We inspected our hive that made it through the winter 3 weeks ago. We had added another box a few weeks prior and were feeding syrup. When we checked the 2nd box it had wonky comb vertical in the center frame. Some were drone comb. We didn't see the queen in the first box but there was brood and larva. We cleaned up the wonky comb and put it back together. Today we inspected again and in the second box, again down the middle frame was comb and it was packed with capped drone. See attached. Again we could not find the queen. The 1st box had queen cells and more drones. We did see capped brood and larva. Can anyone tell me what is going on? I think we lost the queen but I am concerned that all of the queen cells are towards the bottom frame as if the are ready to swarm.
We recommend keeping taking out any comb they make out of place. It's better to keep the burr or brace comb under control and remove it when you see it.
If they keep doing the comb in the wrong places again, you may want to flip that frame around next time. Sometimes the footprint of the brace comb is lefts (after you are done removing it) and they will just get back to work and do it again on the same spot. Flipping some frames around could help break that pattern and reduce the chances that they will make brace comb again on that spot.
Based on your description of the queen cells location and the status of the overwintered hive, it sounds like they are swarming or they already did swarm. The original queen takes off with a swarm before the new queens emerge from the cells. So, if you see fully developed queen cells and cannot find the queen or eggs available in the hive, they may have swarmed already.
At this point, the only way to confirm if they already swarmed or not is finding the actual queen.
If you do find the queen, you can do a split and take the queen with some brood (no queen cells) to another box, and leave all the queen cells and about 50% of the brood in the current spot. If the queen is left with no queen cells in the new box, they may think they already swarm (and she usually makes sure to have some viable queen cells before swarming, so she's less likely to swarm without any swarm cells left in that box).
It is swarming season now in our area and local beekeepers have been reporting swarms since Mother's day.
Overwintered colonies will be ramping up drone and queen cell production, and would try to swarm at this time of the year.