Do you know about Buckfast bees? If you have been involved in the beekeeping community for any length of time you have likely heard the term. Though not as popular as they once were, Buckfast honey bees have a rich history in beekeeping. In years past, all of the older beekeepers in my area raised them. These honey bees offered some unique characteristics that beekeepers felt gave them an advantage in colony health and productivity.
Buckfast bees are a hybrid breed of honey bees. A hybrid is created when two different races (or more) of honey bees are cross bred. The hope, of course, is to create a hybrid strain with the best characteristics of both.
History of Buckfast Bees
Brother Adam, a monk, at Buckfast Abbey in England is credited with developing this new type of honey bee. His breeding program began in the early 1900s and continued through decades of research.
During his time in the apiary, millions of European honey bee colonies were dying as a result of the Tracheal mite (Acarapis woodi). He wanted to improve the bees and have healthier colonies.
His goal was to develop colonies that were good honey producers, adaptable to different conditions and showed some resistance to disease and pests.
Brother Adam used various strains of honey bees from around the world in his quest for the best.
He did not spend all of his time in the Abbey apiary. Instead, he traveled the world (Middle East, Europe, Africa, etc.) in search of the hardiest bee genetics for his research.
Italians and German Black Bees
One of the most notable contributions to bee breeding was his work with Italian bees and the dark German Bees.
The dark bees (sometimes called Black Bees) were hardy but had a reputation for being very aggressive and difficult to work with.
Italian honey bees were praised for being very productive and having a calmer attitude. Brother Adam carefully selected the best Italian queens for his breeding program.
His work in combining the genetics of these two resulted in the hybrid known as the Buckfast bee. They were a definite improvement on some of the types of bees in use at the time.
Even today, Buckfast bees are recognized as a favorable hybrid breed. They continue to be popular among beekeepers worldwide. The legacy of Brother Adam’s work continues to live on through these remarkable bees.
There are several desirable traits of Buckfast bees that have made them a beekeeper favorite.
- Easy to manage
- Disease Resistance
They have a notable appearance. Darker in coloration on the head and thorax, they have distinctive light-colored bands on the abdomen.
These industrious insects work hard to build comb, tend brood and produce honey. They seem to overwinter well, are slower to build up in the Spring and show a low inclination to swarm. This means less work by the beekeeper to manage the colonies.
The earliest strains of Buckfast bees were said to be gentle and easy to work with. (More on this later). This is important to beekeepers as many are hobbyists and desire colonies that are not overly aggressive.
They are also not known to be excessive producers of gummy propolis. This is an important product in the hive but too much can make hive inspections difficult.
But, the most important advantage to this hybrid was their hardy nature and resistance to disease and pests. Buckfast bees also show vitality in many different climates.
Of course, being a hybrid – they enjoyed a wider genetic pool and this diversity helped them adjust to changes and environmental pressures.
Challenges to Raising Buckfast Bees
A major challenge to the beekeeper who wants to raise Buckfast bees is acquiring pure stock. Even though they are a hybrid strain, genetic purity helps maintain the desirable characteristics that Brother Adam was working for.
Only a few suppliers in the United States produce the Buckfast hybrid. This makes cost and availability a factor when ordering bees for your hives.
Also, both suppliers are located in areas where Africanized bees are known to be established. Of course, every breeder goes to great lengths to produce the best bees possible.
But, with African genetics in the area – there will also be a risk of unauthorized mating. This is unpreventable due to the way bees reproduce.
Which brings to question the gentleness factor. Every beekeeper that I know who has kept Buckfast bees – had some pretty sassy colonies. Any hive of bees may be more aggressive in certain occasions, but these hives were too aggressive for me.
They may be the best bee for your apiary. But, do the research before investing to make sure you are up to the task.
They are often compared to the Carniolan honey bee – another popular choice for backyard beekeepers.
A hybrid strain of honey bees, developed by Brother Adam of Buckfast Abbey in Devon, England.
Buckfast bees were sought after due to their productivity, adaptability and resistance to some disease and pests.
The Buckfast hybrid is as easy to raise as any other type of honey bee. They still require regular hive inspections and monitoring for disease and pests.
Available from suppliers worldwide, be sure to purchase Buckfast bees from a reputable breeder to ensure genetic purity.
Yes, the females can sting just the same as any other type of honey bee.
The study of honey bee genetics is a common topic for bee researchers. Even today, scientists continue to look for ways to breed better bees. Healthier, hardier and more productive is the goal. Brother Adam was an early pioneer in this endeavor with his Buckfast bees.