Russian bees

geraldo(Cent. WA z6b)July 22, 2005

A few years ago the Russian bees were supposed to solve, or at least greatly help, the varoa mite situation. I don't hear as much about the Russians right now as I thought I might. What is happening? Is slow progress being made or are the Russians no longer thought to be that tolerate of the mite? I grow fruit in the NW and the beekeepers here are having a terrible time. I would like to get a few hives of my own, but don't know what to get or even if I should get any.



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txbeeguy(z8 TX)

If you're just after hives for pollination of your fruit, I'd contact a beekeeping club and offer your site as a place for one of their members to establish a small apiary. Alternatively, you could "rent" some pollination hives from a beekeeper - however there may be more demand than available supply in your area. Only lastly would I recommend you take up beekeeping if that's not truly your interest. I think you'll find the initial outlay of money and time investment to be rather high for the return on pollination improvement you may receive. And they're not without some continual amount of maintenance throughout the year.
As to your question about the Russian strain of bees released through the USDA Russian Queen Program, I think the program is and has been successful (as long as you really know what you're looking for). The main purpose of releasing the Russian bee strain was to introduce their Varroa resistant genetics into the gene pool in north America. This has been accomplished and will be a rather slow event in which to observe it's success. In fact, the success won't be measured by some sudden, great landmark event that occurs one day but rather by the gradual increase in numbers of feral colonies across the county. The same can be said of any mutant gene (or combination of genes) that allow for the increased survival of Apis in a Varroa infested environment. It's just that the Russian genetics had about a 100 year head start (from the region where Varroa originated) so it was felt their genetics would be the most beneficial most quickly.
As I've stated before, I predict in twenty years we won't have a honeybee we refer to as a "Russian bee" but nevertheless, the Varroa resistant genetics left behind (from the past five or six years work) will have done their job.

    Bookmark   July 22, 2005 at 10:44PM
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geraldo(Cent. WA z6b)

thanks Tex
I am a commercial fruit grower, a small one, in Washington State. I kept my own hives many years past, but lately I have been renting them. But, it is getting harder to find beekeepers to service the small accounts. And they expect a shortage of bees to develop in the near future. I think I am going to have to start keeping bees again. I just don't know how much success I could expect due to the mite. Beekeeping clubs are not an option as there are tens of thousands of acres of fruit around here so they can go pretty much anywhere they want to go. Mason bees are not an option as I want the option of using hive inserts.
Sometimes I wish our government would expend just a little bit of that money they spend overseas on our problems at home like this mite problem.

    Bookmark   July 23, 2005 at 12:42AM
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txbeeguy(z8 TX)

If you've kept bees before then you know what you're getting into; I was only concerned if you did not have this experience.
So now in consideration of what race of honeybees to use, I will break from my traditional advise usually reserved for a "new-bee". In your case I would recommend the use of the Russian strain. I don't recommend Russians for new beekeepers because of the likelihood of them not providing the most positive experience for someone just starting out (they should stick with Italians as an example). But in your case I think the Russians would be a great choice. This is based on the fact that you're after their pollination services more than the size of the honey crop. And you're not wanting to spend money on hive chemicals trying to fight the mite problem. As a side benefit for your area, if you kept Russians, you undoubtedly would be helping to spread their Varroa resistant genetics in your region (either through swarms or done matings).
I try to not pass judgment on the overall performance of Russians because I think their traits are highly variable. They were never introduced and meant to be the mythical 'super bee' that would be the answer to ALL our problems. They bring one very important thing to the table and that's their ability to survive enormous Varroa pressure from their home region. It's this trait that makes them valuable to us. Certainly there are honeybee races that are better honey producers (Buckfast), bees that are more gentle/better temperament (Carnolian) and bees noted for their good overall traits (Italians), etc. I've kept a combination of Russian/Caucasians for a few years now and for the past five or six years have not treated with any kind of miteacide and my bees have done very well. A word of caution: if you decide to buy Russian queens or packages, shop around, ask questions because it's definitely "buyer beware". Some sellers are offering as "Russians" several generations removed from the original USDA breeder stock. My concern here is of "watered down" genetics however this situation might be improving as breeders get access to more Russian drones and not so much cross-race breeding occurs. Good luck with your fruit crop! (Washington state apples?)

    Bookmark   July 23, 2005 at 10:39AM
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geraldo(Cent. WA z6b)

Thanks again, Tex. Yes, I just want them for the pollination. I don't eat sugar in any form and extracting honey would just be another job when I don't need any more work, just look at my "My Page" and you will see I am busy just with the fruit.
So the Russians would be it for me and I just need to find someone who has the real deal. Again, thanks a bunch.

    Bookmark   July 23, 2005 at 1:45PM
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Seems like this topic is long dead, but here's a fresh perspective. Russians were supposed to save the world, right, but a quick search on the internet shows that results have been mixed at best. Rumor has it that the original founder Russian bees accidentally bred with other bees at the Baton Rouge lab (italians, VSH, I'm not sure) so of course they did fairly well. In my experience, if I get really black queens they almost never make it through the winter. Even going into it, they get weak because of this weird foraging behavior. This is only my opinion, but I think that it was a huge waste of taxpayer money. In my hands, they are stingy and don't forage well. YMMV

    Bookmark   June 3, 2010 at 10:39PM
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Im In Tyler Texas . Yes we are still working on Russian bees for mite tolerance. There is a Russian bee association. I have a pure Russian hive of bees. However there are other strains of bees now that have the mite suppression genes like the russians. The one main thing everyone can do to help the bees is try to go green and not use pesticides, it kills the bees and then there is no poliantion

    Bookmark   July 27, 2011 at 4:38PM
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Konrad___far_north(3..just outside of Edmonton)

I'm sometimes wondering, how can you have a pure strain....only in one or two season the queen is dead and then you have mixed strains. It could also be that you loose the Russian strain all together in a very short time, I'm just looking now in my several years of heaving a mix of Carnolians and Italians..which I started out with, the mix with the black Carnolians I could see a very distinct mix, but now I mostly have all Italian looks, which I believe is more of a surviving [strong] race, taking over and loosing the the carnie's race?
I'm the only beekeeper far and wide and haven't introduced any new queens.

Can you shed any light on this?

    Bookmark   July 27, 2011 at 8:15PM
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