beekeeping equipment muddled thinking wintering

Should my hive tilt forward?

Maybe I’m becoming too cynical, but here’s another beekeeping discussion that makes me crazy. It usually begins when someone asks this reasonable question: “If I’m using a screened bottom board, do I still need to tilt the hive forward?”

The answer is “no.” Tilting a hive forward is important for anyone using a solid bottom board because rainwater or snowmelt can accumulate on the alighting board or blow through the entrance and become trapped inside the hive. A driving wind can blow in a substantial amount of precipitation. But a hive tipped forward allows the water to drain back out.

On the other hand, a screened bottom board is—for want of a better word—screened. Water that comes in through the entrance drops out the bottom. Even with the Varroa drawer in place, the water is removed from the bees’ living quarters and eventually slides off the edge of the drawer and out the bottom of the hive.

Fair question. So far, so good. But then, like clockwork, someone offers this truly bazaar bit of advice: “Even with a screened bottom board you need to tilt the hive so moisture condensing on the inner cover will run to the edge and drain instead of dripping on the bees.” You’ve got to be kidding. Are these people serious? Would they treat malaria with a bandage?

If you have so much condensation at the top of your hive that it flows when tipped, what you need is not a system of diversion drains and downspouts. What you need is a solution to the problem.

Even if you could prevent water from dripping on the bees by draining it off the inner cover (which I doubt—some would drip anyway), much of the water is just going to run down the inside of the hive and wet the interior wall. Some of this water will evaporate and, since evaporation is a cooling process, it will further cool the hive. The saturated wood will not dry easily, but it will sprout a nice assortment of mold, mildew, and fungus.

The same holds true if you skip the inner cover and use only a telescoping outer cover. If the cover is in contact with the edges of the hive (which it probably is) the water will drain down the inside, not the outside, of the hive. This is not what you want.

Most of that moisture can be controlled by providing adequate through-ventilation, insulating the cover, and/or providing a moisture quilt to collect water vapor. Although some humans have water cascading down the walls of their living rooms and call it art, the bees will be healthier if you omit the water feature and prevent the moisture from accumulating in the first place. Dry bees are happy bees.


I prefer a level hive.


  • At the beekeeping club, an older member said hives should tip sideways, not forward, with little holes on the side to allow any water to drain out. Mine doesn’t tip at all,really.

      • Through the bottom board. This guy is in his eighties so he has experiance with what he is talking about but I cannot imagine my hive having so much water that it needs drainage holes.

        • Interesting. But going back to the original post, if you have a screened bottom board you wouldn’t need to drill holes. And if you were using a solid bottom board, and you tipped it forward, you wouldn’t need holes either. So it seems odd to tip it sideways and drill holes, since you could just tip it forward and not drill holes.

          In any case, that’s way too much water to have in the hive.

          • I don’t remember his reasoning quite, but it had to do with the bees needing a dry entrance, and a solid bottom board, according to him, when tipped forward would make it so that the bees would have to walk through water.

  • I was told to tip my hives for the same reason, to allow any condensation on the inner cover to run down the front inside wall of the hive. I, too, doubt that tilting makes much difference for that, but I tilt them forwards anyway, at least while I still have solid bottom boards.

  • My hives tilt forward because the ground under the cinder blocks are uneven. I often wonder if the bees get tired climbing uphill into their house all the time.

  • Hi Rusty ( great site !!)

    New to beekeeping ( Sydney Australia ) – My hives 3 weeks old 😉

    I have a solid bottom board , and I’m getting water there when it rains .. So I’m going to need to tilt it forwards .. is there too much tilt that may make the bees suffer in some way ? ( and also I *had a apithor beetle trap – that got wet and I lost sleep wondering if I’d poisoned my girls ) You mention its required for solid boards – but not how far to raise the back…

    Any thoughts gratefully accepted…


    • John,

      Welcome to beekeeping. The tilting won’t hurt the bees. I’ve seem some hives at really odd angles, yet the bees seem to do just fine. That said, you don’t want the hive to fall over. I would tip it just enough to get the water to flow away from the opening. Prop it up and then pour a little water on the landing board/bottom board and watch the water. If it flows out, you’re good.

    • Dennis,

      If you have a solid bottom board, tip it enough for the rain to run out. If you have a screened bottom board, just make the hive level.

  • How much slope on a level flat surface do i tilt my hives forward (solid bottom boards). Is 1/4 inch enough and is 1-inch too much? Please just give me the measurement necessary.

    • Don,

      Tilt it until a cup of water poured on the bottom board runs out the front. I have no idea of the measurement.

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