How many hives,
and have you determined why?
I didn't lose all of them at once, and I didn't lose all of them for the same reason. I was doing a treatment free thing (had been for six years), and I think it finally caught up to them. Varroa related problems took out the majority of them, but the rest had some other issues, including a suspected nosema issue, a few with supersedure queens that just didn't work, ALOT of robbing during a dearth followed by absconding, one or two that had a queen who died in transport, and a few that just kinda left (I suspect those were a combined Varroa and nosema issue, but not too certain).
Some of it was also beekeeper error. I was studying for the Bar Exam (that test you take to become an Attorney) all last summer. It was literally a 7 day a week, 18 hour a day event. As a result I was only able to check up on the bees once a month, sometimes less. So when I would notice a hive had a problem, there was usually little I could do at that point to fix it, and by the next time I made it back to the yard (which was over an hour away) I found I wasn't keeping bees so much as keeping wax moths.
I've taken steps to eliminate those issues, or deal with them as much as I can. I'm not taking the Bar Exam again (thank god), and I moved my apiary into my backyard. I'm not treatment free anymore. I can't tell you why that was working and then stopped being so. Some I've talked to blame it on my cell size (natural), others say it had something to do with the farm that was neighboring my land. I don't know. But I know treatment free doesn't work. So I'll be testing for varroa monthly, and treating with ApiGuard when necessary. I'm also planning on incorporating Fumagilin-B into my regimen, and attaching robbing guards during dearths.
I would hate to see you invest a bunch of time and resources just to repeat last winters results.
Agreed. Which is why I'm relying on swarms and only one (or two, depending on availability) nucs that are purchased. I would be shocked if I lost all my hives again this year, but it's a possibility that you can't ignore.
I would highly recommend not doing a bunch of walk away splits as you might end up with a bunch of late fall failures.
Never doing walkaway splits again (unless with swarm cells). I made my mistakes in the past with that strategy.
I would take your two swarms and the 2 nucs, put them on drawn comb and let them build up real strong between now and June/July. Keep an eye on them and feed if necessary. I would then pick the strongest and turn it into a queen rearing unit using the Cloake method. Pick a mother queen and raise a round of queen cells from her. Once you have the cells, I would take and split hives up into 2 frame mating nucs and give each a cell. I would then grow these 2 frame mating nucs into 5 frame nucs by fall and plan on overwintering them. If things go well, there is no reason you can't go into winter with as many nucs as your high. Overwintered nucs build like gangbusters the following spring.
That is essentially what I meant by number 2 above. Sounds like a good plan. Thanks for the help.