In addition to selecting and maintaining mite-resistant bee stock, a major objective of the Hilo Bee program is to deliver high-quality, properly mated Hilo “production” queens at commercial scale to the US beekeeping industry.
Production queens currently are being mated in an isolated area near Hilo, and a second mating area is being developed nearby. The mating area is stocked with 2000 queen mating nucs that are given queen cells grafted from Hilo breeder colonies. There are about 400 drone-source colonies within 2 miles of the nucs; queens heading the drone-source colonies also are grafted from Hilo breeders. This arrangement ensures that colonies from the open-mated production queens contain the desired genetics to the fullest extent. All Hilo production queens are marked and clipped so the origin of the queen can be verified by the beekeepers who receive them.
Limited Release of Hilo Bees since 2020
Hawaii Island Honey Company has been using Hilo Bees in all of its 6800 production colonies and in 6000 colonies in a sister operation in Louisiana, and is very satisfied with the performance of the stock. As queen production continues to scale up, the program is offering limited quantities of Hilo 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 Hilo Bee performance to other commercial bee stocks when possible.
Gathering feedback that can be used to help guide the ongoing breeding program.
Beekeepers who received queens are asked to not propagate the bees. We 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 treating colonies if necessary.