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Hi all! So I'm a new beekeeper this year, and jumped in with both feet. I'm very much learning as I go. I'm sorry if this is long, but I'm trying to give the whole timeline and any relevant details, and maybe some of you with more experience can help me figure out what is happening.
I set up both hives on April 1, from very healthy and lively nucs. In retrospect, I am wondering if the bees weren't already preparing to swarm when I got the nucs — they were bursting at the seams when I picked them up. I inspected them weekly for the first month, and at every inspection, both hives had healthy queens, brood patterns, new eggs and larvae, etc.
On May 7th I inspected the hives and was concerned. I didn't see either queen, didn't see eggs in either hive, and in at least hive A (iirc) I didn't see any young brood either — just capped. I noticed a peanut-shaped cell in hive A. On that day, I had my 9yo son with me, and hive B was unusually agitated (I assumed because of his less delicate handling). He became very anxious, so we had to cut our inspection short and close up the hives before I could see more than a couple of frames and confirm my suspicions.
We were out of town the following week, so it was May 16th before I could get into the hives again. On that day, I did not find queens, or brood of any age, in either hive. At that point, not realizing they'd likely swarmed, I was only looking for the marked queens. I was perplexed, because I naively thought I'd have noticed if they had swarmed, and it seemed really unlikely that something would have happened to both queens at the same time. On May 18th, I went back in, this time looking closely for new queens. In hive A, I found a healthy looking obvious queen. In hive B, I thought I spotted "maybe a queen," but couldn't get a clear look. I went back in on the 21st, and spotted her again (pictures attached), but while I was pretty sure she was a queen, she is much smaller than the queen in hive A.
I decided to sit tight and let them do their thing. By June 4th, hive A had several frames of brood in all stages, and looked good. Still nothing in hive B; only frame after frame of nectar and pollen. At this point, I was worried that if hive B was in fact queenless, it might be too late to save the hive. But I also didn't want to spend good money on a new queen, only to have them kill her if they already had a queen. I decided to move a frame of brood from hive A to hive B and watch what happened, thinking that if they started trying to make queen cells from the new brood, I could either be patient and let them do the work, or splurge on a new queen, and if they didn't do anything, then I could be confident they already had a queen, and at least they'd have a bit more brood to keep the hive from collapsing.
A couple of days later (June 6), I went back in to see what they'd done with the new brood. I didn't see any signs that they'd tried to make a new queen. Still no eggs or larvae. Checked again on June 8th, and same thing. I figured if they needed a queen, they'd have made one, and I was just being impatient. Maybe it took her longer to mate?
But by this morning, I'm feeling more doubtful. Most of the brood on the frame I swapped has hatched, and I am still not seeing any young brood. (I feel like I'd be able to spot eggs, and I've spotted them in the past, but it's possible I missed them in the lighting.)
The hive is generally more irritable than hive A. I have not noticed any signs of laying workers, such as multiple eggs per cell or large numbers of drones. But I just can't figure this out. It seems like both hives likely swarmed (or something happened to the queens) around the same time, probably prior to May 7th, but definitely by May 16th. But while hive A was queenright and laying by about two weeks ago, hive B isn't. If they don't have a queen, why didn't they make one from the new brood? Is it possible the bee pictured is a queen, but just isn't laying for some reason? Should I continue being patient? I can't really spare any more brood from hive A. All I can think of to try at this point is eliminating the bad queen-looking-bee and put in a new queen, and hope that sets them right. What am I missing? Am I being impatient with my timeline, or am I already too late? Thanks in advance for reading this novel and offering any advice you may have!