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Ordered Russian packages, they gave me Italians

2453 Views 12 Replies 10 Participants Last post by  treeWinder
I've been keeping bees a few years, have only had Russians. I ordered a few packages of Russians this spring from Miller Bee to replace some of my winter losses. Went to pick up the bees yesterday and didn't find out until I was loading the bees into my car that they were Italians, because the package producer ran out of Russian queens. I could have made a fuss but I prepaid for the packages and drove 120 miles to get them, so I felt like I was stuck with them. All I got was a "Hey, maybe you'll like Italians better!" I doubt I'll do business with Miller again, but now I'm trying to figure out if I should re-queen these packages or not. I'll probably keep one or two of the Italian queens to see if there's any difference, and replace the others with queens from one of my Russian colonies.

Can anyone in a northern area speak to how well their Italians overwinter? I know they're supposed to be more gentle, they might producer more honey, but also keep a larger cluster going into winter and consume more honey. I've only ever had Russians so I don't have anything to compare them to, but they do tend to swarm fairly frequently (or maybe I just don't manage my bees very well), and I have a lot of robbing issues.

I'm also not sure how pure the genetic lines are with the package producers, and how much difference there really is between a run of the mill Russian queen vs an Italian?
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Don't worry bee happy. Those red dogs are meaner than an ex wife on meth and are just as flighty. ( swarming) It is major disappointment in my opinion when you get other than what you paid for.. In realty it s a breech of contract... Might want to tell them that.........

Real pure bred Russians especially those of the dark line seem to be hard to acquire.

IMO they will be out of the face of American beekeeping in less than 20 years. Maybe ten. The demand from us has dropped to almost zero so we dropped them. Maybe 5 calls this year.
Amazing how opinions vary! I am scared to death of Russians from all the bad press I have read on them. I have stumbled into having mostly Italians and they winter fine for me. This was a hard winter With my bees having no income from last half of October to not yet. I am liberal with the welfare I have to admit because sugar is so much cheaper than bees. The Italians seem to produce more honey for me. Give them a shot for the season and see if you like Italians. You can always requeen from your Russians later.
I had 3 hives of Italians last year here in WV. Please note i said HAD. They all died over the winter. This year i bought 10 packages of Italians myself to start new hives with, however in May they will become Russian hives. Ordered my queens directly from Steven Coy of the Russian Breeder's Association. I've got 10 coming in may, and another 10 in july.

As for the bad press Vance G - It is just that when it comes to the russian breed. Negative press from all the chemical companies that know these bees can do things on their own. Which cuts into their bottom line.
And what can Russian bees do on their own? Their mite 'resistance' was a big disappointment as far as I've heard.
Sounds as if you need some official information on the subject. I've researched and been around them enough to see the results. If you want some good info on the Russian breed go to the actual Russian Breeder's Association webpage and read the whitepapers from the ARS Beelab in Louisianna - Here's the website with some great info that was published in the American Bee Journal -

Some bad information is out there and most of it is due to bad press, and some of the breeders out there pushing what they are calling Russians that are just mean bees. To provide true Russian bees they have to come from one of 15 certified breeders in the US. That's why i go straight to the source to get mine. They maintain the lines and keep good genetics flowing in a breeding program designed by the beelab.
I have apiaries scattered all over the place Not big 50 hive operations, Just small ones. I have Russians, Italians, carnis and a host of crossbreed mutts. Over the roughest winter we have had in recent memory, My losses were as good as they have been in the past 10 years. And my honey production was within the normal average. I do not credit it to the breed of bees but rather to the attention I give them. I am not so self absorbed to believe that I am some bee keeping guru, as I have my struggles too. But I feel that if one knows their bees, or know bees, and takes every measure available to give the bees the best possible opportunity to be healthy. Then they all will be survivors and producers regardless of their race, color or creed.
As for the bad press Vance G - It is just that when it comes to the russian breed. Negative press from all the chemical companies that know these bees can do things on their own. Which cuts into their bottom line.

When I hear professional beeks say a pox upon Russian bees, it makes me listen and I don't think the conspiracy theory carries a lot of water. My bees winter started mid October last fall and no sign of a swelling fruit tree bud or a dandelion blooming yet. I had some winter losses but they were mostly attributable to management errors and queen failures. My goal are survivor mutts not a proudly proclaimed variety name. OH! No chemical mite treatment for a year and a half now and I can't find many on my bottom boards I am cleaning now.
Used to run 350 hives, Italians do not winter well in my area of Massachusetts. Over fifty plus years, I think that I have tried every type of queen produced. For about ten years now, have been using New World Carniolans. Most winters have passed with no losses, believe it or not, except for this winter. Losses were not great. They winter very well here in comparison to others. Of course, they degenerate into mutts, but still do very well. OMTCW
If you want some good info on the Russian breed go to the actual Russian Breeder's Association webpage and read the whitepapers] .... the chemical companies have a conspiracy and the Russian association is pure with no spin..... oh yeah. right on
Thanks all for the info. I think I'll stick with my plan of re-queening one or two of my new packages, but I'll keep a few of the Italian colonies around for comparison. I'm going to look into obtaining a queen from a member of the Russian Breeders Association, and maybe something else like New World Carniolans. I hate the idea of pinching a perfectly healthy Italian queen, but I guess that's part of beekeeping.

It's good to see that there are northern beekeepers with Italian hives that are overwintering well. I've heard nothing good about Italians, other than that they're gentle. Maybe they're not so bad, no better or worse than the Russians I have in my bee yard now anyway.

Perhaps instead of pinching her/them you could ask around and see if there is some beek near you who needs a queen as a replacement, or to make a split. After all, she would by that time be a mated, "proven," perfectly healthy Italian queen. Which would be nothing to sneeze at if one was in unexpected need.


I've had no problems with the Italians in this area, I also have Russian probably mixed with something. They both wintered fine. Actually would say the Italians did a bit better. As far as Millers, they only sold up what the supplier said he had on hand at the time, when they picked them up then the supplier did not have the order fulfilled. I'd rather get some then not at all which would have been the other choice. I think they had a $3.00 difference in price. I did not buy any from Millers this year, but did last year.
Hopefully you can find some pure Russians. If I was wasn't heading to Orlando this week I'd offer to buy the package or queens from you. Best to you.

Pasadena, MD.
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