We'll start with the bust: the hive on the right, which is the sum of our two original hives combined the first year, and then the swarm hive that we combined with the combined hive last year. Following me so far?
It has been looking puny, with not a lot of worker bee action. Today we went in and found what is pictured above and below. The picture above shows a whole frame of drone brood. Drones, you remember, are male bees that do nothing but eat honey and pick up chicks. They don't keep the hive running. To find a whole frame of drone brood is total badness. Either the worker bees are laying eggs, or there is a really, really bad queen. I vote for laying workers.
The picture below shows a spotty brood pattern from the same hive, with the caps being built up into the characteristic bullet shaped dome of drone brood. We've got no workers being born in this hive, and no fertilized eggs for them to make a new queen.
So, we reversed the hive bodies and went on the to then next hive while we worked on a strategy. The top box had the drone brood, the bottom had pollen and nectar. We went ahead and flipped them, which might have made more sense with healthy hive, but what the heck. On the bright side, Droneville had several frames of capped honey, so they've got something to eat for a while.
After checking the other hive (BOOM!), we came in the house, did some research and had lunch. We found that one of the recommended suggestions for getting a laying worker to produce a queen is to start putting a frame of uncapped brood in their hive every week. We didn't have a lot of uncapped brood (see report on other hive), but we did give them a frame of mostly capped worker brood. It had a few uncapped cells. We figure this will at least give them some more workers. We also took out a frame full of drone cells that we will freeze, since the world just doesn't need that many drones. Then we plan to put a frame of uncapped brood in once a week until they start making a queen cell or until we give up and try something else.
The general idea is that the bees will pick up the pheromones from the uncapped brood and get their act together.