I got called out by a beekeeper as their hive had sent out a small swarm and they were concerned that they had lost their queen. I made time to go out and have a look as the hive may send out a larger swarm or after-swarms if action is not taken. The beekeeper had also put a nucleus box out near the swarm and they had walked in.
When I got there the bees were crawling over the front of the hive and a large number were flying about indicating that they may be getting ready to swarm again.
On opening the hive I found the brood box was packed with bees, no sign of eggs and 6 queen cells, 2 of which were very close to hatching. There were too many bees to see if the queen was still in the hive and, give that there had been a previous swarm, it was likely she was gone. I didn’t see any hatched queen cells so it was also unlikely that there was a virgin queen in the hive.
My strategy was to reduce the likelihood of the hive swarming again and to enable the hive to sort out the queening issue themselves as I had no replacement at the time.
I undertook an internal split of the hive using the Demaree method leaving the two good queen cells and all the bees into the bottom box. I moved the remaining 6 brood frames to the top box.
If there is a queen in the hive she is now in the bottom box with plenty of laying space reducing swarm mode of the hive. If there is no queen, then the hive has 2 queen cells with which to make their own queen.
The nurse bees are loyal to to brood, some will stay with the queen or queen cells and 2 frames of brood in the bottom box and the rest of the nurse bees will move up with the 6 frames of brood in the top box. The brood in the top box will hatch out and the box will become a honey box.
The beekeeper will check the top box in 5 days and destroy any queen cells that may form. In a few weeks we will requeen the hive with a new queen to ensure the hive retains good genetics.
After the hive was put back together the bees quietened and were returning home. We then checked the nucleus box that yesterday’s swarm had gone in but it was empty. They had moved on.