Kind of a funny story, actually.
I got the idea to start a hive this year, and I was going to get everything new and learn with my bees. My husband pointed out that we have a hive beside the pond, under the tree I never go near because we did have some hornets down there my first year managing this farm. We went and checked it out, and it was full of bees and the boxes looked good still, there was even honey in there! The top box was... ugly. The previous keeper had put in a queen box and never pulled it out. 7 years later, I open the box. I finally got to checking out the second box only to find out that mice had destroyed it, the bees had drawn some funky comb everywhere, but no one was using them. They were on the non-funky comb to the side. 4 out of the 10 frames were usable, though still a bit wonky. I pulled all the mouse frames out, and replaced them. I stood in the sunlight for well over 20 minutes trying to find the queen or brood, to no avail. The three best frames on the bottom box all had honey on them, and ALL had a full coverage of bees. I had noticed on the other two times I went in that my bees weren't really aggressive unless you banged or dropped frames, so I had the smoker nearby, but I didn't use it. The hive was fairly quiet, no more than 3 or 4 bees swarming around my head, none on my hands at all. They were very calm, with little workers coming and going with pollen, some moving the pollen around with those awesome puffy yellow pantallons, and everyone seemed generally happy.
Three times I've been in, 0 times seen a queen. I have seen plenty of the queen cells that are now empty, clearly there for years by the colour of them. How can I help them to build up frame as fast as possible while things are in bloom? How can I tell if I have a queen and she's just hiding really well? Should I order a queen? And if I do, and I find evidence of a functioning queen, can I use the purchased one to start a new hive? I'm not nearly as concerned about getting honey or anything from them this year, as I wasn't expecting to be able to with a new hive. I just want this one to grow, be healthy and teach me how to work bees before I eventually start another, possibly closer to the orchard down the road.