Well the learning certainly never ceases!
So I got my two new queens for the two nucs today, and after thinking I'd stopped the robbing in the one nuc, I opened it up to find... (drum roll). NOTHING! They hadn't stopped robbing, they'd just FINISHED robbing. Not a drop of honey, and the 20 or so bees left alive were looking at me in sheer panic. So I took another three frames of brood from the main hive, two more frames of honey, and hung the new queen in there. I've reduced the entrance down to about a single bee size so let's see if they make it this time with a queen to help them out.
In the second nuc, they were still going strong (dunno why the hive just targeted the one) but, lo' and behold, they had FIVE queen cells built into the brood comb. Apparently, had I left them alone, they'd have had a good chance to make it on their own. Always one for genetic diversity, though, I popped open the cells and knocked the to-be-queen larvae out and hung the other new queen in that nuc.
Javin: it sounds like your bearding bees may be bored w/ little to do other than hang out, especially if they are still bearding during cooling temps. It is quite likely the queen has run out of room to lay eggs and all the other cells are filled w/ honey. Might be time to move and/or remove some frames thereby providing some room and giving your bees something to do besides hanging out on the porch :-D Just a thought.
During the process, I went deep into the main hive, which now is down to four hive bodies. They definitely have plenty of work to do, and still have (after a total of 9 brood frames being removed now) about four brood frames left. I never have seen the queen in there, but the sneaky little girl appears to be doing her job. I just hope I haven't accidentally moved her to the nuc I've put the new queen in.
There's a lot of open and unused comb in the main hive now. They've got honey stores started in a lot of the frames, and pollen, and have started drawing out new comb on the empty frames I've put in there, and they still have 5 to 8 frames of capped honey, so I think they'll be fine either way. But at 4 medium hive bodies, I'd say probably a good 50% is just empty drawn comb. Also, during all the juggling of frames, the frames aren't any longer in any pattern that I'd think they'd be happy with (some of the brood frames have ended up above the honey frames). I'm tempted to go in and maybe even reduce them down to three hive bodies with the brood frames all in the bottom, a body full of empties, and then the honey on top, but I don't know if it's a good idea to go in and mess with them again. I think at this point the bearding is just from the sheer number of bees in the hive.
I'm thinking about maybe removing the inner cover all together, and placing a propolis trap in its place permanently, then cracking the top open to allow them to ventilate it as they see fit.
Even if NONE of these hives make it through the winter, I'll have considered this money well spent. After 15 years of reading every blog, book, and article on beekeeping I could find, it's amazing how much I've learned by just observing them first hand these past three months. Either way, next year, I'll definitely be keeping a minimum of three hives.
This hobby is nuts. When I bought my first hive, there was a young couple there picking up five hives. They warned me that they'd started with one hive too, but "you can never have just one. It's like an addiction. You'll have a whole bee yard before you know it." They were more right than I thought!