In addition to selecting and maintaining reliable mite-resistant bee stock, a major objective of the Hilo Bee program is to deliver high-quality, properly mated Hilo Bees at commercial scale to the US beekeeping industry.
There are three isolated mating areas established near Hilo, and a fourth is being developed. Each mating area is stocked with about 2500 queen mating nucs and 240 drone-source colonies within a 2-mile radius to enrich resistant genetics and maximize the mating potential. To ensure that colonies from the open-mated production queens contain the desired genetics to the fullest extent, Hilo breeder colonies are used for both grafting, and to head the drone-source colonies. All production queens are marked and clipped to verify no turnover.
Limited Release of Hilo Bees in 2020
Hawaii Island Honey Company is very satisfied with the performance of the Hilo Bees, and is now using only Hilo queens in all of its 6,000 production colonies. As queen production continues to scale up, the program recently offered limited quantities of queens to beekeepers who manage colonies for honey production and pollination. Research and experience show that selection progress in honey bees degrades without deliberate maintenance. We therefore seek to carefully manage the early release of Hilo bees through close consultation with participating beekeepers in the following ways:
Educating recipients about the whole program, with special emphasis on the importance of maintaining original (marked) Varroa-resistant queens
Monitoring performance, survival and Varroa infestations of colonies throughout the season, comparing to non-selected stocks when possible.
Gathering feedback to inform the ongoing breeding program
Beekeepers who received queens in 2020 were asked to not propagate the bees. We still discourage propagation because of the need to maintain genetic integrity of the stock by having an adequate supply of Hilo drones to mate with the grafted Hilo queens. Queens mated to non-Hilo drones may create highly variable colonies. The Varroa resistance of such colonies is unpredictable, so we encourage thorough monitoring of mite levels and treatment where necessary.