I keep a few pieces of 1X4 on my bee cart that are cut to the length of a hive. If the bees are grumpy, I put a few on top of the hive leaving open only the area where I'm working. I think it does calm them down a bit and reduces the number in the air.
A cloth would probably work too. I've seen plans for a system with two pieces of cloth attached together with a gap in the middle so you can move the work area around. The system had weights on the ends to keep it from flapping in the wind. I think the boards are easier to move around the top of the hive and easier to clean the bees off of when you need to.
I have one. I've hardly every used it. If you're doing extensive work on a nice hive, they are useful in keeping them calm longer. A similar effect to a top bar hive as only a couple of frames of bees are exposed. But in reality, it seems like a nice hive doesn't need one and a mean hive you're in too big of a hurry to use one.
I made a few out of canvas. Rebar sewn into the ends keeps them down ontop of the hive bodies/supers I've removed while inspecting. I've wet them with water sometimes to make them more pliable. Keeps alot of bees out of the air and in late summer can keep the robbing down. I've seen them made out of vinyl which may be a better material for the job.
Can't have too much stuff! Especially if its home made.
The best use I have found for mine is as a cover when collecting honey. You can spray some of Uncle jims bee go stuff on it and the bees will leave your stack of pulled supers alone while you are pulling the next one. Especially handy if you pull one frame at a time.
It is also handy if you are working in a light rain or mist.
I tried using it when I was doing an extraction, covering up a box, but it got all sticky and didn't work like I thought it would.
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