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Over-wintering By Robert Macgregor

Although I am a member of BIBBA, (and would urge all other member of Barkston Ash BKA who are not currently members of BIBBA to join as well - it's only £20 a year and well worth it in my opinion), the principal luminary, Roger Patterson, has a great dislike of "under-supering" and feels this is merely a recent fad with no real benefit.

One of Roger's arguments is that bees, in the wild, place their stores above the brood and under-supering goes against the natural habit. This may well be so where the entrance is at a low level and the cavity above the entrance but is this still the case where the entrance is above the cavity - I don't know and have meant to raise this question with him.

Anyway, for a number of years I have "under-supered" and, although I have only ever kept a small number of colonies, (maximum eight), to date I have yet to lose a colony due to starvation. Roger is also a great one for asking you to question any advice you have been given, and since he so far hasn't under-supered, his argument may hold less weight than it might normally.

To "under super", my colonies are usually fed in the normal arrangement with the normal brood box and a single super on top. Once fully fed, or occasionally when they have sufficient stores without the need for feeding, I place a clean floor adjacent to the colony. Remove the roof and place the super and coverboard on the clean floor. Remove the coverboard, place the brood box on top of super, remove the queen excluder and replace the coverboard and roof. I have double stands and only need to drag the hive back into its original position. Lifting the lot, if you only have a single colony, or keep your bees on single stands may require a friend to help.

I also used to move the brood nest to the back of the brood box, against a single frame of food, with the remaining stores in front of the brood nest. The bees can then only move in one direction and should not suffer from isolation starvation This may not be best and probably the reverse would be better, with a single frame of food against the front wall, then the brood nest followed by the stores.

I no longer treat my bees with oxalic acid at the year end, but when I did, the bees were always in the top box and thus easy to treat.

In the spring you do the opposite, again giving them a clean floor, lifting the brood box from the top onto the clean floor, (you will almost always find the queen in the top), and then replacing the queen excluder. The super, from underneath, is invariably devoid of stores and after a quick check to make sure the queen has indeed stayed in the brood box, the super can be placed on top.

Should she have started laying in the super, the frame she is on can be moved into the brood box and used for drone culling, (I practice this only on colonies I feel have undesirable traits and thus fewer of these drones are allowed into the gene pool).

I have great respect for Roger who is much more knowledgeable, and certainly a better beekeeper than I am, but the above works for me and is not a great deal of work if it gets your bees through the winter

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