Had a dental appointment this morning and took the whole day off, so I decided to get my hive inspections out of the way. Found plenty to be nervous about. I have one top bar hive and two foundationless Langstroths (all medium 10 frame equipment).
My last inspection of the TBH was on May 11th. This hive is (was) a "beast" and came out of winter very strong. Population was booming early on so I cut out some brood combs and put in empty bars to give them some space. Didn't matter. They had built back all of the comb in no time and upon my inspection on May 11th, I found the brood chamber back-filled and counted no less than 17 capped queen cells. That isn't a typo. I could find no sign of the original marked queen and most of the brood was either capped or older C-shaped. No eggs and no young larvae. So, I tried to make a cut-out split with some of the queen cells, brood, and nurse bees (it didn't take) and cut out all but 3 of the remaining queen cells. Closed up the TBH with the 3 cells and hoped for the best.
They swarmed on Sunday May 25th, then again the following day. My wife and kids were home to witness it, but I have been working away for the past couple of weeks and could only get the updates in the field. Of course, neither swarm went to my two bait hives.
Today was the first opportunity I have had since getting back to check on things. The TBH had no signs of eggs or brood in any stage. Bees were not overly aggressive, but were tearing down what remained of any old cells. Could no locate a virgin queen. I was inspecting between about 10:30 and noon. Could she be out on a mating flight, or did they swarm a third time and leave behind no queen?
Now for the Langstroths. Both hives were purchased spring nucs...one appeared weaker than the other and during an inspection (also on the 11th), the workers appeared to be superceding the queen in the weaker colony. She was there at that time, but they had capped a few cells. During my inspection today, I spotted a queen, but saw no signs of brood in any stage. I caught this queen and marked her. I am thinking that she is newly mated or a virgin and just hasn't started laying. She seemed "hyperactive" like a virgin queen and was very hard to catch. These bees were a bit feisty.
The other Lang had been fairly strong and was building up fast, but today I could not locate a queen and only saw capped brood (both worker and drone). I did locate a capped queen cell in this hive. Maybe she got rolled? Remember that split from the TBH? Went into it and found just a handful of bees on a frame with one of the cells I put in on May 11th. I'm assuming the cell was just a dud (don't think the math works out), but stuck it in the Lang anyway as insurance.
Should I be ordering some mating queens?
Sorry for the long post...its been a rough spring.
Well you are in the mist of a balancing act. if you have no queen and no queen cell and no eggs then you defiantly need to add a queen, The hives with a virgin should have eggs within a week or so I would not bother with that but I would monitor it. The one that was strong if all the brood is capped then she should be close to emergence I would check on her every few days to see if it is a viable cell. Then go from there. Last of I would put the bees in the split in whatever hive needs them most.
Listen to Tenbears. It is very hard to find a virgin queen. They are smaller and move different on the comb than a mated queen (I normally see the queen when she is moving, not sitting still). The queen will take a few days to harden for orientation flights and then will have several days of mating flights, and a couple days before laying. It takes longer than you think.
Thanks for the advice Tenbears and Shannon. I had a look at the hives today and did indeed find eggs (single eggs and deep in the cell) in the hive that I found the new queen in last time, so one of the three appears to be queen-right again. The other Langstroth appears to be in the same state as last time, but I heard piping while I did the inspection, which I took to be a good sign. Both of the queen cells appear to still be capped and are un-opened on the sides.
I have a queen on order for the top-bar hive. I spent the most time in it because I wanted to check for signs of laying workers. Didn't see anything amiss, and the new queen should be here on Tuesday. What is the best way to introduce her in this situation?
Just wanted to give a quick update. As of yesterday we are now queen-right in two of the hives. The queen I purchased for the TBH is out and laying. I caught and marked her and let her go back about her business. Still no sign of brood in the Langstroth hive that had the queen cells. All of the cells are now opened up and the bees are actively tearing them down. I still could not locate a queen, but this is the hive that I thought I heard a queen piping in (from within a frame that had a cell on it) at my last inspection on 6-4. I gave them a frame from the other Langstroth hive with eggs and brood on it. That new queen seems to be doing her job.
Final Update - We are now queen-right in all three colonies. Thanks for the advice. Purchasing the one queen and waiting on the others was the right course. Discovered during this process that my 7 YO daughter is really good at spotting queen bees. She has assisted on the last 2 inspections and keeps asking when we get to check on the hives again, so I think I have her hooked.