Simple criteria we can all set for our bees
Despite what you may hear or read, it is fairly easy to change some of the characteristics of your bees. This can be done by assessing colonies against a set of criteria that you want in your bees, using queen cells from colonies displaying those criteria and culling those that don’t. Clearly these criteria need to be something that is achievable, not something that isn’t. What beekeepers need to remember is they usually only have influence over half the parentage if working on their own, unless they are in an isolated area, or are working as part of a much bigger group and are flooding the area with drones from selected colonies.
I believe that many writers and lecturers discourage a large number of beekeepers from improving their bees, by making the subject appear much more complicated than it need be. With a small number of colonies, or for beginners, I believe the list of desirable characteristics should be fairly short. Making it as long as your arm, as some do, will probably mean you will never achieve what you set out to. In my view the short list below is all the smaller or newer beekeeper need use, until their bees are reasonably consistant.
In some parts of the U.K. and Ireland, there are beekeepers who are working incredibly hard to improve the bees in their area. These are mainly beekeepers who are using the dark European honey bee Apis mellifera mellifera, mainly because they believe that is the type of bee most suited to that area. On their behalf, can I ask you to check if this is the case and work with them? Some of the breeding stock is excellent and may have taken many years to perfect. The existance of other races in the area is likely to wreck this work in a very short time.
For the small or beginner beekeeper I suggest you concentrate on the following:-
- Temper. This in my view should be at the top of everyone’s list.
- Calmness on the comb. This is also known as “running”, although the terminology suggests they are opposites
- Prolificacy. Many don’t consider this to be very important, but I certainly do. I suggest you decide if you want prolific or non – prolific bees and what size brood boxes you want. The bee should suit the box, otherwise you will have problems you could probably do without.
- Colour. This is often seen as not being important, but it gives you a very good idea if your selection is on track or not. It is more difficult to breed from colonies where the workers are different colours, as the queens raised will also be different colours and will probably show differing characteristics.