What to do with weak hives coming not winter.
Forget about the comb building that is a process which occurs when honey is available .
You basically have two weak hives about to enter into winter Basically if you do not have 6-8 frames of honey they will not make it through winter. prevailing wisdom is that you would combine each of these hives with a strong colony but since you have only two weak hives then there is no sense in combining them into one weak hive.
The situation you describe in the Holt area is typical and I have one hive in Flynn which has struggled for the last 8 weeks to move forward. Basically the guts has gone out of the season.
You should compress each hive back to one box with all the bees and honey so they can keep warm. Then if you get to anything less than two frames of honey in the hive they need feeding even if this starts now. The weather is turning cold and with in a couple of weeks will be down to temperatures where they are reluctant to go out.
I would suggest that if there is no stores in the hive (less than two full frames honey) you feed them 500ml of a 2:1 mixture of sugar and water each week until August/September when the wattle blossoms. Use white sugar and cool it to blood heat before giving it to them. This concentration encourages them to convert the syrup to honey for use as food over winter. If they are not using it all up then back off the amount you give to them.
In spring when the wattle blossoms and it starts to “warm” up feed them a 1:1 solution of sugar and water. This will encourage brood rearing ready for the new season. You can quit feeding as soon as you see honey coming into the hive.
Essentially they need to stay warm in winter so open the hive as little as possible and certainly do not disturb the cluster.You can get a good idea on which way they are heading by lifting up the hive from the back and feeling the weight.
You should be using an inner covering (10mm shorter all round to allow the bees to come up if they wish) then I also add an extra cover on top of the lid to reduce the effect of cold sky radiation and of course reduce the entrance to about 1/4 or 1/3. Watch for ants.If you find a lot of water in the hive and on the lid and you do not have a vented lid then just lift the lid and put in a match to allow a bit more air circulation.
How you feed is up to you but I would be less encouraging about dry sugar. Robert Owens book “The Australian Beekeeping Manual” has some good ideas.
I think the idea of using a ziplock bag in which you punch some small hole is a simple technique. Just lay it on top of the upper inner cover. Don’t feed outside the hive.
What I have done is make a hive size rim (mini super) about 30mm high to allow a a space to feed on top of the inner board. (I actually have a couple of holes about 20mm covered with mesh to allow ventilation, in this rim. The bees will fill this up if they don’t like it… This also allows you to open the hive, not using smoke and to put in the feed).
What I also use is a 500ml shallow take away dish on top of the inner cover. In this I have a couple of mesh slopes into the solution and a couple of small pebble for the bees to sit on and not drown. (They are pretty hopeless around water and solutions) Feeding is easy I just lift the lid and put in the 500ml of sugar solution.
Bit of work but I think you will be rewarded by healthy hives at the end of winter.
On the hive beetles. What you see is pretty normal. The fact there are large number in the trap indicates the hive is healthy and they are hounding the beetles to take refuge in the traps and down in the oil. This is what I like about the see though beetle jails from Better Bees.
If you want more information try NSW DPI Prime Fact No 1343 “Feeding sugar to bees”
or for a lot!! more information The Aust Government Rural Industry Research and Development Corporation RIRDC Publication No 05/054 “Fat bees, Skinny bees”
Sorry to be so long winded. Hope this helps