Combined hives, now swarm cells, queen cups, oh my
In my yard I have one first-wintered over hive (small) and a wintered over nuc-sized September swarm from that small hive. On inspection a week ago, the small main hive appeared to be queenless so I combined the hives putting the small swarm (with their queen)(a shallow and a super) on top of the small main hive (a medium and 2 supers)using newspaper. Yep, it is kind of tall. Fed them thinking it would entice those in the bottom to come up. Well, checked the top box today and did not go any further because I observed 7 swarm cells (uncapped-unable to see inside them) and 2 queen cells, this was over 3 frames. No eggs, some uncapped, just several capped.
I combined these two weak hives in order to have one strong hive. I also have 2 package hives in the yard as well.
*cut out all swarm cells or leave one
*leave the queen cups?
*do I keep going down through the boxes looking for the queen?
*how can I ever reduce this tower to something a bit more manageable? The current configuration resulted from 2 swarms from this main hive within a 2 week period last Aug/Sept and making due with equipment on hand.
Re: Combined hives, now swarm cells, queen cups, oh my
First of all, congratulations on successfully overwintering a late swarm. I just moved from Maine and struggled w/ keeping nucs through the winter.
To get a clearer idea of your hive, when you say "super," do you mean a deep hive box? (A super can be any size box intended for honey harvesting rather than brood rearing & stores.) When you say you have two 2 queen cells, do you mean that you have capped cells? (You later mention queen cups which would be empty of larvae or eggs.)
I would first try to determine if you have a queen still in the tower. If you have capped queen cells, she may have left with a swarm already or is on the verge of departing. Determine if she's there and determine if there are actual capped queen cells or queen cells with larvae. (Queen cells can be swarm, supercedure or emergency cells but the important thing is they have larvae, capped or not.) Ignore queen cups which are just empty cells.
If you find a queen, I would split the hive, putting the queen in two deeps (if that is what you call supers) along with half the frames of brood and see there are frames of honey and pollen. Make sure she has plenty of space to lay in by placing empty comb in the center of the brood boxes if necessary. She should resume laying soon and needs the space immediately. Also make sure you have no queen cells in any frames in this part of the split.
Place the frames with the capped queen cells (if there are any) in the third deep box along with frames of pollen and honey and put the medium (and the shallow if necessary) above to provide space for the bees and for nectar they should be bringing in. I would not destroy any cells. Selecting one cell to leave is only a guess that it is the best one and that it is a actually going to hatch. My experience is that there are sometimes dud cells that will never hatch. If you do not have any viable queen cells, place a frame with eggs & new larvae from one of your other hives and let the queenless half of the split raise their queen from this new frame.
If you have no queen left at all, I would still split the hive as long as there are queen cells to divide or a source of eggs & larvae from other hives.