up through the slatted rack. I’m sure there is a photo somewhere on the site. Or maybe not. I’ll try to post one.

      The slanted landing boards came from Mann Lake. I think they call them hive stands. I’ll have to check but, no, I don’t have plans for them here. They would be really easy to make though.

      • I imagine the verroa drawer may be named ‘drawer’ because on the FlowHive, those amazing time-saving Aussie hives, there is an actual drawer-like tray that slides in under the hive. Its about an inch deep, allowing for a nice pool of oil to catch any hives beetles that are pushed through by the ‘domestic help’. It’s a very useful tray now that Australia is dealing with verroa mites too. It’s only been about 6 months and it’s changed the industry.

        • Justine,

          The term “drawer” for a varroa tray has been around for decades, since long before the Flow Hive.

  • Sometimes I get lost in all the different idea folks have about how to best winter over their hives. Here in So. Oregon most do not close up their screened bottom boards but they do provide a moisture quilt as well as tilt the hive as you said. But recently I spoke to some new beekeepers locally and not only are they closing up the bottoms, but they are wrapping the hives in black paper as well as placing the quilt on top. One beekeeper is even using a heater under her hive (huh?). I asked if she felt this might not generate excessive moisture but it’s hard talking to newbies. It fell on deaf ears. I know you get a lot more rain than we do but is there such a thing as wrapping (closing) them up too much?????

    Thanks (Love the site!!)

    • Barbara,

      You can’t talk to some newbies. You have to let them lose their hives a few times before they re-group and begin to learn some bee biology.

      There is no reason to wrap hives except in the harshest of climates. Even then, many beekeepers get them off as soon as possible. Any mistakes will leave you with a wet, moldy, soggy, and probably dead hive. I consider hive-wrapping to be an advanced skill, one that takes learning and practice. I know people who are good at it. Most live in Canada or in the border states—they don’t live in southern Oregon.

      If you wrap when temperatures are basically above freezing, the bees will be active all winter long. Chances are they will starve in the spring if they live that long. The wood of the hive can’t breathe, mold forms, and other lifeforms thrive too, such as hive beetles and wax moths. The heater is an even worse idea: bees don’t die of cold, they die of starvation. Heat makes them so active they starve sooner. You want them clustering, you don’t want them walking around thinking it’s spring. If heaters were the answer, everyone would be doing it. It’s not the answer.

      Don’t worry about them. Once they learn some basic bee biology, they will stop doing it. Please see, “I was so much smarter then.”

  • Is it better to prevent snow from accumulating around the hive for better ventilation or allow it for insulation?

    (I just want to confirm that this is still current.) Below the bottom brood box, do you still suggest a slatted rack, then a screened bottom board with a drawer? Do you use a sticky board?

    • Kim,

      Remove enough snow for ventilation but leave the rest for insulation.

      From the bottom up, I have a hive stand, screened bottom board (with removable tray), slatted rack, first brood box. Personally, I do not use a sticky board.

  • If you’ve done your research – you’ll find that bees consume the LEAST amount of honey between 40-50F. Also – under harsh cold conditions its extremely important that bees be able to *break cluster* to get at their food stores. I’m a 2nd year bee keeper who kept both of my hives alive this winter. Both of my mentors and also a neighbor suffered 100% and 60% losses respectively, mostly from early spring starvation. I live in North Central Massachusetts.

    Here’s are some key things

    Have a state bee inspector check your hives in mid August. And take notes!
    That’s early enough for you to make any pre-winter corrections you’ll need,
    in order for your bees to get through winter.

    (1) Make sure your hives get maximum feeding (syrup) in early Fall, before night time temps get below 50F, as the bees cannot dehydrate liquids to make capped stores if the temps fall below 50. After that use fondant or sugar bricks. (2) “Feed the bees that feed the bees that overwinter.” If the honey stores are low in mid August, then those bees will be poorly suited to raise the Winter bees. Also get your mite treatments done regularly, so they are not sick in the Fall. ( I use mostly OAV – gentler on the bees). (3) Make sure your hives get MAXIMUM SUN in the winter. Mine almost do, yet I added a simple board (painted black) in front and below the hive entrance (wrapped in clear plastic), some people add a black plastic skirt to their hive stand too (or a bee cozy). – This allows for daily passive solar heating. (But, don’t put them in a warm greenhouse over the winter!). With proper stores and proper peaks/valleys of hot/cold, they’ll be able to break cluster during the day to get at those stores. (4) Put sugar bricks or fondant *DIRECTLY*on the tops of the frames, so they don’t have to break cluster to get at the food. (5) put a top insulation board of 2 inch insulation on top of the inner cover, to keep them warmer. Use a small entrance setting, but add more top ventilation (I drilled a 3/8 in. hole in my sugar shim board). Tilt your hives forward. I wrapped my hives in tar paper too, but that may not be needed ->. (6) Make sure you have a good wind break, if you not wrapping your hives. Wind causes HUGE temperature fluctuations and a lot of stress in the colony. Make sure you put up a wind break around your hive. I have seen some people put insulation boards ALL the way around their hives, but if you do that, you lose the daily solar heating advantages. Its far better for your hives to get maximum sun, so long as they are NOT in a wind tunnel location. (eg: insulate on 2 or 3 sides, but not all the way around, or you block out the sun and may cause a cold/dark refrigerator affect.) Think about it, on clear days its colder, but you have sun to heat your hives. On overcast days, its usually warmer, clouds act as a blanket to keep the heat in. So you need something that helps ‘enough’ in both situations, AND you need good food stores for the fall, just in case winter temps are outside the 40-50 range. When I did my fall feeding, I didn’t know what they would do with all the food (5 gallons of syrup in each hive). In March, one hive had 14 frames of capped syrup stored. The other one only had 4 frames left. But both of them survived the winter! What to do with all this capped syrup? – Make Spring splits- create fresh queens, and increase your odds for next year.

    If you’ve ever had to help someone break down a dead hive, you’ll always rejoice later when you’ve done *everything you can do* and your bees survive the winter. – Its a milestone victory, and this year I was educated enough by the inspector and my research, and also very lucky that the bees were not sick and temps did not get too cold. — Knowledge is power, and there’s some luck in there too. Next year, I’ll go into the winter with more colonies (nucs) that I make from splits, so the odds will be even more in my favor.

    Good luck to you and your bees.

  • I guess the rule is to never leave advice if another bee keeper has a monopoly on the answers. ;^)
    Spring is here – at least in our local northern hemisphere.
    Enjoy it while it lasts.

  • Hi Rusty. I like the design of your multiple hive stand on the 1st picture. The idea is good. But I would not put a roof on because it would not serve much of a purpose and I would be afraid of damage from strong wind. And on your picture I would not like to be the one working on the middle hive. I would make it as long as I need depending on # of hives and leave at least 3 feet every 2 hives. It would look very neat, probably lest mouse ect any easier to keep weeds away. Thanks for the idea. Gerry

  • Hi Rusty, I’d love to do something like this for my hives, I have a great site but I’m concerned that its too damp and rainy (Seattle). I wondered how you access the middle hive without ending up with a herniated disk ;-). Do you just access them from the back side?


  • Can I ask how tall the stand is, at its lowest point, in the second picture is? Looking to build something like this with the roof and just want to make sure I’m leaving enough space for the bees to fly up and for me.

  • Rusty, I just love your site, and can’t thank you enough for all you share on here! I hope you don’t mind the following query:

    I’m a first-year beekeeper in Vancouver, BC, and it rains quite a bit here throughout our fall and winter season. I’m headed towards my first winter with the bees in a few months, so I’m trying to plan ahead. I believe our weather is similar to yours (mostly rain; rarely in the minuses), so I’m curious if you leave the removable varroa board OUT of the screened bottom board throughout the entire winter to allow for ventilation and prevent condensation?

    I don’t have an upper entrance on my hives, but I have a quilt box with ventilation holes. I am hoping to overwinter single brood boxes with the following configuration (from top to bottom): Outer cover, 1/2″ insulation foam, quilt box with screened ventilation holes and moisture quilt, inner cover, brood chamber, slatted racks, screened bottom board without a tray, hive stand – no wrap). Does that sound about right to you? The mind boggles at all the factors to consider. I’d appreciate any insight. Also, would you add a skirt to the hive stand to keep the warm in, perhaps, or to prevent rain from splashing up into the hive?

    • Kacey,

      Don’t put the inner cover below the quilt box because you want the warm air to move freely up through the wood chips. It can’t if the inner cover is in the way. You can put the inner cover atop the moisture quilt or leave it off completely.

      I slide the varroa boards in if the nighttime temperatures get down into the 20s F. I never use a skirt, but my hives are about 18 inches off the ground. If you think yours may get splashing, skirts would be fine.

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