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 tipand 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.
I am not a fan of tipping…it messes with the interior environment of the colony and for no good reason. In my very rainy and wet winter area I will use the insulated gabled roof design but make it such that the rooflines extend out several inches in all directions, creating more rain shelter for the hive below; a hive that will also be wrapped against the wind and rain. With a screened bottom (aka leaky) even with the trap drawer in, no sump of dead bees, hive yuck and water will form below the frames. My first hive stand acted as a sump…it was bad for me and the bees.
It strikes me that tipping is used to compensate for hive design deficiencies that should not be there in the first place.
What is moisture quilt? How is it used?
Please see How to make a moisture quilt for a Langstroth hive and then Honey bee quilt show. Those two posts should answer most of your questions.
Well, I have never heard of it, in all my weeks 😉 of experience in keeping bees. And as Miss Manners said about some wedding “custom” – “Miss Manners has never heard of this custom before. And she does not wish to hear of it again.”
By virtue of the terrain here (described as “not enough flat ground to raise a fuss”) 3 of my hives tip anyway. I can’t see that it makes the slightest difference even in very rainy weather.
There are so many good practices and clever devices, some of which may work in one area and some in others, that it is hard to see why this disturbing the hive should be necessary. Maybe you should have a “bad ideas” gallery and file this one next to hollowing out the brood nest from a few weeks ago.
I’m going with moisture quilts.
I wrote a much more scathing indictment of tipping earlier this year, but since the question keeps coming up, I wrote this post with an eye toward civility.
One note of caution regarding tilting your hive from side to side – if you let your bees build their own foundation, I’ve heard you want to be extremely careful to make the hive level from side to side. The bees build their combs “parallel” to the forces of gravity and if the hive is tilted, the comb will be, too. And you may have quite a bit of trouble removing individual frames.
Logically your hive is weather tight but with wind, driving rain, leaking feeders, etc. you can end up with a bit of a slurry on the bottom board in the summer. I start the season with the hive level left to right and an inch or so higher at the back. In productive years, tall hives can end up like the famous Italian tower so all suggestions and guidelines are up for grabs.
At the end of the season I do re-level them for the winter; the ground freezing and thawing really makes all this work somewhat pointless. In MN the moisture problems occur at the top of the hive so you need to provide an exit for that and adequate insulation. Moisture at the bottom of the hive freezes and is a non-issue. Of course porous bottom boards make all of this sort of unnecessary beekeeper busywork.
In the winter I put an insulating board on top of the inner cover and place a couple of sticks under the insulating board at the front. This allows an exist for the moisture and also lets the moisture that accumulates to run to the back of the insulating board.
You make some really good points here. I especially like the reminder about tall hives. Since I’ve started to overwinter in triple deepsand super these monsters in springlevel is really important to me.