As a novice beekeeper, there are many things to consider before receiving your first bees. Beyond the tools to start a hive, the most crucial consideration will be which breeds are the best bees for beginners.
Depending on what factors are the most important to you, the best type of bees for beginners range from Caucasian all the way to Russian.
While you obviously don’t want the most aggressive breed of bee on the planet, you need to consider many other personality traits as a beginner beekeeper.
Here are the primary considerations most beekeepers think about before getting their new bee colony:
Although any breed of bee will sting if it is feeling threatened, some breeds of bees tend to be more gentle than others. Unless you are not scared of being stung, these breeds are usually the best type of bees for beginners.
While some people do get bees for the sole purpose of pollinating their garden, most beekeepers have bees to produce honey. As some bee colonies are prone to starvation in winter if honey is over-harvested, it is essential to consider how much honey you are looking to be producing.
Bees, like all other creatures, are not resistant to parasites, pathogens, and pests. Since some bees will be more resistant to common diseases than others, you will need to consider:
- What diseases are most common in your area
- How you are going to protect your hive from said diseases.
The most common diseases are varroa mites (parasite), American & European foulbrood (pathogen), Nosema (pathogen), & small hive beetles (pest).
A significant aspect of the success of your hive is your location. Similar to vegetables, fruits, and other animals, different bee breeds prefer specific climates.
Location is especially important if you are in a tropical or seasonal environment with harsh winters, as specific bee breeds will not survive these climates.
Best Bees for Beginners
Here are the most common types of bees for beginners, given their specific traits.
Gentlest – Caucasian bees
Caucasian bees are one of the most popular bees for beginners if you can find them. They can be challenging to buy as they do have limited supplies. However, if you do find a buyer, they are an excellent beginner bee.
The main reason for their popularity is that they are incredibly gentle and have a low tendency for swarming, making them easy to manage. They are also excellent honey producers and don’t use much of their food stores in winter, so over-harvesting isn’t a big concern with Caucasian bees.
Because they build their colony population at a slower pace, they aren’t well-suited for climates where flower booms peak in spring. Instead, they will need somewhere where nectar flow peaks in mid-summer.
In addition, they create a lot of propolis (or bee-glue) in their hive. While this can make hive inspections more complicated, it is also has a medicinal benefit when found in raw honey.
Lastly, because they rob other hives of honey, they can be susceptible to diseases from other colonies.
Winter Resistance – Carniolan bees
If you have any fear of getting stung, Carniolan bees may be the best choice for you. They are well known for their docile behavior. In addition, they respond to changing seasons quickly and build their colony population easily, meaning they are great for colder climates.
Furthermore, they don’t consume much of their food stores, so over-harvesting isn’t too big of an issue.
They also don’t tend to rob other hives of honey, so disease management is easy. Hive inspections will also be easy with these bees as they don’t produce much propolis.
The only concern with these bees is their tendency to swarm. So, if you choose Carniolan bees, it might be best to research swarm prevention and what to do if it happens.
Honey Production – Italian bees
Italian bees are the way to go if you are looking for loads of honey as a beginner beekeeper. They produce many broods and, thus, a lot of honey. However, as they are from the Italian area, overwintering in harsh environments will be more challenging for these bees, and they will rely on more honey.
As they are the most common bee in the world, finding them is effortless. They might be the most common because, in addition to their large honey production, they are also moderately gentle and don’t tend to swarm.
However, they tend to rob other hives, so disease management must be dealt with regularly.
Disease Resistance – Russian bees
Russian bees were first imported to the US in the ’90s to improve resistance to varroa mites. As such, they are the best bees for disease resistance. Because they are from Russia, they are also excellent at overwintering.
At the same time, because northern climate flowers tend to bloom later, they react to changing seasons slower.
As far as personality, it’s said these bees are moderate in terms of docility. They can be defensive but typically tend to be gentle. They also have a chance to swarm in the late season because of their slow reaction to season change. Since they were only first imported here in the ’90s, they can also be challenging to find.
While each of the above breeds has specific traits, you’ll likely buy some mixed breed of bee as pure breeds are expensive and tough to find. However, this may not be an entirely bad thing.
Mixed breeds provide benefits from both breeds and usually don’t have the same genetic defects that pure-bred bees can have.
The most common mix is the Italian-Carniolan bee because of the docility and large honey production. However, it won’t be impossible to find other combinations if you are looking for one.
Where to Get Bees
Now that you’ve chosen what breed of bees to purchase, it’s time to do some shopping. Since buying an entire colony of bees can be overwhelming for a beginner, purchasing package bees or a nucleus hive is recommended.
Package bees are smaller than nucleus hives and contain a queen, multiple worker bees, and a feeder. There should also be information on how to install the bees into their hive and how to introduce the queen to the workers.
Nucleus hive: Also called a “nuc,” a nucleus hive is a half-size colony. Although a little more intimidating, a nuc can give you a jump-start in growing the colony. Not only will you be receiving an already-made colony, you’ll also receive brood – making your bees enthusiastic for making honey.
You’ll usually find package bees and nucleus hives through your local beekeeping association, which can help you with beginner tips and even offer beginner courses. Contacting your local beekeeping association can also advise what breed of bee will be best suited for your environment.
What type of bees are best for beginners is essential to think about before purchasing your first bee colony. The most gentle bees will be the Caucasian Bee or Carniolan Bee.
The bee that makes the most honey will be the Italian Bee. The bee most well-suited for cold climates will be the Russian bee. To purchase your first bee colony, you will want to contact your local beekeeping association for advice and possibly buying options.