Well, I don't feel so concerned about my colony's condition now. It's been about two weeks and a half weeks since I since I became alarmed at what I was seeing in and around the hive. With all your input and some other research, I may have averted a disappoiting outcome for my girls this winter.
The colony continues to take syrup, more slowly now than before, but I've managed to get 37 pounds of sugar (nearly 5 gallons of 2:1 syrup) consumed since October 1st. I haven't gone into the hive since two weeks ago, so I don't exactly know where they are putting it, but there really isn't any place it could be going but in the upper brood box. Unless, of course, they surprise me.
Just as important, I haven't seen any more bees or larvae being dragged out or laying dead around the entrance. Except for a few forlorn drones. And no dead varroa being dragged out, either. All the bees I've seen look young and healthy.
Yesterday was a gorgeous day, with temperatures in the 70s and sunny. The bees were flying like crazy; they were bringing back oodles of pollen, and I presume, nectar. (Is it right to assume that others are also gathering nectar when pollen is being collected?) I took a few counts (as it says in the dummies book) and averaged it out to about 45,000 bees in the colony. The vast majority looked young, furry -- and all were completely normal, active and healthy-looking. And those were the foragers.
I certainly feel that I've made some good progress toward getting the colony healthier, with enough younger bees (still doing hive duty) sufficient to get through the winter, all other things being equal. The thing about "being equal" I'm NOT certain of is the winter stores. If the weather holds for me, I can maybe get maybe another six to ten pounds of sugar in there before Thanksgiving. I do not want to disturb them in their hive activities, so I don't plan to go in their until mid-month, when the Apistan and menthol is due to come out. Then I'll get to see whether they have placed enough stores in the upper box to hopefully not starve before spring. I built a sugar board according to ROBO's instructions, and plan to fill it and place it atop the hive before placing styrofoam on top (and on the north side) and black roofing paper around the boxes.
So, I have a question. If I get into the hive on an appropriate day within the next two or three weeks and find only a few frames with substantial honey in the upper hive body, would it be too risky to remove a few full frames from the outer edges of the lower box and relocate them in the upper box above where the highest concentration of bees is located? (Is this where the winter ball is most likely to form?) It seems to me that by placing full comb above them, this would ensure that their natural movement upward through the winter will lead them to more concentrated supplies of honey rather than some incomplete frames, and maybe even act as a bridge of sorts between the lower box and the sugar board. Or would moving their furniture around be too chancy?