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Discussion Starter #1
I took a peak in my two hives yesterday here in central NJ to add pollen patties and get a feel for what's going on inside. Hive #1 is looking super strong. They already took down an entire pollen patty from about 10 days ago. There is tons of bees, its literally humming, and they were bringing in loads of pollen on their own. Maple trees in my area are popping, and I even saw a neighbors cherry tree in full bloom!

Hive #2 is considerably weaker, I pulled a few frames. Basically I had maybe 2 to 3 frames of bees, but that was it. There were a lot of dead bees on the bottom board from overwinter. The encouraging sign was that there was a half frame of capped worker brood and other larva/eggs in the upper box. The lower box was barren.

What's the best plan here? Let bees be bees? What can I do?

I already lost my first colony this winter, so I am a bit gun shy.

Alan
 

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I had one hive similar to this earlier this year. Donated a frame of capped brood and nurse bees from a strong hive to reinforce their numbers a bit (just don’t accidentally transfer the queen). I also made sure they had adequate food stores and fed them some syrup/pollen. Then I crossed my fingers and did a dance for good luck. They are doing well now.
 

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Personally at this time I would do nothing but wait. Some strains are known for small winter clusters that quickly blow up when conditions are right while others winter with comparatively larger clusters. If this isn't the case, you can also allow natural selection to run its course and weak hive die then when/if you split strong hive use the frames and resources for a split of strong hive.
 

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I am with Steve on this one. I believe it is still pretty early in the season for your area. My bees are real mutts that generally winter in really small clusters. I happen to like that trait because it means much less feeding to get them to a good winter weight. This time of year they are just starting to take off and 2 or 3 frames is not unusual. In 30 - 40 days I will be worried about preventing swarming. In another 3 weeks you will really know if you need to equalize or not. Since you mentioned the maple trees starting to bloom, for my area, when the maples start opening is when the hives really begin taking off.
 

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Discussion Starter #5
Thanks for the replies. I think I will let them bee for a few weeks and then take another look and assess then. They have plenty of stores left, a pollen patty, a sugar water feeder, and the maples seem to get redder and redder every day! Pollen is pouring into my strong hive on warm days like yesterday and today.
 

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If your daytimes are staying mostly above 60° then switch the locations of the hives in the middle of the afternoon. Returning bees will boost the weaker colony. That is my go to method for boosting a weak hive. A queen won't lay more than the hive can cover. The extra bees hanging out overnight allow the queen to lay more brood so the colony can start building its own.
 

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That bottom box being empty is a target for SHB, especially feeding pollen pattys. If you get another warm day you might want to check those frames for beetles or pull it out if truly empty. Freeze the frames to kill whatever and then when that hive gets in high gear you can put the box back but on top. Do exchange places with the hives. The extra resources may be the thing that gets them going.
 

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I tend to take a more draconian view of these things. If a colony appears noticeably weaker than its neighbors and I don’t have an explanation for the reason…..the last thing I’ll do is take resources from a more vigorous colony in an attempt to prop up the laggard.
I might add…if you’ve already lost one and this one also appears weak….the next question is what is your varroa mite management strategy?
In any case....good luck.
 

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Discussion Starter #10
Thanks for your comments Beemandan.

To answer your question mite counts were low in all three colonies based on alcohol wash tests in September when I last tested. I did treat with Formic Pro in October. I have not done a mite count test yet this Spring.
 

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the last thing I’ll do is take resources from a more vigorous colony in an attempt to prop up the laggard
Well, right or wrong, I made the decision I thought was best at the time. Another reason for me was to decongest the big hive - it was early swarm season and it was blowing up more than I had ever seen that early.

Up in NJ not likely to the point of hive decongestion yet. May be better off taking others’ advice.

Ryan
 

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If your daytimes are staying mostly above 60° then switch the locations of the hives in the middle of the afternoon. Returning bees will boost the weaker colony. That is my go to method for boosting a weak hive. A queen won't lay more than the hive can cover. The extra bees hanging out overnight allow the queen to lay more brood so the colony can start building its own.
Are you indicating that the returning foragers from the strong hive only stay overnight? If the queen does lay a lot as a result, isn't there the problem of there not being a big enough remaining population to cover the expanded brood nest? Also, is there any concern with lots of 'foreign' bees entering a small hive that they might kill the queen?
 

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Bees have been doing their thing a long time, the Q will know how many eggs to lay based on the number of nurse bees. Foragers coming into a "foreign" hive will have pollen/nectar and will be granted entry; ie visitors bearing gifts. If they spend the night then they will be adapted to the new hive's smell so they will become members.
 

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I had one that I fully expected to die overwinter. (They were a 30% mite count hive going in before the final OA treatment).
Somehow they pulled through with maybe 300 bees and tiny brood pattern. So I put them on top of a strong one with an excluder between them mid-March, and 2 days later all was good. A week later her brood pattern was booming!
 
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