This e-mail came in today. I’m interested to see if you agree with my answer or have a better idea.
I just installed my first package a week ago into a top bar hive. The queen was dead in her cage and I was told this usually means there is a queen in the package loose, so give it 3-5 days and see what happens. The weather immediately took a turn for the worse, with days in the 50s and nights below freezing. At first we saw some bees making flights, but over the past few days, nothing.
Due to the cold weather, I haven’t had a chance to take a look until today, exactly a week from when I installed them. The bees are all clustered on the floor of the hive. The cluster is just about the size of a baseball. They hadn’t discovered the sugar I’d put behind the follower, no comb has been built, and there’s signs of defecation inside the hive (3 or 4 spots of bee poo on one wall).
I moved the sugar in next to them instead of leaving it behind the follower, and lightly dusted the cluster with it so they have at least a little something to eat that they can’t help but find.
My question is, what next? If I need to order another package, it needs to happen asap, likewise if I just need to order a queen. The next several days are supposed to be gloriously warm and sunny, with more moderate night time lows. Do I wait another few days and see what happens? Should I go ahead and order a whole new package? Order just a queen?
The place I got the bees from says they have no idea about bees in top bar hives, so they aren’t any help!
Whoever told you that a dead queen in her cage meant there is a queen loose in the package was either ignorant or lying. And anyway, even in the remote chance there was a loose queen in the package, you paid for the one in the queen cage and she should be alive and healthy.
With the queen dead, and no way of making a queen, the colony is just dying. It is hopeless. At this point, you need a whole new package including the queen. If the queen in the cage was dead and they sent you home without a replacement, they owe you a whole new package, including a live queen, at no extra charge.
In the meantime, put starter strips in your top-bar hive, if you haven’t already. Also, it’s not clear if you gave them solid sugar or syrup, but it should be syrup. Without lots of food they can’t build comb. So make syrup and add an attractant like lemongrass oil or anise oil so they can find it easier.
Next time, attach the queen cage to a middle bar and leave her in it a few day until comb building begins.
Andrea, I’m going to post this on the front page to see what other people think. I hope they agree.
Good luck, and next year get your bees from someone else.