beekeeping equipment ventilation

Hive five: the best ventilation equipment

Here is an update of a previous post: my five favorite ventilation aids for a summer beehive. After experimenting for another year, I have dropped the ventilation eke from my favorites and replaced it with a ventilated gabled roof. The ventilated gabled roof is more efficient in my opinion, and assures a nice dry hive all year long.

When you are setting up a ventilation system, you certainly don’t need to use all five of these suggestions. However, the more you use, the better the ventilation will be. Good airflow lowers the internal humidity of the hive—just what you want since high humidity is unhealthy for bees and detrimental to curing honey. When selecting the method(s) you will use, remember that you want fresh air to come in through the bottom of the hive, and warm, moist air to leave through the top.

  • A screened bottom board is a good place to start since most hobby beekeepers install them as a way to reduce Varroa mites. In summer, remove he Varroa drawer so the bees get maximum fresh air through the screen.
  • A screened inner cover provides a way for moist air to leave the hive, but keeps out robbing honey bees and predators such as yellow jackets, hornets, and even wax moths. Unlike a regular inner cover, a screened inner cover requires a spacer above the screen so the moist air has a place to go.
  • A ventilated gabled roof has ventilation ports on both ends. These openings, tucked just under the peak and screened, allow a horizontal draft of air to cross the top of the hive. This airflow literally pulls the moist air out of the hive. Most houses have similar vents inserted just below the roof peak that do the same thing. I just walked outside and counted six of them in my small house.
  • Slatted racks give the bees a place to hang out which reduces the congestion between the frames and thus increases air flow. On hot days the bees hang in beards from the slats instead of jamming up the front entrance and filling in bee space. It is especially effective when used with a screened bottom board.
  • Follower boards are also used to reduce congestion in a hive. Anything that reduces congestion increases airflow. Unlike the slatted rack, the follower boards are at the sides of the hive. In my hives with follower boards, the bees used more vertical space for the brood nest. (Since the bees have only eight instead of ten combs per box, they expand into an upper box sooner.) This tall and slender hive structure is more tree-shaped and seems to provide a “chimney effect” that pulls the air through the hive. My hives with follower boards did especially well with honey production.

Of these five items, the first three provide openings for the air to come and go. The last two reduce congestion between the frames so the airflow isn’t restricted by hoards of bees. Used in combination, these items can enhance the health and comfort of your bees and give you a bigger crop of honey.

These are not the only ways to increase ventilation; they are just my favorite. Some folks like to use upper entrances, for example, and some like to use ventilation rims. Do whatever you prefer, but remember to do something.



  • Hi, new reader (and new beekeeper) here . . . So what are the signs that your bees need ventilation? All I’m doing at the moment is the screened bottom board — though I also have an empty medium up top with an inverted mason jar of syrup. It’s extra space up top, but also interferes any air flow through the hole in the inner cover.

    • Hi Andy,

      The most obvious sign is condensation on the underside of the inner cover or inside the telescoping cover. Another sign, especially in very warm weather, is bees hanging around on the outside of the hive, or on the landing board, or hanging in bunches from the landing board. It happens more quickly in hives that are very populous or ones that are trying to dry down lots of frames of nectar.

      • Thanks, Rusty, I haven’t seen any such signs, but I’m in Rhode Island and it hasn’t been too hot, yet. Also, my three colonies are all packages that I installed 5 weeks ago, so the hive population should be hitting its nadir about now, I guess. No over-crowding at the moment.

  • Hi Rusty,
    I am a fairly new beekeeper and I have started with some nucs this year in the southwest U.S. I am puzzled because my largest nuc keeps making queen cells despite ample room in the 10 frame deep brood box. They have only drawn out and started using 5 frames (the original nuc had 4), but I keep finding queen cells. Since it is getting quite hot here by now, could the heat be the problem and could any of these ventilation aids you mentioned help me to keep them from swarming? I have stopped giving syrup to this nuc–is this wrong?
    Thanks, I have been learning quite a lot from your blog!

    • Gram,

      When you say queen cells, are you referring to supersedure cells or swarm cells? If they are actually supersedure cells, they could be appearing because the workers are not satisfied with the queen’s performance and they are trying to replace her. Also, you don’t say what sub-species or race you have, but some bees build queen cups “just in case” and always have some on hand.

      If you are actually seeing swarm cells, that is harder to figure. A five-frame hive is not very big and not too likely to swarm. You could try giving them a second brood box so they have more room overhead. They may want to expand up instead of out to the sides.

      If you are not sure what your seeing, check out this post:

      The syrup is entirely up to you. Some people feed new nucs nearly all summer. Some stop in the spring. For more thoughts on how long to feed read this post:

      • Thanks Rusty,
        I had no idea that there were different queen cells. I did add a second box overhead. They are Italian bees and the cells look like the queen cups in your pictures. I found a couple of them throughout the frames, but no eggs in any of them as far as I could tell, so I am still not sure if they are supersedure or the beginnings of the peanut-shaped queen cell. I have been checking things weekly–is this too much, possibly causing them to create the cells?

        • Gram,

          It mostly depends where the cells are. Swarm cells are built along the bottom or sides of the comb and they hang down into empty space. Supersedure cells are most often built on the face of the comb, not along the edges. In either case, without eggs I wouldn’t worry about them. Italians don’t build as many supersedure cells as some other types, but most bees build some.

          I think weekly inspections would be unusual for an experienced beekeeper, but I think it’s normal for a beginner. You can’t learn without actually looking in there and seeing what the bees are doing. They will probably put up with you for awhile, just don’t spend a lot of time in there—get in and get out quickly. Eventually you will want to space your inspections a little more—maybe shoot for 10 days to two weeks. But for now, don’t worry.

  • Your last two posts—overnight splits and ventilation—have been brilliant. Such practical information. I am busily getting ready for the Jubilee street party, which will actually take place in our back garden so I hope you won’t mind that in my next post I will probably just link to your gems.

    Carry on the good work.

  • I like the All Season ventilated inner covers from Honey Run Apiaries in Ohio. They come with a 3″ insulation foam insert that has a removable plug for feeding. I’ve seen a lot less bearding since using them.

  • Hi Rusty,

    I really enjoy your posts, keep ’em coming. I’m really intrigued by this topic of “ventilation”. In my bee club, it’s all the rage. I remove bees from structures and trees for a living and have done so for the last 7 years. I do somewhere between 30-50 extractions per year so I see a lot of bees in their somewhat natural choices of living space.

    In my own hives and others that I maintain, where ever there is “airflow” I see the bees trying to shut that down with propolis-every time. I must tell you, the bees I’ve seen in the wild, do not live with much ventilation. Almost always, there is little or none if they have their way. I find this fascinating since almost all schools of beekeeping promote this idea of “air flow”. The bees don’t like it in my experience and will propolize and inner cover that has a screened opening on one end for instance. I’ve been told that in natural tree hives, that the wood “absorbs the moisture”. My theory is that because bees are basically making bee-jerky out of nectar-reduciing moisture of nectar from 60% to 17% they prefer a set up much like a smoker when smoking meats. A little air flow maybem but very little is the preference.

    Inside trees that I’ve chainsawed open, where the bees have been there sometime, what I’ve seen is that the wood is coated throughout with propolis and wax-not too absorbent. My opinion is that giving them plenty of room underneath the brood nest, whatever that may entail in the way of “boxes” without giving them wind or air circulation out the top, mimics what they choose to have in nature, ie. tree. I keep thinking about a natural tree hive as my model. If the opening of a hive is too open they will, over time, propolis it to a smaller size if they can. If we leave the mite monitoring tray off all the time to give them more “ventilation”, they will produce little or no extra honey because they will have to keep the “heater on” all the time in the cool evenings, and the “honey smoker” isn’t efficient.

    Just my two observational two cents.


    • Chris,

      What you say makes perfect sense, but in all the natural hives I’ve ever seen, not one was soaking in water. On the other hand, I’ve opened man-made hives of many types to find water collecting on the inside of the lid or inner cover and dripping onto the frames, running down the inside of the boxes, and/or soaking the bees.

      Something is obviously different between a tree and a man-made hive. I also believe that unless you are keeping bees in a tree, you are better off with ventilation. Ventilation is what we can offer the bees in place of trees.

  • Hi Rusty,

    I’m thinking about using screened bottom boards. Do you know how effective they are at killing mites? Will my bees cover the screen with propolis?

    • Adam,

      Screened bottom boards do not kill mites. They allow mites that land on the screen to fall out of the bottom of the hive.

  • Thanks, good to know. I didn’t mean to repost the comment so many times. You can delete the others.

    Do you know how I can keep the bees from covering the screened bottom board with propolis?

    • Adam,

      In all my years of beekeeping, I have never seen bees propolize the bottom board. If it’s a problem, just scrape it off.

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