By Melanie Kirbie

The good news: everybody wants to help save the bees. In fact, ever since the term “Colony Collapse Disorder” gained prominence in 2006, increased public awareness of the plight of the pollinators has inspired a small beekeeping renaissance. Concern over this global issue has motivated many to become beekeepers – stewards of a precious resource.
The bad news: the ability of established local beekeepers to develop and maintain acclimated and adaptable stock lines is being threatened. This is due to unintentional, yet harmful, distribution of compromised stock from other areas as surging numbers of beekeepers spark massive importations.
Starting out as a beekeeper can be overwhelming, to be sure – especially now, with environmental impacts and compromised agricultural and developmental management practices to consider. Not all bees are the same, nor are they readily available everywhere. There is a stupefying amount of information for newbees to absorb, about the origins of the bees and what kinds are suited for what locations. Purchasing online or
through bee “flippers” (who move packages and nucs into the area, then turn around and sell and distribute them to others) can therefore seem economical and less hassle. Yet such transactions are negatively impacting New Mexico agriculture in urban, rural, managed and wild settings.
Imported bees may not be as healthy or as gentle as existing local stock, and any new line that is moved in can impact the genetic pool and affect other bees and beekeepers directly, as bees interact while foraging or mating under various weather and flow conditions. As a queen honeybee breeder, I witness firsthand the effects of imported stock on our New Mexican landscape and on the breeding zones of our apiaries. I also hear from other stewards about how this concern has hit home in both urban and rural communities. A story recently reached me about beekeepers in the Midwest who purchased packages that had come out of almonds from California. These bees did not overwinter successfully, and lab examination of some of the dead specimens implicated a previously unknown viral disease.
The best way to respond to this crisis is to encourage urban beekeepers, who make up the bulk of newer beekeepers, to consider the benefits of proactive stock management right from the beginning of their stewardship. Starting with what is available in our area may seem limiting and a test of patience, but massive demand for bees now is having negative repercussions even for stewards located far from urban centers. Local stewards can also make an important contribution by working with one another regionally to share acclimated stock lines, and by respecting existing local lines and areas used for localized breeding efforts. This will help preserve New Mexico breeding zones.
Several Duke City beekeepers have expressed interest in developing a localized breeding program for central New Mexico. Zia Queenbees would like to help launch this endeavor by sharing our skills and our process. Initial meetings will be held right after the ABQ Beeks meetings on March 5th and April 2nd at the Bosque School. We will brainstorm ideas for initiating an urban community bee breeding program with a goal of implementing a pilot project this spring. Interested beekeepers who are willing to share brood or apiary for mating are welcome to participate, as are newbees interested in helping (and hoping to receive local bees).
The more stewards that participate, the better for all of New Mexico. If enough stewards express interest, grant funding will be sought to help offset equipment and technical expenses. Please contact Carlos Aragon at to indicate your interest and share ideas for a state-centered community breeding program.

A native New Mexican, Melanie Kirby has been keeping bees professionally for 19 years. She and partner Mark Spitzig established Zia Queenbees which specializes in treatment-free, survivor stock queen honeybee breeding, exquisite hive products and apiceuticals, and sustainable beekeeping management research. She can be reached at !

Article was printed in December, 2015 NMBKA March Newsletter

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