Jack and the Bee Stock

Greetings Fenway Victory Garden folk. Our spring report is (like all things of substance) a little bit Yin, and a little bit Yang.

Winter losses among beekeepers in Massachusetts were abysmal this year. Many long time beekeepers with a few hives have found themselves without bees for the first time in years, and none of our bees in the Victory Garden made it through to spring. Although this is disappointing, our winter survival rate was better than the state average despite the fact that our bees receive no medication or treatments of any kind.

It is always sad (not to mention expensive) to lose a hive for any reason. However, our goal is to select for and breed bees that can survive and be productive in our environment without feeding and without treating. The only way to accomplish these (admittedly ambitious) goals is to eliminate the unsuitable stock from the running. ‘Good’ genetics exist within our population, and isolating them is largely a subtractive process…getting rid of the 90% that is unsuitable.

Our approach has been showing results…yet it is opposite to current trends in localized breeding, which are to bring in ‘magic bees’* (in the form of expensive ‘breeder queens’) in an attempt to solve problems by ‘adding good genes’ to a population without allowing the rather severe culling of the unfit (along with the interplay of inbreeding and outmating that accompany fluctuations in population) that Mother Nature demands for adaptation to occur…an approach that inevitably leads to the dilution of the ‘good genes’ to the point where they are not effective.

*(Jack’s mother was unfortunately mistranslated, and thus misquoted in the historical record.  Jack traded a cow for ‘magic bees’, not ‘magic beans’. This magic ‘bee stock’ produced so much honey
that Jack piled the boxes up to the sky…where he met the Giant, the Goose, etc. The rest of the story
is reasonably accurate.)

Two steps forward, and one step back.

Some of our bees at the Intercontinental Hotel and on Long Island (in Boston Harbor) have come through the winter healthy and happy. The slow spring warm up (especially at night) has kept them from expanding as fast as they can under ideal circumstances, but they are finally taking off.

Earlier this spring, we introduced 3 new colonies of purchased bees to the garden, and all 3 are building up nicely. Within the next month or so, we will be raising queens from our overwintered stock and splitting those 3 hives. The goal is to go into winter with a number of strong (but small) colonies of bees. Larger numbers of colonies are important both in order to be ‘lucky’ and in order to test (over a winter) the greatest number of queens we can with the resources we have available.

Breeding bees is a bit more complicated than one might first imagine. A queen (and the combination of her genetics and the genetics of the drones she mates with) cannot be evaluated for selection without first allowing her to raise many thousands of her own offspring to build, populate, and manage a colony over a substantial period of time… eventually overwintering with a minimum of 40lbs of honey. This is a lot of attention (and resources) to revolve around a small, single bug that is almost the same thing as an ant.

We continue to make progress, and will continue to breed from survivors in Boston, Cohasset, Leominster, New Braintree and Portland (ME), as well as from some selected stock from our treatment-free friends. In addition to the Victory Gardens, we now maintain bees at both The Intercontinental Hotel, and The Lenox Hotel, as well as on the Serving Ourselves Farm on Long Island (Boston). All of these locations are integral parts of our breeding program.

Again this year we will be doing informal hive openings most Sundays during the summer at the teaching apiary. Our website, BeeUntoOthers.com, will always show our Twitter feed, which we will keep you updated with our schedule… or follow us directly at@TweetmentFwee.

Dean Stiglitz
Golden Rule Honey

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