Almost every beekeeper knows the story about Brother Adam, the English monk from Buckfastshire, who since 1919 was selecting his bees based on desirable traits, and who became famous as a queen breeder. He cross-bred his immature queen bees with mostly foreign species for which he had to travel far.
He selected his population based on: gentleness, none or limited swarming drift, their resistance to disease, productivity and stable combs. And his was a success story. Buckfast beekeepers through Europe and America continue to work with great pleasure with these special, gentle bees. This is the legacy of a simple man, who earned an honorary doctorate at a later age.
The Buckfast breed originates before 1920 from crossing the dark (leather brown) Ligustica and the original British form of the Mellifera (black bee). These two types of bees no longer exist in their original state. This crossing was not the result of a pre-planned genetic experiment but rather the consequence of a great disaster for the beekeepers. In the beginning of the twentieth century, the English bee was near extinction because of an acarine disease epidemic.
Back then, no one knew what caused the bees to die. Almost all the bees of the monastery were also affected. The only populations that survived had a foreign queen or were an offspring thereof. Among the survivors, one population stood out: this population had an Italian queen who was bred by black drones. This colony stood out because of its resistance and foraging zeal. From there the Buckfast bee originated much later.
Over a period of more than 70 years, Brother Adam combined the valuable characteristics of other bee species with this breed. The process of identifying a valuable characteristic up to crossing into the Buckfast breed generally took about more than 10 years. It seems this time-consuming monk’s work in practice can only be carried about by monks.
Eliminating through a selection of undesired characteristics, such as propolis use and swarm inertia, requires a broader sample basis (many colonies) and a good insight. Gentleness in a population is easy to test; therefore, quickly accomplished. Buckfast crossed with Buckfast gives Buckfast without any undesired effects.