Last summer was my last post because my family was building a new house! While construction took place, we lived in an apartment (with my two wild boys and enormous dog).
We tried to keep a hive going at the site of our soon-to-be home, but it was difficult to manage due to the location and everything else going on. So I’m happy to report that we are now moved into our house, a bit unpacked, mostly organized and ready to get back into the swing of things.
My husband has really been reading up on Slovenian bee houses, so we talked about taking a break this year to build one and then getting some bees again NEXT spring. Anyone have any experience with these?
But then AWS Bees called and asked if we wanted to order any packages. I told the man on the phone that we weren’t sure yet and he informed me that they are excited to be offering Saskatraz bees this year. So now I’m thinking, “What?! A new breed of bee to play with? I’m in!” I’ve done just a bit of research on these new-to-me bees and thought I’d share. If anyone has any experience, I’d love to hear about them in the comments!
Saskatraz bees are being sold exclusively by Olivarez Honey Bees (OHB). OHB has apiaries across Northern California and Hawaii and according to a recent Bee Culture article, owner Ray Olivarez, Jr., “breeds 180,000 European, Carniolan, and Saskatraz queens every year, and 100,000 more at their Hawaii operation.” The strand comes from Saskatchewan, Canada (hence their name) and Olivarez has been breeding Saskatraz for almost 10 years.
The breed is supposed to show varroa mite resistance and more hygienic qualities (similar to Ankle-biters). Additionally, they are selected for honey production, wintering ability, temperament, and improved disease resistance (including brood diseases) and have now made their way to bee distributors around the country.
Both the increased mite resistance and ability to overwinter caught my eye first thing. However, in regards to mites, OHB’s website cautions:
In the last 3 or 4 years we have crossed high VSH lines with our naturally selected colonies to try and increase stability of the varroa tolerant trait. This looks to be promising and new lines are currently being evaluated. However, we have also noted that treatment with some synthetic miticides, although initially effective in lowering phoretic varroa infestations, may negatively affect the colonies ability to cope with subsequent mite infestations. Some miticide treatments may also result in increased virus infections, particularly in varroa susceptible phenotypes. (Unpublished data)
link to article
This raises a new and interesting question. It does seem that mite treatments are working and beekeepers (in Michigan, at least) seem to be having better luck overwintering (perhaps because the bees are stronger, minus the mites); however, what is the long term effect of these treatments on our bees? Could they weaken the colony in the long run? At this point, we simply don’t know.
Naturally, I’d love to order a dozen packages and set up some experiments. I think my bank account may allow for me to order a package of Saskatraz and perhaps a local nuc of the Carniolan variety. I will still be able to contrast the two hives, but certainly with findings that small, it would be impossible to make any sweeping generalizations.
Nonetheless, my husband’s hope for a bee-free summer may have just been spoiled!
For more reading material on Saskatraz Bees, check the Saskatraz Breeding Project page for published research findings: http://www.saskatraz.com/
Here’s OHB’s homepage: https://www.ohbees.com/products/ohb-saskatraz-queens
Lappes Bee Supply is also selling Saskatraz Queens: https://www.lappesbeesupply.com/saskatraz-queen-bee-in-store-pickup/