DIY Screened Inner Covers
Reading Time: 6 minutes
If you use telescoping outer covers in your beekeeping operation, chances are good you also use some form of inner cover. Many utilize these handy contraptions as additional insulation while others use them as upper entrances. Still others use inner covers to keep bees from propolizing the more expensive outer covers to hive bodies. One of the primary purposes of inner covers, however, is to increase ventilation throughout the hive during varying types of weather. To optimize this air flow, many beekeepers forego the more traditional inner covers in favor of the newer screened versions. So, here’s a little DIY to show you how to create and use your own screened inner cover with little out of pocket expense.
Unlike more traditional inner covers which typically boast a single hole in the center and a small upper entrance on one end, screened inner covers utilize a wooden frame fitted with #8 hardware cloth stretched across its entire surface. No centralized hole is present as air flow readily escapes through the wire mesh. Upper entrances are optional just as with more traditional inner covers but are simple additions when DIYing.
Another significant difference in the construction of most screened inner covers is the addition of two recessed sides, most often on the long sides of commercially built inner covers. These recessed sides allow the air pushing through the screen to exit the hive beneath the outer cover and into the great world beyond. Bee space is accounted for on the bottom side of the inner cover to reduce the tendency of bees propolizing frame top bars to the bottom side of the screen.
Screened inner covers are used in the same manner as traditional inner covers. Placed directly beneath the telescoping outer cover, this type of inner cover is often left in place year-round as many have found the increased ventilation keeps condensation from collecting on the underside of the outer lid during cold, wet weather. This in turn not only keeps mold and mildew issues on outer cover undersides to a minimum but also assists in reducing condensation dripping onto clustered bees and chilling the cluster. Shims may also be placed above the screened inner cover to allow for the addition of winter quilting which provides additional insulation and condensation collection.
Cold, wet weather is not the only time screened inner covers are helpful. Hot, humid summers as seen in my Arkansas bee yards is another prime time to give these contraptions a try. Many feel the screened versions keep colonies cooler while increasing honey production. The idea is bees don’t have to work as hard to keep the colony’s temperature and humidity levels within the preferred ranges due to the additional ventilation, thus allowing the colony’s energy to be better spent on honey production.
Inner covers are a piece of equipment that not all beekeepers find necessary. However, just as many folks enjoy utilizing varying types of hive setups and even different protective gear, screened inner covers are no exception. And while commercial options are readily available, screened inner covers are simple to DIY and inexpensive to build. As with all things in beekeeping, experimentation is key — and lots of fun — in order to determine if this form of inner cover works in your specific operation.
DIY Screened Inner Cover #1
When I first tried screened inner covers I didn’t want to fork over the cash for commercially manufactured versions. Instead, I wanted to keep costs to a minimum in the event I didn’t like how they performed. So, for my first go with screened inner covers, I started with one of my traditional versions that I already had on hand and made modifications. This version works beautifully and has held up well over several seasons. Most colonies do not propolize the screen, foragers continue to use the upper entrances, and over-wintering with these screens during Arkansas winters has never caused an issue to date.
Here’s how I modified the standard inner cover into a screened cover:
- Remove the inner wooden panel, leaving ½-1” edge around the edges to attach mesh. Most standard inner covers use very thin wooden panels for the center portion of the cover. This thin wood is fairly simple to remove with various tools such as a reciprocating saw or other type of cutting tool. I’ve even used old inner covers with busted out wood to turn into screened covers with much success. Use what you have on hand and modify as needed.
- Next, staple #8 hardware cloth to all four sides of the frame. Mesh may be stapled on either side of the frame. However, this can violate bee space a bit causing bees to propolize the screen over time.
- Once the screen is in place, cut a small opening in the mesh either in the center as seen in traditional inner covers or place a single hole near the upper entrance. This hole allows the cover to be placed on the hive in the same manner as traditionally used-with the entrance on top. For extra ventilation, additional upper entrances may be notched into the frame or longer cuts made similar to the recessed sides found on commercial screened inner covers. However, it is possible no additional venting may be needed.
DIY Screened Inner Cover #2
If a from-scratch DIY project is more your thing, many plans exist to get you started. Here’s a simple plan that doesn’t require the more advanced woodworking skills of some and works just as well as the commercial options.
A note: Most plans call for ripping a 1”x4” length of pine or similar lumber into smaller strips to build the frame. However, as in all things, use what you have on hand as many beekeepers do not have power tools or table saws hanging around their garage. Hardware stores or lumber yards are also very helpful and will often cut lumber to size if you give them the dimensions.
For a 10-frame Langstroth inner cover you’ll 2 long sides and 2 short sides cut to these dimensions:
- 2 – ¾” x 1-¼” x 18 ½” (long ends)
- 2 – ¾” x 1-¼” x 16 ¼” (short ends)
- 2 – ¾” x ¼” x 20” (elevation slats)
- #8 hardware cloth cut to fit frame
- Staples to attach mesh
- Nails or screws to connect frame ends
For the simplest approach, build the frame like a picture frame.
Place the short ends to the inside of the long ends and nail or screw together. Pre-drilling holes prior to setting nails and screws creates a stronger hold while wood glue and a square better ensure 90-degree angles for the best fit on the hive body. However, as with most things, this isn’t entirely necessary unless a near perfect fit is your preference.
Once the frame is built, staple mesh to all four sides of the frame. To create the elevation needed to allow maximum airflow under the outer cover, staple the thin elevation slats to the top of the mesh on the two long sides.
If more elevation is required for better air flow or to function as upper entrances while aiding ventilation, a second pair of slats may be added to the first. Alternatively, use ½” slats instead of the ¼” for a cleaner appearance.
Regardless of which type of screened inner cover you select, the potential benefits of increased ventilation, reduced condensation as well as improved access to honey supers for the foragers makes these inner covers worth a try in most bee operations. So, grab a few tools, an old inner cover and a few materials and give these covers a try.
KRISTI COOK lives in Arkansas where every year brings something new to her family’s journey for a more sustainable lifestyle. She keeps a flock of laying hens, dairy goats, a rapidly growing apiary, a large garden, and more. When she’s not busy with the critters and veggies, you can find her sharing sustainable living skills through her workshops and articles.
Originally published in the Spring 2023 issue of Backyard Beekeeping and regularly vetted for accuracy.