Several weeks ago, after the desert summer began, I opened the hive and found that the colony did not look well – no brood, few stores, and no comb drawing activity. I resumed feeding them, and for a couple of weeks they were sucking down sugar water at the rate of about 3 gallons per week. When the rate slowed, I figured they had probably recovered and decided I’d have another look in the hive. I was encouraged to see the food stores once again full of capped “honey” (mainly sugar water), but there were still no signs of eggs, larvae, or brood. I grabbed a spare brood box, then transferred each and every frame to it after a detailed look for any of the above as well as the queen, with no luck on any. I had a second look for the queen on the return movement from the spare box to the hive, and still no luck.
With that information, I did quite a bit of research and came to the conclusion that either my queen was dead or else I was seeing a summer “brood dormancy” driven by the combination of lack of suitable forage as well as high temperatures. The latter is my hope, and based on experience of an expert desert beekeeper and researcher who I talked with it is not uncommon in the desert environment and once the hot and dry season breaks they will come out of it naturally.
All well and good, but having not seen the queen I couldn’t confirm this as the case. This weekend I had another hunt for the queen, and again didn’t find her. Lacking evidence that the queen is still there, I have now ordered a new queen for pickup next weekend. Will this be a welcome restoration of a missing monarch, or will the workers revolt at the thought of two queens and attack the new one? At this point I give equal odds to both outcomes, but having not experienced or heard about this before and only having the one colony I feel the cost of a new queen is a bit like colony insurance.