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The Buckfast bee is a strain of honey bee. It is a hybrid, a cross of many strains of bees, 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
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, 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.
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 the 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 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 surplus per colony and individual yields exceeding 3 cwt [approx. 336 lbs].