Re: Newbie with a checkerboard question
Sounds like a drifting problem, assuming your hives are side by side. Check the weaker hive for a good brood pattern, and signs of a strong queen. If all that checks out, I'd guess that as the hive is graduating foragers, they are flying off, but returning to the other hive. Since they didn't return to the original hive, they did not bring back their stores. Without the resources, the smaller hive cannot grow. A returning forager with stores will always be allowed into the hive, even if it isn't their hive of origin.
As you said, they are maintaining, but not growing. I'd guess this is because the queen does not have enough space to lay brood. She has every available cell filled up. The workers should be pulling more comb for her to lay in, but resources are low, so they are reserving those supplies to take care of the brood.
If you can move one hive at least 10' from the other, it may mitigate some of the drifting. Seal up the hive at night, and then move it to the new location. The next day the foragers will come out, and re-orient before leaving to forage. They should not be as likely to get confused upon return since the hives aren't as close together. In the interim, it may be beneficial to give the weaker hive some supplement. You can take a couple frames of CAPPED brood from the stronger hive and move them to the weaker hive. Brush off the bees so as not to transfer them and cause fighting. The capped brood will hatch out, and never know where they came from. Just like an adopted infant. The stronger hive should rebound just fine. The added bonus is that when the brood hatches, you've also gained the comb for the queen to have more space to lay.
You could possibly put a feeder on the weaker hive too, but make sure you have a strong queen first. If you don't have a good queen, the bees will take the stores and become honeybound, piling up stores in the open cells, restricting the queen. If you have a good queen, they will use the feed to pull comb instead, which the queen will immediately lay in. The bees know what they need, you just have to figure out how to get them to tell you.
Here is a perfect example of drifting, as I am experiencing the same. I now have 4 TBH's, all in a straight row, with about 5' between each. The hive on the far right was the first, and is booming, almost overrun with bees. The next on to the left was a split two weeks ago. It's doing well, but not nearly as good as the original, since most of the foragers from #2 are returning to #1. Then I double split again, and placed the next two hives in spots #3 and #4. Even though all four hives had 5 frames of bees and brood a week ago, the population now trends down from left to right. Such to the point that the hive on the farthest left appears to barely have enough worker bees to even serve the brood. But they have brood that should be hatching soon, and a new queen that should hatch today! In the interim, I am going to grab a bar of capped brood from the #1 hive, and move it to #4. I will trade it for a bar of open comb from hatched brood in #1, since they don't have a queen to lay it anyway. That way neither hive is without space for a queen to lay, and they both get what they need!
As a fellow newbie, from what I've learned in my two months, is not to over think things. I see comments on here all the time where people are convinced they need to requeen, or take other measures. Bees are extremely logical creatures. They are even fairly predicable IMHO. It may sound silly, but I often just stand up against a tree in the yard, and watch my bees for 30 minutes or so, just to see what they are doing as foragers come and go. Lately I've seen a lot of foragers flying confused around each hive, trying to find the entrance. They are lost, which means they have a 75% chance of returning to the wrong hive. Hope this helps. Good luck!
One package to 4 hives in 3 months. After 12 months I'm over a dozen hives and growing. Head over heels for bees!!!