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Observations from the Bee Yard: How Bee Breeds Behave

It’s a busy time of year for honeybees, and the bees who call our bee yard their home are no exception. Hives have been installed, the bees have gotten used to their new digs, and now it’s time for them to get to work!

Buckfasts and Carniolans are the breeds doing their thing in our bee yard right now, and while both breeds are popular among beekeepers, they each have unique backgrounds and characteristics that shape their behaviors. I chatted with Headbeekeper Sam Joseph about her experience with these two breeds, and how she’s seen them behave in our bee yard so far this year. 

About the Bees

Before we dive into talking about how we’re seeing the Buckfast and Carniolans behave in our bee yard, let’s take a look at their breeds’ histories and reputations. 

Buckfasts

A Buckfast bee ready to fly

If Buckfast bees could log onto Ancestry.com, they’d be able to trace their roots back to Germany in the early 1900s, where Brother Adam (Karl Kehrle), a beekeeper at Buckfast Abbey, set out to create a bee breed that would be resistant to disease and who could whip up a lot of honey. 

Buckfasts are known to be healthy and productive bees, with colonies that grow quickly in the spring, are resistant to tracheal mites, and have some serious honey production skills: In the 1980s, one colony of Buckfasts reportedly produced 400 pounds of honey! They’re not expected to be aggressive, but some beekeepers say they’ve encountered not-so-friendly colonies, and there are suspicions that Buckfasts might be more aggressive when they’re allowed to requeen themselves.

Carnis

Carniolans, affectionately known in the beekeeping community as “Carnis,” first came from Slovenia in the Austrian Alps – mountain bees! In the 1800s, word spread through Europe about how gentle and resourceful Carnis were, and they quickly became a hot commodity for beekeepers everywhere.

Carnis are so popular because they’re usually extremely calm, have a great sense of orientation, and are very disease-resistant thanks to their exceptional hygiene practices. They’re great at sniffing out honeydew flow and forage sources, and typically waste no time building up their hives come spring. While Carnis’ tendency to jump-start their hives is usually a good thing, it can be challenging if they run out of room and get the itch to start swarming too early. 

In Our Bee Yard

Back to our bees! 

A Carni collecting pollen

The differences Sam observed in our bee breed behaviors started right at the beginning of their time in our bee yard, when their hives were first installed. During hive installations, most bees are so preoccupied with their big move and checking out their new home that they’re not interested in the beekeepers. This was true for the Carniolans, who went about their business without paying much attention to the beekeepers. It doesn’t come as a surprise, seeing as the Carnis are known for their super chill, laid back demeanor.

The Buckfasts, on the other hand, were all up in the beekeepers’ business. They were very interested in the beekeepers and showed their curiosity by aggressively bumping into the beekeepers who were helping them get settled. Even though Buckfasts are generally known for being easy to work with and pretty gentle to handle, colonies are sometimes said to be a tad more aggressive, so our bees may be some of the more combative Buckfasts.

Making Themselves at Home 

Sam installed the Carniolans into their hives a full week before she installed the Buckfasts, so the differences in the amount of comb and building the two breeds have been up to is surprising!

Despite the Carniolans’ head start, the Buckfasts wasted no time getting to work and have already filled their hives with comb. This behavior makes total sense for the Buckfasts – I mean, they’re known for being honey-making powerhouses who can get things done even in cold or wet conditions. The Buckfasts have already started swarming, too, which you can’t blame them for when their hives are exploding with comb!

While you would think that the Carnis would also be quick to make their comb and get their hive up and running, since they typically start working with a bang in the spring, our Carnis are taking their sweet time getting settled. Carnis are such a polite breed to work with, though, that maybe they’re graciously letting these Buckfasts enjoy the spotlight for the time being before they really bring their A-game to the bee yard.

Conclusion

Given the reputations that Carnis and Buckfasts have made for themselves over the years, it’s interesting to see how those well-known habits and behaviors show up here in our bee yard. It will be fun to observe how these breeds fare over the summer, and how true-to-form they’ll end up being. 

We’ll keep you posted on whether our Buckfasts really do crank out crazy amounts of honey, and if our Carnis pick up their speed and catch up to their bee yard peers. Stay tuned!

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Kanoe Riedel

Kanoe Riedel is a freelance writer who enjoys learning about new and interesting topics. A Guam native, she loves traveling, trying new things, and spending time with her husband and their adventurous toddler.
Kanoe Riedel
Kanoe Riedel is a freelance writer who enjoys learning about new and interesting topics. A Guam native, she loves traveling, trying new things, and spending time with her husband and their adventurous toddler.

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