Category Archives: Native Bee

Book Review: ‘Breeding Techniques and Selection for Breeding of the Honeybee’ by Friedrich Ruttner

This is a book for the winter; it is a slim volume – a mere 150 pages – but like a nutritious meal with plenty of fibre it requires time, concentration and a lot of chewing. When you read a book like this you realise just how little you know about bees – it really is packed with information.

He begins with queen rearing. Every aspect of queen rearing, from the selection of a queen rearing method, selection of starter and rearer colonies, queenright versus queenless, selection of eggs and larvae or queens and drones, even selection of the right bees for mini-nucs all is gone over with meticulous attention to detail, logical consideration and backed up with scientific study.

Detailed information on the mechanics of the various queen rearing manipulations is also supplied.

After pointing out the difference between queen rearing and bee breeding he moves on to consider which bee to breed from and points out that only breeding within a pure species will result in traits which are heritable. Good qualities often found in hybrids are not passed on reliably to the next generation so: “The starting point in breeding must therefore be the race, that is to say, a combination of genetic qualities sieved and tested by Nature herself.”

There is variability within each race, the performance of colonies can be evaluated and stocks either included or excluded from the breeding program depending on their characteristics. He gives six factors to be evaluated –

  • Honey production;
  • Spring build up;
  • Urge to draw foundation;
  • Absence of signs of inbreeding – gappy brood;
  • Gentleness;
  • Steadiness on the comb.

The identification of the chosen species is vital of course and much information is given on the methods such as observable characteristics such as colour, size and hairiness and less obvious features which can only be detected by more scientific methods such as wing morphometry.

I’m not going to go into wing morphometry here except to say that it is the study and and measurement of the veins and panels in the wings of the honeybee. From a distance this can look like a bottle of smoke until when you realise that these measurements are calibrated against those of preserved museum samples of bees from as far back as the Vikings – long before the importation of bees was thought of.

A chapter on bee genetics is never going to read like a bodice ripper but there should be a better way of getting this message across. Simply put – inbreeding is to be avoided or you’re going to get sluggish bees with gappy brood that don’t build up, can’t be bothered to go out to work and don’t overwinter with thrift or efficiency. Ring any bells?

This book is no walk in the park, nothing containing this level and amount of detailed information could be, but it is a vital reference-section occupant for the beekeeper’s bookshelf and for anyone serious about conserving their native bee it is essential reading – however difficult.

Good luck!

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Winter Reading

After a day as cold and windy as today thoughts turn to cosy nights in by the fire with a good book. Here are some recommendations for beekeepers.

The first beekeeping book I ever read was Ted Hooper’s ‘Guide to Bees and Honey’ which is still the best book for beginners in my opinion. It’s so well written I sat down one week in winter and read it from cover to cover like a novel. The following spring I got bees and the fun began.

After a couple of years struggling with swarmy bees, I bought L.E.Snelgrove’s book ‘Swarming – its Control and Prevention’ which summarises the causes of swarming and the traditional means of prevention and also introduces the ingenious and adaptable Snelgrove board – a piece of equipment no beekeeper should be without.  Continue reading Winter Reading

How to set up an Apidea

Mating nucs, or ‘mini nucs’ are a great way of getting a new queen laying using the minimum of resources. Should she fail, little is lost but if she does get laying – a spare queen is a great thing to have!

Apideas are far and away the best mating nuc on the market – they cost a little more but are worth every penny for the elegance of the design and the quality of the product.

There’s more than one way to skin a cat and the same can be said for Apideas but here is how I’ve been doing mine for the past 15 years… Continue reading How to set up an Apidea

Native Bees

The Latin, or family name for the European Honeybee is Apis mellifera. The species occurs from southern Scandinavia and the British Isles south across Europe and into Africa and Eastwards all the way to the Urals mountain range which forms a boundary between Europe and Asia. Within that enormous area there is correspondingly enormous climactic variability so little wonder 28 subspecies have evolved.

After the glaciers of the last ice age began to retreat northwards some 12.5 thousand years ago, they left behind barren scoured rock but soon plants began to colonise and with the plants came animals including insects and including little A.mellifera. These intrepid first bees were those which could tolerate colder weather, shorter summers and much more rain than the majority. Some of the pioneer characteristics were already present as natural variability within the species  – they would have been hairier, thriftier and perhaps larger. As these bees continued to move northwards these features and others would have been further honed by the weather and the landscape as conditions became harsher. In addition, others would have occurred by natural mutations and if they conferred an advantage they would have persisted and indeed these too would have become further refined. These adaptations would have served to isolate these bees and the isolation would have led to even more deviation from the parent species.

Eventually the features of these bees became so distinct that they became indentifiable as a subspecies – Apis mellifera mellifera. Along with the visible features were behavioral characteristics which allowed them to interact more effectively with their surroundings. As this process continued over the next 12 thousand years the whetstone of evolution created for A.m.mellifera a behavioral and morphological ecotype which was as ecologically effective as it was possible to be. These features were to the bees like an organised bundle of razor sharp tools – all the right tools – but loosely bundled so that they could be dispersed with cross breeding, which is less than ideal. But then mother nature didn’t bargain for the beekeeper.

Imagine a carpenter as an evolved ecotype! The best carpenters would be those born with all the right tools while the bad ones would go extinct. Imagine then a brilliantly evolved carpenter interbreeding with a car mechanic/plasterer hybrid. Instead of the required set of razor sharp chisels, the resulting hybrids arrive with – say, a ring spanner, 2 chisels, a car jack and 6 assorted plasterer’s trowels and a saw.

But go back to the carefully evolved carpenters, not the hybrids. Within that multitude of correctly tooled-up individuals would be the full spectrum of ability – from the genius to the fool. It’s the same with bees – the native bee is an ecologically tooled-up cohort and within the full spectrum of ‘ability’ is all the variability we need to breed from. Native stocks will breed true. Native bee bred with Native bee will beget native bees all equipped as they should be and not with some mixed bag of swarm triggers picked up in… Germany, drone congregation instincts from… the Alps and wintering behaviour from… where… Italy?

Doesn’t make sense does it? No wonder crossed bees are cross bees.

Great article by John Dews here http://www.dave-cushman.net/bee/thebestbee.html

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