Sunday, May 31, 2015

Why Use Local Queens?

Recently, on my blog and in a couple of forums, I've mentioned wanting to requeen my packages. Since requeening has the potential to introduce bunch of headaches, there is generally some curiosity as to why I'd want to take the risk of replacing a queen that is performing perfectly well.

This morning, I received a newsletter from my local beeclub that actually outlined some of the reasons why local queens are better. It seemed rather timely, so I thought I'd quote it here:
For years, beekeepers in Connecticut have been importing queens and packages from southern (or western) states. Queens from elsewhere are used to produce spring nucs. Mortality rates among imported packages can run as high as 70%. Mortality of nucs with non-native queens is around 50%. The mortality of overwintered nucs with locally raised queen drops to 15-20%. (Haskill, EAS 2012). While this creates a market with repeat business for the package sellers, it does not promote the long term health of bees in Connecticut. 
Another reason for producing locally raised queens is that many of the problems we face with our bees originate in the warmer states. Mites came from the south. Small hive beetle has been introduced in recent years with southern packages. Bees with Africanized genetics have not yet become established in Connecticut, but pose a potential threat for the future. Reducing the importation of southern bees may cut down the exposure of our bees to these problems. 
The possibility of introducing Africanized genetics, I think, should be a real concern for northern beeks. However, there are additional reasons why I want local queens that are not outlined in this article, but they include the following:
  • Due to the demand for bees as soon as winter breaks, package suppliers select for bees that brood up early. That's ok in the South where winters are mild and may never even deep below freezing temp. So package suppliers breed bees that start build up pretty much right after Christmas when the days begin to lengthen. Here in the frozen North, it's better to have bees that are more sensitive to nectar flows than sunlight.
  • A lot of package bees have mainly Italian genetics. Italians are known for being gentle and great honey producers. They also have a reputation for consuming a lot of honey during cold weather. In my climate, I feel it's better to have bees that are thriftier with their stores so they can get through the long winter. Case in point, this past year, my Russian/Carniolan mutts that made it through our brutal winter used about 3 bars. My neighbor (who keeps Italians) went into the winter with three boxes full of honey, but his bees had burned through most of it by the end of December. He was feeding fondant constantly every week or so, and they still died of starvation.
  • Many package queens are poorly mated. Many are superseded during the season. I've even heard numerous stories of queen being superseded within a week. In other words, as soon as she starts laying, she's overthrown.
  • My personal preference is for bees that are treatment-free and small-cell. Of course, even a local supplier might not meet those criteria, but it's just about impossible to find anyone who does. 
I feel like I'm forgetting a few considerations, but this is why I'm requeening.


  1. I wish all Top Bar Hivers had the luxury of locally-produced packages. I agree that it could avoid queen problems and the need to requeen. Luckily here in Colorado, I have access to a local "Survivor stock" package bee producer and even a couple of TBH nuc producers.

    My bigger wish though, is that more people would understood what a package really is. That's why I wrote this post:

    Basically, I don't think of a package as anything other than 3ish lbs of bees sent along with a queen to get her residence established. There's no reason to take into consideration the worker bees' genetics since they'll be dead and gone in three weeks. The genetics of the queen (and the eggs she will lay) is what really matters. I think most people only try to answer the question, "What's the easiest way to populate my hive?" but they need to think beyond that. When I see package prices I ask myself, "Is that queen worth $120+?" "Is the supplier providing the resources for her to justify that cost?" Beekeeping is so much deeper an endeavor than most people realize. — HB

    1. Thanks for those insightful comments! If I can avoid it, I don't think I'll ever purchase a package again either -- especially now that you've put in the form of the question, "Is that queen worth $120+?" So true! I bought two packages with the intention of requeening all along, but you're right. I paid a lot of money for a queen I didn't plan to use and some comb.


Thank you for your comment! I can't wait to hear what you think!