Every beekeeper is familiar with the sinking feeling that comes from exhaustively looking through a hive for some sign there is a laying queen. You have plenty of bees but no eggs. There may be plenty of brood but your queen has not laid any eggs in the last few days.
When you enter a hive resist the impulse to cut the queen cells. If there are eggs and queen cells present the hive is beginning the process of swarming. Check for the queen and if she is present it is safe to take remove any queen cells. To prevent the possibility of bees replacing a old queen always make sure your queen is less than two years old.
You enter your hive and find no eggs and queen cells. When this happens it is important to find the queen. Your hive is either preparing to swarm, has swarmed or the queen is dead. The presence of the queen determines what you will do with the queen cells. If the queen is present remove the queen cell frames with covering bees from the hive and place them in a nucleus hive. The virgin queens will emerge, mate and return to the nucleus hive. You now have a spare queen. If the queen is not present your hive may have swarmed or the queen is dead In this case you need purchase a new queen or let the hive requeen itself.
When you find no eggs, no brood and no queen the hive may be hopelessly queenless or it could have a virgin queen. Virgin queens are difficult to find. They are just about the size of a worker and are just hard to see and they hang out on the fringes of the hive. They may be on orienting or mating flights when your are in the hive. The sound of the queenless roar my only indicate the virgin is out of the hive.
The hive must be tested for queenlessness by adding a frame of young brood without covering bees. If the hive is truly queenless the workers will begin to make queen cells. If they do not start queen cells then the hive has a virgin queen that should begin to lay shortly. It is best to keep a close eye on the hive. If the virgin has not begun laying within two weeks then she did not return from her mating flight. The best choice if this happens is to purchase a queen.