italian workers
Comb in a package of italian bees with russian queen

I spend large amounts of time planning; it is my nature – I am a planner. Planning a thing – new endeavor, trip, construction or woodworking project – is often a source of great enjoyment for me. From the end of December and through January, I researched and read material on relative newcomer to the arena of honeybees in the United States: the Russian bee. The Russian bees, originating from the Primorsky Krai region, were first imported into the US by the US Department of Agriculture’s Honeybee Breeding, Genetics & Physiology Laboratory in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 1997. The particular strain of bee has a few interesting properties which drew me to it. The region of Russia where it originated has a similar annual average temperature and precipitation to that of our region of Duluth, MN. They have also shown excellent overwintering in colder climates. In addition to the climatological similarities for their home region, the bees have the added advantage of having resided in the home region of the varroa mite (Varroa destructor) for over 150 years and consequently are relatively resistant to the mites (A Comparison of Russian and Italian Honey Bees – North Carolina State University; Breeding, Genetics, Stock Improvement and Management of Russian Honey Bees for Mite Control and Pollination – Agricultural Research Service, USDA). As I developed a plan for rolling out more hives this spring, the Russians looked increasing interesting and a very viable option.

I eventually decided upon ordering three packages – each package contains a marked Russian queen, and three pounds (1.36 kg) of random Italian workers (as a side note, my pseudo-intelligentsia-esque friends have been making socialist-related jokes since they heard the "nationalities" of the new bees – "A new Russian Empire built on the backs of the Italians."). All of this is a bit of an experiment to say the least. As the hives move through summer, and the Italians are usurped by Russians, I am optimistically hoping to have three, strong, all-Russian hives going into fall. The real test will be next February and into March – a time when most hive failures occur.

russian queen
Russian queen in a cage with workers

February is a long way off at this point, and I need to concentrate on the nearer future and less on the not too distant future. Two of my three packages arrived in Duluth at the postoffice on Monday (Monday, April 18, 2011) at a little before midnight. The postoffice called me at midnight to inform me my bees had arrived and could I come pick them up. By the time I arrived back home from the postoffice, it was approaching 1:00 AM. A quick check of the feed cans in each packaged showed they were nearly empty – the bees would need to be fed before I finally was able to head to sleep.

In the mean, the weather did not cooperate at all. It rained and snowed the next day, and it was near freezing on Wednesday. Worried about how long the bees can stay in their packages, I spoke (via email) with Marla Spivak, an entomologist at the University of Minnesota (and recent recipient of a MacArthur Foundation award). She said that the packages, when kept in an area with a temperature of about 60 to 65 degrees F (16 to 18 degrees C), should be fine for a few days. She went on to add that it would be best to have the ambient outdoor air temperature at or above 45 degrees F (7 degrees C), it might also be a good idea to set a package into the hive super if the frames are cold.

Thursday arrived, and one of the packages was quickly being filled with honeycomb; the bees were also draining the feed cans to fill their new comb – the packages needed to get installed into hives. After work, I loaded up hive equipment, a pail of sugar syrup, a couple beesuits, and various other things, and headed over to pick up a friend who would be taking photos.

snowshoe apiaries - russian hives
Snowshoe Apiaries – Russian Hives

All the planning and preparing came down to just an hour or so of work. The people who own the land where the hives are located were kind enough to drop several concrete blocks and wood planks out in the field. They also joined me in the field to watch as I installed the two packages. The planning seems to have paid off – at least for the install – relatively uneventful with no stings, no stray bees getting into my suit, and no queens making a break for it.

The two Russian hives were doing well when I was back out to install six packages of Carniolans on Saturday.