I'm like you, my preferred overwintering configuration is a brood box and a medium super. A medium super will get them through our winters, but they'll greatly benefit from some spring, stimulative feeding.
This is my plan, subject to my work schedule and weather. It's not perfect, but it's what kind of works for me.
1. In mid-February, I'll assess their feed needs and likely feed each hive a pollen patty slipped under the inner cover and about a 1/2 gallon of 1:1 syrup inverted over the hole in the inner cover. The cluster is mostly in that medium super. We start to have a few good foraging days.
At this point, I have a brood box and a medium super.
2. In mid-March, we start getting some warm temperatures and the daffodils bloom. Here's where I'll add another medium super, and I checkerboard the frames from the existing super with the super I've just added....to a point. I don't want to go crazy and chill the brood, so any frames of stored honey go on the outer edges and brood frames remain toward the middle of both boxes. This will give room in the upper two medium supers for the brood nest to expand.
At this point, I have a brood box and two medium supers.
3. In mid-April we really start seeing some brood action. Dandelions and fruit trees are blooming, the days are fairly warm and my optimism soars from the winter doldrums!
The cluster is now beginning to spread downward into the lower brood box. The two medium supers on top are pretty full of brood. Mid-April is really the beginning of my swarming season, but it's still a little early. I really like a Demaree plan, which is kind of a precursor to the checkerboarding.
A) If the colony has moved downward with the broodnest invading that lower brood box, I'll add another brood box of drawn comb on top of the existing brood box, insuring the queen is in the lower box. The empty brood box abover her is room for expansion. Then I'll put the two medium supers (with ample brood) on top of that empty brood box.
The idea behind this Demaree manuever is to give the queen room to expand upward, and to allow the brood in the medium supers time to emerge. Then as the nectar flow starts coming in with some consistency, these supers will be filled with nectar.
At this point, I have two brood boxes and two medium supers.
B) If, on the other hand, the colony is not expanding as fast and has not moved into the single brood box on the bottom, I'll add a third medium super, checkerboarding the frames through out the middle of all three supers.
At this point, for these hives, I have the hive set up with a single brood box on the bottom, and three medium supers with brood.
4. We have a minor nectar flow from mid-April to early May. Some swarms take place and these Demaree manipulations work for me. About Mother's Day weekend, the weather in Southeast Missouri turns frightfully cold, something the locals call, "Blackberry Winter." I mean it gets chilly at night and the days hang in the upper 50s for temperatures!
Once we clear "Blackberry Winter" (named because the wild blackberry bushes bloom like crazy at this time) the nectar flow comes on with a vengence and we can pretty much bet the farm on warm days.
A) For these hives, I'll leave the queen in the lower brood boxes, maybe even add a queen excluder to keep her down there, and add a third medium super, bottom supering (placing that third super under the existing two supers).
B) For these hives, which seem to be a little slower in their development, I'll now add a second brood box (the queen has pretty much moved down into that brood box). The empty brood box goes on top of the existing brood box (where the queen is at).
Since this colony already has three supers, I'm pretty much good to go for the nectar flow. I may add a queen excluder for insurance to keep the queen below thus keeping brood out of the supers I'm going to pull later that summer.
5. Now I have all my hives set with two brood boxes and three supers. The queen is below in the lower boxes and I"m set for the honey flow.
Why does this work for me (as I'm sure there are a lot of other readers who have better ideas)?
First, I don't like to order spring, mail-order queens and make spring splits. It just doesn't work for me and our weather is way to fickle.
Second, if I make splits, the amount of honey I harvest is quite a bit less and my primary goal for keeping bees is for the honey production. I like a good strong hive that has not swarmed and I like to give them ample super space.
Third, I like to raise my own locally-adapted queens that survive my ineptitude and procrastination. By the end of May, once I get all these hives situated, I'll start my own queen rearing.
Fourth, I also like to harvest my honey supers early and often. As soon as frames are fully capped, they're extracted and put back on. I seldom wait for the entire super to be filled and capped and I'm not opposed to pulling individual frames if they are ready. This increases my labor, but it also vastly increases my honey crop. Remember my primary goal is honey production.
By keeping the queen in the lower boxes, I have frames from which to make up mating nucs, and because I use the excluder, It's easy to dip down into those boxes and pull frames of brood for the nucs.
Fifth, our nectar flow is finished by the 4th of July. The supers all come off, the queen excluders are put away, I'll ransack those hives (now just two brood boxes) for frames to fill out my nucs. I transfer my nucs into single brood boxes with the additional frames. This is also a great time to cull old, black comb. Any old queen that didn't performed is killed and replaced with a new queen from a nuc.
My goal is to get all my hives down to one brood box with a new or 1-year old queen, equalized for strength. Then I'll top them with a medium super and begin my mite treatments. I generally have to feed toward the end of July and into August as we absolutely have no nectar flowing this time of year. Everything dries up until the fall rains bring the golden rod bloom in September.
What's not perfect with this system? Well, I know there are a bunch of guys that will not tolerate any brood development in the extracted supers. I know there are ton of guys that insist you need to make spring splits or your hives will swarm. Some beekeepers are going to balk and suggest I have chilled the brood by checkerboarding.
I dunno. You're welcome to pick my system apart and criticize my logic. This is what works for me and my bees prosper. It fits my way of keeping bees.
All the best,