I finally made it down to check on the girls yesterday. The active hives have the slanted copper tops. One is oriented with the entrance south and the other is oriented with the entrance to the east. The weather comes from the west, so I was hoping to keep the incessant wind from perturbing the bees. First, I pulled the burdock leaves that were blocking the entrances. Immediately, the field bees retuning to the hives began their figure-8 reorienting flights in front of the hives, which, together with the pheromone of their queen, enables them to remember which home is theirs. This picture was taken around 10:45 am, and the shadows will be off the beeyard for the afternoon. I may readjust placement so they get morning sun and afternoon shade. That way, they are roused by the warmth when they need to get the day started, but do not have to contend with afternoon heat. This site gets a lot of wind, most of the time a gentle breeze. I would like to have a site with less wind, but for access to water, car access and level location that doesn't interfere with the farm operations and isn't too close to the house (the farmers tolerate the bees, but haven't my irrational fondness for them), this is the perfect place on the farm. The other three stacks of boxes are empties. One stack has frames yet to be drawn out. One stack has drawn comb, and the other stack are mediums that have been used for brood boxes in the past. I have tried to move from deeps to mediums, to save my back, but I mistakenly ordered some deeps last year. That's why I have mediums designated as brood as well as deeps. Usually the mediums are only used to collected surplus honey. Keeping the mediums and deps separate is not really necessary the way I keep bees. Chemical treatments are supposed to be used only in brood boxes, to ensure pure product for the honey crop, and I don't use chemical treatments.
Both hives were functioning, but one was functioning better than the other. The weak hive (1 deep over 2 mediums) started out with fewer bees, and the queen might have been compromised when she spent several early cool April nights outside the colony, because she flew off when I opened her cage too far from the hive. Many bees clustered around her and kept her warm, but it was not optimal, either for her or for the faithful worker bees.
When I hived these colonies from packages, I used some deep frames borrowed from a friend. The frames were in bad shape - mold and mildew - but I have been told that the bees just clean it out. So one hive got those and the other one didn't. Little experiment. There are innumerable variables in the performance of any individual hive, ranging from genetics to placement in the beeyard. I hope the frames were not the cause of the weaker hive's condition. I also left in the weaker hive's entrance reducer last visit, because I didn't want them to have to work too hard to defend the entrance. The moment I lifted the inner cover and removed the deep, I saw a valiant mortuary worker dragging a dead body from the top of a frame. I manipulated the dead bee and its attendant to my hive tool, and them placed them both on the bottom board entrance. Relieved of her burden, she reentered the hive. The signs of swarming were absent from the weak hive - they were still building brood, and there were no queen cells in evidence. They were working so hard on cleaning the hive. I took off the deep that had the moldy frames (they had been cleaned up somewhat, but not enough), and stacked on 2 mediums with nice clean drawn comb. I pulled out the entrance reducer and hoped for bees to pour out. They didn't. That told me that they were busy in the brood chamber. Chances are, what happened was there was a lag in the queen getting started laying, so that the bees in the role of field workers were few in number, but there were enough nurse bees (bees mature through their lifecycles into distinct roles at different ages). This colony will do just well enough this year to produce honey to get them through the winter.
Before I closed up the weaker hive, I covered the top of the inner cover with some strained honey from a prior year, since there does not appear to be enough field bees to forage enough to build the population. There was lots of lovely sealed brood, and once the current nurse bees mature into field bees, the population will take off.
The other hive is looking much stronger. that one got two supers of undrawn foundation to work on. The other colony (2 deeps) was very mild, which didn't surprise me given how weak it is, but this one was also mild, which means I should be able to work them well into the season without gear. I arranged the cork stoppers so that the opening in the box where the brood nests is sitting is dark (the queens like to lay in the dark, I am told), and ventilation above and below. There is a good enough population to defend that many entrances from robbers.
I'm not using an excluder this year. Mine have lots of waxes over the grid that I haven't had time to clean off, and I think that wax may discourage the workers from bringing the honey up to the supers. I'll have to watch the brood boxes to make sure the queen have room to keep building population, which will require a lot more lifting, but it will be a nice problem to have if it encourages bees to collect surplus!