Buzzing about our Buckfast bees
How did you first get into beekeeping?
I went on an evening course organised at the British Beekeeping Association HQ at Stoneleigh in Warwickshire 8 years ago. It was interesting, although there is only so much you can appreciate looking at a power point presentation. It all gets real when you open a hive and are looking at 50,000 bees thinking “what on earth is going on!” It’s a very steep learning curve, but a great hobby.
Where do the Buckfast bees originate from?
The Buckfast bee is a hybrid honey bee, a cross of many subspecies and their strains, developed by Benedictine monk Brother Adam in the early 20th Century at Buckfast Abbey in Devon. He sought to capture the most desirable strains of different strains into the perfect honeybee.
One honey bee visits 50-100 flowers during each collection trip and can harvest several thousand flowers in a day.
Do the Buckfast Abby bees have any special identifying features?
They are lighter in colour than the traditional British Black Bee but not as light as the Italian honey bee. That said, because every queen that is bred is mated by numerous wild drones on her ‘mating flight’, it is not possible to control all of the bee’s genetic make-up and so appearance can vary. When deciding which colony to breed queens from, I select for temperament and honey yield. No one likes being stung, and its great if your bees produce lots of honey, both for the colony and humans to enjoy!
Will the Buckfast Abby bees make a different type of honey to other local breeds?
No, the honey’s characteristics will depend on the nectar source utilised by the bees. In Spring, that is usually dominated by Oil Seed Rape (bright yellow flowers), whose nectar the bees utilise to produce honey that sets hard (‘crystalises’) easily.
Runny summer honey has varied taste as so many trees and flowers produce nectar in June and July, from lime trees to borage, wild flowers and hedgerow species like blackberry.
Heather honey, produced in the early autumn, is a totally different type of honey and has a higher water content than other honeys.
A Queen Bee will lay up to 800,000 eggs in her lifetime!
Tell us about the benefits of bee keeping, from the impact on the environment, to mental well-being and sustainability?
Bees pollinate one or more cultivars of over 66% of the world's crop species and contribute to one third of the food we eat. Orchard fruits, for example, rely upon honey bees and other wild bees for pollination. Brassicas include Cabbages, Mustard, Oil seed Rape, Turnip, Kale, Cauliflower, Broccoli and Sprouts are pollinated by a wide range of insects including Anthophora Bees, Honey Bees, Bumble Bees and Osmia Bees.
In terms of mental well-being, many beekeepers say it is a hobby that has enhanced their appreciation of the natural world. Speaking personally I have found it a huge help mentally as I have to slow down and really focus, and I love to see the different colour pollens and to appreciate all the work that the worker bees are doing, from foraging for pollen and nectar to feeding larvae, looking after their queen and guarding against other bees and wasps who are trying to steal their honey.
Sustainability is a very topical question! Two subjects that are often debated in beekeeping circles are the impact of importing strains of honey bees that are less suited to British conditions and may pose a disease risk, and the chemicals used to treat a mite that live on bees called Varroa. Pesticides used in agriculture are also a big challenge, although in this country their use is heavily regulated. There are no easy answers to some questions as ‘best practice’ is often contested but breeding your own locally adapted queen bees and only using chemical treatments when absolutely necessary are good starting points.
There is much information around the medicinal benefits of honey, can you explain what the healing properties are of honey?
I am no expert on this but an article I recently read on the BBC website (https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/is-honey-good-for-you) which describes honey’s natural antibacterial and wound healing properties, and help with hayfever and allergies, amongst other benefits.
The hexagonal shape of the honeycomb is the most efficient shape in our world. The pattern allows for the cells to be packed with no empty space in between.
How far would the average bee travel to collect the nectar made for honey?
Generally up to 1.5 – 2 miles, although this can vary. Bees tell each other about the location of pollen and nectar by an intricate waggle dance; the direction and duration of the dance tells the other bees the direction and distance to the flowers. It’s amazing to watch it in real time.
How can we help protect and support the bees in our own gardens?
One way is to grow plants that produce pollen and nectar in the spring and autumn to increase bees’ forging options. In June and July there are usually plenty of flowers available but early spring is a stressful time for the colony as they are building up numbers for the summer and young bee larvae take a lot of feeding.
Here are some good plants to grow: https://www.gardenersworld.com/plants/10-plants-to-help-bees-through-winter-into-spring
Visit the Village to see our beehives, located as you enter the Village via the footbridge next to farmshop restaurant & cafe. Ask one of our Village hosts if you're having trouble finding them.