Posted Sep 25, 2014
I love the sweet Italian bees, but was having trouble overwintering them. I talked to some other local beekeepers, many of which weren’t keeping Italians, and tried the Carniolans instead. Their appearance is similar to Italians except that their coloration is much darker.
Carniolans are incredibly active bees that made my Italians look lazy by comparison. They’re out and flying early even when the weather is cool. While the Italians seemed to pass up some flowers, the Carniolans make use of nearly anything they can find.
This species is equally as busy inside the hive. With sufficient food available, they can fill out comb extremely fast. Having kept the Italians previously, I was surprised by how much more quickly the Carniolans transformed fresh foundation to filled cells.
There are a couple drawbacks with the Carniolans. One is that they can be more aggressive than the Italians. With a bee suit and smoker, I’ve never had a problem with them while accessing the hive. They are a lot more vocal in their protests when frames are moved, but are still quite docile.
However, while no one here was ever stung by our Italians, we have been stung by the Carniolans. I was watching fairly close, but behind a tree from a hive when one of the bees stung me in the face. I immediately headed to the house when several other bees started after me.
There was a commotion in the hive at the time, which was why I had been watching. It looked like a group of Italians were trying to enter the hive so in that case the bees were in hyper defensive mode. But one of my other family members has been stung on a couple occasion, once by a bee that bumped into his arm and the other while walking by one of the hives.
Carniolans are also quicker to swarm than Italians. I’ve caught Italian swarms before, but never had my own Italian hives swarm. My Carniolan hive, on the other hand, swarmed three separate times this year.
As with Italians, Carniolans give you plenty of warning that they’re going to swarm and management options can prevent it. I let mine swarm because I wanted additional hives. Swarms usually hunker down in our orchard and we live out in a rural area where even if the swarms did take off, it couldn’t go pester the neighbors.
I captured and boxed all three of the swarms. The original hive that the swarms came off has rebuilt its numbers and is still going strong. One of the swarms was undersized, but is still going and the other two have built hives as big and bigger than the original colony.
Carniolans can be a feistier and need a bit more management than Italians, but they’re hardy and hardworking bees that excel at winter prep.