Buckfast honey bees are a hybrid race of several breeds including the North Italian and native British honey bees. Originally developed by Brother Adam in the 1900s, they were bred for resistance to the tracheal mite.
Buckfast bees are ideal for beginner beekeepers as they’re good honey producers, gentle, and have a low tendency to swarm. They also tolerate cold climates and have excellent resistance to parasitic mites.
Unsure what bees to use in your hive? We created a handy guide to bee races to help you work out which is best for you.
The Buckfast bee has yellow and brown rings that can vary by hive. They are typically darker than Italian honey bees but lighter than a traditional British Black bee. Queens can range from light to very dark.
The breeds used to develop Buckfast bees were selected for their performance, gentle nature, and resilience. Uniformity of appearance wasn’t a factor so they’ll look different depending on the breeder you buy from.
Why were Buckfast bees developed?
In the early 1900s, thousands of bee colonies in England got wiped out by tracheal mite (Acarapis woodi). During this time, Brother Adam was a monk in charge of beekeeping at the Buckfast Abbey.
In 1914, he salvaged the surviving colonies that weren’t dying from Acarine. These healthy bees were initially crossed with West European and Italian honey bees. The result was a hardy breed with much better mite resistance.
Over time, additional strains have been added like the A. m. cecropia (Greek) and A. m. mellifera (French). The modern Buckfast also has African bee stock, contributing to their highly productive behavior. Note: there is a big distinction between African and Africanized bees.
Characteristics of Buckfast bees
Buckfast bees will typically only swarm under exceptional circumstances, which should appeal to beekeepers. Swarming colonies are a constant problem and no one wants to see half their hive leave in search of a new home.
While these bees have a low instinct to swarm, they will swarm or even abscond if the conditions aren’t right. As a beekeeper, routine inspections are still a good idea.
Like the Russian honey bee, Buckfasts are an excellent option if you live in a cold, damp climate. They have become accustomed to long, wet winters in the U.K. and are economical with their honey use during this time. Once spring arrives, they will quickly build up the size of their hive.
The Buckfast bee has always had good tracheal mite tolerance but was known to be susceptible to varroa mites. In 2014, researchers in the Netherlands crossed varroa sensitive hygiene (VSH) colonies from the United States with Buckfast bees. The result was a new strain that could resist varroa mites without the need for treatment. Source.
Like Cordovan bees, Buckfasts are a good option for beginner beekeepers. They are gentle and easy to work with, which is helpful when you’re getting started. Less smoke is needed and working on the hive in bad weather shouldn’t be a problem. They also produce less propolis which means you won’t be kept as busy with a hive tool.
Honey production is often a priority for beekeepers. The more the merrier. A hive of Buckfast bees will produce large quantities of honey. They produce large hives with sufficient honey stocks to keep themselves and the beekeeper happy.
Why are my Buckfast bees turning aggressive?
Pure Buckfast bees have a gentle temperament, but beekeepers sometimes complain about their aggressiveness. This may occur when the queen is replaced and the new one mates with other breeds. Once she mates with outsiders, the behavior of the hive can change drastically.
To maintain a non-aggressive colony, replace queens with a new pure Buckfast from a genuine breeder. Avoid Buckfast crosses, also known as fastbucks, as they have mated with other breeds in the area.
Do Buckfast bees produce a unique type of honey?
Buckfast bee honey is no different from what is produced by other types of bees. The flavor and visual characteristics are based on nectar sources where the bees forage. Time of season can also play a big part in a honey’s flavor. Flowers, trees, and clover bloom at different stages, all contributing to different tastes.
Buckfast bee strengths
- High tracheal mite resistance.
- Tolerates cold, wet climates well (overwinters well).
- Gentle and easy to work with using minimal smoke.
- Low inclination to sting.
- Produces good amounts of honey.
- Frugal with honey resources through winter.
- Extremely low swarming instinct.
- Hygienic with a low incidence of wax moth and chalkbrood.
- Low brood rearing in late fall and during dearths.
- Produces very little burr comb and propolis.
- Prolific queens that will lay a lot of eggs.
Buckfast bee weaknesses
- Less readily available than other more common breeds.
- Second-generation bees are likely to be more aggressive.
- Need to re-order Buckfast queens to maintain their gentle behavior.
- Tendency to robbing.
Comparing the Buckfast to other races
Each bee race has its own set of behaviors that won’t appeal to every beekeeper. Let’s compare the Buckfast to a few other bee breeds to identify some key differences.
Buckfast vs. Italian bees – what’s the difference?
Both varieties have a gentle nature and are excellent honey producers. Buckfast honey bees have a lower tendency to swarm, overwinter better, and have greater resistance to mites. Italian bees are easier to source, can requeen on their own, and are a better option if your goal is pollinating crops.
What’s the difference between Buckfast and Saskatraz bees?
Both types are hybrids made by crossing races with a diverse range of genetic traits. They share similar strengths, producing plenty of honey and having good disease resistance. They also both have useful overwintering abilities. With both breeds, requeening is best left to reputable breeders, so beekeepers should allow for this additional cost each year.
Buckfast vs. Carniolan bees – how do they compare?
While both bee races are good honey producers, Carniolans bees are more likely to swarm and have a bit more aggression. Buckfast bees have a relatively mild spring buildup and don’t capitalize on the early spring blooms as well as Carniolans.
Beekeepers deciding what race of bee to use in their hives will do well to choose the Buckfast breed. They’re an ideal beginner’s bee, although some large commercial apiaries also use them.
The Buckfast has a long list of strengths including their docile nature, low tendency to swarm, great honey production, and over-wintering abilities. Of course, they also have a high resistance to parasites like tracheal mites and recent strains can also deal with varroa.
To get the best out of these bees, always replace the queen with a pure Buckfast from a seller you can trust. Otherwise, they’re likely to become a lot more aggressive in the coming seasons.
If you enjoy learning about races of bee, check out our guide to Caucasian bees.