Lesson 1: Selecting Honey Bee Stock

In my experience, selecting bee stock is the most important decision when starting in Bees. If you choose the wrong type, you can wind up with an aggressive bee or a disease ridden colony. Here is a quick-start guide to help aid you in your search for the perfect strain for you.

Apis Mellifera is the main scientific classification for European Honey Bees. There are several sub-species and hybrid species available.  We will start our journey with the German Bee.

“Pure Strain Bees”

In the United States, beekeeping began with the German Bee (Apis mellifera mellifera) also called the Black Bees.  German bees were brought to the United States in the 1600’s. They were the first bees to be domesticated, and were popular until the mid 19th century when the settlers began experimenting with other strains of bees.  The advantages of the German bees were perfect white cappings on honey and good overwintering ability.  German bees were susceptible to EFB (European Foulbrood), had a short tongue, and were quite defensive. This led to the Italian Bees being imported from Southern Italy.

The Italian Bees (Apis mellifera ligustica) are the most popular bee in the United States. They are the typical bee with bright yellow bands.  Italian bees are less defensive, have strong brood rearing, good housekeepers, easy to spot queens, and less prone to disease than their German counterparts. They were advocated by L.L. Landgstroth, and the first commercially available queens were Italian. Their drawbacks are they are poor stewards of resources. They continue to raise brood even during times of dearth and going into winter. This causes them to consume excess food stores during the winter. They are also very bad at robbing from other hives. This causes disease to spread very rapidly.

Carniolan  (Apis mellifera carnica) were brought to the United States in the late 1800’s. They originate from Slovenia. These bees are generally very docile, decrease brood rearing in winter and during times of dearth, and build up again rapidly in the spring. They are very hygienic. These bees are darker in color with grayish bands. The only real disadvantage of these bees is that they have a propensity to swarm.

The Caucasian (Apis mellifera caucasica) originate from the high valleys of central Caucasus Mountains in Georgia.  They were introduced to the United States in the early 1900’s. They are very gentle bees, and have the longest tongue of all the races. However, they build up very slowly in the spring and use propolis to excess. They are also very susceptible to EFB and Nosema.

Cardovan bees are another variety for sale, however, they are not really a variety. They are typically Italian, but can come from any race. They are just sold based on a color. They have no black on them, have a yellowish color, and are very gentle.

Russian Honey Bees (Apis mellifera) come from the Primorsky Krai region of Russia. They were imported into the United States by the USDA’s Bee Lab in Baton Rouge, Louisinana.  The Russian bees have been around mites since much earlier than European Bees. They have developed very good techniques for getting rid of mites. They do have a few drawbacks though. They have a great propensity to swarm, and they are a tad aggressive. Here is a link to a good article if you want to read more: http://keepingbee.org/russian-bees/

African bees (Apis mellifera scutellata) , also known as “Killer bees” are not commercially available. They are extremely aggressive. If you get some time to read on them. I would recommend it. I have had contact with “Africanized” hives here in North Texas. They have a lot of positive attributes, but their aggressive nature makes them difficult to handle. I hope to discuss them in another blog topic later in the future.

“Hybrid strain Honey Bees”

A hybrid bee is nothing more than a cross between two pure races. There are formally two types that were commercially available here in the United States. They were the “Starline” and “Midnight” varieties. These two strains are no longer available.

Buckfast bees were bred by Brother Adam in the Buckfast Abbey. Brother Adam was an interesting character. I have read 2 of his books “In Search of the Best Strains of Bees” and “Beekeeping at Buckfast”.  They are both very good insightful books, and I recommend them highly.  Buckfast bees are a cross between native British bees and Italian bees. They are commercially available today. If you are in Texas, you can buy them from R Weaver Apiaries in Navasota, Texas.

Minnesota Hygienic Bees were developed by Dr. Marla Spivak, Professor of Apiculture and Social Insects at the University of Minnesota. Dr. Spivak carefully bred , over several years, by selecting bees with a typical hygienic behavior. These bees are resistant to American Foulbrood, Chalkbrood, and Varroa destructor. You can search online to find these bees for sale.

Varroa sensitive hygienic (VSH) Bees were developed by the USDA Honey Bee Lab in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  These bees have the particular behavior of detecting and removing pupae that are infested with Varroa destructor.

Survivor Stock Bees are bees that have successfully overwinted in the presence of  Varroa destructor without any chemical treatment.



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