Hey guys! My name is Blake and I am a second year beekeeper in the Hunter Valley (Singleton area) of NSW, Australia. I have two hives currently, lets call them Hive 1 and Hive 2.
I suspect that I may have diagnosed Hive 1 as Queenless, but I just wanted to get all of your thoughts on whether I may be looking in the right direction. I am very much hoping I am wrong, but here is a overview/timeline and a bit of context of the situation…apologies in advance about the novel!
Hive 1 was my original hive that I purchased as a Nuc. I built it up successfully into 10 frame double deep brood setup where it overwintered beautifully. When spring arrived (late August) I reversed the brood boxes, allowed the bees to repopulate/fill their top box again and then performed a walkaway split in the first week of October when the bees were showing inclinations of swarming. I made sure to leave my original queen in this hive/position. After a week, I replaced the box I took with a new broodbox so the bees in this hive had two brood boxes again. I have found a fortnighly inspection schedule to work well for my bees, so this hive was checked again on the last week of October and the bees were starting to show signs of festooning in their top broodbox and were moving upwards. I concluded that everything was ok, sealed them back up for another fortnight and came back in the second week of November.
Now to give you some context, this was when Eastern Australia really started to be hit by the La Nina weather system and we were getting days of rain at a time. If it wasn’t raining, it was super humid and our area repeatedly flooded throughout November. My apiary is on high ground so the water never got near the bees, but when I checked them in the second week of November, I noticed that they had abandoned building comb in their new top box completely and had retreated to their bottom box where they had made a huge dint in their honey stores. I assumed this was due to the weather having washed away a lot of nectar and pollen in the area, so I consolidated them down into one box (with the intent to give them their second box back once they were stronger and putting away stores) and installed a top feeder (which is of the enclosed Nuplas style to prevent robbing) with a feed of 1:1 sugar/water (I gave them about 4 litres worth). The bees took to it immediatly and showed a lot of interest in the sugar water mix so I made the assumption they were hungry. Eggs and larvae were spotted at this inspection (although I didn’t spy a Queen…) so again, the assumption was made that everything was hunky dory. It rained pretty well for the next 6 days straight, so when I checked them on day 7 they had completely finished their feed but still had no honey stores. I gave them another 4L of 1:1 feed and gave them another week to themselves. It rained for another week, so I gave them one more feed just to be safe. So in summary, the hive was basically fed throught November/early December.
Naturally at this stage I was starting to get a bit worried and this takes me to my inspection a fortnight ago. I noticed that the bees were backfilling the broodnest somewhat (still no honey stores towards the outer sides of the broodbox); and because the weather was improving and sunny I decided to cease feeding and give the bees a fortnight. They were decently active inside the hive and entrance activity wasn’t too bad. I didn’t do a complete full inspection as the wind was starting to pick up and I didn’t want to chill the bees…
When I opened up the hive today however the population was a third of what it was two weeks ago. I did a complete inspection of every frame and I can’t spot any eggs, brood or a queen whatsoever. What I did find though were four unopened queen cells on the bottom edge of my frames and most of the broodnest contained uncapped honey.
So I guess my question now is; is my hive Queenless or raising a new Queen? Do you guys have any reccommendations on my next steps from here? My first instinct was to take a frame of brood from Hive 2 (more details below) and install it into Hive 1; but if Hive 1 is raising a new Queen in those four unopened cells, should I let them try to do that first? Or should I just be ordereing a new Queen ASAP?
Just as a bit of added information, I have no words to describe Hive number 2 (the one formed from the walkaway split). Holy dooley they been a productive hive! As of my inspection today, they have just about filled their first super. They are also in a 10 frame double broodbox setup and the hive is absolutely bursting from the seams with bees. They are doing really well! So just to clarify, they have two broodboxes, an excluder and then a super. This hive was almost textbook in the timings and steps it took in making a new queen from the walkaway split and the hive is full of eggs, larvae/brood and stored honey. Everything seems super normal with this one! Textbook.
Thanks in advance and thank you for taking the time to read!