I just inspected a hive I have been feeding since mid-Sep (had no stores at that time). They have capped at least 60-70lbs of honey since then in the three mediums and the brood nest has shrank from a full 8 frame medium to about 3.5 medium frames. The hive was a 3 medium lang set up w/ 4 frames of capped honey and two empty frames in the top box (other two half drawn & uncapped)--all w/ foundation. The middle box had 3.5 frames of brood on the entrance side (been reduced for two months or so) w/ the rest of the frames capped honey--six of these frames were foundationless. The bottom box had about four frames w/ capped honey (each frame 0.5 to 0.75 drawn w/ capped honey), a fifth frame they were working on and three empty half drawn frames (all foundationless).
The empty frames on top and on bottom were un-occupied. I have read that you should have three mediums for the winter cluster but is this still the case if they don't occupy the full three boxes? I removed the empty bottom frames and added the capped top frames in the bottom box and put this on top of the brood box and removed a box. Now they are a 2 medium hive and can occupy all the space--no empty voids. Is this the correct thing to do and just add candy/sugar should they run out of stores before winter's end?
My gut tells me this is the correct course of action rather than having capped honey under and above the cluster and a large amount of un-patrolled pre-cluster space. Do folks usually have a box of space (cumulative) that is more or less un-occupied as the nights cool off or do you reduce the hive volume to the point where they fit snugly inside? I realize there will still be some un-occupied space once they cluster up but think having it now may not be optimal.
Opinions much appreciated.