Brother Adam – Biography – English

Biography of Brother Adam and his Buckfast bee. An original idea of Raymond Zimmer in L’abeille Buckfast en Questions.

English adaptated by
Gustave Lambermont, Andenne, Belgium
Proofread by David Morris, Laurel, Md, USA
One Life One Bee
Brother Adam :
Bee Master
The Buckfast™ :
His Bee


August 3, born as Karl Kehrle, future Brother Adam, Mittelbiberach [9°45’E;48°05’N], south Germany, near Lake Constance (67 km).
Becomes interested in beekeeping at an early age.


March 1910

He enters the benedictine monastery, Buckfast Abbey
[50°29.425’N 3°46.629’W].
The abbey, rebuilt in 1882, owns an apiary with a majority of hives of British dark bee stock.


The acarine disease (tracheal mite), coming from the Isle of Wight reaches the U.K. and decimates the bee populations in the area.


Brother Adam, for health reason, is chosen as Brother Columban’s assistant in the monastery’s apiary. In fall, the County apicultural inspector predicts the total extermination of the bees for the coming spring.


Inspired by his own observations of foreign strains resistance to acarine disease, he imagines the first sketch of what will become the Buckfast Bee That was really a general disaster. In the monastery’s apiary, 16 colonies out of 46 survive and these are populated with A. m. carnica and ligustica. All the native bees had died.


First step in the Buckfast stock by crossing : brown ligustica x drones of the vanished British bee.
The apiary is now 100 hives strong by late fall.


Brother Columban steps down and Brother Adam is in full charge of the apiary on September 1st.


He is inspired by Prof. Armbuster’s Bienenzüchtungskunde [Bee breeding, a science, an art !], just published (1919) First attempts of crossing F1 with A. m. cypria.


He realises that bee drifting is the result of the hives‘ alignment. The hives are arranged in groups of four with their entrances facing cardinal points.


He’s convinced that queens must have enough laying area, without any barrier. This summer, he modified half of his British standard frames hives (2 supers of 10 frames) into Dadant 12 frames.


He established his famous mating station on Dartmoor. It is a model of isolation and allows desired selective crossings.

It is still operating today.

In June-July the mating station is fully occupied with 520 mating nucs on Dadant half frames. These nucs winter on the spot so that the queens undergo a severe control before being introduced the coming March into the 320 production hives.


He designs and improves a new combination. Crossing a French queen from S-W of Paris with drones from the Buckfast stock. Later, this combination was considered very noteworthy.
At this time, all the production populations are on Dadant 12 frames hives, with a comfortable brood nest.


After 10 years of severe selection, Brother Adam decides to introduce a new combination in the Buckfast stock The Buckfast stock receives the above new combination.


Collaboration with Dr. O. Mackenson, one of the discoverers of instrumental insemination (I.I.). The I.I. is performed at Buckfast for selected queens.


He undertakes his first research travel in Europe : to France, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Sicily and Germany. Bee watching on the entire old continent, in their natural biotope, in their original environment, allows him to assess their qualities, to choose on the spot, specimens which will be tested in the Dartmoor climate before an (eventual) incorporation into the Buckfast stock.
For example …


Then goes to Algeria, Israël, Jordan, Syria, Libya, Cyprus, Greece, Crete, Slovenia and the Ligurian Alps. Crossing with the A. m. cecropia


And then to Turkey and Aegean islands.


In the former Yugoslavia.


He introduces into his main stock a new combination of Greek origin.


His trips continue to Spain and Portugal. The Buckfast stock receives the above crossing, clearly less aggressive and with less swarming behavior than the basic stock.


The Buckfast Bee is enriched with a cross of A. m. anatolia x buckfast stock, a new crossing which will be tested for many years.


Travels through Morocco, Turkey, Greece, former Yugoslavia, Egypt and Libya.


He is chosen as a council member of the Bee Research Association (future IBRA)


He incorporates into the main Buckfast stock a new combination of anatolian origin. The above combination, more resistant and thrifty, is definitively incorporated into the Buckfast stock.


Brother Adam becomes an IBRA Vice-President. The IBRA council, which chose him, points out that he does not ask admission, probably because he is one of the best known beekeepers in the world.


Travels continue, returning to Turkey, Greece, and the former Yugoslavia


On June 16th, Brother Adam has been created an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List.


On May 13th, he received the Bundesverdienstkreuz in the German Federal Republic.


Still searching, in Morocco, then in Greece.


Returning to Greece, to the peninsula of Mount Athos – The Holy Mountain. Beginning of tests with the new very promising combination with the old Macedonian Athos bee.


Travel in Greece and to the island of Crete.


Goes to the US. to control and correct the Buckfast breeding program, which was diverging, if not failing.

1984 to 1995 to be complete


On October 2nd, Brother Adam was awarded an honorary doctorate in recognition of his services to beekeeping by the Faculty of Agriculture, Uppsala University, Sweden. The news reaches him during his travel in Africa in search of the scutellata and the monticola bee (Kilimanjaro mountains in Tanzania and Kenya).
This recognition deeply moves him for it is for him the official mark of the scientific nature of his research.
Beginning of tests with scutellata and monticola bees.


On the morning of 13 July, he was awarded the degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa, in recognition of his services to beekeeping by the Faculty of Agriculture, Exeter University (Devon, UK). See the presentation oration by Prof. Michael J. Swanton. .


February 2d.. Compelled resignation by the new abbot David Charlesworth who refuses to award the nomination of a new technical assistant Michael van der Zee.
The honey flow is so poor that Brother Adam is deprived of his daily spoonful of honey.
Deeply hurt, this 94 year old man spends summer and fall in his native area, Mittelbiberach, with his niece Maria Kehrle.
Abbey apiary’s harvest is extremely poor: some 3000 pounds for the 320 production hives.


Faithfull to his monastic obligations, Brother Adam, the oldest member of the monastic community, not even at Buckfast, but for the whole St. Benoit Order (O.S.B.), comes back to Buckfast Abbey for a sadful life of isolation , in the indifference of the other monks. The responsibility of one of the greatest bee genetics bank is left to Brother Leo, a retired abbot, 70 years old, without any knowledge in bee rearing.
The job lands on Peter Donovan, former Brother Adam’s assistant.
Anxiety amongst numerous Buckfast bee breeders


Brother Adam is retired, he’s frail as always but very
alert. He is no longer in charge of the beekeeping at Buckfast
Abbey. He lives quietly in a rest house, very near, down the
The Abbey beekeeping is managed by Peter Donovan, who
is not a monk but has worked with the bees at Buckfast for about 40 years
himself as Brother Adam’s apiary manager. Peter has asked a few local
beekeepers to help out with some routine management this season.
(from Glyn Davies, Ashburton, Devon,

1996, September 1

Peter Donovan, who worked closely with Brother Adam at Buckfast Abbey, passes on the message on the net: Brother Adam died on this September 1, aged 98. Loaded by the genes he incorporated in His Honeybee as well as The Methods he recommended will survive for ever.

September 7th

A full abbey church at Buckfast Abbey said a final good-bye to Brother Adam. All participants in the funeral ceremony paid tribute to one of the greatest personalities within beekeeping history.

An era within beekeeping came to an end.

This biography, which was translated into English by Gustave Lambermont and proofread by David Morris, has been realised thanks to an original idea of Raymond Zimmer in his book „L’abeille Buckfast en Question(s)“. The complement has been gleaned from Br. Adam’s writings, from IBRA and from commentaries in Bee World, from an article by David J. Taylor (1993, Mise au point), some parts from an
article by Keld Brandstrup (1996, Buckfast Abbey, Sept. 96)….