Much like dogs or cats, there are a variety of stocks of honeybees within the species. These emerged from isolated local breeding but also from the intentional efforts of beekeepers to emphasis certain traits in their bees, to meet their own needs and preferences.

  • Gentleness: Some stocks of honeybees are more or less prone to stinging and other defensive behavior; ranging from the practical cuddly Carniolan bees to the much maligned “Africanized” stocks.
  • Spring Buildup: How fast does the species build up a full population after “over wintering” in survival mode?
  • Over-Wintering Ability:  How tolerant is the stock to cold, damp, dark conditions and how long can they last in areas prone to longer winter seasons.
  • Excess Swarming:  Is the stock prone to swarming off as the hive population increases or if they do not like the hive conditions?
  • Pollination:  How strong of pollinators is a particular stock of bees?  Are they picky pollinators or do they visit plants reliably and broadly?
  • Honey Production:  How much honey do they put away, how quickly and how long throughout the season do they store up honey.  Also, at what point do they consider their winter stores sufficient?
  • Wax and Propolis Production: As with honey, how much, how quickly and what sort of quality do they produce?

Each of the following stocks of honeybees exhibit the traits above to varying degrees. We’ll only touch upon their basic traits here, though I may do a deep dive on each as an ongoing series of blog posts in the future.  Several of these may not be available in your area.

Italian Honeybee  (Apis mellifera ligustica)

I’m starting here because it is the type I am most experienced with.  Almost all my hives have been Italian. These light yellow bees are considered an excellent stock for beginning keepers and hobbyists for several reasons.  They are relatively gentle, less prone to swarming away and widely available in most parts of the United States. A well rounded bee, they are primarily kept for their superior honey production and can handle moderate winters with minimal care. In recent decades though, they have slipped in popularity due to the stronger pest resistance traits of other types of bees. Efforts are being made to improve the stock in this regard, however.


Carniolan Bee (Apis mellifera carnica)

Nearly as popular as Italian stock, Carniolans are famous for their gentle nature and reluctance to sting. However, their fast Spring breeding and conflict avoidance may be the reason they are prone to swarming and absconding away from an apiary. They originate from central and Eastern Europe, where they developed a tolerance  for colder climates and strong over-wintering traits, which could make them ideal for beekeepers in the colder parts of the United States.  In addition to adequate honey production, Carniolan bees good wax combs builders, making them popular with keepers that intend to produce candles, soaps, and cosmetics.

German Bee (Apis mellifera mellifera)

Also known as the European Dark Bee, this stock was brought to the United States from Northern Eurasia in the colonial era. This stock is very distinctive, very dark, many being almost black. German bees tend to be very defensive, and inexperienced keepers often find them difficult to management. Some keepers in remote areas or prone to predators to such as bears consider these desireable traits.  Another trade-off is that they are a hardy stock, able to survive long, cold winters in northern climates. They are not particularly resistant to foulbrood disease so unless this vulnerability is addressed it is likely the German honeybee will probably decrease in the United States. Generally a choice for experienced beekeepers committed to regular inspection and maintenance.

Buckfast Bee

In the 1920s, honey bee colonies in the British Isles were devastated by acarine disease, which now is suspected to have been the endoparasitic tracheal mite Acarapis woodi. Brother Adams, a monk at Buckfast Abby in Devon, England, was charged with creating a bee stock that could withstand this deadly disease. He traveled the world interviewing beekeepers and learning about different bee strains, and he created a stock of bees, largely from the Italian race, that could thrive in the cold wet conditions of the British Isles, yet produce good honey crops and exhibit good housecleaning and grooming behavior to reduce the prevalence of disease. Bees of this stock are moderately defensive. However, if left unmanaged for one or two generations, they can be among the most fiercely defensive bees of any stock. They also are moderate in spring population buildup, preventing them from taking full advantage of early nectar flows.

Caucasian Bee (Apis mellifera caucasica)

A race of honey bees native to the foothills of the Ural mountains near the Caspian Sea in eastern Europe. This stock was once popular in the United States, but it has declined in regard over the last few decades. Its most notable characteristic is its very long tongue, which enables the bees to forage for nectar from flowers that other bee stocks may not have access to. They tend to be a moderately colored bee and, like the Carniolans, are extremely docile. However, their slow spring buildup keeps them from generating very large honey crops, and they tend to use an excessive amount of propolis—the sticky resin substance sometimes called “bee glue” that is used to seal cracks and joints of bee structures—making their hives diffi- cult to manipulate.

Russian Bee

One of the newer bee stocks in the United States was imported from far-eastern Russia by the US Department of Agriculture’s Honey Bee Breeding, Genetics, and Physiology Laboratory in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The researchers’ logic was that these bees from the Primorski region on the Sea of Japan, have coexisted for the last 150 years with the devastating ectoparasite Varroa destructor, a mite that is responsible for severe colony losses around the globe, and they might thrive in the United States. The USDA tested whether this stock had evolved resistance to varroa and found that it had. Numerous studies have shown that bees of this strain have fewer than half the number of mites that are found in standard commercial stocks. The quarantine phase of this project has been complete since 2000, and bees of this strain are available commercially.

Russian bees tend to rear brood only during times of nectar and pollen flows, so brood rearing and colony populations tend to fluctuate with the environment. They also exhibit good housecleaning behavior, resulting in resistance not only to varroa but also to the tracheal mite. Bees of this stock exhibit some unusual behaviors compared to other strains. For example, they tend to have queen cells present in their colonies almost all the time, whereas most other stocks rear queens only during times of swarming or queen replacement. Russian bees also perform better when not in the presence of other bee strains; research has shown that cross-contamination from susceptible stocks can lessen the varroa resistance of these bees.
Africanized Bee

The Africanized, or Killer Bee as most know it, is not even from Africa – it originated in Brazil. This honey bee strain was a hybrid designed in a lab with the goal of increasing pest and parasite resistance, while at the same time increasing production.  This bee stock showed great promise until 26 experimental swarms escaped quarantine and took over South America.

This highly aggressive strain of honey bee has some advantages, if one learns to work with them. They begin foraging at a younger age, typically produce more honey, and have a significantly smaller colony size, even though they reproduce at a faster pace.  There are many stories of beekeepers working well with these bees for these positive traits.

Overall, these bees are misunderstood and the threat of being stung to death is not worth the risk for most beekeepers, especially new beekeepers who are learning. As further research arises about feral colonies of hybridized bees with these traits arise, this stock plays a relatively insignificant role in the beekeeping world, unless you have encountered them in person. This is why we have not added them to our table of honey bee stock, but we think it is important for beekeepers to know about them.


Dear Community

It is with deep regrets and sadness that I must announce there will be no honey harvest this year. The usual challenges of beekeeping, coupled with the increasingly erratic climate since Winter have been really hard on the hives this year and there will not be a harvest-able surplus. Thank you for all your support in the past, we hope to be able to bounce back next season.