Around the turn of the millenium, we became interested in raising our own queens and began thinking about what kind of stock would be best for this purpose. At an EAS conference, Landi was fortunate to meet and become friends with Dr. Marla Spivak of the University of Minnesota. Dr. Spivak is responsible for expanding on Rothenbuler's work with hygienic bees, and developed a line of hygienic Italians at her research laboratories. We were very impressed with the potential of the hygienic trait and have been importing hygienic stock ever since that time.
The hygienic trait is characterized by bees which have the ability to sense, right through the pupal capping, whether a late-stage larva or pupa is diseased or heavily parasitized. The workers uncap and remove the damaged brood before it can become contagious to the colony.
Hygienic bees are strongly resistant to both American Foulbrood and chalkbrood. They also have moderate resistance to Varroa mites. (In fact, the "SMR" line, standing for 'Suppressed Mite Reproduction' has been re-named "VSH" for 'Varroa Sensitive Hygiene,' research having demonstrated that this line's varroa resistance is a variant of mite-directed hygienic behavior.
One thing we especially like about Dr. Spivak's queens is that, unlike most researchers looking to develop a mite-resistant line, Marla started with a GOOD BEE - one that was gentle, productive, and hardy. She then selected for the hygienic trait within this population. Many other lines were developed exclusively on the basis of their resistance to mites. These bees might not overwinter well, or be overly defensive, or not produce any honey.
Our "Jersey Girl" line of hygienic queens are bred from artifically inseminated Minnesota Hygienic mothers in a mating area which we have taken great pains to saturate with hygienic drones. There are several drone mother apiaries surrounding our queen mating yard to enhance the opportunities for our "Jersey Girl" queens to meet up with the right kind of guys! We are also now beginning to use our own best overwintered queens as breeder mothers to insure a line of bees well-adapted to New Jersey conditions. However, we continue to import desirable lines from outside sources to enhance the gene pool.
Queens are available in early summer - usually starting in June. We focus on raising superior, well mated queens and will not risk poor quality by starting before there is a plentiful supply of mature drones.