I often cruise Craigslist looking for beekeeping items (really!), and saw this post: "Honey Bee Keeper for two hives - $1"
It turns out a guy a couple of towns over has 2 beehives for his large garden. A beekeeper was managing them for him, but last fall the beekeeper passed away (he was a member of my bee club), and the hives went all fall/winter/early spring unattended. One hive was active, and the other was dead.
So I agreed to help him out by managing his hives. He will pay for any equipment, etc. needed. This arrangement also provides me a secondary site and source of bees to help my bees along (for splits, etc).
I went over to his house last week and brought back the dead hive. Since it hadn't been managed, the frames were very much coated with propolis:
and the comb on the frames was very tough and black:
That in and of itself is not a problem, but as comb ages, it get smaller (layers and layers of bee cocoons) and may accumulate pesticides. So it's good to swap it out. This comb needs to be swapped out. I spent an hour or so this weekend scraping and inspecting.
Anyway, inside the top super of the dead hive was classic evidence of starvation:
You see the (dead) cluster with a few head-first bees in the comb.
It's a shame - this hive didn't have to die. In the lower brood boxes I found a ton of honey (and uncapped nectar):
The honey super also had a couple of frames of honey. With a little bit of care and manipulation, this hive could have survived.
On Tuesday I went out and inspected the single good hive. It is located on a slight ridge - here's a picture (note the empty space to the left where the other hive was):
You can see that the hive consists of 2 deep supers, and 2 honey supers. There is not a queen excluder between the deeps and the honey supers (which is normal for the winter configuration), but since the hive hasn't been maintained, the queen had surely gotten up in the top and laid eggs (which is not what you want).
Boy, that hive was packed with bees! The bees had built a lot of brace comb in between the vertical frames (mostly for drone comb), and unfortunately I had to separate it when I did my inspection. Here's what the lower super looked like:
There are quite a few bees on top, and that was after I smoked them and a bunch went down. They were quite upset at being inspected, head-butting me and I had to use a bit more smoke to keep them calm.
I didn't see the queen (she probably is not marked), so I don't know if she was in the honey supers or in the lower boxes. I want her down so I can put the queen excluder in between, so that I can clear out the honey supers of babies and make it ready for honey (with the queen below, the brood in the top boxes will be born and she can't lay any eggs up there any more). I went ahead and put in the excluder anyway. I'll check back in a week or two, and if I am lucky, I'll see eggs in the lower boxes (which means she was down below). If there are eggs on top, I only have a couple of boxes to look through to find her.
Note that there are drones in the upper box. If I slap on the excluder, they can't get through either and that is a problem. One solution is to provide an upper entrance to the hive by sliding offset the upper supers (which I did). I also added one of my honey supers just in case the bees need it. Here's the way I left the hive:
Note the bees hanging out at the edge of the entrance - they were still mad at me for disturbing them!
Regarding the second hive, it looks like I'm going to have to get a package to get that hive up and running. It's the quickest and easiest way. Now finding someone who has packages may be a challenge - usually you place your order in January.