Top-bar beekeepers like the idea of letting the bees build comb cells to the size and location they want, instead of being forced to conform to a starting foundation. If you want to step into top-bar beekeeping, but are hesitating, try foundationless beekeeping. If offers a good bridge between Langstroth and top-bar beekeeping. Like a top-bar hive, the foundationless hive has no foundation, but has a starter strip of wax on the underside of the top bar to guide the bees comb building activity. However, unlike a top-bar hive, it does use a frame. As the bees draw out the comb, they inevitably attach it to parts of the frame, providing great support. The frame also "isolates" the comb from the box, so inspections are not fraught with the tedium and damage-risk of having to cut the top-barcomb away from the box.
With this long spell of rain here in the Willamette Valley, bees have a hard time acquiring enough forage. You can assess their food storage by tilting the back of the hive from the cup handle. If it feels heavy, they are probably OK. If light, you should supplement their food. Package bees are especially vulnerable since they have had insufficient time to build up stores. The package bees in our field lab are devouring all the food we give them.
In the rainy and cool weather of this week, it is not unusual to see a few dead bees in front of your hive or on top. The bees spend this cooler weather catching up on housekeeping. which includes removal of dead bees. Also, sometimes bees venturing out between rain showers get stuck in rain or small puddle of water on top of your hive. Once their wings are wet, they have a hard time maneuvering.
Finally, the excesses of companies like Bayer are being constrained. Their proliferation of bee poison is being restricted by an EU 2-year ban on imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam. See the following link: Bayer bee poison.
The hive boxes reserved for surplus honey have several names in North America. For beekeepers planning to extract honey with the help of a spinner, the most commonly used honey box (or honey super) is the Medium Super, also called the Western Super, and sometimes called an Illinois Super. This super is a box of 6 and 5/8" depth. Sometimes people call it a shallow super. While this sounds reasonable, it creates confusion because "Shallow Super" is the name given to the truly shallow box, the 5 and 3/4" super. This shallow box is typically used by beekeepers planning to harvest honey in 4" squares directly from the comb. These squares are often called "cut comb" honey. In other parts of the world different sizes are used. We know quite a few Ukrainian beekeepers who use the 9 and 5/8" deep hive box for honey. These are very heavy when full of honey, and we don't recommend it unless you are built like a Russian weight lifter. In North America, this size is typically reserved for the brood chamber.
Finally, after several poor years in the Willamette Valley, we are seeing a good spring for bees. If this weather keeps up, over-wintered hives should have a good honey yield, and first-year hives will at least build up a good store of food for winter. If you plan to use a queen excluder under your honey super, don't install it immediately. When the hive is ready for honey-supering, add the super first. Then wait for a few days to allow the bees to start drawing out wax before installing the queen excluder.
If your hive smells bad and has brown streaks on the front, the colony is probably is probably suffering from a disease called Nosema apis. This digestive tract disease is typically associated with bad weather in spring when bees are unable to fly. It can often be managed with antibiotic treatments such as Fumagilin. Alternative non-antibiotic products are available, but we have less data on their effectiveness. Examples are Nozevit, Bee Cleanse, and Honey B Healthy.
In this cool, rainy weather, your package bees cannot get out much. They rely on what you feed them. It is crucial you feed them in this kind of weather. They will quickly starve without food. Even in the warmer weather, you need to feed them until the nectar flow is strong enough, at which point they will stop taking your food in favor of natural forage.
Once your packages are installed in your hive, don't disturb the bees for at least seven days. Disturbing the hive during this period can increase the chance of queen rejection. You can check your feeders, but do it carefully.