HIVE: What is a “Buckfast bee”?

12 June 2014

The Short Answer (TSA)

The Buckfast Bee

The Buckfast Bee

Born in Germany, Karl Kehrle became a monk and took the name “Brother Adam.”  He was in charge beekeeping at the Buckfast Abbey in 1916.  The Abbey’s few remaining colonies of “Italian” honey bees were endangered by what was, then, called Isle of Wight disease.  The spread of the disease produced a major crisis because, then and now, the “Italian” strain of honey bee was the most favored and productive among commercial bee keepers in Europe and North America.  The “disease” was actually the work of the acarine parasitic mite which inhibits the ability of a bee to breathe and eventually results in the bee’s death.

Brother Adam

Brother Adam

By 1916, Isle of Wight “disease” had wiped out most of the honey bee colonies in the British Isles.  Brother Adam, used his few remaining colonies of Italian bees as part of a crossbreeding project that he hoped would produce a honey bee resistant to the disease.   He knew that his Italian bees had been crossbred with what were, then, called “English” bees.  (Now, also, known by the names “Black bees” and “German bees”).   He, also, knew that his Italian bees had proved to be unusually resistant to the disease.

Buckfast Abbey

Buckfast Abbey

Brother Adam believed that more crossbreeding with different strains of honey bees might produce a hearty bee that would be resistant to Isle of Wight disease.  He traveled throughout Europe, the Middle East, and Africa gathering different types of bees including French, Turkish, Greek and even “docile” strains of African bees.  Each type of bee was, then, crossbred with his Buckfast bee.

Buckfast Bee

Buckfast Bee

The Abbey was located in an area near a large relatively bee-free valley.  Just the location needed for controlled crossbreeding of different strains of bees.  A single crossbreed could take almost a decade to develop, so Brother Adam’s project spanned 70 years.  The Italian bee survived Isle of Wight disease and continues to be the most popular honeybee with commercial beekeepers in both Europe and North America.

Brother Adam with Hives

Brother Adam with Hives

But the Buckfast bee has its own “slice of the market” remaining consistently popular with a significant number of beekeepers.  The Buckfast is a strong, healthy and productive pollinator, but tends to produce fewer offspring and less honey than its Italian competitor.

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Mark Grossmann of Hazelwood, Missouri

12 June 2014

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