SIGNS YOUR COLONY IS QUEENLESS

Posted December 26, 2015
by Hilary

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Queenlessness is one of the most common ways for new beekeepers to lose their colony. There are many ways a colony can end up without a queen and likewise there are various methods of correcting the problem. Read on to learn the signs of a queenless colony and what to do when it happens to you! 

First, I want to get a little vocabulary and basic beekeeping information out of the way. A hive with a queen is called “queenright”, a hive without a queen is called “queenless”. Queen bees are vital to a colony because the are the only bee capable of laying fertilized eggs. Fertilized eggs may become either a worker bee or a queen bee depending on what they are fed. Worker bee larvae are fed royal jelly for the first few days of their life and then switched to a pollen and honey diet. Queen bees, however, are only ever fed royal jelly.  This means that worker bees are able to convert any young worker bee larvae to a queen should they need to (an emergency queen). Young is the operative word here. The worker bees have only a short window of time to convert one of the last of their dead queen’s larvae into a new queen before all the larvae have aged beyond the point of conversion. This is a precarious position for a colony to be in. Many colonies succeed in making a new queen and go on, but many other fail. These colonies are now unable to make a new queen, because all the larvae laid by their old queen are now too old. So what happens to those colonies? In the wild they will gradually weaken and then perish, but in a managed hive a beekeeper can step in and reverse the colony’s fate! Unfortunately, when the queen is missing it’s not always obvious to the novice beekeeper. The bees do not all instantly perish as some imagine, however there are many tell-tale signs.  

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Symptoms of a Queenless Hive  

1. Lack of Eggs & Brood- The queen bee is the only bee in the hive who can lay fertilized worker bee eggs. So, a queenless colony’s first symptom will be a lack of eggs (shown below) followed by a lack of young brood (shown above) and then finally the absence of brood entirely. Students of mine know this is the reason why they must always check for fresh eggs during inspections. If you catch a queenless colony early, you can get them queenright before too much damage is done. *It should also be noted that you can have this symptom and still have a queen. Your queen may have stopped laying because she’s no longer fertile or she is taking what is called a “brood break” which is one way bees attempt to control the spread of brood disease. An infertile queen will need to be replaced, while a queen taking a brood break should resume laying shortly.* 

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2. A Drop in Population- Worker bees die every day of natural or unnatural causes, but in a queenless colony they cannot be replaced! This means the population will start to drop. Normally, by the time this symptom is noticeable  the colony has been queenless for many weeks.   

3. An Increase in Honey & Pollen- Worker bees who were previously occupied with the task of caring for brood will soon be out of the job because there will be no more brood. This creates a job imbalance in the hive and may result in increased foraging and food stores. *Note that something similar to this can occur in queenright hives during a strong nectar flow when the colony needs more space.  It’s called a “honey bound” hive. The bees will prioritize storing food and crowd out the queen’s brood nest, leaving her no comb to lay eggs in. A beekeeper can resolve this by adding another super (or more top bars) and then moving 2-4 honey frames out of the brood nest to make room  for new comb to be drawn out for the queen to lay in.*   

4. A Change in Temperament- There are also some more subtle signs of queenlessness that arise in the form of temperament. Queenless bees are often irritated or nervous. They make a high pitched whine combined with a low roar, but even experienced beekeepers cannot always identify the sound. I have also heard from an old timer that the foragers of a queenless colony will spread their wings in K formation and walk around a bit near the entrance before flying off to forage, while foragers in queenright hives, keep their wings folded in and take off straight away. I haven’t tested this thoroughly though yet.

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5. Queen Cells/Cups- A queenless colony often attempts to make a replacement queen. It can be tricky figuring out exactly what is going on in your hive, but queen cells and cups will provide useful clues. When you see a queen cell, check to see what stage it is in. Is there a larva in it? Is it capped? Did it hatch or is it just an empty queen cup (shown above)? Sometimes, the bees succeed in making a new queen, but that queen fails. If this is the case you will see hatched queen cells, but no other signs of a queen. Hatched queen cells will have a jagged edge around the hole of the cell, no larva inside and may even still have a cap hanging. Think: edge of an opened can. *Be careful if you see hatched queen cells and no other signs of a queen, your colony could actually have a virgin queen who is not yet laying. Virgins are hard to spot because they move quickly and are much smaller.* More often queenless colonies will have only empty queen cups, which shows that your colony lost it’s queen and wants to make a replacement, but doesn’t have the fertilized eggs available to do so. 

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 6. Laying Workers- If your colony is queenless for too long, they may develop laying workers. Although the queen bee is the only bee in the hive capable of laying fertilized eggs, worker bees are female and therefore in possession of ovaries, meaning they can lay eggs. The hitch is they can only lay unfertilized eggs. Remember: worker bees never went on a mating flight. Unfertilized eggs do develop and hatch, but they do not become worker bees, they become male bees or drones. Normally worker bees do not lay eggs. Fertilized brood laid by a queen produces a pheromone that suppresses workers from laying. However, if a queen is absent from the hive for too long, the worker bees will begin to lay eggs. Once this starts, it is very difficult to get the colony queenright again. I intend to write a separate post in the future on how to deal with laying workers so stay tuned. A colony with laying workers will have eggs and brood in the hive, but you will see multiple eggs per cell (shown above). A queen typically lays just one egg per cell. You will also see only drone brood and usually also an increase in the adult drone population. So how long does a colony have before the workers start laying? Unfortunately, I can’t answer that question. It is different with every hive. That is why it is imperative that you catch queenlessness early and correct it right away. One way of buying yourself a little time is to put open brood from a queenright colony into your queenless colony. The bees may even be able to make a new queen from that brood and correct the problem altogether.   

*None of these symptoms by themselves will absolutely indicate that your colony is without its queen. Many of them could mean something else entirely. I have tried to mention some of these easily confused scenarios above with an asterisk, but have not listed them all. A queenless colony will usually have more than one of the above signs present, if you see just one, you may want to try one of the below tests to confirm or debunk your suspicions. 

Bee Math

If you suspect your colony is queenless, “bee math” is a very useful tool for figuring out what could be going on in your colony. Familiarize yourself with the lifecycle of each cast. Then you can use that to figure out the answer to questions like, “How many days has my colony been queenless?” Check out my new bee lifecycle cheat sheets! This laminated, double-sided 4×6″ mini guide is perfect for keeping with your beekeeping tools. It features illustrations of worker bee, drone and queen lifecycle illustrated by yours truly.

How to Test for Queenlessness

Give your bees a frame of open brood from a queenright colony. Wait 2-5 days and then check to see if they are attempting to make emergency queens on that frame. It’s a good idea to mark the top of this frame in some way, so you don’t have to go through the whole colony searching for the frame that may or may not have queen cells. If you see emergency queen cells, then your colony is queenless. If you don’t see any queen cells, you might have misdiagnosed the situation.

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Place a caged queen on the tops of the frames and study the reaction. If your colony is queenless, they will stream towards the caged queen, sometimes fanning or flitting their wings. If your colony is queenright, they will react aggressively towards the caged queen. They will bite and sting the cage. You will have a hard time getting the bees off the cage, they won’t want to let go. On several occasions I have mistakenly thought a queenright colony to be queenless. Each time it was a colony that had a new virgin queen that was not yet laying. This is one of the reasons I always study the reaction of the bees when installing a new queen. If you place a new queen in a queenright colony while the other queen is still alive, the bees will kill the caged queen.

Getting Your Colony Queenright

There are several variations on techniques getting your queenless colony queenright again, but they break down into two basic choices: Installing an adult queen that you bought or allowing the bees to make their own queen from young brood taken from a queenright colony. Choosing the best method for your hive, will likely depend on how long that colony has been queenless. To determine this, you will need to utilize some bee math! It takes 21 days to go from fertilized egg to worker bee. Therefore a colony with no brood has been queenless for more than 21 days because all the queen’s brood has all hatched. If you see no eggs, but you see very small larvae then you’ve caught the problem early! An egg only stays an egg for 3 days and larvae only stays uncapped for about 8 days. If you see only capped larvae, then you likely lost your queen somewhere between 11 and 20 days before. Make sense? Check out the bee math ruler above for more calculations.

Installing a queen is usually the fastest and surest way to get your colony queenright again. If your colony has been queenless for awhile, you may opt for this method. The longer a colony goes without a queen, the more likely they are to develop laying workers and the greater the negative impact on the population there will be. A queen can be purchased for $20-50 plus the cost overnight shipping. You will receive your queen in a small cage containing the queen and usually several worker bees. The cage is meant to delay the queen’s release into the colony and to protect her while the colony gets used to her smell. One end of the cage will have a candy plug. Over a period of 2-5 days the bees will chew away the candy allowing for the queen to escape the cage. The idea is that by the time the candy is gone, the bees have adjusted to the new queen’s smell and will readily accept her. Make sure you install the queen cage in a populous part of the hive and that the screen is accessible to the worker bees. That way they can feed her. Generally speaking this means the queen should be placed in the center of the hive. From the point of release, it may take anywhere from 0-7 days for the queen to start laying eggs. Your queen should already be mated, but it  may take her a few days to adjust to her new environment and start laying eggs. In a situation where a colony is queenless, the bees are desperate for a new queen and aren’t too choosy about her.  So, with this knowledge, some beekeepers may even choose to skip the delayed release altogether and just let the queen out of her cage right away. There is a small risk that the bees will kill the queen instead of accepting her, but the advantage is that you will not have to wait the typical 3-5 days for delayed release. Either way, installing a queen will typically get your hive queenright again in less than a week.

 

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Allowing the bees to make their own queen can take much longer. It will take bees a minimum of 15 days to raise a new queen from brood and at least another 5 days for that queen to mate and start laying. Remember with each passing day, bees are dying and not being replaced so, if your colony is small, you may want to buy a queen instead. There is also the added risk that the bees will not succeed in making a new queen or that the queen they make will perish during her mating flight and you will have to start over again. Depending on the time of year, it may not even be viable for a new queen to mate since drones can be scarce during the fall and winter months.

In what situations should you let your bees make their own queen? What are the advantages? 1. A naturally bred queen will have the advantage of feral genes which may make for a stronger, healthier colony and will also preserve genetic diversity amongst your apiary. You might also increase the chance of this effect by taking brood from one of your best colonies. Please note that in areas with Africanized bees, feral genes can also result in bees that are more defensive.

2. It’s a simpler way to fix the problem that costs no money and requires less work from the beekeeper. If you suspect your colony is queenless, you can take a frame of eggs from a neighboring queenright colony right then, check in 3 days to see if they are making a queen cell, then check back in 15-20 days to see if the queen is laying. If you install a queen you have to open your hive at least four times and you have to find a queen for sale, order it etc.

3. Another advantage is if it’s late in the season and no one is selling queens anymore, you can try this method: you might succeed.

To sum this all up. Making sure your colony has a queen should be a priority during inspections. Catching queenlessness early is vital to the survival of your colony. A good way to stay on top of this is to take notes! Keep a record of what you see in your hive every time you inspect. If you use a template like the one I created below for my hive inspection notebook (available in my shop), it can also serve as a guideline for your inspections. That way, you won’t forget to check for eggs! If you discover that your colony is queenless weigh your options and decide whether you’d rather buy a queen or let them make their own then, get busy! Queenless is a problem that you should not sit on.

 

Hive Inspection Notebook

 

 

If you find that you are quite sure what your doing in your hives, you might want to check out my new online Introduction to Beekeeping class! You can stream it from anywhere in the world and watch it as many times as you’d like! Even intermediate level beekeepers have benefitted from this class, which is offered in person by yours truly in San Diego, California every month. The online version is a combination of fascinating footage and still images with interactive narration throughout. It’s not your typical Introductory class which often only covers the kind of equipment you need to buy with a brief synopsis of the honey bee lifecycle. This class is packed with absolutely everything you need to know to get started with bees! Plus, it focuses on natural, bee-centric, sustainable beekeeping practices. 

Want to Learn Even More? 

Check out my new book Queenspotting! The book chronicles the fascinating life of the queen bee, includes entertaining stories from my beekeeping adventures and 48 fold-out Queenspotting images that will challenge you to find the queen. Note: You can support me best as an author and beekeeper by ordering directly from my website.

Queenspotting Book

105 Comments

  1. Emily Scott

    Great explanations here. I had some terrible queen problems with one hive last summer. I’m not sure whether some genetic problems were involved or I was just unlucky with the weather as two new queens the bees produced turned out to be drone layers. Lots of errors on my part too, for example for a couple of weeks I failed to notice she had got into the supers (was just checking the brood boxes for eggs). The colony produced lots of honey and didn’t become aggressive exactly but the lack of worker brood made them more irritable than usual. Luckily a friend was able to combine my hive with his nearby queen-right one in the end. Enjoying your blog.

    Reply
    • Kristina

      Hi, we have had our bees since June. They seemed to be doing well. When we went to check the hive (a 2 week gap between last check) and we have only about 100 bees from what was 3k. No signs of a queen, no eggs, no brood, and no honey. Can we save the remaining bees with a new queen? Or is it too late?

      Reply
      • Hilary

        Hi Kristina,

        I doubt it. Do you have a second colony or just the one? Do you know why their population dropped? See last week’s post about WHY DID MY BEES LEAVE?

        Reply
        • Crazybeeman

          Hillary, just to inform you, the Capensis bee species do not need a queen and will survive indefinitely without a queen, they are unique to the WC of South Africa, fynbos area, i have 4 hives capensis , 1 is queen less, they are doing 2 season 2.

          Reply
      • Siva Kumar

        Hello Hilary,

        2 weeks ago I had a swam of bees landed in my backyard. I noticed they was active. But today morning all the bees dessapiard. Only the wax and larvae was left. I don’t see any bees at all. What should I do? can I save the larvae to build new colony?
        I have bring the wax and larvae in down in to a box. cos I saw ants was approaching the wax and honey. I need your help.

        I am from Malaysia. I want to keep this bees.

        Siva Kumar
        askps@outlook.com, Sivakumar_Askps@yahoo.com

        Reply
        • Hilary

          Hi Siva, It won’t be possible to save the colony without adult bees. Sorry. You must try again.

          Reply
        • Katie

          Hilary! I had a bear attack my natural comb hive 2 weeks ago. We reassembled the hive and
          Hoped the queen made it. 10
          Days Later (it rained for 7”a week straight and we couldn’t check sooner!), we have inspected and there are no eggs, few larvae and multiple queen cells. The colony is so weak. We gave them sugar water and are getting a new queen and bees this weeeknd. After reading your post, i question if we should add more bees or allow the current hive to release their queen? Also, will new bees create in the natural comb already made by the previous colony? Thanks in advance for answering

          Reply
          • Hilary

            Are you asking if you should let them raise their own new queen? You could. If the damage was extensive, it might be better to just install a queen because she will begin to lay eggs immediately and help to boost the population again vs. a queen they raise may take 3 weeks to start laying.

      • Linda Donerkiel

        I am a beginner beekeeper who lives in a mountain town in central Idaho. I was hoping you could help explain what is currently going on with my hive…

        I got a package of bees last April. Treated them for varroa throughout the summer/fall and they seemed to thrive. I did not remove any honey and fed bee bread in the fall. They seemed to overwinter well. I fed them sugar water starting mid March and they still had capped honey.

        I did a fairly superficial hive inspection on March 29. Lots and lots of dead bees and lots of active bees in upper deep (overwintered in 2 deeps) and honey super (I left it on over winter). There were open uncapped cells in deep frames with some crystallized nectar but still some capped honey too. No brood was seen. There did appear to be lots of live bees clustered that then began to fly. I traded the upper deep with the top deep and fed more sugar water.

        Our spring was very cold and wet until mid May. Mid April did cursory inspection. Changed out sugar water. Again, lots of dead bees but good cluster in top 1/3 of box. No brood/eggs seen.

        10 days later treated with oxalic acid. Still layer of dead bees on bottom board. Fed bee bread, lots of sugar water still left. About 10 days later fed another bee bread. Seemed to be quite a few more bees. Not too many mites on bottom board.

        10 days later (finally a nice day). Quite a few bees flying all around. Quite a few dead bees in top feeder and mold. Removed it. Definitely more live bees but inspected every frame and found no brood or eggs. Moderate amount of capped honey and nectar still.
        Throughout this time I also never saw any supercede cells.

        So…I ordered a mated queen (should have known better…?) I installed her May18. Still no brood or eggs seen. Still many bees but seemed pretty mellow. May 25, checked on queen, not fully released so I released her (she went straight down into frame). Still lots of live bees and way less dead ones.

        June 6, still lots of live bees, capped honey in deep, no brood or eggs seen on any frames. Did not see queen.

        June 9. Installed another new mated queen. No brood. June 15, queen had been released.

        June 29. Checked top deep. No brood. Still lots of bees, no dead ones. Not many bees flying/foraging. July 11, inspected the entire hive, no brood, no queen. No dead bees. Small amount of honey, mod nectar. Plenty of open cells. Between the 2 deeps and super (which has some bees in it but no honey), probably an entire deeps worth of bees. I don’t see any evidence of workers laying eggs either.

        August 4: inspected hive again. No brood, no eggs, no capped honey, no dead bees, but still about an entire deep with bees covering all the frames.

        I give up. I can’t figure out what possibly went wrong. What happened to my original queen? There must have been brood this spring otherwise there would be no bees, right? And how is it that there are still so many bees? Don’t they only live 6 weeks? I assume they killed the 2 queens I installed?

        Thanks so much for your input. I really appreciate it!

        Thanks,
        Linda Donerkiel

        Reply
  2. Susan T Rudnicki

    Michael Bush has some excellent remedies for laying worker and queenless hives
    http://www.bushfarms.com/beeslayingworkers.htm

    I have had good success with putting a queenright colony below the laying worker hive, topped with a double screen board, with the laying worker colony above. Each group has its own entrance, the pheromones of the queen right group waft up into the off-kilter group, and in 10-14 days—you combine everyone together as a new hive.

    Reply
  3. Lynn & Shane Loftin

    Well here’s the run down. My wife and I decided to get into some backyard beekeeping this year. We bought all the basics needed, purchased package bees, with a mated queen. The bees arrived in mid April. The post office called and told us to come get them 4 DAYs after they were supposed to have been delivered. Needless to say the package of bees had been weekened and there were a lot of dead ones. We took them home and released them into their new home. We hoped they would recover…they tried but eventually gave up, the queen left, and took what was left with her. There was only a hand full of bees left with her. They left in mid may. Well we were bummed out because nobody had any more packages left and nobody would split, so we cleaned everything up, left he vacant hive out and just sulked thinking we were going to have to wait till next year to try again. Well low and behold on June 3 my wife was cutting grass close to the hive and noticed she was in a the middle of a massive swarm flying around and crawling in/out and all over the once vacant hive boxes. She managed to get out of the midst of them in a ‘calm’ manner without getting stung thankfully. Had to change under wear and clean the seat off the mower. Lol. I wish I had been home for that one. To hear her tell about it still cracks me up. Just really glad she’s ok. Anyways. We left them alone until June 9 and we opened up to inspect. HOLY MOLY!! there had to be 30k+ bee in there. Unfortunately I didn’t have but 3 frames in the top box and they had already built out 6 massive rows of comb on the lid divider. We pulled all that comb off, inspected for the queen. Couldn’t find her. Could have easily missed her too though. There are ALOT of bees. We looked in the bottom box (which was full of frames), inspected those and still couldn’t find the queen. Again there are ALOT of bees and we could have missed her. Upon inspection of the comb and covered frames, we noticed there were no brood, or eggs, just LOTS of nectar stores and pollen. We contact an apiary and gave him the run down. He stated our queen could be off on her virgin flight. He said to give it till Sunday 12th, and reinspect for eggs and brood. If we have that then we should be good to go. If we don’t then we need to get a mated queen asap. Which he has and can get her to us Monday if we let him know sunday. My concern is the timing. I hate to get a queen and not need her, if my queen is just out and about having “fun” and decided to stay out just one more day. And on the other hand I know a queenless hive is bad and needs to requeened immediately to lessen impact of dieing bees. Just looking for a second opinion whether you agree or disagree, I am open. I just want to do what is right and have a successful colony to watch this year and learn. I feel like I can’t learn enough fast enough. Thanks in advance for any advice or input you may send our way.
    Respectfully Lynn (me) & Shane (my wife) in mid TN.

    Reply
    • Hilary

      I agree with the advice you were given. Wait and see.

      Reply
      • Frederick Nurse

        Can I put two frames of brood and one frame of honey into a hive next to the original hive and will the bees make a queen cell and new queen.

        Reply
        • Hilary

          Hi, that would be a very small split and it would probably not work, but with more bees and brood you might succeed. I have a new online class that explains more on how to do this. https://vimeo.com/ondemand/swarmsandsplits

          Reply
        • Lynda

          Hello,
          I have a hive that initially swarmed 3 weeks ago,(very early spring here) and had lots of Queen cells…. Then I think either another swarm or cast swarm came from that hive as well a week ago.
          I checked the hives today and didn’t see any brood, larva or eggs, but still a fair number of be in there…. Perhaps a queen is there, just hasn’t started laying yet? Should I wait another week and check again for eggs? I don’t have a frame of brood to add since this hive is medium frames and my others are deep frames.
          I don’t mind buying a queen, but don’t want to spend the money if they will only reject her.
          Thank you for your time.

          Reply
          • Hilary

            A new queen can take 3 weeks to get mated and start laying. I like to check once a week for the first few weeks after catching a swarm until I can confirm I have a laying queen. After 3 weeks I would worry something is awry.

  4. Liz Bateman

    Great site! I’m new at this and have a nuc that a beekeeper is experimenting with. We just replaced the old queen with a virgin queen. My question is: there is a hornet/wasp? flying around the nuc and I’m worried he will not only kill bees but also the queen when she goes on her mating flight. Any suggestions on how to deal with this pesky wasp? Thank you.

    Reply
    • Hilary

      I don’t worry about wasps unless I have a weak hive. If the hive is weak, reduce the entrance.

      Reply
      • Liz Bateman

        Thank you!

        Reply
  5. Mike Soumis

    a bear busted up my hive, I put it all back together, couldn’t find the queen but there was capped brood in there so I thought she must be somewhere here, just can’t see her.The bee numbers kept decreasing and after it was too late I found out that the eggs were just like rotted in the cells, there like liquid. Any idea’s what could have happened? I’m a second year beekeeper. 3 other hives are doing great. The hive has failed completely.

    Reply
    • Hilary

      If I saw a picture, I might be able to say. Hard to tell from your description. Hmm…

      Reply
  6. Wendy Borders

    I am a first year beekeeper. I know that we’re told to always look for eggs/brood but is there a time of year when a normal queen is not laying much? When I inspected during a dearth in August, there was very little brood but could that be normal?

    Reply
    • Hilary

      Hi Wendy,

      Yes, good questions. Sometimes during a dearth a queen will take a break from laying eggs. Also, if the bees have a new queen it takes her up to 3 weeks before she starts laying. So, if you think it could be either scenario, I would just keep a close eye. However, looking at capped brood or even larvae is not the same as seeing eggs. You will have capped brood for awhile after having lost a queen, but you won’t see eggs.

      Reply
  7. Ron Lane

    What is your source(s) for purchasing queens? Preferably treatment free queens or those bred for mite resistance. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Hilary

      I think finding a local TF breeder will best serve your needs because the bees will be best equipped to live in your climate. Here in Southern California, I usually order from Wildflower Meadows.

      Reply
  8. Sue

    A very interesting read. I was overjoyed to see my two first year hives alive and currently bringing in pollen (April 11/2017) from where I am not sure. You can imagine my ” bee glee” especially with some very cold -20celcius weather. I am one of those beekeeper s who has yet to spot her obviously unmarked queens.
    Cheers !
    Sue Bee Honey ????

    Reply
  9. sharla trout

    we recently moved and possibly lost the queen as new queen cells were built. We obviously did not act sooner, because the hive also swarmed. Is it usual for a hive to swarm after hatching a new queen?

    Reply
    • Hilary

      If they built swarm queen cells on the edges of the comb it is pretty common for them to send out more than one swarm and the after swarms will contain newly hatched queens. It can take up to 3 weeks after a swarm for the new queen to start laying eggs.

      Reply
  10. Darcy Lofing

    I’m a first year beekeeper. I found a swarm in my yard that was my start. It was a large swarm that hung around for two days, I’m guessing because the weather was turning…crazy Idaho spring. That was April 12th. Checked them one month later. I can’t find a queen or eggs but I do have capped worker brood, looks like some pollen cells and honey. Does that mean that I have a queen in there somewhere? They have the brood box full.

    Reply
    • Hilary

      Pollen and honey do not indicate that there is a queen. If you have capped brood it means there was a queen in there at some point. Do you see any larvae? Eggs are hard to see for most people. Keep trying. Use a flashlight to light up the cell maybe even a magnifying glass.

      Reply
  11. Darcy Lofing

    Thank you..I will keep looking. I think I seen nectar also. There are just so many bees!

    Reply
  12. stanley chua

    after the hive has been taken away from under the roof, will the remaining bees make a new nest again.

    Reply
    • Hilary

      Not unless they have a queen.

      Reply
  13. Mike webb

    I am thinking of re-queening a hive that has a poor laying queen. should the hive be eggless before re-queening?

    Reply
    • Hilary

      It should not matter if their are eggs or not. Just make sure you check for and destroy any queen cells the bees may try to build to supersede the queen you install.

      Reply
  14. Michael Jones

    Where can I find the bee ruler depicted in your images? I tried CA State Honeybee and it wasn’t there.

    Reply
    • Hilary

      You could try emailing them. I am not sure.

      Reply
  15. John

    Hillary I love these tips they are all great. I have been beekeeping for over 50 years learned from my great uncle. I seldom see such good advice about beekeeping. Thank you so much. Like you said a queenless colony can be noticeable almost right off. There is a distinct change in the tone and mood of the girls. Instead of the contended busy hum they seem to all be joining in making a restless discontented higher tone sound . I would just suggest when doing an inspection always just slow down and take your time noticing as many details as you can . From the entrance activity of foragers and guards all the way through. your bees are the best teachers just take your time to listen. Thanks for your contribution.

    Reply
    • Hilary

      Hi John,

      Thanks for the hire praise. You are so right. Slowing down and observing the bees is the best way to learn.

      Reply
  16. Dean Jore

    Great site, nice work on information delivery. I have a question about something I see while looking for the queen, which I haven’t found. I have seen emerging larvae, almost fully developed and extending nearly all the way out of the cells. Would that be a queen killing another emerging queen? Or would we not see that evidence? I don’t want to wait too long to requeen, but I don’t want to just react and stick another queen in the hive if the problem is being taken care of. I have seen small larvae. I also know I need to do a better inspection before I make a decision. Thanks for your time and assistance, Dean J.

    Reply
    • Hilary

      Hi, I’m having a hard time understanding you. What are you seeing in your hive?

      Reply
  17. John

    I just stumbled on your site and love it. Very informative! Perhaps you can help me…about 4 weeks ago my hive (new this year) was kicking butt. All 8 frames nice and heavy full of brood/honey/pollen…really text book. Added my super 7 days later (probably should have added 2nd broodbox). Then, 11 days ago, the colony swarmed. Ok…no biggie. Kind of expected it.
    This week, I noticed a ton of activity at hive entrance with a lot of drones noted. Figured potential mating flights with new queen
    Then yesterday, saw workers pulling almost fully developed larvae (all drone larvae) out of the hive. Today I inspected the hive and noticed mostly open cells, no eggs, no visible queen, and very very little capped honey. There were what seemed to be “hatched” queen cells. The number of bees seemed much better than I expected. No evidence of disease nor mite or beetle infestation. Also, not seeing workers return with pollen and honey bee activity around my property is way down
    I’d appreciate your thoughts as I’m new to beekeeping and this has me a little concerned
    Thanks

    Reply
    • Hilary

      When your colony swarms it can take up to 3 weeks for the new queen to hatch and start laying eggs again. Keep an eye on them and make sure they end up queen right, but it sounds normal to me. If they are pulling out drone brood it might be because now that they swarmed there are too many drones and it had created an imbalance that they are trying to correct. They may be short on honey and not want to spend it on drones.

      Reply
      • John

        Cool. Thanks for the advice!

        Reply
  18. Leandro Zuniga

    Hi there, is it ok to put a frame with bees in a hive with a different qeen? I mean taking the frame from a totally different qeen!

    Thanks

    Reply
    • Hilary

      Yes, just brush the adult bees off first.

      Reply
  19. Bill Ofca

    Four weeks ago I added newly purchased mated queens (from Wildflower Meadows) to two of my hives that had gone queenless. Five days after installing them inspection revealed they had been released from their cages. One hive has shown increased pollen collection observed with returning foragers. The other hive shows no such pollen collection. Both hives have good activity with foragers in great numbers coming and going at the entrance. Does the hive that is not bringing in any pollen signify a problem?

    Reply
    • Hilary

      Not necessarily. Each hive will be different. Best to look at the brood pattern to determine health.

      Reply
  20. Kevin

    I just checked one of my tree nucs i purchased two weeks ago and found one to be queenless no eggs no brood and lots of nectar filling the cells and the steady roar of the hive; so I borrowed a frame from each of the other two nucs.
    Your Information was perfect; all the best to you

    Reply
    • Kevin

      three nucs not tree nucs

      Reply
  21. Teja Kinney

    Hi,
    This year we installed our first (and only) hive, a Warre. Now, we have returned from a two-week long trip and have noticed changes in the colony. Firstly, the mite count soared from nearly nothing to very high (we powder-sugared them yesterday).

    The entrance traffic is greatly decreased (I would guess by 1/2). We had just added another box prior to leaving, but it doesn’t seem to be any fuller and they’re barely building in it, if at all (they were package bees and filled the whole second box (with comb at least) in about three weeks, a great change). When we powder-sugared them, they were even calmer than usual, and when we opened the lid only a few came out. We can’t really inspect the hive, since it’s a Warre, without doing significant damage, but from though the window we can’t see any brood or larvae, except for a few (single digits) here and there. The first box is mostly filled with honey, which makes sense, but the second isn’t. All the cells we can see in the second are just sort of…empty…for the most part, aside from shallow nectar stores at the top. Previously it was full of brood. I suppose there may be eggs we can’t see, but in all eight frames? Oh, and I also noticed several (maybe 10) purple-eyed larva carcasses on the bottom screen.

    Our main question now is whether these changes seem more symptomatic of Varroa or queenlessness. Can Varroa lead to these effects? I have read about some bees breaking the brood cycle to manage it? Could this be the case, and account for the differences? Or just a dearth. Or possibly the aftermath of a swarm? We honestly have no clue since we can’t actually open up the hive and inspect. Not being able to find out anything more than what we have currently, we were thinking of waiting another day or two to see if anything changes, and if not, then ordering another queen and seeing how they react to her.
    Sorry for the wordy question and thank you so much! Your website has been incredibly helpful!

    Reply
    • Hilary

      Why can’t you inspect the hive? Is it cross combed? You need to be able to inspect the hive to properly manage it. It is very possible that your bees are crashing from varroa. They may also have swarmed which could reduce the population. They may also be running out of honey. The empty comb was probably honey stores that have now vanished. It could be queenlesssness as well. Again, there is is no way to know if you can’t look at all the combs. You sound like you might benefit from my second online class which is about hive inspections https://vimeo.com/ondemand/hiveinspectionclass

      Reply
      • Teja

        Sorry, I should have emphasized it more – it’s a warre, and frameless, so the combs attach to two walls and also somewhat to each other. Therefore we can’t pull the combs out without doing quite a lot of damage. Thank you anyway!

        Reply
        • Hilary

          You should still be able to inspect a warre if it was designed correctly… cut the brace combs that attach the combs to the wall.

          Reply
  22. Nate

    Hey there. great Article.

    I’m a new bee keeper in North Vancouver. we are coming into our fall here pretty soon. I just finished a Varroa Mite Treatment MQS and went to remove the pads last night. I had left the treatment on for 7 days as suggested.

    I couldn’t find my queen when I went back in. I did find eggs in some of the brood frames but not a lot. Also, the bees have begun filling some of the brood chambers with honey.

    The bees were also pissed off. Very loud last night and almost drove me off before I could finish inspection. we got through it.

    I did harvest 7 medium frames of honey from a honey super before the mite treatment. Still a lot of honey in the two deep supers althought the bottom one is much lighter than the top. I found that weird.

    I’ll close with my concerns.
    1. Is my hive possibly queenless and is waitng the best thing to do right now?

    Reply
    • Hilary

      Mite treatment sometimes kill or damage your queen. So, possibly. You will have to check again in 3-5 days for eggs. You said “they were very loud last night”….Are you inspecting your hives at night?

      Reply
  23. Liz

    Hi Hilary –
    Curious if you can help clarify on something I’ve been trying to figure out for a while now and haven’t been able to find specs on anywhere.
    So I’ve learned that often there are just queen cups around at the bottom of the frame and those are generally there in case the queen chooses to lay an egg in them because she decides to swarm. I have seen the cups sit there for weeks or a month, and then for whatever reason, the bees start building them out into the queen/swarm cell (peanut shape), even if its uncapped and doesn’t appear to have an egg or larvae inside.
    My question is, at what stage of that queen cup being turned into that shape of a queen/ swarm cell should I panic? Do they sometimes just build it out even if there’s “nobody home” or is that cause for concern? (It’s possible I’m missing seeing the egg, but I’ve often removed the cells from the frame and inspected further.)
    Thank you!

    Reply
    • Hilary

      Hi Liz, Sometimes bees will build queen cups and never use them. They will sit empty. Other times they build them out. Usually you will see the cup start to become longer and if you look inside you will see a bunch of white royal jelly. On day 8 they cap it and the queen begins to pupate. She hatches on day 15, 16 or 17. At some point during the time of pupation, the swarm will depart.

      Reply
      • Liz

        Thank you! So if the queen cup becomes built out to a longer queen cell, there’s a good chance that there is an egg or larvae in there?

        Reply
        • Hilary

          Yes.

          Reply
  24. Colleen Picciotti

    Question on odd behavior. Found 8 capped queen cells And the original queen (she’s new this year) so she didn’t swarm, eggs in all stages, good pattern, all seemed fine except for the caped cells. I moved the capped cells to a new box and removed all but 1 cell, saved them in the freezer (talks for kids so they can see a queen cell). Went back 8 days later and NO bees at all in the split, and the queen cell was un hatched. I opened it up and it was an empty queen cell. Checked the others in the freezer, they ALL were empty, 2 had evidence of royal jelly but couldn’t see an egg. The original hive appears fine and No queen cells and the original queen is still hanging out. Why would they behave this way? Did I miss something?

    Reply
    • Hilary

      It is really hard to answer this question because its very possible that you have misidentified some of the things you thought you were looking at. If you show me pictures, I can help much more. First, the bees might abandon a split because of insufficient population. All the bees that can fly will return to the original hive ( https://www.honeyflow.com/about/blog/splitting-your-hive-in-spring/p/312 ). Second, queen cells are not guaranteed to hatch. Leaving them with only one is risky. Addressing the fact that they were empty… if there was a pupa or larva inside it sometimes shrink after death.

      Reply
  25. Gerry Katz

    Hi Hilary, 1st year bee keeper here.I had a thriving hive until a bear knocked over the hive a month ago. I put it back together and the hive seemed to be ok. The bear didn’t eat any of the honey and I just hoped that the queen was still alive. At the time there were eggs, larvae, pupa, and capped brood.
    I thought the colony would be ok. Normally I would check the colony every 10 days, I was out of town for 31/2 weeks…came back and there was no sign of the queen, eggs, larvae, etc. What remains are lots of worker bees, honey and pollen. It is mid October and I only have the one hive so have no brood from another hive to place into this hive. Is it too late to requeen?

    Reply
    • Hilary

      As long as there are no signs of laying workers, you should be able to install a queen. See if you can buy one from somewhere. Bears don’t usually eat the honey. They eat the brood.

      Reply
  26. Glenn sleight

    Hi Hilary. I live in Fallbrook Ca. And have a hive that I believe to have gone queenless. Some bee,s but no honey or brood that I can tell. Even though I have feed them sugar water several times. This was a swarm that I captured in the spring. I would like to get two healthy hives on my property to help polinize my avacados in the spring. Could you help. I don’t want any of the honey. Just want the bees. I have all the boxes and frames to make two hives with two brood boxes and two honey suppers. Glenn.

    Reply
    • Hilary

      Hi Glenn, if you send me an email, I might be able to get you some bees. I allow students to adopt hives from me sometimes, but they must take 2 classes from me first so, that I can be sure the bees will be taken care of.

      Reply
  27. Nipun Choudhary

    Hi Hilary,

    I’m from India. Yesterday I was watching my hive and accidentally I killed a queen cell. Then I checked for the queen but I found her nowhere. I checked for larvae and they were there.

    I’m totally confused that if my behive is queenlessness or not.

    Reply
    • Hilary

      Go back in and check for eggs. If they are there, you still have a queen. What type of queen cell was it?

      Reply
  28. Mary

    Hi Hilary,
    I installed a nuc 18 days ago and it looked great. I noticed bearding about a week ago but it is 85 and humid here in SC so did not think it was a problem. I widened the opening on their entrance to increase ventilation. Upon opening the hive today for the first time, there are lots of bees and honey but not a noticeable change in the brood pattern. I wasn’t rigorous enough in my inspection to notice if the brood was only on the 4 original frames but at least two of the new frames had only honey in the center and unused space along the edges. I did not notice any queen cells. Might they be queenless? I hate to go back in so soon to check as they were agitated. What’s the risk if I wait another week or two before going back into the hive?

    Reply
    • Hilary

      You need to go in and looks for eggs. That’s how you know if you currently have a queen. You might benefit from my online hive inspection class. You can stream this calls and watch over and over so it is great for review. https://vimeo.com/ondemand/hiveinspectionclass

      Reply
  29. Margot Cueto

    Hello, I have a beehive inside my roof house, apparently on top of the closet under a pitched roof, they come and go outside throughout the roof tiles and get into the house through the roof woods. I want them out, But although I had put several times some poisons they manage to come to live again, this man came yesterday and said the only way will be to break open the brick walls and get off the hives completly and put some paints inside to prevent the wax smell to bring them back and build a hive again, it is a nightmare to me, is there another option? Can the colony end because the queen is gone as I read here and in that case how could I bring her out and kill her? I need help, I dont my house to be destroy, thank you

    Reply
    • Hilary

      Hi Margot, Yes, you have to have someone open the wall to properly remove them. I encourage you to find a live bee removal company. There’s no reason to poison them.

      Reply
  30. Fred

    Great site, I lost my bees this past winter? This was a hive that was in my yard since 2005. I left the hive alone and noticed that over the winter there was constant activity of bees robbing the boxes. In March I noticed much more activity and when I opened the hive I found that a swarm had moved in. At the time of the loss there were two deep boxes of honey and the bottom
    Brood box was totally empty. I did remove all of the old comb and stacked the two honey filled boxes on top and left the hive alone until March. I am not able to get the bees to draw comb on a deep super that I installed in late April. I have never used foundation on any of the frames. , Including the bottom brood box . Any suggestions. Hive is extremely active, lots of bees bringing in pollen and nectar.

    Reply
  31. James Mcdowell

    I’m a bit concerned. Did a hive inspection and decided to do some hive maintenance because i accidently had some shallow frames in a deep framed super. I couldn’t locate the queen and am concerned i may have killed her by accident. The bees are all clustered on the front of the box now. I don’t know how many bees fit in a square inch of space but i can tell you i have a 10 frame box which consists of one shallow and one deep supper. The front of the box is jam packed with bees on the outside. I made a mess out of the hive trying to correct the mismanaged comb building. Please help with any advice.

    Reply
    • Hilary

      Hi, it sounds like you are dealing with some cross-comb issues. I recommend you review my article on how to make comb guides. There is a section that discusses cross-comb. Even better is my online hive inspection class https://vimeo.com/ondemand/hiveinspectionclass which also discusses how to fix cross-comb as well as lots of other useful stuff for managing your hive. As far as your queen goes, you need to wait 5 days or so and then go back in and look for eggs. That is the best way to find out if she is still alive.

      Reply
  32. James Finch

    Hi Hillary,

    What are your thoughts on installing a new mated queen while the colony is in the process of building viable emergency queen cells? In your experience, does this typically cause any problems? I performed a split one week ago and was not in a position to give them a mated queen at that time, so I made sure to give them a couple of frames with eggs. I put the queenless split in the location of the old hive, so with drift it now has a LOT of workers. Today (one week after split) I went into the hive to install a new queen – pushing the cage into the comb in a central frame in the bottom deep. I noticed one of the adjacent frames had at least 4 or 5 capped emergency cells. I did not inspect any of the other frames. So is it reasonable to introduce a new queen like this while emergency cells are well under way, or will this make it less likely for the colony to accept her? I’ll check on their behavior toward her in 3 to 4 days and make a decision on whether to release her at that time. Thank you!

    Reply
    • Hilary

      I would have recommended you remove any queen cells at the time of installing the new queen and to be sure that none of them have hatched. The bees typically reject installed queens over the chance to raise their own.

      Reply
  33. Crystina Williams

    Hi there. I’m new to beekeeping. I’ve taken some classes and read some books and watched a lot of videos but there’s still a ton I don’t know. And that’s why I’m here!

    First off, I started with two nucs. They were well established and healthy from a local store. I was told I’d need to inspect them for swarm cells immediately because they were healthy hives and it was a slow spring and the nucs had been hanging out in their boxes a bit too long. I did, found some cells, removed them, and transplanted them. All was well.

    Fast-forwarding three weeks, I’ve inspected them once a week. Hive A is off like gangbusters. Filled its brood box and all eight frames and is graduating to a second deep super. Everything looks great, I’ve found eggs and brood in good numbers and I’ve seen the queen.

    Hive Bee won’t stop building swarm cells at the bottom of its frames. I’ve removed one, at least, every week I’ve inspected. It has NOT filled it’s frames at the same rate as Hive A. It is now probably 75% behind Hive A in its size. I do still see eggs, I do still see newly developing larvae, but not in the same numbers I feel as Hive A.

    I’ve also never once been able to find the queen.

    Today I went out with the intent to find her and mark her. I did not find her. Instead I found no less than six swarm cells on the bottom of one frame and what looks like it might be an emergency queen cell at the top of another? I did find eggs today and I did find very young larave but I don’t feel like I found as many as Hive A. They have also not really even started the last frame.

    BOTH hives have new supers. I have no idea why Hive Bee keeps making what seem like swarm cells (and now a blatant queen cell in the open on the side of a frame??). I’m at a loss as to what to do. Two of these cells are DEFINITELY capped off (one is the emergency cell on the side of the frame) and two or three have larvae inside.

    Should I leave them? Should I remove all but one or two and let them hatch? Maybe my queen is sick? Should I just get a new mated queen? I don’t want to kill these if they need her.

    Any help would be desperately appreciated

    Reply
    • Hilary

      It’s hard to say what’s going on here without seeing it myself, but I think you should just let them make their queen at this point. Something is clearly wrong.

      Reply
  34. Cindy

    I bought two packages and started beekeeping this May. One hive is booming, with bearding on both sides even after adding more boxes. The other hive wakes slower and is certainly not as busy or populated. Still, there are a lot of bees and capped honey, nectar and pollen coming in. So I just figured they had different personalities.

    Yesterday morning I noticed a queen and a few workers in front of the slower hive. I picked her up and she was barely moving, I set her back down and she turned and laid on her side with 5 or 6 workers starting to lick her. I came back 10 minutes later and she was gone. I couldn’t find her in the grass but the bees were bopping me and I could only do a partial inspection. There was no evidence of mites or beetles or anything that would hint at what happened to her.

    I came back an hour later and tried to inspect again. I found drone cells on every honey frame, like clusters of 10 to 20, I didn’t get to look into the whole hive but I did not see any eggs or the queen and only one that looked like it might be a capped queen cell, but it was horizontal, sideways in cross comb attached through two frames and connected to the next frame in the bottom box. So I didn’t go further into the hive for fear of breaking it. I wonder how long I should wait to see if this cell is a viable queen or should I bring in some eggs from my thriving hive for them to make more queen cells with?

    I have no proof that there are eggs because there were none in the top boxes and I couldn’t go to the bottom box without breaking the only capped queen cell I found. How long should I wait to see if it hatches?

    Thanks for any and all advice.
    Cindy

    Reply
    • Hilary

      Hi Cindy,

      Since your other colony is so strong… I would take a frame of eggs from them to give to the other colony. Just put it in the lowest box you can without destroying the queen cell. It will be good insurance and will keep the brood pheromones in the hive for longer in case the queen cell does not hatch.

      Reply
  35. MK

    I believe my colony may be queenless. Last week, I went in to the hive and saw a few queen cups without eggs in them. I saw the queen (she’s marked) and brood of all stages. Nine days later, I checked the hive and there is no queen, no eggs that I could find, and a ton of queen cells. Two of the cells were capped, and then a few had larvae. There were more queen cups that were empty, too. It’s also not looking like they swarmed because my two boxes were still packed with bees. My question is two-fold: Could these be emergency queen cells? Is it possible a new queen has already hatched and I just couldn’t find her? Should I wait to let the ladies raise their own queen at this point, or should I step in and try to order a new mated queen? They have a great temperament right now, so I’m a bit confused. Thank you for any help!

    Reply
  36. Rebecca

    Any tips on rearing my own queens

    Reply
    • Hilary

      I recommend you order some books on the subject. I’ve never raised my own queens.

      Reply
  37. david jamieson

    how late in the season would chance putting a mated queen into ahive of bees.

    Reply
    • Hilary

      This answer depends on your location. I would ask a local beekeeper.

      Reply
  38. Brittany

    To preface, I live at 9000ft in Colorado and I only have had 1 hive this summer (due to financial reasons). I was gone for the month of September and when I returned at the end of September I performed a hive inspection. During the inspection I noticed that there was no brood, no eggs, and A LOT of nectar and honey stored. All 14 of my longlang deep frames were filled completely full and the hive was totally honey bound. I looked multiple times to try and find the queen to no avail. The bees also seemed unusually aggressive. My partner got stung 3 times on the head while he was hanging his laundry outside.
    Anyways, I ended up checker boarding two deep frames to see if the hive would draw out any comb and to see if the queen would start laying if she was in there and if she had the space to lay. The bees did in fact draw out about 1/2 a frame with comb in about a week. It is important to note that it October now… I ended up ordering a queen from OHB which arrived today. I went in and set the queen down to see how the bees would react. In all reality, it was very anticlimactic for a while. There were a few bees who climbed on the cage and they seemed pretty calm. They were so calm in fact that after about 20 minutes, I ended up “drilling” out the candy so I could do a direct release. The queen didn’t seem to want to leave the cage and at this point I notice that a few bees are biting the cage but I can still “shew” them away easily with my finger. I ended up attach the cage to a frame and dropping it in to see if she’d leave and while I was doing that, I accidentally smushed one of the bees on the queen cage (eek…!) this caused one of the bees to begin stinging at the cage. I pulled that one bee off and the rest of the bees on the cage seems fairly docile with the occasional biting at the cage. I ended up walking away for about an hour and going back and sealing up the candy hole again because I panicked….. Is it possible for the hive to accept the queen if they have been at all aggressive with her? Could the original queen still be in there? How badly did I fork the queen introduction up??
    Any additional thoughts or comments would be great!!

    Reply
    • Hilary

      Sometimes the bees are initially aggressive towards a new queen, but will accept her if you keep her caged longer. Lots of variables in your situation so it is hard to say!

      Reply
  39. Sherryl

    Just found my queen dead outside my hive ( she was marked so I know it was her). I only have one hive I just got established this year. It’s one of the last 50 degree days in my part of Colorado. What should I do?

    Reply
    • Hilary

      Hi, this is a tough situation. You could try to order a queen from Hawaii and install her quickly. 50 might be OK if you are quick.

      Reply
  40. Julie Sayre

    We have a colony living in our siding. I’m considering the trap and lure extraction method. I’ve ordered a new hive, and all the gear/equipment. What is your experience/success rate of this method? And will the queen move with them? Or should I attempt introducing a new queen in the new (empty) broid box? …and so many other questions!

    Reply
    • Hilary

      I would recommend you do a cutout and take out all their comb etc. I only do trap outs when there is absolutely no other option.

      Reply
  41. N

    How do you make sure your honey bees feed caged virgins, if there’s no brood? (Queenless for now but if there was no brood and queen then?)

    Reply
    • Hilary

      I have never actually tried to install a virgin queen. I was under the impression the bees will not accept her.

      Reply
  42. Debbie Emery

    Nuc provided mid June with unmated queen. Fed sugar syrup 1:1 as advised. Inspection following week, no sign of queen and brood box honey bound. In case queen was actually present but missed, replaced 2 brood frames to be drawn out for her to lay. QE added plus super on top. 2nd inspection saw few larvae in brood box but not mid frame, scattered at edges. Closed up. Its into early August now, South East/London, UK. Did Q not make it back from mating flight and I now have laying workers or will I only know if the larvae I saw are drones? Hive has been very relaxed on inspection. I have no 2nd hive to steal brood frames in the hope they will raise a new Q. Should I introduce new mated Q and how long until hive wont accept new Q under any circumstances? Thank you.

    Reply
    • Hilary

      Hi Debbie, are you seeing multiple eggs per cell? Drone brood looks raised up when capped. Are you seeing only that? If you are queen less and there are laying workers they won’t accept a new queen, but they may make their own new queen if you give them young brood from a queen right colony. You may have to try more than once to give them brood for them to make one.

      Reply
  43. Lois Ashby

    I have a Top Bar Hive that seems to be bursting at the seams, but I have not been able to visualize the queen for several weeks. But the hive is growing, so she must be there.

    I also have a horizontal hive that was decimated by yellow jackets. Is there a way to use the empty horizontal hive to let the top bar bees expand? Could I take some of the top bars and place them in the horizontal hive? If I supplied a new queen , would they continue to grow
    and adapt to the different frames and the new queen?

    Reply
    • Hilary

      You’re talking about making a split. Have you done one before? If not, you may find my new online class helpful https://vimeo.com/ondemand/swarmsandsplits Other consideration is if the shape of the comb of your TBH fits into your long hive.

      Reply
  44. Ginny Sumner

    Hi Hillary, I’m newish to beekeeping. I’m a member of a community garden and we’ve had bees for many years, apparently. However, in the years since I’ve been a member, we’ve lost hives due to theft, ie someone broke in and literally vacuumed up our bees; spontaneously, which now sounds like it could have been mites or queenlessness; swarming which should have been a good thing and was temporarily; wasps; and this past winter mice. The mice destruction was the worst our beekeeper had ever experienced. He lost a dozen hives, three each in four different sites!

    In my first year of membership, 2018, I noticed our beekeeper and a couple of gardeners who were entemologists checking out the hives one evening. Courious, I went to see what it looked like inside them. The beekeeper had an extra suit and told me to put it on. It was one with the old fashioned safari type hoods, which I had on backwards and had a hard time breathing and seeing. I thought the hood was a crazy uncomfortable contraption and couldn’t understand how anyone could be in it for long, until I slipped on the hillside and the beekeeper set it on my head properly… WOW what an amazing world it was inside the box! The beekeeper pointed out various elements and pulled out some wax and comb dripping with honey. He told the entemologists to share it with me. They weren’t too thrilled with me inviting myself to their party for some reason and begrudgingly gave me a small amount of each. It was only May near Denver CO, so the honey was very light in color with a very delicate flavor. At our Christmas party, the honey from the year was collected and spun so every gardener could get a small jar. It was darker in color and bolder in taste, and delicious!

    The entemologists didn’t return the next year. However, the beekeeper decided to start a formal class for gardeners ever since that evening I crashed the party! I started a trend. It wasn’t the only one I started…

    Anyway, when I heard about the mice killing our bees and eating the honey, I was very upset! No bees meant our plants and orchard would suffer. So I donated all the bee packages, two nucs, and a hive in memory of my parents and deceased brother. The packages were installed at the end of April and the nucs went in 15 May. I upgraded the bottom of the hive to have the mite screen because I didn’t want that to be a problem, although I knew nothing about it. It sounded like a good idea.

    The seller raises the bees less than a mile north of the store. The nucs were a LOT longer in distribution because the bees weren’t cooperating in creating the comb due to a cold spring. So when the beekeeper and I installed the frames, the first one seemed a little light on bees but there were large sections of capped brood and the other frames looked good. Only a half dozen of deaths.

    When we installed the second nuc in the brand new hive, there were two pollen packs on top of the frames and the beekeeper believed there were less than 3000 bees-very few were casualties and they mostly seemed to have been squished when the lid was closed! However, there seemed to be a lot of capped brood and we saw the queen. I couldn’t believe how much she looked like a female cockroach! She was surrounded by a bunch of bees and everything looked good so we were hopeful that the numbers would increase rapidly now that temperatures were hitting the 90’s. All the hives are being fed sugar water for the time being until more plants bloom. However, they all seem happy and are foraging.

    My hive is in the middle of the orchard, not far from my plots so I can keep an eye on them. I’m not sure how often they need to be checked but the beekeeper and I are keeping a close eye on all of them. I purchased my own suit and necessary accessories rather inexpensively. I wanted to be able to check on my hive independently from the beekeeper and not take a suit from a gardener who may be in the class. There’s a bee portion in the newcomer orientation, from which I learned to introduce myself to the guards so they could remember my scent and find my plots. It’s VERY helpful in removing certain persons who like to chat forEVER when you’re trying to get work done. 😉 So I’m not uncomfortable being close to the hives.

    Of course, I’m not really doing much except for making sure there are capped brood on frames, checking to see if they’re expanding to the empty frames, if there are the larger brood I was shown previously, which I thought was for a new queen, and if it’s humming along nicely. As I said, I’m newish and have a LOT to learn!

    It’s been four days and I noticed a definite improvement! The bees were creating comb at the top of the frames making them stick together. They weren’t going to the bottom of the frames, which appears to be a normal progression, after looking at the pictures you’ve provided. I noticed the difference in colors and now know what it means. There seemed to be even more capped brood, yet no evidence that anyone has hatched. I didn’t know you could see the eggs and larvae so I wasn’t looking for them. I erroneously thought that the cells were capped immediately after the queen laid the egg. I even saw bee butts sticking out of cells and had to do a double take because it looked bizarre. I was tempted to touch them to see if they were still alive but I now know what they were doing! And I found three of the larger cylindrical cells, which I understand are worker bees and no peanut shaped ones for additional queens.

    What I found odd was that the worker bee cells are not very close together and there are ONLY three! Is this a normal progression of a new colony? The pictures show the worker bees in an entire group, generally below the midpoint of a frame. The three I found were all at the top of the same frame.

    I’m anxiously waiting for the colony to increase in numbers. I now know the difference between capped brood and honey cells and will be looking for it in the future. The beekeeper said he removed full honey frames from other hives. I thought it was VERY soon to have an entirely full frame of it when the packages were installed a month ago at the most. Is that normal timing? Do you need to put a special frame in the hive in which they put honey? Something in what you wrote and the beekeeper said sounded like that is the case. Based on what I read on timing, shouldn’t I have found cells that looked like a bee hatched from out of it? I might have overlooked them. Or does the queen lay an egg in it as soon as the previous occupant hatches? I suppose the better question to ask is how fast does the queen lay her eggs? Does she go frame to frame or does she concentrate on one frame at a time before switching?

    In a way, I feel like a new mommy checking on her child more often than needed. How often should I check on them? I’m extremely concerned about mites. How often should I do a mite count? I’m a little confused on how to do the powdered sugar test. Do you sift it over the top of each frame and kind of shake the hive so the mites present automatically fall through the screen at the bottom? I have a pull out thin wooden tray. It it safe to get water on it to wash the powder off the mites? Or do you have to do the cup full of bees and find out an exact percentage? I think I made a good choice in upgrading the bottom to have the mite screen! I don’t know how often you should check for them. Finding the nuc had a significantly reduced population than expected, I want to make sure the colony grows as fast as possible!

    And to add insult to injury, we’re getting snow today and a hard freeze has been forcasted! The beekeeper didn’t think there would be a problem and I suppose I should be relieved to see the bee butts hanging out. But they are relying heavily on the pollen packs and sugar water even though they are foraging the opening blooms on the fruit trees in the orchard. Does that sound like a normal progression of the hive? I have noticed a few dead bees at the opening and I’m wondering if they got rid of them because of pests or virus?

    I really want my hive to flourish! I’m sure, since the hive is in the middle of the orchard, the honey from it will taste A-MAZING! I’m also sure our beekeeper will get to the answers to my questions eventually but I’m worried about it now that the rain has started already!

    I’m also worried about my plants. Some I’m not worried about because they like the cold and snow. I’ve covered, moved to the small greenhouse, or brought inside all of them. So I’m hoping not to lose any. The hard freeze is EXTREMELY worrisome but maybe they will be wrong about that one piece.

    Thank you in advance. I’ve learned a LOT from comparing your descriptions to what is visible on my frames. It has provided a level of understanding that has tied the pieces of information received from the beekeeper together nicely. I’m looking forward to the other aspects of normal hive functions for which I didn’t know to look!

    Reply
    • Hilary

      Hi Ginny, the queen often does lay an egg very soon after the bee emerges from it. I think you might find my second online class entitled Hive Inspection very helpful at this stage in your learning. https://girlnextdoorhoney.com/online-classes/

      Reply
  45. Elizabeth

    This was the most straightforward and detailed article I found on this topic. Thank you. You may have just saved our hive. We noticed the girls acting more aggressive (they’re normally very gentle) and chalked it up to the extreme drought everyone faced this summer, and the late summer lack of blooms. But they kept acting erratically even though they produced a good bit of honey in the supers (ding ding ding, should have been a warning bell). My husband hadn’t checked the bottom deep in a while but mentioned he didn’t see any brood in the top deep. It was clear after reading this that they were queenless and had been for at least 3 weeks. This is the first year we’ve had two hives and man am I glad. Finding a queen for purchase in late July was going to be near impossible. We took a frame of uncapped brood from a queen right hive, marked it and prayed and we now have a laying queen! My concern is that they will not be able to accommodate the loss in population before winter but we will see. Regardless it was a huge learning experience. Thanks for all your wisdom.

    Reply
    • Hilary

      So glad you caught it in time! You can always steal a frame of capped brood from your strong hive to help boost the one that was queen less. The brood will emerge soon and add to the population.

      Reply
  46. G.G.

    Question: Hello, I inherited a hive that had been doing well for years and yielding harvestable honey. I live in Houston, so the winter weather is usually mild, but we had a recent late Dec freeze, and the bee population dwindled noticably. There were/and are still a few entering/exiting, but when I did a recent hive check, the colony is queenless; there isn’t any brood; only dark old honeycomb–and some capped honey. Question: if I buy a nuc, would the new bees be happy with all the old structure still present? (2 brood boxes and 2 supers). Could I get by with just buying a queen or queen + bees? There is no indication of what killed off the colony as far as I can tell, but then again, I am not an expert and previously only harvested honey from the supers without ever doing a real hive inspection. Thanks for any guidance

    Reply
    • Hilary

      You can reuse the boxes and frames, but I would cut out any old, dark comb and let them build anew.

      Reply
  47. kurye

    I appreciate the thought-provoking questions you pose in your blog posts.

    Reply

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My name is Hilary Kearney. I’m the author of the book, “Queenspotting” and founder of the urban beekeeping business Girl Next Door Honey in San Diego, California. I’m an artist turned beekeeper on a mission to help new beekeepers succeed and educate the public about the magic of bees!

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