My first potential swarm?

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Joined
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Location
Northern California
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Ok, I live in northern California, US. The weather is mild, yet still bi-polar, as in 50's one day, rain, then 70's the next and windy. All that being said, I have a hive that is approaching 1 year, and a package of Saskatraz bees I picked up last weekend.
I noticed a swarm of bees outside my hives yesterday, and followed it to my neighbors house as they all landed inside a hollowed out tree. I tried my hardest to retrieve the swarm, but I was not successful because this swarm was deep in the tree. Maybe it wasn't my bees, my hives don't seem to be smaller after the fact, but I'm afraid to check in there for fear of destroying any QC's that may be in there. They're still docile (this is the older hive, new one is doing great) and I had a large amount of drone cells in this older hive and a few QC's as well that were 'practice' cells, all empty. In my last post, I stated I thought my queen had been replaced, because tmi spotted a queen that wasn't marked, and she looked larger than the one in there prior to the spotting. I was in the older hive on Saturday when i installed the new colony, and didn't see the Q because it was 50° and breezy so I didn't chance the brood getting cold or the queen getting injured.
What are your thoughts on this 'swarm'? They instantly went way down in the tree. They're still there too, so possibly it wasn't my hive? It was a rather small swarm.
I'd like to split that hive, so when I go in there for the next inspection in a week or two, what would I look for to check the viability of a split other than spotting a queen?
I'm still in my first year of beekeeping so I've a lot of new things to learn now and I apologize if these are dumb questions for you seasoned beeks!
This is the first time I've actually seen drones in the hive!
Bees are so amazing 🐝
 

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A good chance the swarm was from your hive, the only way of knowing if you don't know is to look.
In most cases one wouldn't notice if a colony looked smaller or not following a swarm leaving.
If one is careful and not rushed then damaging a QC cell shouldn't occur , likelyhoood there are more then the one swarm or superscedure cells.
In the UK the practice for us is to leave just the one QC to prevent any cast /smaller swarms leaving which would deplete/weaken the colony further. Once I know how many QC's I have and have dated them I leave them in situ until they are 13 or 14 days old , then I remove all bar one to prevent cast swarms .
If the colony is one of my preferred colonies with traits that are very good then I harvest cells to raise a nuc or two, other wsie they are destroyed.
 
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Regards to splitting , one will need to ascertain whether they have swarmed . Ideally if not sure one should inspect them to see if there are swarm cells ( If your weather conditions are favourable then better to do so sooner then later).
If any are found then splitting further will only deplete or weaken them more.
 
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The sooner one can ascertain QC's then one can date them easier .
Any sealed cell will be nine days or more , any open cells with a plump fat Q larvae visible will be about 7/8 days and easier to date so may be preferable to leave then a sealed cell ( Remember that a Queen will emerge on day fifteen after the egg is laid), the queen cell is only at the open larval stage for five days as on day six as a larvae she is capped over . This with the 3 days as an egg would date her as nine days old so only 7 days before she emerges.
The best advice for a newbie beek is to look into the Queen cell life cycle where then one can date the QC to with in a day, so will know within a 24/36hr period when a new Queen will emerge.
Use a drawing pin/tack pressed in to the top bar to note the approx. position of any QC within a colony, position the pin/tack eithe rside of the bar centerline to indicate which face the cell is on.

Don't shake, drop or knock frames as a Qu can become dislodged from the royal jelly pool being fed on (esp when sealed).
Make sure one carefully inspects frames , make sure all bee's are moved so as not to obsure /hide/cover any cells. Gentle smoke to move them along, gently use the back of the hive tool to lighty touch the bees to move them along or maybe a goose wing feather to brush them gently.

Everyone will have their own technique, for me as I already a have a hive tool in hand will lightly rest it/hover it over the bees to move them along.
 
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The sooner one can ascertain QC's then one can date them easier .
Any sealed cell will be nine days or more , any open cells with a plump fat Q larvae visible will be about 7/8 days and easier to date so may be preferable to leave then a sealed cell ( Remember that a Queen will emerge on day fifteen after the egg is laid), the queen cell is only at the open larval stage for five days as on day six as a larvae she is capped over . This with the 3 days as an egg would date her as nine days old so only 7 days before she emerges.
The best advice for a newbie beek is to look into the Queen cell life cycle where then one can date the QC to with in a day, so will know within a 24/36hr period when a new Queen will emerge.
Use a drawing pin/tack pressed in to the top bar to note the approx. position of any QC within a colony, position the pin/tack eithe rside of the bar centerline to indicate which face the cell is on.

Don't shake, drop or knock frames as a Qu can become dislodged from the royal jelly pool being fed on (esp when sealed).
Make sure one carefully inspects frames , make sure all bee's are moved so as not to obsure /hide/cover any cells. Gentle smoke to move them along, gently use the back of the hive tool to lighty touch the bees to move them along or maybe a goose wing feather to brush them gently.

Everyone will have their own technique, for me as I already a have a hive tool in hand will lightly rest it/hover it over the bees to move them along.
Thank you!
 
swarm was deep in the tree
Let them be, but in years to come they will swarm, so set up nearby a bait hive to reduce the chance the swarm may go down a neighbour's chimney.

a few QC's as well that were 'practice' cells, all empty
Which is it? If all are empty then all are queen cups. If so, best not call some QCs, which suggests they are loaded with egg, royal jelly or larvae.

what would I look for to check the viability of a split other than spotting a queen?
Young open brood. If there is none, the Q has gone. If you find QCs they will be sealed, so split if you wish and give a cell to each, though colony strength will determine the size of your split; you may decide to make up small nucs with a cell each, rather than break up the whole lot.

when I go in there for the next inspection in a week or two
Day or two, I hope. If the colony has swarmed then it did so on day 8/9 of QC production, and new queens will emerge on day 16. At that point further swarms may leave and you will lose control of the situation.

For routine inspections at your stage of the game you should check every 7 days during the season; do not vary that until until you can read a colony reliably: 3-5 years.

Photo 4 shows a drone larvae with a varroa mite sitting on it. What treatment did you use last fall?

Photo 4 shows a block of sealed drone larvae at the frame end, but in an odd position. Why has that happened?
 
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It is not normal for a swarm to leave a hive and then go straight to a new home. There is a gap in-between when the congregate somewhere else. It is worth keeping an eye on that place as bees will use it more than once as a congregation point.
 
So, an update to the hive swarm....
That was a mating flight from a neighbors' yard, a hive living in a dead tree. My bees actually swarmed three days ago, and I happened to be outside when It happened and they landed in a small tree in my backyard! I was able to catch them and install in a hive i had set up for such a thing. The swarmed hive is thriving, now bringing in pollen, so I think they'll be fine. The original hive, however is not bringing in pollen. There are a lot of drones, and it seems like the hive is chaotic. I've been recommended to leave the hive alone for a 2 weeks, but I'd like some advice on what the group thinks about this! I did see a small queen on the landing the day of the swarm, but I don't know where she went, and I'm not sure if there was more than one.
 
So, an update to the hive swarm....
That was a mating flight from a neighbors' yard, a hive living in a dead tree. My bees actually swarmed three days ago, and I happened to be outside when It happened and they landed in a small tree in my backyard! I was able to catch them and install in a hive i had set up for such a thing. The swarmed hive is thriving, now bringing in pollen, so I think they'll be fine. The original hive, however is not bringing in pollen. There are a lot of drones, and it seems like the hive is chaotic. I've been recommended to leave the hive alone for a 2 weeks, but I'd like some advice on what the group thinks about this! I did see a small queen on the landing the day of the swarm, but I don't know where she went, and I'm not sure if there was more than one.
Also, I used a 'natural' treatment just before winter for the mites. It was thyme essential oil with lecithin as a binder, in 1:1 sugar syrup. I had a terribly bad case of mites previous to the treatment, but by December I found none and same with this year, but I have found the numbers increase again since march. I don't want to treat them right now because of the honey. I know the numbers are low tho.
 
Also, I used a 'natural' treatment just before winter for the mites. It was thyme essential oil with lecithin as a binder, in 1:1 sugar syrup.
That's a prophylactic treatment for nosema.
It has zero effect on mite levels
 
swarmed hive is thriving, now bringing in pollen, so I think they'll be fine
Pollen income is not a guarantee of success; if this colony has the original mated queen, then check for eggs.

original hive, however is not bringing in pollen. There are a lot of drones, and it seems like the hive is chaotic
Without a queen the colony will not function effectively, but one with a virgin about to mate is content and will work normally. If the original colony has eggs, take a frame (shake off the bees) and give it to this lot in the centre of the nest. Mark the frame and return in four days (eggs are eggs for three).

If the colony is queenright the larvae will be allowed to develop routinely; if queenless, they will draw emergency cells. Leave them to it for three weeks and then check for eggs.

terribly bad case of mites previous to the treatment, but by December I found none and same with this year
If you do not get to grips with varroa and treat effectively then you will lose the colonies; the alternative is a no-treatment policy (see Pargyle's posts here) but at your stage of the game you have yet to develop multiple management strategies, so stick to treating.

That's a prophylactic treatment for nosema. It has zero effect on mite levels
Yes, it may have marginal effect, but clearly insufficient to deal with your infestation. Explore treatment options and decide whether to act now to produce two healthy colonies. If you know a beekeeper who sublimates oxalic acid, ask or pay them to treat your colonies on days 1, 6, and 11. Repeat a treatment in the early fall. OA will not taint honey beyond natural levels and its use with supers is permitted in the US.

I found none
I know the numbers are low
found the numbers increase again since march
If you see varroa with the naked eye then the colony is heavily infested and in deep trouble. If you see none, the varroa will be in sealed brood or hiding between the body plates of bees, and you will not see them. A drop board under the floor is an unreliable test for the presence of varroa. The only certainty when dealing with varroa is that your colonies do have them.
 
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see a small queen on the landing the day of the swarm, but I don't know where she went, and I'm not sure if there was more than one
If the colony holds more than one emerged virgin at the same time they will fight it out and the colony will not swarm. If a virgin and sealed QCs are in there, the colony may swarm again.

Best check that no sealed QCs remain; either release the virgins (sharp knife to ease open the QC tip) or remove the cells completely. When you go in to check the combs, virgins about to emerge may do so at that time; let them be, and just make sure that no sealed cells remain.
 

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