Frequently Asked Questions ( F.A.Q. )

Q.  Are your queens “pure Russian”?

A: Our queens are predominantly Wild Survivors of the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State, which has been identified as most likely originating in the Caucus Mountains of Russia. After purposely exposing these isolated survivors to varroa mites and evaluating their performance, we began enhancing their naturally adapted survivor characteristics by selectively introducing known mite-resistant stock lines. First USDA Russian genetics from Charlie Harper and Bernard Apiaries, followed by careful integration of pure Glenn Apiary SMR/VSH and Russian breeder stock. In more recent years we have introduced new VSH lines using II with USDA drone semen, and obtained newer VSH queens from John Harbo. But the most significant part of our breeding program lies in our ability to continue to capture and monitor additional feral swarms from isolated areas.

Q.  Are your bees “aggressive”?

A:  Our bees are not pure Russian, and are they are not aggressive. Because we maintain a presence of Russian genetics in our breeding program we get this question all the time. There is a negative reputation that was justly earned by the earliest Russian stock released from the USDA Russian breeding program decades ago. This is truly unfortunate, since it is no longer the case, and the avoidance of stock that carries some Russian genetics is a costly omission for any apiary desiring to become as treatment-free as possible. While our stock can be a bit defensive at times, they are entirely manageable. We work our bees barehanded and wear a hood. Although our colonies closely surround our own vegetable garden which can be worked without any protective gear, to alleviate customers’ concerns we suggest that colonies be placed approximately 50 yards from areas that are frequently trafficked by people or animals.
We like to remind folks that our breeders are derived from feral lines that have been self-sustaining in the harsh temperate rainforests of Washington State’s isolated Olympic Peninsula since the first pioneers brought them here over 150 years ago. While temperament is an aspect of our selection criteria, it is not our top priority because we believe that decades of selection for gentleness and honey production have been at great cost to the true nature of the honeybee, reducing their ability to naturally defend themselves against pests and disease. It is our belief that this trait is a significant factor in our bees remarkable success with repelling mites.

Many of our customers remark after working with our bees that they are amazed at how gentle they are, and wonder why they had been warned off of “Russian” stock by beekeepers who have never even worked with them.

We find it helpful to use Liquid Smoke (it can be found in most groceries).  Add just enough to detect the smoke odor, plus some lemon grass scent to a spray bottle and lightly mist the colony and our hands when working the bees. It is safe, effective, and far more convenient than firing up a traditional smoker.

Serious beekeepers working toward improving the survivability of their stock without the need to use chemical miticides or antibiotics will easily recognize the benefit of including our hardy survivors in their bee yards, and breeding programs.

Q. Why are your queens so expensive?

A: In addition to the very real fact that our production volume is limited by a season that is 2 months shorter than all our competitors, it’s really largely about our drones…

Careful selection of Breeder queen stock is only half the equation of a successful breeding program. We also have the rare ability to maintain a strong presence of our unique feral stock within isolated mating yards located in remote areas on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State. We select our drones to enhance the hygienic behavior, disease, and mite resistance carried by our queen lines. Like all our stock,  drones are  fed high quality pollen supplements, and are provided with additional drone combs to insure abundant populations.

All of our open-mated queens owe their exceptional hardiness to this Feral Pioneer Stock.

While other queen producers may offer daughters from a variety of good breeder queens, it is difficult to predict with any certainty whether their progeny can reliably reproduce their desired characteristics since most are open-mated in an uncontrolled drone environments.

A distinct advantage of our breeding program is that we are able to control the isolation of our mating yards so that we can be highly confident that we are offering queens that will consistently demonstrate the same desirable traits of their queen mothers, very closely resembling the predictability that can only be attained by instrumentally inseminated queens…so you see it really is all about the drones!

Q: How do your bees winter?

A: Our Wild Survivors demonstrate exceptional over-wintering abilities. They maintain conservative winter clusters and begin a rapid spring build-up when food sources become available , yet have a low tendency to swarm if diligently managed to accommodate their exploding populations in the spring build-up.

Q: How do your bees perform?

A: We believe that the performance and survivability of our stock speak for themselves, and we have much correlating feedback that confirms our belief. These bees work at cooler temperatures, often out much earlier in the day and returning to the hive much later in the evening when compared to others. They are impressive honey producers, and effective pollinators even at 43 degrees F, performing well in climates, as different as Maine and California; Alaska and Arizona. Because they have the added characteristic that we refer to as Nosema Tolerance, we find they are performing surprisingly well even in warmer southern states that deal with periodic monsoons and heavy summer rains.

Q: Are your bees Mite-Resistant?

A: Absolutely! That is a strong characteristic of our stock. We perform rigorous in-house testing and have yearly records of USDA Lab reports that correlate with our own findings.

We graft only from untreated colonies whose queens have been overwintered for a minimum of one season, and have passed our strict standards for these following traits:

Hygienic Behavior: Minimum of 95% removal of freeze-killed brood in 24 hours

This trait will reduce or eliminate Chalkbrood; AFB; and varroa mite levels w/o the use of chemical treatments

Varroa Mite Resistance measured by:

VSH trait:  determined by Alcohol Wash Assay during spring brood build-up and fall peak mite infestation.

Grooming Behavior:  determined by Alcohol Wash Assay during the winter broodless period

Nosema Tolerance:

Extreme Pollen Hoarding Behavior enables our untreated stock to remain vigorous in spite of high levels of nosema ceranae. Our selection process is verified by in-house microscopic testing and USDA Laboratory reports.

Excellent Honey producers:  Due to extended cool temperatures, our bees are aggressive foragers often working at cooler temperatures.

Gentleness: Able to work without gloves.

Swarming Behavior: Not prone to swarm when diligently managed to accommodate their rapid spring build-up once a food source becomes available

Overwintering: Exceptional survivability

Longevity

Solid Brood Patterns

Q: My bees swarmed, or… I think my hive is queenless. How can I tell for sure?

A: No eggs, no larvae, does not necessarily mean you are queenless…

Here is a simple method to help you know for sure… Shake the bees off of a frame of uncapped brood (eggs and young larvae) from a queen-right colony, being careful not to damage or transfer the queen from that hive. Mark that frame with a magic marker. Shake and remove a frame from the center of the brood chamber of the “suspect” colony and replace it with your marked frame.

Wait 3 days, and then check the marked frame in the queenless colony to see if they have started queen cells. If queen cells are present, then your hive was indeed queenless, and a new queen could be accepted, or you could allow them to raise their own queen. If, however,NO queen cells have been produced, then your hive ALREADY HAS A QUEEN, most likely a virgin, or she may be mated but not yet laying, (or, worse case scenario: the hive as passed the point of no return and has shifted into laying worker behavior.) If any of these conditions exist THEY WILL NOT ACCEPT ANEW QUEEN, they will kill her.

This procedure has a number of other advantages if you ARE queenless: The presence of the pheromone of the open brood will delay the onset of laying workers by inhibiting the development of worker bees’ ovaries which eventually will occur in the absence of a queen and open brood. It will also help to  keep the colony from dwindling as the brood frame develops and emerges, giving you an opportunity to assess the performance of the existing queen when she begins laying to determine if you will replace her.

Q: I have captured a swarm, should I requeen it?

A:  Swarms can occur for a several reasons, but frequently they are caused by overcrowding that can result from inadequate swarm-control; or possibly because the original stock was genetically “swarmy” stock in the first place. When determining whether or not to requeen, it is important to take into consideration a number of things. While primary swarms will have a mated queen, a secondary swarm often contains a virgin queen.

A mated queen presents a dilemma regarding her questionable age and quality.

A virgin queen in a secondary swarm proposes further evaluation. While the issue of unknown origin and quality is still a factor, the open-mating of a virgin requires a complex set of additional requirements that will insure her becoming a well-mated productively laying queen.

She will need a heavy saturation of good drones in the area; as well as several days of perfect mating weather during her brief mating window. And it will be nearly a month from the onset of the original date of the swarm until her own brood hatches, during which time the existing brood will dwindle and the overall colony production will be significantly impacted. If a virgin queen is allowed to naturally mate too late in the season the survival of the colony over the winter is unlikely.

The long answer to this short question is that in our experience queens produced in this way, (as well as any queens captured with a swarm of unknown origin), are a gamble, and should be replaced by a queen that has been specifically bred for mite and disease resistance.

Q: Do you use chemicals?

A: No, we do not use antibiotics or chemicals in our apiary. All Breeder and potential Breeder colonies are entirely treatment free.

We do on rare occasions treat a few of our Production colonies with organically acceptable formic acid treatment in the fall if their mite count is slightly higher than our threshold allows. We do this only to insure an adequate population of strong spring colonies to offset the usual dwindling of winter bees during our protracted cold/wet spring weather. While our unusual microclimate is a key factor in producing our hardy stock with its remarkable survivability, it is also responsible for delaying the onset of our breeding season.. As breeders, this  limited practice ensures that we will have  enough warm bodies  to begin grafting early enough to take advantage of our very short season. It is noteworthy that for the past 2 years fall mite counts are so low that we have not even needed to treat any  of our production colonies.