How to get a small hive through winter when no eggs, larvae, or queen found


I’m new to beekeeping this year as I was given a 5 frame nuc early in July which had been left in the nuc box for several weeks.

  • I purchased a new hive and placed the nuc in it.
  • I put on my maisemoore rapid feeder for 2 weeks which I was advised was not necessary but according to the books i’m reading it was.
  • Subsequent inspections revealed eggs, larvae and capped brood including seeing the queen.
  • After removing the feeder I was told the colony needed a super even though they had only filled out 5/6 frames.
  • The colony has increased slightly but does not fill the brood box and the super looks as it did when I put it on, when I carried out my inspection today.
  • There is still plenty of capped brood and some emerging brood but I cannot see eggs or larvae or find the queen.
  • I have put my feeder back on today against advice from the local keeper who said it was too soon.

Should I remove the super and the queen excluder for winter or leave them, and should I be worried about the hive being queenless?

I am tempted to leave well alone and feed them through this coming month into October in an attempt to get them through winter. Any advice would be appreciated.


I don’t know what type of bees you have (Buckfast? Local mongrel? native?). It makes a difference.

I don’t know who has been advising you but they seem to have got a few things wrong. For future reference:

  • The colony should have been moved into a full hive as soon as you had them and been fed continuously.
  • In the first year they should have a super as well as a feeder (you just have to be careful that you don’t extract stored syrup as honey)

Depending on your local weather conditions, you still have time to get things better and help your bees get through the winter. Please note the following:

  • Your bees need something between 15kg and 20kg stores (honey)
  • They need a colony size of 10-15,000 bees through the winter. Say 2-3 frames full of bees but more typically 5-6 frames partially occupied.
  • They need to be healthy and have been treated against Varroa.
  • They will not now draw comb – it’s too cold for that
  • The weather has changed here in Sheffield and it might be too cold for them to take syrup off a rapid feeder – a contact feeder might be more appropriate.
  • With no income, the queen may well be off-lay. One way of guessing whether they have a queen is to assess how “defensive” or “aggressive” the bees are. In a queenless colony they get very agitated and quite often you’ll hear them “roaring”


  • Feed them heavy syrup until they take no more (but be aware of ambient temperatures – a contact feeder might be best in this context)
  • If the supers only have foundation and no drawn comb, remove them.
  • Insert the varroa tray and calculate the average daily drop over the period of a week.
  • Look up the numbers on the Bee Base web site and treat if necessary. (If they have no brood then Api-Bioxal (Oxalic acid) might be good. Otherwise a Thymol based treatment such as Apiguard or Api-Life Var.)
  • Remove Qx and, if supers have honey in them, place the brood box above the super box.
  • Get yourself some fondant as a reserve emergency feed. Place it directly over the nest area.

Let me know how you get on. If you’re in Sheffield you’d be welcome to our monthly meetings or our beginners’ training course that starts every year in March.

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