How long before workers start laying?

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At the end of July our smaller colony which was given to us as a small swarm ended up with a drone laying queen and we were advised to combine this colony with our other colony which was also a small cast swarm, but which had been steadily growing in size.

We combed using the newspaper method, weak queen-less colony on top and after 8 days there was signs of chewed newspaper below the hive, so we decided to reduce the two brood boxes into one which looked simple as the bottom colony had been across the first 7 or 8 frames, and the weaker colony had only been on three frames in their brood box, so it seems fairly easy to swap the drawn frames with bees from the top brood with the undrawn frames in the bottom.

That went fine, but when we started to look at the original frames for signs of eggs and larva, but as soon as we moved one of those frames the bees just got unbelievably aggressive and were pretty much just flying at us. So, we closed the hive without inspecting any further. Up until then they had been really docile and pretty much ignored us when we checked frames, so we were not prepared for this level of aggression and maybe we should have kept at it, but the bees obviously did't want us poking about their brood nest, so we retreated.

A week later we inspected with the help of an experienced bee keeper and the bees were back to their normal docile selves. This was 15 days after the colony combination, so possibly if we lost the original queen then, the timing would have allowed for an emergency queen cell to have been made and a young queen hatched. The chap who was inspecting with us said he thought he could see remains of queen cells that were a sign that we probably had a new virgin queen.

We then waited three weeks for her to mate, and on weekly inspections the pre-existing brood all hatched until there were no capped brood on any frames. We had calculated that hopefully she would start laying from last weekend, but just as a test we were given a frame with some eggs in it to 'test' the colony. When I put this frame in to the hive the bees were as usual very calm.

Today, 4 days after putting the donor board into the brood box, we have maybe 6 emergency queen cell structures on the donor board, and no sign of eggs on other frames and the bees were today almost as aggressive as they were the time before.

So, if what I think I know is correct, it would appear that there is no queen in the colony, mated or otherwise, as they have quickly set about making emergency queen cells as soon as the donor frame was introduced. Is there any chance of there being a young queen in there yet to get mated and queen cells still being produced? Probably a forlorn hope.

As the last eggs laid by the original queen who somehow got lost combining colonies were laid about 5 weeks ago, if we didn't get a new virgin queen from those eggs, (who has also gone missing), why didn't we have laying workers? How long after going queen-less does it take for workers to start laying.
 
Today, 4 days after putting the donor board into the brood box, we have maybe 6 emergency queen cell structures on the donor board, and no sign of eggs on other frames and the bees were today almost as aggressive as they were the time before.

So, if what I think I know is correct, it would appear that there is no queen in the colony, mated or otherwise, as they have quickly set about making emergency queen cells as soon as the donor frame was introduced. Is there any chance of there being a young queen in there yet to get mated and queen cells still being produced? Probably a forlorn hope.

As the last eggs laid by the original queen who somehow got lost combining colonies were laid about 5 weeks ago, if we didn't get a new virgin queen from those eggs, (who has also gone missing), why didn't we have laying workers? How long after going queen-less does it take for workers to start laying.

Yes, the virgin failed (perhaps to return) and the test frame proved that the colony is queenless; your hope of the presence of a virgin and QCs is forlorn. :)

Brood pheromone prevents the development of laying workers and the colony clearly had brood for long enough, and then received another frame of brood. The appearance of LWs is variable; read more here by The Apiarist.

How many colonies do you run?
 
Thanks for the reply, you've confirmed pretty much what I had feared.

Even when we do net a new queen hatched, its going to be the best part of 2 months between the last eggs and the new eggs, so there may not be much of a colony left for the new queen. I suppose the most expedient solution would be to purchase a mated queen and build the colony as much a possible, as soon as possible, before winter.

If she can be introduced successfully before the queen cells hatch, we could put the donor frame into a nuc with some bees and see if we can hatch a standby queen.

I have one other colony at a different site. Again this was a small late swarm which is doing reasonably well. Given the disaster that unfolded uniting colonies last time I would be very reluctant to try this again.

In fact I'm not sure I'd unite colonies again, we should have given the colony with the drone laying queen a frame of eggs from our other hive and left the other colony alone, but I guess that is said with the benefit of hindsight.
 
Hi BugsInABox,

We have lost the original queen 5 weeks ago when combining colonies, no idea why. We then thought we had a virgin queen who needed to get mated, but that should be happening now and it hasn't. So, we added the test frame of eggs and as they have made emergency queen cells its pretty much proof that we have lost the new virgin queen also. If we wait for these cells to hatch and the new queen to mate that will be a further 4 weeks but also a lot of risk that she doesn't mate this late or gets lost. Even if she does start laying in 4 weeks that would be a brood gap of 2 months and there won't be much of a colony left.

Luckily, we have been offered a very small NUC that isn't big enough to survive winter, but that has an active queen. If combining these colonies works next week, we will have a laying queen, some more bees and a few frames of capped brood and hopefully a colony that will survive winter.
 
Thanks for that. I’d wondered about the lack of drones but not the further weeks before any brood is viable.
 
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