I have let the bees winter and yesterday opened the hives for a little spring cleaning and examination. What I found was consistent with current beekeeping challenges around the country.
In the Langstroth hive, the colony is bursting at the seams. Both of the hive bodies (10 frame, deep) are completely full of bees. They have a little honey and pollen left, but the queen is busy doing her job and building up the population. I didn't see any queen cells on the frames, but I didn't get to do as thorough an examination as I would have liked. Still, I am almost certain that a swarm from this hive is inevitable in the next couple of weeks. I did super the hive with a 10 frame short (6 inch) honey super to encourage the bees to draw out some comb and maybe even expand into there rather than swarm. If they will move up into the short super, I will most likely try and split the colony into two before they swarm. It's not a guarantee, but as long as I remember that these bees are experimental and I am not all that interested in maximum honey production, I have no problems experimenting with the different beekeeping techniques that are out there. I have offered this hive to the man who originally loaned me the beekeeping equipment just because two hives on my lot has encroached too much on CJs and the kids' play space. The smaller top bar hive will be adequate for my own trees and garden needs. He'll probably be collecting them from me some evening this or next week.
One problem with this colony is that I saw varroa in the drone cells of the Langstroth hive, so that needs to be remedied. A bottom screen and the appropriate medication should help remedy the problem. This is an issue with Langstroth hives that most beekeepers experience.
Now on to the top bar hive. Yesterday's nice weather had the girls from the Langstroth colony going gangbusters, but there was no movement at the entrance to the top bar hive. This hive needed a complete open and spring cleaning. Last year, when I put the colony in there, I tried to fasten as much of the old comb from the cutout into the hive, and the weight of the honey, the heat, and my own lack of experience resulted in an M.C. Escher-like configuration of comb. The top bars were largely ignored as the bees continued to build on and around the comb I provided them with from their home in the column. Sadly, there is no queen in this colony, and she's been gone for a while. There are about 1,000 bees living out their lives, but the colony is most likely doomed. There was no brood, the old comb had green mold growing on it, and the bees were sluggish and generally unwell. It's amazing how not having a queen affects a colony. They don't have any drive to work, they have no purpose, and without brood, they cannot make themselves queenright. I took advantage of the dwindling population to take out all the old comb, scrape out the propolis, and prepare the hive for a swarm. The proximity of the two hives may lead the scout bees to determine that the top bar hive is a suitable home for a swarm. We'll see.