Should My Supers Be Below the Inner Cover for Winter?

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Should My Supers Be Below the Inner Cover for Winter?
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Rebecca from New Jersey asks:

 I have four hives that did very well this summer, and I harvested over 200 lbs. of honey. The supers are back on the hives since the last harvest in June and are full again with capped and uncapped honey. I live in northern New Jersey where the winters can be very cold (or not). My question is, can I leave partially capped honey on the hives, and whatever the answer, should they be above or below the inner cover? Right now they are above the inner cover. All this assumes there is ample storage in the brood boxes.

Rusty Burlew, one of our Backyard Beekeeping experts, replies:

It’s common to find many uncapped cells of honey at this time of year. The bees may not be finding enough nectar to completely fill the cells, or humid weather may make it difficult for the bees to dry the honey to the proper moisture level. In this situation, beekeepers often put the inner cover below the honey supers to encourage the bees to move it down to the brood area. Sometimes this works, and sometimes not. The colony may feel they have enough honey in the brood boxes, or perhaps the workforce is busy with something else.

That honey, both capped and uncapped, is excellent winter feed, but if you are using it as winter feed you definitely need to remove the inner cover. During winter, the cluster forms around the brood nest, and the bees rotate, taking turns being on the outside. Retriever bees periodically leave the cluster and go above to get feed and bring it down to the cluster, where it is distributed by trophallaxis. Retrieving is a tough assignment since the bees can quickly become too cold to complete the mission. If they die up there, the bees down below are also in peril.

In light of the difficulty, you don’t want to make it any harder than necessary. Having the inner cover in the way can block their pathway and funnel the heat to a small area instead of generally throughout the super. In addition, the retriever bees may have to travel further—first to the opening, then away from it to the food, and then back to the hole, and then back to the cluster.

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