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Cold weather North American bee breed

What bee breeds to keepers like for hardiness in North America where winters get cold as -20 F?

Middle Russian strain probably is the best for cold climate but not particularly beekeeper-friendly.


Russian can be a good choice, as @ABB says. However, you might want to consider Saskatraz too. We also have beekeepers like @Eva in Pennsylvania, and @Doug1 in Canada and @Tim_Purdie all in northern climes not too different from yours. I think that if you take good care of them, most strains of Apis mellifera will do well. :blush:


Carniolan bees maybe?

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Carniolans are fine, but they do tend to swarm early. I would ask your local beekeeping group which type of bees they like. Especially if you don’t get a definitive answer from us on this forum (and you won’t - no group of beekeepers ever agree on everything!)… :crazy_face:

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Mine are mixed breeds - I call them survivor mutts :grin: Some are yellower like Italians but most are darker.


I’m with Eva on having mutts; I’m sure at one point the genetics were more specific in my area but I think that has been intermixed at this stage so much it doesn’t really matter. I’ve had Australian Queens and I don’t think they like the cold climate much because they were prolific producers of angry ladies and I endured that for 2 seasons before requeening. There is a YouTube guy Frederick Dunn in PA USA that I follow (https://www.youtube.com/c/FrederickDunnPhoto) who has been talking a lot about Beeweaver bees he gets from a very specific breeder that survive well in cold weather and are super hygienic you might want to watch his videos (they come out every Friday and are LONG but super helpful and worth the watch).


@FrederickDunn has great experience & insight - and is also a forum member!

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Heresy based on vanity! One cannot improve Middle Russian because the ideal is unimprovable. :rofl:

Saskatraz is very young project. Just 16 years old? It would be interesting to see if they have any progress 30-50 years latter (I wish I could) unless advances in genetical engineering make manipulation with bee genome easier before that. At this stage it is undoubtfully interesting and ambitions project but it would be too early to expect any stable result from them.
A lot of work has been done in USSR to improve Middle Russian bee by mixing it with other strains but output manly resulted in various combinations of weak sides of the input strains. Maybe Saskatraz can do better?

Still, I believe Middle Russian bee is worth to consider for a hobbyist beekeeper at some stage. Besides of its hardiness, working with it helps to improve handling technique like no other bee strain could. This bee is absolutely unforgiving and if one can work with it, anything else is easy after that.

I think Sue Colby…supplier of breeder queens…use their genetics…and suspect Oliverez may use her queens. Oliverez supplies my beekeepers co-operative that I get queens from…Italians, Carniolan, and Saskatraz. Just heard yesterday that a commercial guy in my area got 300 lbs/hive from his Saskatraz stock…150lbs from everything else.

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Sure would like to try those Middle Russian Bees…bet they would calm down in the beehouse.

@Doug1, after so many years of beekeeping in Canada, I think you had a good chance try some local variety based on them already. In North America “Middle” disappeared from the name and they known just as “Russian”. The problem is, how recent the latest import was and is it possible import them these days to get something close to the original strain? Again even in Russia this bee has few regional sub-breeds.

The same Saskatraz project based on some local bees, Russian and German strains. But was it recently imported material or something that was brought to North America in 19th century? And where the heck they managed to get German bee? Ruttner had a hard time to find Black variety in 1950’s and was saying that Brown German bee had instinct several decades before that. I suspect that Russian and German bees in Canada is something like Italian in Australia. That is to say, they are rather a local variant of the original strain and could be very different form it.

Hi Tim, thanks for the mention, I did cover some of the reputable breeds and breeders in the United States on Friday’s Q&A - https://youtu.be/udvR7R_MctI

If you can get swarm traps out in early spring you’ll gain some locally adapted stock that survived winter.
The BeeWeaver Queens are a favorite for me, but they don’t ship packages, so you need an established colony to split from. Then buy in the Queen.

Saskatraz Bees work out very well in the Northern States, but will require meaningful varroa monitoring and most likely also treatment. They are fantastic honey producers.

Russian stock is prevalent throughout the U.S. and is varroa resistant, but can be a little “hot” to manage.
www.ColdCountryQueens.com or www.RichlandBees.com
Varroa Sensitive Hygienic stock: www.harbobeeco.com

Minnesota Hygienic - also good

Purdue Ankle Biters - are excellent but can be pricy!

I hope this helps you all out. I receive nothing for sharing about these breeds and breeders. They are just reputable and have a good track record.

Enjoy your weekend!


Up to and including the spring of 2019, Canadian beekeepers were able to get packages from New Zealand (as well as Australia/Tasmania)…and New Zealand catered to that Canadian market by breeding stock that could survive our winters. So they developed a Carniolan strain (under ample protest from some NZ beekeepers) using semen imported from Germany/Austria if I recall correctly. That stock impressed me alot…but it may have been partly a function of the queens mating in the fall in NZ when there was an abundance of drones.

In North America, the producers of breeder queens like Sue Colby likely use genetics from all over the globe and they sell those breeder queens to commercial queen rearers…who may or may not have isolated yards to preserve purity of strains.

A few years ago, one of my Saskatraz hives was somewhat aggressive…a trait I had not seen for some time. Then I found out that Olivarez (Olivarez imports Saskatraz breeder queens from Canada) used open mating yards and it was probably one of Dawn_SD’s Africanized drones that mated with my queen. :wink: Last I heard was that Olivarez bought out the Canadian Saskatraz operation. That aggressive queen was removed pronto.

I must say that the majority of queens that I’ve got over the last two decades have been from good stock generally…if they haven’t been exposed to adverse conditions in transport to Canada. So I have developed confidence in those breeder queen producers…

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This my first year, I chose saskatraz bee. This is a very gentle bee, a hard worker as well. I am wondering if when I re queen should I stay with another Saskatraz queen or introduce a Russian queen? Looking for any tips, thank you!

Thank you for your information, very helpful.

It is a hard question to answer :slight_smile: First of all, I don’t know what goes under “Russian bee” in the U.S. Given the freedom breeders have there, it could be some crossbred local version of it. Original Russian is a strain highly adapted to cold climates. If you have a very short flowering period and long cold winters, Russian bee is the only option really, besides importing packets every year. As I can see, you may have positive temperatures even in the coldest months, so this advantage is not particularly important.

Russian bee is a bit less novice-friendly. It is somewhat more “nervous” on frames compared to southern bees. Bumping frames and jerky movements is asking for being stung. It is all not too bad, but one should be a bit more careful when working with a colony.

Is it worth trying? Certainly. Just for sake of trying something different. Though, Saskatraz is a hybrid based on Russian bee. Will you notice much difference? Don’t know :slight_smile:


That’s the nice aspect of having your own hives and chosing mated queens as required.

There’s a lot of good genetics to choose from in the USA…this year I tried Foster’s Italian queens…hadn’t run Italians for 30 years and so far they are great and making me really work hard to keep the honey off them.


Wow! That’s great information too consider. I would like too try since I would requeen in the spring. I have been learning so much helpful information. Thank you