I took advantage of the beautiful weather over Labor Day Weekend to check on the second hive and clean up some of the broken comb from the original split and some cross comb that had been built since. All in all the hive looks to be in good health, though I am concerned they don't have enough honey stores for the winter. I'm not experienced enough to say for sure, and the fact that the honeycomb is mixed with brood comb makes it difficult to accurately judge just how much is there. I'm not terribly worried though because we seem to be having a nice fall bloom of lots of wildflowers now and I see bees returning to the hive with lots of fluffy white pollen on their legs. I'm also planning on building a top feeder for them so I can easily feed sugar or syrup without actually opening the hive. This will allow me to feed them regularly as we head into cold weather if I'm concerned they don't have food stores for the winter. The bigger issue at the moment is that I found about a half dozen small beetles running about as I was checking things. Small Hive Beetle (SHB) is a relatively new pest to this area, but is has been devastating to hives in some areas where it has taken hold. Of course, they say that a healthy hive is the best defense against these, and I don't think they are adapted well to cold climates, so my hope is that the Kansas Winter will wipe these things out.
I'm not completely sure that these are indeed SHB, they could just be another type of small beetle attracted to the honey in the hive and not pose a major threat, but from the pictures I've looked at, they seem to really resemble SHB. Fortunately, Kansas State University is an Agricultural School and they offer free insect and plant identification services, with a local county extension just a few miles away. So tonight I captured a couple of the buggers and will be taking them in for positive identification.
I did not see any evidence of the damage caused by the larva of the beetles, and it may well be that the hive is strong enough to deal with them and the design of the top bar hive doesn't give them good places to hide and breed. Even so, this is one case where I may resort to chemical pesticides because of the huge slimy mess these things can turn a hive into. I've been reading that some simple boric acid traps are fairly effective at killing them and do not have a large negative impact on the bees. The other possibility is that of nematodes. SHB larva pupate in the soil, so they leave the hive at that stage and burrow in to the dirt. Some researchers have reported promising results at using certain breeds of nematodes to attack the larva at this point. If the bees are mostly keeping the beetles under control this might be a chemical free way of giving them an edge in the battle by disrupting the life cycle of the beetles.
Time will tell.