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Bee Breeds & Winter Hardiness

One of the most common questions we get, especially in the spring, is “what breed of bees do we sell?" The question is rather simple at first; mutts, same as everyone else in the U.S. is selling. Fact is, unless you live on an island many miles from any other form of land and/or you are really good at containing, artificially inseminating, controlling a queen and the drones around her, then your bees are going to be mutts. How do people sell bees and call them Italians, Russians, etc? Well, we think, they don't know or care and most buyers don't know or care either.

So lets look at this a bit closer. A new queen emerges from her queen cell about 16 days after she was laid. She then goes outside her hive and takes off, flying around trying to get the attention of the drones in the drone congregation areas. Once she has the attention of enough drones, mating will commence. She will repeat this process often, generally from a few days, up to a week or two. When this process is complete, she will not have to mate again and will lay 2,000-3,000 eggs a day for the rest of her life, which by the way can be anywhere from 3 to 6 years.

So, where are these drones she's mating with coming from? Other hives you may have? If you only have one hive, then none of the drones are from your hive because drones that are from the same hive as the queen cannot mate with each other. If you only have one hive, then that queen has to rely on mating with drones she finds “in the wild”. Could be your neighbors drones if they have hives within a few miles. Could be wild bees that may be hold up in a barn or nearby tree.

In any case, a queen leaves the hive to mate, thereby making it impossible to keep her from mating with a drone of a different breed. There is really only one case where someone selling bees is calling them a specific breed and that would be because the bees they are selling may have many of the same attributes as a specific breed (i.e. aggressiveness, honey production, calm, etc.), so they just lump them into a category of breed traits and are not actually trying to sell them as a specific breed.

The questions that immediately follows “What kind of bees do you sell” are; “Where are your bees from?” and “Are they winter hardy?”.

Ok, so lets look at this in a little more depth too. How long do bees live? Workers, about 6 weeks, Drones about 6 months or one season and queens, anywhere between 3 and 6 years. So when someone asks us where our bees are from and if they are winter hardy, we assume they are asking because they would prefer bees from snowy or cold regions because they think they are more likely to survive winter.

If we consider the average life span of bees, then we can conclude that the queen would be the only bee that lives long enough to even see winter, right? The drones are killed off in the fall because they have served their purpose and the workers only live about 6 weeks. Even the winter worker bees, that are smaller and live much longer than 6 weeks, still die off in the spring once the work load picks up and they are replaced by larger worker bees that can forage. So, when people want bees from a northern state or those who have survived a winter, they are really requesting a queen bee from winter stock, not the actual nuc or package.

Is there a benefit to a queen that has survived a winter? As of now, there is no evidence that a queen that has been through one or more winters is any better at surviving than those that have never survived a winter before. Do the traits and genes of a queen transferred to their offspring, actually help a hive fair better in winter? There isn't definitive proof of this yet either.

Not to say that there may not be something to it, but we generally wouldn't worry too much about the type of bee or weather or not they are from a winter climate, but we would worry more about their traits; Do they have good hygiene? Are they mite resistant? Do they swarm often? Are they calm? In the end, you should go with what you feel is important to you and not the hype of the type of bee or whether it is from a northern climate.

Don't forget to give us your feedback on the matter. You can always comment, e-mails us or stop in and chat with us about this or any other topic. We love to talk about things, test them out and learn everything we can, whenever we can. Thanks for reading and we'll see you soon!

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