I do believe that the queen mates within 30 days of hatching under normal circumstances, with no drones I can't see how that happens. and a queen laying unfertilized eggs will produce only drone brood something else you don't a new queen would be VERY difficult to find in a well populated colony--but I would try to see whats going on--no matter how cold it gets there is always brood being raised and in various stages of developement though in a small area on a few combswait a few weeks check out ( carefully so as to not overly expose the brood to cold ) and replace the frame exactly where you found it should have eggs, larvae and even worker pupae.
Ask 10 beekeepers and get 11 answers. Everybody has their ways, but I don't think the hive should be opened when there is nothing you can do if a problem is found. I would wait until queens are available before opening the hive again. Opening it now is just going to be detrimental to the hive, whatever you find in there.
I agree with iddee on opening the hive this late in the season being detrimental.
For what it's worth, bees can remain queenless for quite some time and not turn up their toes and die. I had a queenless hive for several months last year before I managed to get a queen cell to install. The bees just kept doing their thing... except the brood-rearing part. This was in summer, and the bad part was that the colony ended up too small to survive last winter. I have no great experience with this, but I would think that having a queenless hive over the winter would not be a death sentence. You may lose a few months of brood from the Jan-Feb timeframe, but they could gear up in spring.
If I am totally off base, somebody wise PLEASE set me straight. I'm just speaking from my "gut feel."
I'm with iddee. if there is nothing positive you can do, why do it? others have commented on the downside of manipulation now. I will add the following... as we approach dec 21 there is a good likelyhood that even if there is a queen in the hive she may not be laying now. it would be quite normal for her to have totally shut down by now. so you could look inside, see nothing and still not know anymore than you know now. after January the 5th or so this natural break will come to a close and then you might expect to at least know yea or nay.
I think perhaps odie has fallen for the old line of wisdom that there is only one laying queen in the hive at one time? which as a rule MAYBE works 90% of the time. the MAYBE can be interpreted as the behavior of most beekeeper is to look for a queen and then 'what the good reason' for looking any further? some of us have seen multipe queens in a hive and suspect that it is much more common than at least I use to suspect.
Maybe next week in the forties sometimes I will take a quick peek under the hood without disturbing frames, just to make sure the gang is still actually there.
here is a bit of nuiance and bee bioliogy with which you need to get familar.
smaller point...at 55 the bees begin to cluster and the colder it get the more compact the cluster becomes. in the mid 40's the bees will fly very little since they don't want to brake from the cluster and you as the beekeeper don't want them to break their cluster either since that little ball of bees is also trapping heat... so breaking cluster also means the heat goes right out the top of the hive. this small critical bit of trapped heat is difficult for the bee to reorganize so whatever you do make certain the cluster is not greatly disturbed.
larger point...above 55 the bees will want to fly and you have a pretty good idea of this hive disposition from you prior opening up of the hive. without a queen??? the indiviual bees and the unit will become increasing agitated, disorganized and hostile. so even without looking for the queen herself the hives disposition become an excellent gauge for determing if a hive is or is not queenright. it is not so good to make this comparitive analysis between hives* since hive disposition can vary greatly between hives.
*once you have popped enough lids the organization and disposition of the hive tranaslates into an almost instant message as to whether that particular hive is or is not queenright.
Being it has gotten colder and the worker bees are not flying they will live much longer. When there is a string of warmer days in March I would take a good look in the hive to see if there is capped worker brood. If there is you don't have a problem. If there isn't you also don'thave a problem as you should be able to buy a queen to install then. I would spend the extra money to get one shipped over night though rather than do the wait for the snail mail to arrive and miss a window of warm weather.
I would not open the hive at this time that is for sure. Too cold out there for a lot of peoplelet alone bees.
apped worker brood in early Spring would mean a fertile queen is definitely in there. (correct?)
And if there is only capped drone brood in the Spring, that would mean what....? A virgin queen that would be too old by then to mate? Or a laying worker?
(Obviously no capped brood in early April or so would mean no functioning queen is there, right?)
I have been told/informed by knowledgeable folks that almost anywhere in the us of a queens that have ceased laying will begin to lay at or about January 5. It is almost like an alarm goes off and 'the girls' wake up and know it is time to go to work.
you have three possibilites.
1) a lot of worker larvae and a few drone larvae means the queen is quite functional.
2) lot of drone cell with many originating in worker celll... this is a drone laying queen which means she never bred appropriately in the prior season.
3) laying workers... lot of eggs in individual cells with the eggs being set down almost anywhere in the cell. some of these cells may become capped with what appears to be drone cappings.
The drones were sort of weather forcasters here this fall. We seen them in the hives in Nov., in fact Kare called me over to look at a couple of the girls on one hive ripping the wings and leggs off a drone on Nov 14th.
Drone brood from a non mated queen or laying worker look like the end of a 22LR bullet sticking up and rounded.
I'm glad to see you are taking it in stride and not giving it up. It will pay off in the future. The learning curve is sharp with bees, and never ending. There will always be setbacks, but the rewards will be worth it.