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New beekeeper might have a queenless hive

Posted: Sun Apr 03, 2016 12:13 pm
by donnajean74
I am a brand new beekeeper and just took the winter beekeeping class. My husband and I transported a top bar hive to Longmont from Boulder when our friends moved out of the country in January. About 4 weeks ago we went in the hive for the first time. We looked at the combs towards the back and so only a small amount honey. We did not venture into the brood area because the weather was iffy. We fed the bees and then the weather got bad again with frigid temps and a blizzard. All this time, the bees have been active, returning with pollen, demonstrating housekeeping, drinking water from the water dishes we put out. During the last cold spell, there was dead larvae in front of the hive for the first time. No visible mites. No chalk brood. To us unexperienced beekeepers, they looked okay, so maybe they got chilled. Today we went completely through the hive. Very little honey. Like almost none. No brood cells, only drone cells and some uncapped larvae. There were some possibly different looking cells but we are not sure if they were drone or the beginnings of a queen cell. We looked but did not see a queen.The bees were calm about our presence and continued about their business. We suspect the hive is without a queen. We are unsure how long. Should we requeen? Do we need to try a find an egg laying worker before requeening? Any advice?

Re: New beekeeper might have a queenless hive

Posted: Wed Apr 06, 2016 10:18 pm
by kristinahoney
A few questions and clarifications before I can answer very much.
Bees mostly (99.999%) make two sizes of cells: worker and drone. In each they can put worker or drone eggs/larvae, respectively or honey.
Queen cells hang vertically and look kind of like a peanut. You may see queen "cups" which are just the beginnings of a queen cell, but most don't go any further than that - bees just playing around.
"Brood" is any immature bee - egg, larva, pupa, worker, drone, queen.
So, I think you're saying that there's no worker brood, only drone brood. You may have either a drone laying queen or a laying worker. Possibly the queen got squished during the move and either workers started laying or the new queen couldn't get out to mate and so can only lay drones. A hive with a laying worker is very difficult to turn around. There is no visible difference between laying workers (of which there may be dozens) and non-laying workers. Usually an introduced queen will be killed. Even adding comb with young larvae from another colony will likely fail. However, it's worth a try. You'll need to find someone with a TBH the same size as yours to donate a comb. There are a number of TBH keepers in BCBA. I'm surprised they haven't chimed in. Can you post to the email list? You'll get more visibility there.
A drone laying queen can be located and replaced, but at this time of year it will be difficult to find a mated queen. You could try Hawaii.
As for mites, they are big enough to see without a microscope when off the bee, but otherwise you rarely see them. By the time you do, the infestation is very high. 75% are in the capped brood and the rest are very good at hiding. If the previous owners weren't on top of the mite situation, then that's your main concern, now and in the future, if you decide to stay with bees. Hmm, did your class not explain this?
How many combs are covered with bees? If there are fewer than 4 and you don't have a good laying queen, your hive is probably a goner. Don't be too bummed out! You're not alone of course. How much did the hive weigh when you moved it in January? There should have been about 50 pounds of honey for the rest of the winter. Your hive may weigh 50-75 pounds by itself.
Most bee suppliers are booked by now, but you can get on a waiting list for a package or nuc. There's always someone who changes their mind at the last minute. If you can arrange to be there, cash in hand, you're in luck! As new beekeepers, I wouldn't recommend trying to get a swarm without some training. If you're interested, Beth Conrey of CSBA ( will be giving a swarm class, I think on the 21st. If you take that, you can be on the swarm list.
There's a tremendous amount to learn your first two years! If you want to pursue bees, I'd recommend starting with standard Langstroth equipment. It's stood the test of time and is designed for northern climates and with the bees in mind. After you get the hang of keeping bees in Colorado, you can switch to TBH if you want. In that case, I think the best reference for TBH beekeeping is Christy Hemenway's The Thinking Beekeeper.
Kristina Williams
Beehave LLC mentoring and support for bees and their keepers
Boulder, CO

Re: New beekeeper might have a queenless hive

Posted: Thu Apr 14, 2016 7:27 pm
by donnajean74
Thanks for your reply. A week after our queenless discovery, we went through the entire hive again. We did see what are probably queen cups, but no signs of queen cells. There is definitely no worker brood at this point, only drone. Some capped, some not. This time we looked for eggs in the cells. Something we forgot during our last check. We were unable to find any in open cells, maybe we don't have the eyes for it yet, but we did see some in with larvae. We did not see a queen, but you mentioned that a queen may have been produced, but had not mated yet. That is something we had not thought of.

There aren't any combs covered with bees, maybe 4 or 5 with a cluster. That was kinda our indication that something might not be right, because we were like, where are the bees? The workers are still busy coming and going. All is calm, they're very gentle. We know this colony is likely done, but we're feeding them and keeping the water dishes filled for those that keep on doing their job. We found someone with packages left to purchase and we will get another hive going because we can't get enough of this now.