I think operating a successful beekeeping business entails many aspects. Stock selection is just one of the components. I like the saying, “all things in moderation”. I do not believe the challenges we face as beekeepers will be solved by selecting for a single “ultimate” characteristic, but rather developing a comprehensive system that functions as we would like it to most of the time.

In selection, I think it is important to be cautious about identifying specific traits or characteristics and making assumptions about their overall value of fitness to a honey bee colony. Just because a trait is observed at some low frequency in a population, does not mean that it will provide greater fitness at a higher frequency.

Traditional animal and plant breeding makes the greatest progress when a trait is identified that is measurable and heritable. That trait can then be emphasized or reduced quickly. The same is true in honey bees, but for me, it is challenging to identify specific mite resistance mechanisms. While it is not clean and clear cut by any means, I prefer to look at overall production and survival traits without zeroing in on specific traits that I assume impart some level of added fitness in the long run. It takes a great deal of observation, evaluation, and records to slowly develop and shape a population within a given set of parameters.

Management is also a very important part of getting the most out of a stock. Small isolated apiaries have completely different functions and stresses than large concentrations of commercial apiaries. I think this alone plays a big role in the success of some of the smaller more isolated operations. But at the end of the day, every successful operation will develop a system of managing mites, diseases, and replacing colonies to maintain numbers. They will do this by finding a stock that meets their needs with the characteristics their desire. That is one of the fascinating things I get to see in working with beekeepers. When new customers first contact me, I try to learn about their operation, how they run things, what cycle they follow, what stock they currently work with and what they hope to achieve.

I look at breeding as an attempt to stay in the race a little longer, and perhaps hold the lead from time to time. But, I also realize every other pest, predator and disease if fighting just as hard, if not harder. After all, they are fighting for their life too.