Whether you’re well on your way in your journey of beekeeping or just starting out, you are likely faced with the decision of choosing the breed of honeybee that is best for you. Like many choices in beekeeping, choosing the right breed all depends on your experience level and the end goal you have in mind.
If you are just starting out in the world of beekeeping, then you may not know much about the different breeds of honeybees. That’s exactly what this blog is all about – exploring the world of beekeeping and the different breeds of bees that can produce the sweet and delicious honey you’re after. The info in this blog will help to protect you from purchasing the wrong bees for your needs, which can prevent some painful stings.
Here are the 5 most common types of honey bees used in beekeeping today and what sets them apart from the rest.
Italian honey bees are heavily favored by new beekeepers for their gentleness and by commercial beekeepers for their high honey production. They’re a great choice for beginning beekeepers as they are less prone to swarm than other breeds. Once a colony begins in the spring, they can maintain that same colony throughout the entire summer. As far as appearances go, they look a little smaller than other breeds and have a nice yellowish look which is appealing to most beekeepers. A couple of drawbacks of this breed are their tendency to not only rob other hives of honey but also eat more of their own honey.
Much like the Italian bees, Carniolan honey bees are very easy to handle. This makes them a great choice for beginning beekeepers. Unlike the Italians, they are not as likely to rob other hives during months of honey scarcity which also decreases the risk of spreading diseases to other hives. If you plan to split or sell your colonies in the spring then this is the breed for you.
Carniolan honey bees are the darkest of all bee breeds. Queens can be all black, allowing for easy identification when inspecting. They’re also extraordinary wax builders if candle making is your thing. Due to their native climate of Central Europe, they have an innate ability to withstand cold climates with harsh winters. The only real downside to Carniolan honey bees is their likelihood of swarming due to their tendency to build up huge colonies in the spring.
Worried about Varroa mites? Then the Russian honey bee is the bee for you. Hailing from a region filled with native Varroa mites, Russian honey bees have coexisted with these mites for almost two centuries. This has made them more resistant to the effects of the mite as well as making them a cleaner bee than most other breeds. Not only do Russian honey bees possess qualities to keep Varroa mites away, their tendencies to make the hive cleaner also gives them an advantage against tracheal mites and the many diseases they cause.
Much like their native neighbors, the Carniolan, Russian honey bees also possess great overwintering skills. If you do decide to get Russians for their anti-varroa qualities, they should be your only breed as the cross-contamination with other breeds can decrease their varroa resistance. With a slightly less dark appearance than Carniolan and mildly more aggressive, this breed would be an excellent choice for someone who is interested in raising queens.
Caucasian honey bees are probably best known for their great foraging and pollinating abilities. They have the longest tongues of any bee breed, giving them the power to pollinate plants that other bees could not. Despite their keen pollinating abilities, Caucasian honey bees are not huge honey producers. This is due to their slower brood rearing in the spring, giving them a smaller population when the nectar flow is in full swing. These bees are great at foraging pollen and propolis, the sticky plant resin that bees use to seal the hive. If your goal is harvesting propolis, or you need bees for pollinating agricultural sites such as almond groves, this is the bee for you.
Native to the UK, these honey bees were bred to endure diseases caused by tracheal mites. Much like the Russian honey bee, these bees exhibit excellent hygiene and thrive in wetter climates where a clean hive is vital. Their most unique characteristic is probably their only drawback. This is their tendency to become more aggressive after a few generations, especially if you don’t tend to them often. A lack of tending to can cause Buckfast honey bees to lose familiarity with the beekeeper and see them as a threat rather than a friend. This makes them an unsuitable choice for new beekeepers or really any beekeeper that doesn’t tend to their hives often.
Buckfast bees are great for beekeepers in regions where tracheal mites are an issue such as the Southeastern US. While less of a threat than varroa mites, tracheal mites still cause a range of diseases that can kill colonies if left unchecked. Buckfast honey bees have a very normal look and mild color to them. Not the best for honey production but possibly the best to protect against robbing other hives of their honey.
With such a variety in different bee breeds, it is easy to be overwhelmed when choosing the right honey bee for you. The varying qualities of the different bee breeds give them unique advantages over one another, while also keeping one breed from dominating over the rest. Knowing your intention as a beekeeper beforehand can help narrow down your choice.
You might see the best results when cross-breeding colonies. While some breeds such as the Russian and Buckfast are keen for preventing Varroa outbreaks, the generations that come later with more variety in their gene pool seem to have a wider range in unique abilities that fight off more than just varroa.
Nothing beats getting some hands-on experience with the bees to know which breed is best for you. So find a beekeeper nearby and ask to help them work their bees to get a feel for the different breeds. Chances are if they’ve had success with that certain breed in your region, it’ll work for you too.
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