Russell Apiaries

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Selection Basics

I get a lot of questions about how I select for certain traits and characteristics... of course, there is not a singular answer to these questions, but I had decided that I would try to explain at least a few of my methods on the website so everyone could make use of the information... first and foremost, start off simple... and if it starts getting complex, simplify it once again... continuing to "trim" the complexities will help you clear the fog that will quickly develop and can ultimately be the difference between success and failure...

I will start with some of the more simple selections... the selection process for the Russell Italian line is the stock that started with my grandfather's first bees... during that time, AMM's made up the primary feral populations and beekeepers automatically selected against any darker bees in an attempt to keep those genetics from infiltrating their bee yards by way of drones and swarms... this was done by simply requeening any colony that started showing elevated levels of aggression, larger numbers of dark bees, and dark or black queens... requeening was not the same as it is today... although queens were being farm-raised, the number of queen producers was few and far between, and the idea of a person going long distances to get a few queens was just too much for the common beekeeper to fathom... so only large scale operations and a handful of people who either lived near a queen producer, or were well-off enthusiasts made up the entire queen buyers market... the common beekeepers would simply rear their own queens, and most would use the smash method, which translates to simply killing the old queen and letting the colony make a new one... this method often didn't change much about the colony other than slowing down it's production for that season... so in an effort to get better results in requeening, and still have a good crop, many beekeepers simply used swarm cells that they would find while they were working their hives... my grand father felt that this was just breeding for earlier swarming by propagating the traits of the colonies that started making swarm preparations earlier in the year, which he did not want...(Note: early swarm preparations means that the colony had also built up early, which could also mean that the colony was foraging for pollen earlier and in colder temperatures, or at the least it had effectively stored enough pollen before the winter... While these characteristics do not seem to be a negative, they are troubling for beekeepers as this early buildup period means that more stores must be left on the hives because the buildup period can come before natural nectars are available and the hives risk starvation). His alternative was to use a swarm box method, which was simply a smaller box (five frame nuc mostly) in which he would pack frames of capped brood with a perfect band of pollen and honey which he would hand pick from other colonies in the yard along with the top performing queen from the year before on a frame from her own colony that was mainly eggs and small larvae... then he would shake in another two or three frames of nurse bees and set the swarm box in a shady spot... this over-loaded nuc would create dozens of swarm cells almost immediately... which he would harvest with his Oldtimer pocket knife, and use them in his splits... the theory of this process is that not only was he getting daughters from his best queen for each of his splits, but they would also be producing drones and thus would be propagating those genetics consistently. This method was the beginning of the selection for the Russell Italian line... through the years, he would bring in a few more queens, mainly from swarms and feral colonies that he would find along his route from Chicago to New Orleans as he worked to develop the Illinois Central Railroad, but he also traded queens with beekeepers in Louisiana, the delta, and Alabama. He killed any queen that he ran across that was too dark for his taste, and he of course requeened any hive that became too defensive for him to work in short sleeves