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Queenless Hive? Or Raising New Queen?

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! :smiley:

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Hi Blake, do you have a shorter version?

Sure mate!

The tldr is I suspect I have a Queenless hive. I have been feeding for about the last 5 weeks as we have had flooding and days upon days of rain (so I suspected that most of the nectar and pollen had washed way and the hive was struggling as they had no reserves). When I opened up the hive today the population was a third of what it was two weeks ago and 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.

It would be good if you had some photos of those queen cells, just in case they are the ones that bees produce (when queenless) that actually are useless.

The first thing I would do is give the colony a frame of brood in all stages. Then check it in about 7 days time. Keep giving the colony one of those frames every 7-10 days until you either see brood from an existing queen or emergency queen cells.

As always, thank you for your advice Jeff! I will get up to them tomorrow and give them a frame of brood from Hive 2.

If it helps at all, I have attached a photo of what the queen cells look like. Please ignore the branding, I literally googled until I found something that looked identical to what I have. :sweat_smile: So there are 4-5 of these on the bottom of my frames and they are completely sealed up, with no openings on the outside. They don’t look like “Queen cups” and are more peanut shaped.

Yes, well they might be emergency queens if they look identical to those. Also they could be swarm cells. I probably should read the long version of your story. Anyway you can’t do any harm in adding that frame of brood.

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Beautiful, I will get onto it first thing in the morning! It’s always nice to have a plan! :smiley:

So you do have my curious now. My long story goes into the weather patterns over the last few weeks, but we have basically had rain for 4-5 days straight at a time for most of November and December. Would these cells maybe indicate that my hive has swarmed in the last few weeks? That would explain why I am A) Seemingly Queenless and B) Why my population numbers have dropped significantly since my last inspection. It never occurred to me that it could be a possibility with how ‘weak’ the hive looked and how bad the weather has been…

Sorry Blake, I shouldn’t have been rude earlier. After reading your story, it appears that the colony has swarmed & that those queen cells are swarm cells. Don’t give them brood, just give the new queen time to get mated etc. Have a look for young brood, in about 3 weeks time.

Over feeding may have prompted the colony to swarm.

I only use & prefer to use single brood boxes. It simplifies brood inspections.

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You weren’t rude at all my friend; I appreciate you taking the time to even write back to me! I am a scientist who has written way too many papers in his life so I always err on the side of too much information! :rofl:

That’s absolutely fascinating that I may have stimulated them into swarming! :open_mouth: Here I was thinking it was what they needed. It just goes to show, the bees really do know best…or at least know what they want.

I might try getting a vote going again in our local beekeeping society to see what everyone prefers running broodbox wise. It was about 50/50 whether people ran doubles in our area, but honestly singles would suit me a lot better inspection wise, I agree. I know in my first year we had a lot of frosts over winter so it had me a bit cautious to run just the single…

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It’s not the cold in your area that would necessitate the use of doubles, it is the timing and intensity of nectar flows. But if you’re not opposed to feeding when needed, I’m sure you could run singles.

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Hi Blake, don’t take what I said about over feeding as a definite cause of swarming. I did use the words"may have".

In relation to single brood hives. It would be best to ask others what they use & why they use them.

Apart from ease of inspections, there’s also the added cost in time & materials for the extra super.

Sometimes bees will work the top super while ignoring the bottom one. Other times they’ll use the bottom one for brood & the top one for honey. Then other times they’ll use them both as the beekeeper intended, which can depend on what time of season it is.

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I suggest raising new queen

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As a new beek, I like your detailed info, so thank you :pray: and keep up the good work :+1:

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Thank YOU for the kind message SaraJ! :smiley: It was the long detailed posts that helped me out the most when I started! You never know what useful tidbits people know until they put it into novel form. :rofl: I hope you are enjoying your journey so far!

Thanks for the advice kulbee3499! :smiley: So my best bet would be letting the hive raise their own queen form the cells I observed?

Interesting chau06! :thinking: So you suggest running a single broodbox, and when I predict a nectar flow coming on, introduce a second so the bees have population enough to cover it all? Is that right or am I on the wrong train of thought>

If that is the case, what negatives would there be in running two broodboxes all the time?

I can’t tell you how much enjoyment my bees have given me, they make me realise how ignorant I am :joy: and I just needed to say thank you for posting as each post helps me feel a bit more enlightened :pray::stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

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I was suggesting that if there aren’t very long dearths then your bees can store what they need to survive in a single box for many months.

During the periods of the year when excess nectar is present, have your super in place to gather honey for harvest. You don’t need two brood boxes just for stored resources unless you have half the year or more without those resources available to forage on.

Typically, here in Ohio, spring and early summer as well as early fall have nectar flows but there is nothing to forage on, or it is just too cold for the bees to fly between October and April. There’s usually enough for the bees to survive on mid-summer if you don’t rob them excessively, but by mid-October, the hive needs to be ready for at least 5 months of zero foraging. And yet hives can easily be managed in a single deep.

If the hive is light and you know there won’t be enough nectar coming in to get them up to weight and a dearth is coming, then feed them.

What you need to know from your local beekeepers is the timing and intensity of the usual nectar flows so you can make sure the bees have enough for themselves.

Single brood box management in Ontario Canada

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Makes inspection more time consuming and is increased space to warm and defend.

Queens don’t need the additional space to lay, so that’s not a concern with singles, in case you’re wondering.

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