With both hives wrapped up, it's time I did a little assessment (I hate that word!) of what I've learned in my first year of beekeeping. So, here is my list! I reserve the right to add to it as I await spring.
1. I have found that, at least for me, starter strips do not work that well when attempting foundationless frames and bars. My bees chewed up the strips, tore them out, and built comb helter-skelter all over the place. Once I used simple Popsicle sticks as a guide, 99% of my cross-comb problems ended.
2. Related to the above, I learned not to wait for the bees to solve cross-comb "problems" on their own. It will only lead to a more disruptive problem later on when you try to move bars around for the winter.
3. You can learn an awful lot about the health of your bees by simply watching the entrance. You don't need to open them up constantly, as interesting as that might be. I have learned so much about bees simply by sitting in front of the hives and watching the bees leave and return.
4. It really pays to monitor each hives varroa count periodically throughout the season. Had I gotten lazy in August, because my mite counts had been so low throughout the year, I might've missed the rapid population increase that happened in August. I did not want to have to use any miticide, no matter how soft and sustainable the chemical, but the extra high count called from some action, other than the approaches I'd been using. To paraphrase Gary on the biobees forum says, "Dead bees can't adapt to their environment!"
5. If this first season is any indication, you can keep bees in town without annoying your neighbors. All that's needed is a few precautions (e.g. tall fence) and some consideration of those you live with in the community. I still think keeping them in town offers some nutritional advantages for the bees, compared with more monocultural areas just a few miles away.
6. I would urge any beginners to start with two hives and no more. Two hives allow comparisons to be made on the one hand, and doesn't become too much of a burden initially on the other.
Any of you readers want to add any thoughts here? I would greatly appreciate hearing about what you learned this season from your own apicultural practice, especially you beginners out there.