We started the year with two more or less identical TBH’s. By May both were bursting with bees. Strangely while one never produced queen cells, the other produced loads of them, and we did a split to discourage it swarming (discussed earlier).
However, the colony wasn’t discouraged at all. It threw off a swarm and two casts – it must have had loads of viable queens. It was now down to about one sixth the numbers it hit at its maximum.
We noticed decreasing activity and no (zero!) varroa drop, a sign of no brood. Of course it takes a while for the new queen left behind after swarming, to mate and start laying, so we left them alone for, as it turned out, too long.
Some weeks later we were still concerned about the hive and opened it up and found the following.
It was apparent that what had happened was that they had been left without a viable queen after the split and third swarm, and they had tried to raise an emergency queen by modifying a cell in the middle of a comb (a sign of desperation as the queen will be inferior).
Raising a queen is always a game of probabilities for the colony – eventually, one will fail to return from her mating flight, or something else will go wrong. That’s why they swarm, so the superorganism / species will continue.
We put a comb of brood from the neighbouring hive in this one hoping it would give them a chance. But within days robbing from stronger colonies had begun – presumably mainly their neighbours and cousins from two feet away! – and within two weeks the hive was completely dead. Perhaps the few remaining inhabitants died from old age, or were overwhelmed by robbers. Opening the hive showed none of the new comb of brood had hatched: they probably got chilled and died.
The next stage of the process will probably be wax moth but I should harvest the combs for wax first. There is no honey left – the hive is remarkably light now!
This isn’t a sad event, it’s just part of the cycle. We know that at least the sub-colony we split off was viable, so at least one child colony survives. It’s interesting how one hive went for a “no swarms this year” strategy (and remains viable) while their cousins went for a “swarm like mad this year” one and eventually the odds ran against the parent hive.