What kind of bees do you get when you buy Hercules Bees?
Hercules Bees beestocks originate from Contra Costa County swarms, cut-outs of colonies from buildings throughout Contra Costa and Alameda counties, and splits from my beestock who have genetic roots in SF Peninsula and Marin.
Hercules Bees are a bunch of Bay Area/Central Coast CA Floristic-Region mongrels.
2015 begins the propagation of survivor-stock bees as I find them (matrilines which have survived 2 years without chemical treatments) and also individual colonies that I think are particularly vigorous and well adapted to the Bay Area climate. I will continue to supplement the genetic diversity of my apiary with cut-outs, swarms, and trading stock with beekeeping peers.
Hercules Bees continually collects and propagates lines of bees which are adapted to coexist with natural fluctuations of Varroa destructor levels without resorting to chemical treatments. No varroa treatments AND living in a human-made box exerts very strong selection pressures on my bees. I do not yet guarantee that my bees 100% are hardy, time-tested survivor stock, but I think that I am on to something. In a few more years my selection program should yield good results.
I try to manage my operation as much in accordance with biological-based beekeeping as possible. This is a management style that follows the natural instincts of the bees in areas of hive design and animal husbandry. For Hercules Bees practical purposes it means:
- Foundationless, naturally drawn combs (to achieve smaller cell size).
- A diet of natural foodstuffs (pollen, nectar, beebread, and honey) for established colonies.
- An unlimited broodnest for the queen to lay in (the bees choose the size of the nest)
- A solid-floor beehive. Bees evaporate water from nectar via condensation. Screen floors require them to work a lot harder.
- Splitting colonies to break brood cycles and keep varroa populations low.
- Propagation of vigorous colonies that appear well naturalized to the Bay Area environment.
The selection pressures on my bees are quite different than those upon true feral bees and commercial beestock used in American agriculture. The domestication and commercial application of the honeybee has resulted in a bug that is tolerant to living in staggering densities and is reliant upon artificial diet inputs. Having been treated for varroa mites for so long (three notable genetic bottleneck events since the introduction of varroa in USA) these bees surely would die without them. They are bred for gentleness and other traits that enable constant breeding. In warm California climates, they will raise brood nearly year round. Nearly all package bees sold are from these type of outfits, and some of the Nation's Best come from Northern California breeders . I am not intending to knock or put down commerical beekeepers or their stock. I bring up these truths to point out that these two populations of bees (ferals and semi-to-essentially-domesticated) are in fact different bees. Genetic analyses of these two populations report statistically significant differences in the contributions of the three different A. mellifera subspecies present in the USA in their respective gene pools. Recent studies that show that these two different populations of bees resist genetic homogenization (introgression) even though they often share the same drone congregation areas during queen mating flights. To take this lesson back to biology 101, remember that diverging genetic populations within a species is a mechanism by which new species evolve.
In summation, hardiness and gentleness are my two primary selecting criteria. I am trying to make domesticated stocks of bees resemble the feral population as much as possible without being unworkable (bad temperament). If accomplishing these criteria come at the expense of gigantic honey crops and/or increased swarming tendencies, then I am ok with that. Healthy bees can still make a lot of honey.