Today I was out checking some of my new package hives. One hive was lagging behind the others. Although there were several frames of capped brood there was no uncapped brood or eggs present. A more detailed search showed my hive was queenless. I took immediate action to install a new queen.
A hive without a queen is in trouble. This is a lesson usually learned by hard knocks by new beekeepers. For this reason it is recommended for beekeepers to inspect their hives every other week. The inspection is intended to verify that there are eggs and brood present. If these are present they allow the beekeeper to assess the condition of the queen even if they are not skilled enough to readily find her. A hive with eggs, uncapped brood and capped brood is termed to be "queenright".
If you see eggs you know in the worst case the queen was present as little as 4 days previous. If you see pearly white uncapped brood you know as a minimum that the queen was present at least 9 days previously. Capped brood is an indication she was present at least 21 days previously.
Without a queen the hive goes into decline. a queenless hive also triggers other events. Without the presence of queen pheromones the bees will usually initiate an emergency queen replacement if the right age and right sex larvae can be found. Emergency queen cells are usually found in the middle of the frame. Swarm cells are usually found on the bottom of the frame.
The brood also emits pheromones. The brood pheromones inhibit normally sterile worker bees from laying eggs. 21 days after the loss of the queen the worker brood has all emerged. Then the workers attempt to propagate the genetics of colony by raising drones. Although they may raise drones, drones contribute nothing to the survival of the hive and the hive will go into inevitable decline.
By inspecting once every two weeks you will be able to detect the queenless condition prior to hive population crashing and prior to laying workers beginning to raise drones.
Most beekeepers (new and old) get into trouble once the honey supers are put on the hive. Then the work involved with a hive inspection gets more time consuming and many beekeepers (new and old) blow off the biweekly inspection much to their peril. Some beekeepers think they can accurately gauge the condition of the hive by the amount of flight activity at the entrance. Things appear normal until all the brood is done emerging. By then the brood pheromones are dissipated and laying workers are in control. Do so at your peril.
Put in the effort to verify your hives are queenright and you will be rewarded with more honey.