The Buckfast bee is a honey bee a cross of many strains of bees into a hybrid developed by "Brother Adam", (born Karl Kehrle on 3 August 1898 in Germany), who was in charge of beekeeping at Buckfast Abbey, where the bees are still bred today. Most of the breeding work in Europe is done by breeders belonging to the breeders accociation "Gemeinschaft der Europäischen Buckfastimker". This organisation is maintaining a pedigree for Buckfast bees, originating from Brother Adam's years.
In the early 20th century bee populations were being decimated by Isle of Wight disease. This condition, later called "acarine" disease, after the acarine parasitic mite that invaded the bees' tracheal tubes and shortened their lives, was killing off thousands of colonies in the British Isles in the early part of the 20th century.
In 1916 there were only 16 surviving colonies in the Abbey. All of them were either pure Ligurian(Italian) or of Ligurian origin hybrid between Ligurian and English black bee A.m. mellifera. Brother Adam also imported some more Italian queens. From these he began to develop what would come to be known as the Buckfast bee.
The Buckfast contains heritage from mainly A.m. ligurica (North Italian), A.m. mellifera (English), A.m. mellifera (French), A.m. anatolica (Turkish) and A.m. cecropia (Greek). The Buckfast bee of today also contains heritage from two African rare and docile African stocks A.m. sahariensis and the A.m. monticola, but not the "Africanized" A.m. scutellata."
Brother Adam moved the bees he discovered to the isolated valley of Dartmoor which became a mating station for selective breeding. With no other bees within range, Brother Adam could maintain their genetic integrity and develop desirable traits.
Brother Adam investigated various honey bee races and made many long journeys in Europe, Africa and Middle-East searching for pure races and interesting local stocks. The book In Search of the Best Strains of Bee tells about his travels in search of genetic building blocks. Brother Adam imported more bees to cross with his developing Buckfast bee.
Every new bee strain or bee race was first crossed with the existing Buckfast Bee. In most cases, the new desired qualities were passed on to the new generation and the new combination was then made stable with further breeding work. Every crossing with a new race took about 10 years before the desired genes were fixed in the strain. Over seventy years, Brother Adam managed to develop a vigorous, healthy, and fecund honey bee which he christened the Buckfast bee.
The Buckfast bee is popular among beekeepers and is available from bee breeders in Germany, Ireland, the United Kingdom, France, and more. Most of the Buckfast bee's qualities are very favorable. They are extremely gentle and highly productive. Brother Adam, in his book, Beekeeping at Buckfast Abbey writes that in 1920 they obtained "an average of no less than 192 lbs surplus per colony and individual yields exceeding 3 cwt [approx. 336 lbs]." In the 1986 BBC-affiliated documentary, The Monk and the Honey Bee, more than 400 pounds of honey are reported to have been produced by a single Buckfast colony. According to Brother Adam, "The average annual honey yield over the last thirty years has been 30 kg (66 lb.) per colony. Thus we have a favourable balance compared with the average production in America or in Europe. "
The stock has been imported into the United States (eggs, semen, and adult queens via Canada) and they are easily available.
Buckfast Breeding Program
The qualities and characteristics desired in Brother Adam's breeding can be divided into three groups; Primary, Subsidiary, and 3rd, those that have bearing on management.
Primary qualities are those qualities essential for any maximum honey production.
- Fecundity - maintaining at least 9 frames of brood May - July
- Foraging zeal - a boundless capacity for foraging work, close inbreeding to intensify this quality can be counter-productive.
- Resistance to disease
- Disinclination to swarm
- Keen sense of smell
- Defensive characteristics
- Hardiness and ability to over winter
- Spring development
- Instinct of self provisioning
- Arrangement of honey stores
- Wax production and comb building
- Gathering of pollen
Qualities which Influence Management
- Good temper
- Calm behavior
- Disinclination to propolize
- No brace combs
- Honey capping
- Sense of orientation
- Good honey producer
- Prolific queens (lay many eggs)
- Overwinters well
- Frugal - Low amount of brood during fall (uses less honey stores during winter)
- Packs brood nest with honey for good wintering
- Curtails egg laying during dearths
- Brood rearing ceases during late fall
- Extremely gentle, with low sting instinct
- Low swarm instinct
- Highly Tracheal Mite Tolerant
- Low incidence of chalkbrood and wax moths due to good housecleaning techniques
- Very hygenic
- Build-up rapidly once started
- Produces little propolis/brace comb
- Does well in cold/wet spring
- Low amount of brood during Winter
- Less honey or pollen due to erratic spring weather conditions
- Possibility of second generation defensiveness if not requeened
- This is not due to being a "second generation" hybrid. The Buckfast is a mix of many, many generations with many different species. A likely cause of "hot" hives in subsequent generations is the introduction of Africanized bee genetics being introduced either to the mother queen or to the daughter queen via local Africanized drones. Buckfast bees in cooler regions where Africanized bees have not arrived do not have this problem.
- Brother Adam, Beekeeping at Buckfast Abbey, (Northern Bee Books, 1987), 12.
- Brother Adam, "Beekeeping at Buckfast", 1950.
- http://pubs.cas.psu.edu/freepubs/pdfs/agrs93.pdf pg. 20