Warm temperatures in late summer 2015 had these Carniolan bees cooling off outside their hives. Photo by John Williams, Bozeman, MT
Choosing a bee stock requires some research.
Just like dog breeders, beekeepers have been selecting favorable traits to produce colonies that display certain behaviors for hundreds of years. Two bee stocks have surfaced in the United States as being the most popular: Italian and Carniolan. Murdoch’s also carries Russian queen bees for those looking to re-queen their existing Russian hives. Other stocks do exist, but most beekeepers gravitate toward these. Let’s compare them to learn how to choose which bee stock is right for you and your particular situation.
But before we dig in, a couple of disclaimers are in order.
First, as beesource.com states: Wide variation exists within stocks as well as among them. Any generalities about a particular stock should be treated with caution, since there are always exceptions to the rule. Nonetheless, the long and vast experience of beekeepers allows some oversimplifications to be made in order to better understand the different types of bees available.
Secondly, remember that your colony of bees will tend to behave in accordance with your queen’s disposition. For example, if you have a queen that is particularly defensive, the rest of the colony will have a greater propensity toward defensive behavior. You can try to alter the personality of the hive by swapping out the queen.
- Subspecies Apis mellifera carnica
- Origins from middle Europe
- Start producing early in the spring
- Early production allows for increased population growth
- More likely to swarm (their effort to relieve overcrowding)
- Can handle harsher, colder climates better than other stocks
- Less likely to rob other colonies of honey, which lessens the chances of disease
- When overcrowding is not an issue, they are gentle and easy to work around
- Wax combs are a production strength of theirs
The major takeaway for the Carniolan bee stock is this: Beekeepers must be willing to put the time, effort, and money into providing adequate space for them to thrive. This means paying close attention to adding supers, starting as early as springtime and continuing through honey harvest at the end of summer. If you’re willing to make the investment, this bee stock produces great honey results in colder climates.
- Subspecies Apis mellifera ligustica
- Origins from Italy; were brought to the U.S. in 1859
- Prolific honey producers
- Comparably less defensive than other stocks
- Aesthetics – their coloring is desirable for some beekeepers
- Brood rearing exhibited for long durations, starting in springtime, can cause them to eat surplus honey if supers aren’t removed after flow
- More likely to rob other colonies of honey, which increases the chances of disease
- Tend not to swarm
The major takeaway for the Italian bee stock is this: Beekeepers must be vigilant inspectors for disease and pests, use screens, and tend to the supers right away after honey flow. If you do, the amount of honey Italian bees produce will be rewarding! Also, know your climate. If you are prone to harsh winters, you might consider starting with a different species or asking other beekeepers in your area for input.
- Subspecies Apis mellifera
- Origins from the Primorsky Krai region of Russian; were brought to the U.S. in 1997
- Great honey producers
- Explosive spring build-up; prone to swarming. Be ready with deep boxes and supers once pollen and nectar are available.
- Winter survival rates are high, due to:
- ability to curtail brood production when pollen and nectar are in short supply
- frugal honey conservation
- small clustering tendencies
- Tend to be more aggressive toward would-be invaders
- Excellent inherent resistance to disease and various parasitic mites, including Varroa and Tracheal
- Run higher in price for queen; price could be offset by savings in disease and parasitic control as well as high winter survival rates
- Keep backup queen cells all season long, increasing the hive’s chances of survival should their queen die. Re-queening can take longer and be more difficult.
The major takeaway for the Russian be stock is this: Russian bees are hardier than their fellow varieties and may be a smart choice for those who live in colder climates. While blessed with excellent overwintering ability and resistance to disease and pests, these bees may need the attention of a more experienced beekeeper. As always, reach out to your local beekeeping community for input.
Do you have any advice to add? Comment below if you have input for new beekeepers!
- Interview with Jessie Szwast, a former Murdoch’s beekeeping supplies buyer and former honey farm employee