I am a second year beekeeper and still learning. I went away for 6 weeks this summer and returned to complete annihilation. I have had issues with swarming but until recently, not disease. This spring multiple swarms emerged from my only hive. Before I left for vacation, I combined a small swArm hive with a strong hive in which I had observed but not treated for mites. Unfortunately, I chose the small hive's new queen over the tried and true but swarm happy old queen. I also borrowed a few frames of brood from the newly merged hive and swapped them out with what remained of my original, now severely depleted hive. When I inspected yesterday, the big hive had nearly filled a super with honey, but had all but disappeared. No queen, as far as I could tell, mostly empty frames with some beetle larvae, white mummified bee larvae, very spotty capped brood most with a pin-hole in the cap, and of the bees that remained many had the deformed wing disease. Hive 2 was also a ghost town, with some wax moths crawling around and 2 empty boxes but for one solitary frame of sealed brood. Did not observe mites or deformed wings, but did see some beetles.
Dear god, where do I start? Assuming I am right and the queens have absconded, do I even bother to try to save the poor left-behinds? Or do I take what honey I can and save my equipment before the moths really move in? How DO I save my equipment??? I would like another shot at this next year, but don't want to contaminate the new hive.
If I happen to find signs of a beleaguered queen or an attempt to make a new one, do I try to make all this right or give up and start over? Not sure I have the heart to turn my girls out.