The Buckfast bee is a breed of honey bee, a cross of many subspecies and their strains, developed by Brother Adam (born Karl Kehrle in 1898 in Germany), who was in charge of beekeeping from 1919 at Buckfast Abbey in Devon in the United Kingdom. Breeding of the Buckfast bee is now done by breeders throughout Europe belonging to the Federation of European Buckfast Beekeepers (G.D.E.B.). This organisation maintains a pedigree for Buckfast bees, originating from the time of Brother Adam.
|A Buckfast honey bee hive|
A. m. buckfast
In the early 20th century, bee populations were being decimated by tracheal mites. 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 1916, only 16 surviving colonies were left in the abbey. All of them were either pure Ligurian (Italian) or of Ligurian origin, hybrids between Ligurian and the 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.
In Brother Adam's personal notes he states that 1915 was "The last season colonies of the former native honeybee (the British strain of A. m. mellifera) existed in this neighbourhood before its final extermination by the Isle of Wight epidemic", in 1916 only bees of or descended from the Italian Ligurian strain of the A. m. ligustica had survived. An isolated Mating Station was established on Dartmoor in June 1925, prior to this date matings were random. In 1919 a Queen, later named as B-1, was raised that "embodied all the desirable qualities of the Ligurian and former Native in an ideal combination" it is from this queen that the Buckfast bees can trace their ancestry back to.
The following is a list of the subspecies (and strains if stated) that were later included in the Buckfast breeding program by Brother Adam, not all were eventually included into the Buckfast breed: Buckfast (B1), A. m. ligustica (Ligurian strain; all other strains proved susceptible to Acarine, especially those imported from the U.S. and of an all-golden color), A. m. mellifera (Gale's French, Brown Provence, Swedish and Finnish strains; the Irish strain proved itself even more susceptible to Acarine than the British strain), A. m. cypria, A. m. carnica, A. m. cecropia, A. m. meda (Iraqi and Iranian strains), A. m. sahariensis, A. m. anatoliaca (Turkish and Armenian strains), A. m. caucasica, A. m. lamarckii, A. m. monticola (Mt. Elgon strain), A. m. adami and A. m. macedonica (Mt. Athos strain).
In 1971 other bee breeders began to join the Buckfast breeding program and established their own isolated mating stations, as well as using instrumental insemination, today the breeding of pedigree Buckfast bees is regulated by the Federation of European Buckfast Beekeepers (G.D.E.B.) in over twenty six countries with numerous breeders.
Its developer Brother Adam was inspired by the survival of the Italian (A. m. ligustica) × dark bee (A. m. mellifera) crosses whenever the Isle of Wight disease, later identified as Acarine, reached Buckfast Abbey. To be able to control the matings, he started to use an isolated valley in Dartmoor. With no other bees within range, Brother Adam could maintain their genetic integrity and develop desirable traits. Brother Adam investigated various honey bee subspecies and made many long journeys in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, searching for desirable characteristics within local strains, he also had queens imported to include in his breeding program. The book In Search of the Best Strains of Bee tells about his travels in search of genetic building blocks.
Every new bee strain or bee race was first crossed with the existing Buckfast bees. In many 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 70 years, Brother Adam succeeded in developing a vigorous, healthy and fecund honey bee, which was named the Buckfast bee.
The Buckfast bee is popular among beekeepers and is available from bee breeders in Germany, Ireland, the United Kingdom, France and other places. Most of the Buckfast bees' qualities are very favourable. 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 [87 kg] surplus per colony and individual yields exceeding 3 cwt [= 336 lbs or 152 kg]." In the 1986 BBC-affiliated documentary, The Monk and the Honey Bee, more than 400 pounds (181 kg) 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 programEdit
The qualities and characteristics desired in the Buckfast bee breeding can be divided into three groups: primary, secondary and tertiary.
These are the basic qualities of economic importance and form the primary aim in breeding:
- Fecundity - the queen at a certain point (relative to the nectar flow) must be able to fill at least eight or nine Dadant combs with brood.
- Industry - a boundless capacity for (foraging) work is doubtless the foremost requirement.
- Resistance to disease - is absolutely indispensable and essential to successful beekeeping.
- Disinclination to swarm - an indispensable prerequisite in modern beekeeping.
These are of great importance as each contributes its respective share to an intensification of the honey gathering ability of the colony:
- Longevity - prolongation of the lifespan of the bee will denote a corresponding increase in the effective foraging force and capacity of a colony.
- Wing-power - the ability to forage further can prove a material factor in the performance of a colony.
- Keen sense of smell - without this a colony would not forage further, so it is closely linked with wing-power.
- Instinct of defence - this is the most effective remedy against robbing (it is not to be confused with aggression against the beekeeper).
- Hardiness and wintering ability - the ability to winter on stores of inferior quality for long periods without a cleansing flight.
- Spring development - must not occur prematurely and without the need for artificial stimulation.
- Thrift or frugality - a quality closely connected with the seasonal development of colonies.
- Instinct of self provisioning - seasonally appropriate brood chamber storage for overwintering.
- Comb building - a keenness to build comb seems to increase the zest for every form of activity of economic value.
- Gathering of pollen - not to be confused with the collecting of nectar; good quality pollen positively affects longevity.
These qualities help to reduce to a minimum the time and effort involved in the seasonal care and attention demanded to ensure maximum production results per colony:
- Good temper - non-aggression is a quality desired by all beekeepers. Aggression is a trait common in the M lineage, but good temper can be selectively bred within a few generations.
- Calm behavior - bees that stay calm when they are manipulated (inspected) will greatly facilitate the work of beekeeping.
- Disinclination to propolize - excess propolis can increase the work of the beekeeper.
- Freedom from brace comb - the presence of brace comb renders the inspection and manipulation of combs not only a difficult and arduous task, but may also cause the death of the queen.
- The art of making attractive cappings - good cappings are of special importance where sections are produced, a trait which seems tied up with and dependent on many factors.
- Keen sense of orientation - helps to ensure that the bees return to their own hive, thereby avoiding the many drawbacks and risks drifting entails, and an undue loss of queens returning from their mating flights.
Performance against other beesEdit
Compared to A. m. ligustica (which the Buckfast bee is most closely related to) it is more industrious, more thrifty, less disposed to swarm and more resistant to disease especially Acarine (tracheal mites). Compared to most subspecies of bees the Buckfast bee collects less propolis, keeps restful in winter, but builds up rapidly at the appropriate time in spring time (in England / northern Europe) and maintains a maximum effective colony strength throughout the summer, enabling full advantage of the honey flow to be taken whenever it sets in. As for temper, the Buckfast bee is unusually docile and will tolerate handling in unfavourable weather. A pure Buckfast bee will swarm, but it is little disposed to do so and, of course, it has a good reputation of an unusual honey-gathering ability.
In a scientific study in Poland from 2009 to 2010, in which the economic traits of pure Buckfast bees and a hybrid cross of A. m. mellifera & A. m. caucasia were compared, the Buckfast bee was shown to have a larger brood area, greater increase and strength in the build-up to spring, also on the last inspection of the year the Buckfast colonies were observed to be stronger as well. The honey extracted during spring and summer was larger from the Buckfast hives, with the overall honey extracted being 34.45% greater, with less variation between hives when compared to the A. m. mellifera x caucasia (NB: the crossing of two bee subspecies would have resulted in heterosis, meaning the A. m. mellifera x caucasia would have obtained better results than if the study had only used a pure subspecies, such as the A. m. mellifera or the A. m. caucasia).
In a similar scientific study, also in Poland, but in field and laboratory conditions, the foraging and hoarding abilities of three colonies were compared, 1) pure Buckfast, 2) a hybrid A. m. mellifera (from Norway) x A. m. caucasia and 3) a hybrid A. m. causica x A. m. carnica. The Buckfast colony collected 2.1% less syrup than the A. m. caucasia x carnica, but stored 24.8% more in stores, showing a greater efficiency in processing and less consumption of the syrup collected. The Buckfasts collected and stored 38.2% more syrup than the A. m. mellifera x caucasia.
Hybrid vigor to maximize yieldEdit
Even though the pure Buckfast bee has a claim to an unusual honey-gathering ability, returns can be maximized through hybrid vigor (heterosis) by crossing pure Buckfast, usually on the paternal side, with other subspecies. However, not all crosses will produce dsirable qualities according to Brother Adam, often the swarming tendency is increased so much that it affects the honey yield. The following crosses were found to provide excellent results without increasing the swarming instinct: A. m. anatoliaca queen x Buckfast drones; Buckfast queen x A. m. carnica or A. m. cecropia drones; A. m. cecropia queen x Buckfast or A. m. carnica drones. But the following was found to maximize the swarming instinct: A. m. mellifera or A. m. intermissa or A. m. carnica queens x Buckfast drones.
Varroa Sensitive HygieneEdit
A breeding project was begun in the Netherlands in 2014 by Stichting Arista Bee Research, with the goal of producing a Varroa-resistant bee, by using Single Drone Insemination to enhance the Varroa Sensitive Hygiene (VSH) behavior. By importing semen in 2013 from VSH colonies in the U.S., they were able to work with Buckfast beekeepers from Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, France and the Netherlands and were able to produce colonies that were completely Varroa-resistant without the use of any treatments. Although the genetic base of this Buckfast VSH strain is very narrow, as selection has only been limited to this trait and no resources have been available yet to structurally integrate it into the broader population, it has shown that VSH behavior is present in European high quality Buckfast breeding stock and can be brought to high percentages, the next step in the breeding program will be to further select towards 100% VSH in the entire EU breeding stock.
- "Gemeinschaft der europäischen Buckfastimker e.V." Federation of European Buckfast beekeepers.
- "Honeybee Queens Pedigrees".
- "Origin of the Buckfast Strain, described by Brother Adam". Karl Kehrle Fondation. Jean-Marie Van Dyck. Retrieved 7 December 2018.
- "Buckfast European Breeders - UK - Brother Adam, Pedigrees". Karl Kehrle Fondation. Jean-Marie Van Dyck. Retrieved 7 December 2018.
- "Fehrenbach mountain mating station (DE)". Karl Kehrle Foundation. Jean-Marie Van Dyck. Retrieved 7 December 2018.
- "Gemeinschaft der europäischen Buckfastimker e.V." Federation of European Buckfast beekeepers.
- "The Origin of the Buckfast Honey Bee - Brother Adam". pedigreeapis.org.
- Brother Adam, Beekeeping at Buckfast Abbey, (Northern Bee Books, 1987), 12.
- http://pubs.cas.psu.edu/freepubs/pdfs/agrs93.pdf pg. 20
- "Federation - Buckfast Breeding Regulations, point 3.1" (PDF). gdeb.eu.
- Brother Adam O.B.E. (1975). Beekeeping at Buckfast Abbey (first ed.). British Bee Publications. pp. 52–53.
- Brother Adam O.B.E. (1975). Beekeeping at Buckfast Abbey (first ed.). British Bee Publications. pp. 54–57.
- Brother Adam O.B.E. (1975). Beekeeping at Buckfast Abbey (first ed.). British Bee Publications. pp. 57–59.
- H. Okuyama, J. Hill, S. J. Martin & J. Takahashi (2018). "The complete mitochondrial genome of a Buckfast bee, Apis mellifera in Northern Ireland". Mitochondrial DNA Part B. 3 (#1): 338–339. Retrieved 21 November 2018.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
- Brother Adam O.B.E. (1975). Beekeeping at Buckfast Abbey (first ed.). British Bee Publications. p. 11.
- K. Olszewski, G. Borsuk, J. Paleolog, A. Strachecka (2012). "Evaluation of economic traits in Buckfast bees in comparison with the hybrids of European Black bees and Caucasian bees". ANNALES UNIVERSITATIS MARIAE CURIE-SK Ł ODOWSKA LUBLIN – POLONIA. 30 (#2): 44–52. Retrieved 22 November 2018.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
- J. Paleolog, K. Olszewski (2005). "Foraging and hoarding efficiency in Buckfast purebreds and Norwegian black bee (A. m. mellifera) Hybrids Part 2. Comparison with the caucasian bee hybrids under flying cage and laboratory test conditions". Journal of Apicultural Science. 49 (#1): 27–39.
- Brother Adam O.B.E. (1975). Beekeeping at Buckfast Abbey (first ed.). British Bee Publications. pp. 49–51.
- B. Fernhout. "Buckfast VSH – Single Drone Project - 2014 Results" (PDF). aristabeeresearch.org. Stichting Arista Bee Research. Retrieved 22 November 2018.
- Brother Adam, Beekeeping at Buckfast Abbey, Northern Bee Books, 1987. ISBN 0-907908-37-3 ISBN 978-0907908371
- Brother Adam, In Search of the Best Strains of Bees, Second Edition, Peacock Press, 2000. ISBN 0-907908-06-3 ISBN 978-0907908067
- Brother Adam, Breeding the Bee, Peacock Press, 1987. ISBN 0-907908-32-2 ISBN 978-0907908326
- Zimmer, Raymond, Die Buckfast Biene — Fragen und Antworten, KOCH Imkerei - Technik - Verlag, 1987. ISBN 3-9800797-1-6