Minnesota Hygienic Bees: Naturally Healthier Than Other Bees

| 5/17/2010 3:58:45 PM

Tags: honeybees,

You can easily keep honeybees to help pollinate garden and orchard plants. The Top-bar Beekeeping Method allows you to keep bees without a large investment in equipment. But honeybees are under a lot of stress. In addition to pesticides, mites and diseases are common problems.

Varroa mites and two diseases (American foulbrood and chalkbrood) can be significantly reduced by keeping bees that are bred for “hygienic” behavior. We recently read about hygienic bees in a new publication, Managing Alternative Pollinators. Dr. Marla Spivak, Professor of Apiculture and Social Insects at the University of Minnesota, developed the strain of bees by carefully selecting for hygienic behavior over several years. Here’s what Dr. Spivak told us:

If someone wants to keep bees primarily to assist with pollination in a home garden or small orchard, without concern for how much honey the bees will produce and with the colony having as much genetic disease resistance as possible, what type of bees would you recommend they purchase?

There are two lines of bees in the U.S. that are bred to resist the parasitic mite, Varroa destructor — the Russian bees and a line called Varroa Sensitive Hygiene (VSH) — and one line bred to resist two diseases (American foulbrood and chalkbrood) and Varroa destructor — the Minnesota Hygienic line, bred at the University of Minnesota.

Beekeepers should know that none of these lines survive forever without treatment. The resistance lowers the mite loads but does not eliminate the mites entirely. Also, these three lines are not immune from Colony Collapse Disorder, the cause of which is undetermined.

Is there any other advice or encouragement you would offer to backyard beekeepers?

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