Winter in on 1 or 2 boxes

First of all the references in this article are all in Swedish – apologies but it is what it is.

When we took the beginners course some 8-10 years ago it was pointed out how crucial it is to ensure that the bees was crowded so it was absolutely needed to squeeze them in on one box. That turned out to be quite impossible due to the fac twe had a fairly strong hive and there was brood everywhere so in the end we surrended to the fact and let them stay on two boxes knowing they were doomed to die. How did it end? In the spring they were very much alive and kickin’ and that was the first and last time we ever considered anything but two boxes for the winter.

What does science have to say in this matter? The best studies I found was on another blog called Jano’s blogg (1) where he carried out tests on 1 and 2 boxes to see the differences. He found that bees on two boxes took the winter food rapidly, showed great resistance to disturbances (he open the hives to check the bees during the winter), used up very little food and showed no tendency for diarrhea. The bees on one box took long time to winter feed (there is no room), didnt go into a cluster (there is food everywhere), used up loads of ffod (partly because they are forced to heat up the whole food store and partly there is a big risk to start brooding to early (2) if the hive is alo to sealed up with no ventilation), died of the disturbance or suffered from diarrhea even if they wasnt disturbed. This part is also relevant for the article about Heather honey showing that it is more up to the design of the hive with space and ventilation and hence the possibility to go into cluster that decides how big the food consumption will be and not the type of food they are given.

It is uncertain where the strange ideas of 1 box have come but the best explanation I have heard is linked to the introduction of the yellow italian bees. In the south there is no harsch winter and flower can occurr at any time of the year and hence those bees are known to brood all the year and even if they have very little food in the hive. To stop the bees from brooding in the middle of the winter this system with only one box (if the hive is full of food then ther is no room for brood) was created by those who implemented these foreign bees to Sweden.

We have used the system to winter in for 8 years now and we see many advantages:

  1. It is fast to give the sugar and one can start early if the flower is already gone. One year we did the winter in already early august to avoid Heather that year.
  2. There is plenty of room for a big food store – we like them to have 17-18 kg mixed honey and sugar.Enough for any winter regardless how harsh it will be.
  3. SInce we know they ahve food that is enough also for the spring explosion we do not need to disturb them much in may – only exchange the old wax with new frames and cut out the droon broad, see Varroa management.
  4. The bees can arrange the winter storage as the please (above the cluster) and have plenty of room to also go into a efficient cluster that minimizes the risk for early brooding and hence no rdiarrhea.
  5. No stress during spring for the bee keeper – if there is a cold spring we just relax knowig they have plenty of food.
  6. No risk for early swarming due to plenty of room for the brood. A cold may as this year with a sudden explosion of high temperatures in June is a big swarm risk since the bees are sitting idle. If the hive is also crowded then you know they will swarm. We had no swarming issues this year despite the whether.

    What does Bertha the bee think? Vad tycker biet Berta då? ” Its so cozy to be close to all my sisters when its cold outside. And when I get hungry I just crawl up to the food and munch on nice honey. mmmmBZZZ”

(3) Åke Hanssons bok sid 326