Both hives 3 and 4 were installed from packages within 15 minutes of each other, on Rite-Cell foundation. Both packages were shipped from Rossman. The package that went into hive 3 had noticeably more bees initially, and actually seemed stonger for the first month or so. But that changed in the last 2 or 3 weeks. I have noticed that the queen in hive 3 seems smaller and scrawnier than the queens in my other hives. Not that I'm saying hive 3 is deficient or anything; taken by itself, it's doing as well as I would expect a first year hive to do. It's just that #4 is doing much better than I would have expected.
Here is one other difference: when I inspected about a month ago, the queen was laying in the second brood box of both hives, with plenty of empty comb in the lower boxes. In hive 3, I shuffled some frames around between boxes to move the queen down and move some empty frames up. When I got to hive 4, it was getting late, so I simply reversed the boxes. Other than that, they were treated pretty much the same. They took pretty much equal amounts of syrup when I was feeding them, and I removed the feeders at the same time. The two hives sit 4 or 5 feet from each other.
My wondering really is this: since I'll probably requeen hive 2 this fall, because it has a second year queen in it, would it be to my benefit to try to raise a queen from hive 4 stock, or would it be just as well to buy one? Given also that I like to experiment and get my hands dirty . . .