Greeting bee people! I am very happy to have just found beemaster.com -- it looks like a great forum with a great design and interface and nice folks.
I am a 1st year keeper in Ohio with a grand total of 1 hive installed from package on Easter this year...I am already addicted to this and quite impressed at how patient these Italians are with my ham-fisted blunderings. On my last inspection I went mostly sans vail and gloves with no incident, despite badgering the hive for 30-40 minutes.
Anyway, on to my situation. The hive really seemed to be doing great for a while. The first full inspection found the queen in good shape and laying away. By my second insection, mid-May, they had just about completely filled a single deep box with good brood patterns, some capped honey, pollen, etc.--right by the book. I wanted to put on a second deep right then but didn't have one and didn't do it until two weeks later, May 22. At this time I found a couple of what appeared to be queen cells on the face right at the bottom hanging just up to the bottom bar. I figured I was too late adding space and they were planning to swarm, but wishfully hoped that giving the extra room and flipping the boxes might talk them out of it--so I did that.
On May 30 I dove back in to see what was up. I couldn't find the queen, and only larvae, no eggs, though I wasn't that thorough. The aforementioned queen cells were still there as well as another similar cell on another frame. The foraging only strengthened since then, so I don't think they ever swarmed.
On June 12, late in the day something started going on. While foraging continued pretty vigorously, little waves of bees would push in and out of the entrance, some standing stock still around the landing board and others on the face of the hive. I have a large entrance reducer in place still (I'm sure that should go) and the traffic was so great that foragers really had to fight to get back in. A good cloud of bees formed, consisting of returned foragers looking to land and a lot of aimless hoverers. I figured they were about to swarm for sure, but no, and the same behavior started in the early afternoon the next day, and again on the next. This last day I watched pretty intensely and noticed a very large number of drone flights (maybe 1 in 15 or even more) and I think I saw an unmarked queen (so not my original) come out and crawl about 6 inches up the face of the hive. As I pushed my face up to make sure this was a queen, she came near one of the aformentioned stationary bees who grappled her and the two tumbled off out of my sight.
The next morning the landing board was covered with bees just ambling around, and flights were way down from what I am used to seeing at that time. Foraging picked up later in the day but was still not quite right, with a lot (maybe 50) of totally aimless bees on the board.
I opened the hive yesterday and thoroughly checked every single frame, searching for queen--it took about 40 minutes. No eggs, no larvae, only capped brood. Kicking myself for not being meticulous about finding eggs and the queen problem sooner. The original queen cells are gone. I did see several cells near the bottom of 2 frames that looked different from anything I had seen before. They are about the size of an actual queen, and they basically stick straight out from the frame and are smooth, lacking the kind of hex imprint visible in the queen cells I know about. They look like a bullet and through the translucent sides I think I can see a bee. The population is still good, with all 20 frames at least partially covered with bees.
I am thinking the original swarm cells were used for supercedure after the box-swap, and that what I saw happen was one of the supercedure virgin queen's flights. But I don't think she made it back, and that they are now ambling and lazy because they are queenless, and have been for several days, with no prospects for a queen other than maybe those weird bullet shaped cells? But really, those don't look right from pictures I have seen.
If anyone would like to comment on this mess, offer a theory, or give advice, I would be appreciative. I have an NWC queen on order via priority mail from California (I'm in Ohio) that won't get here probably until the weekend. How bad is this hive going to suffer? Is there anything I can do to help them along?