One of the questions we receive regularly is “what type of bees should I get?” For most of us, when purchasing a package of bees, there will only be one or two choices. The most common choices are Italian and Carniolan and often these are the only choices for packages of bees.
So which to choose and why are folks talking about other breeds?
Every different breed of bee has different characteristics and those characteristics are often more or less important depending on your location.
Italian Honey Bee Probably the most common starting bee in the US, Italian honey bees are adapted to a Mediterranean climate and likely will do better in slightly warmer environments. They are bright yellow bees and queens are often easier to identify as they are slightly darker. While they don’t tend to swarm as often as other breeds they are also not quite as good at avoiding diseases as other breeds. Either way this breed may well be your only choice to start and certainly the drawbacks of this bee should not keep you from starting, even in cooler climates.
Carniolan Honey Bee Also a common choice for the beginning beekeeper this bee comes from Slovenia, Romania, Bulgaria and the surrounding areas. Their native habitat is obviously quite a bit cooler than the Mediterranean climate making these bees slightly more adapted to a cooler climate in the US as well. These bees are slightly more likely to swarm than the Italians so you’d want to insure that you’re keeping a close eye on the space in your hive and making sure these gals have plenty of room.
In certain areas of the country you may be able to get other breeds of bees and certainly any of us can change the genetic makeup of our hives by requeening. So what are the other options?
Russian Honey Bee A hybrid honey bee created by the US Dept of Agriculture this honey bee is fairly new on the scene but shows promising resistance to mites of both varieties. These bees are known to be slightly more aggressive than their Carniolan and Italian sisters but they are also more expensive to purchase and are very prone to swarming. If you keep this bee in the city you’ll want to make sure that you’re really watching for swarms and that the hives are well protected from curious neighbors and their kids.
Buckfast Honey Bee Like the Russian Honey Bee the Buckfast bee is also a hybrid. This time however instead of the US Dept of Ag the bee was created by Brother Adam of the Buckfast Abbey in Devon UK. This bee was bred to be gentle, resistant to tracheal mites and chalkbrood and to overwinter well however it should be noted that the Buckfast bees available in the US are said to be much more aggressive. Like Russian honey bees this breed will cost you more for a queen.
Feral Honey Bees The folks at the Olympic Wilderness Apiary here in Washington have been keeping bees from feral (wild) stock. As these bees are survivors, able to overwinter on their own, they are more likely to continue to survive and indeed the practices at Olympic help continue these traits. Untreated these bees only live if they can resist mites and diseases meaning that they are considerably more likely to resist pests and diseases without treatment. Because they’re also coming from Washington State they are also able to overwinter in cold, damp climates better than their southern sisters.
For some of you there may be other options. If you have more than one hive there’s no reason you can’t try several different breed to compare them to each other and find the one that works best for you and your climate.
What breed of bee have you tried? Let us know your experiences by posting in the comments below!
Photo by Jessica Dally