As Monty Python would say "and now for something completely different".
I have been experimenting with Roland's methods, he has been gracious to share them. I ran some of my hives Roland style last summer and I was happy with the results, and so when I learned how he overwinters I thought it was worthy of a trial. Roland told me he overwinters in a single deep with an empty box below it - sometimes with combs, but sometimes empty.
I ran the hives #11, and #6 over the summer in a single deep raising 2-3 brood frames above the excluder and then, when emerged, placing those 2-3 frames below and replacing 2-3 more, and so on. These were Koehnen packages with MH queens. I harvested 3 1/2 mediums and 1 1/2 deeps from hive #11, and 2 mediums and 80% of a deep from hive #6.
Hive #4 was a combine that I cut down into one deep with a queen cell, from this hive I harvested 3 1/2 mediums.
On september 10th I added an empty deep below each of these 3 singles. Then I started to feed them, and we also had a decent Goldenrod flow going. I fed hive #11 3 gallons, hive #6 5 gallons, and hive #4 4 gallons. The hives were wrapped with tar paper, and 2 inches of insulation was added to the top. I run upper entrances via the "All season" covers and then a telescopic cover on top.
Roland told me that the empty deep provides the bees somewhere to cluster, and when you consider how many bees are left after summer and are all trying to cram into a single deep it makes sense to me to give them more space when the supers go away. All my drawn brood comb was in use, I had heard that bees don't like to sit on undrawn plastic frames.
I opened up these three hives on Sunday 11th March after not having been in them since the fall. I am on a photobucket kick, and took some photos.
I expect some beeks will go aaaahhhhh crazy comb. True it is crazy comb, but it served a function - it gave the bees a space of their own making to hang out in before they needed to go up into the packed-out conventional 10 frame single. It also kept them off the ground. It took me less than 10 minutes to cut it off, and now we are back to movable frames; I plan to use some of the comb for a swarm trap and cut-cell queen rearing. There was barely any honey left in the comb I cut off, but there is about 3-4 combs worth left in each hive. The comb itself is clean. The hive floor was clean in all three hives, and the bottoms of the deep combs are in great shape.
I am satisfied with this experiment, and wonder whether the bees are better off in some part of the winter in the convoluted comb that they drew out; I would think that hives #11 and #6 in particular must have been less drafty due to the curvy comb.
If all goes well I will try this again next winter, and see how it compares in a more normal cold wisconsin winter. My wintering strategy last winter was to have colonies in a variety of configurations from two-storey nucs all the way to three deeps. I figured some would survive, I hadn't expected them all to! Who knew how easy this winter would be?
I am posting this because I haven't heard of anyone but Roland doing it, and Beesource is for sharing. I wasn't freaked out by the free comb as the first hive I had was a top bar hive. If natural comb scares bothers you then don't try it. In warmer climates where you want to access the combs all the time it wouldn't work as well, where I live we don't get in the hives for 5 months in a row as it is too cold.
I think Rolands methods are an interesting combination of a highly intensive summer method, and a low intensity winter method.