This question is asked by most all new beekeepers and the answer is not quite black and white. To answer the root of the question, I recommend trying all varieties available and see what you like or works best in your area. I understand that is not an option for everyone so this article will try to explain it as easily as possible.
Italians: By far the most common bee is the Italian honey bee due to a calm disposition and strong honey production. These are a great beginner bee. Build up is fast and consistent throughout the Spring and Summer so you will have a large foraging force for nectar. Italians operate best during warmer and sunnier weather. If it is a cool and rainy Summer the honey harvest won’t be the best. If you would like to attempt wintering a hive I do not recommend these. They enter Winter with a large cluster resulting in increased comsumption of stores. It is not uncommon for them to starve by February, but if prepared with enough stores in Fall they can survive.
Italians are a popular beginner bee due to their calm temperment and generally strong honey production.
Carniolans: A common Alaska bee. Honey production is better than Italians during a cool or rainy summer as these bees will still be foraging in less-than-ideal weather. Temperment is very similar to Italians. Spring build up is more dependent on nectar and pollen availability. What that means is the bees will need a pollen substitute and/or sugar water as a nectar substitute to start brood production if there is none or very little in nature. Some Springs this is noticable, othertimes it isn’t. Carniolans are a common bee to overwinter. They have a medium size cluster and are good with winter store consumption.
Carniolans are a good and popular all-around Alaska bee due to their tolerance of and performance in milder weather.
Russians: Russians are less common in Alaska, but I feel are better suited than other breeds. The region they originated from is an almost identical climate to ours; similar winter length, spring conditions, and summer weather. Most people who use Russians do so for wintering, to create a winter-hardy stock, or for their high mite resistent property. Russians winter in a small cluster and are very frugal with reserves. A downside I have personally seen is an extra sensitivity to pollen dearths where the queen will shut down fast if no food is available. If not fixed in a timely matter you can end up with a reduced workforce later in the season resulting in a poor honey harvest. To remedy this issue, I recommend constant feeding of pollen sub and sugar water early in the season along with frequent (weekly) hive checks. Another complaint some have is a more aggressibe temperament. From personal experience, they are more defensive in hive checks. Smoke helps.
Russians are a more advanced and specialized bee due to their higher maintenance. But if you are interested in treatment-free beekeeping or creating a hardy stock I recommend these.
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