In Search of the Best
Strains of Bee
Second Journey (2)
in Bee World, 35(12), 1954, 233-245.
[ Adaptation française ]
[ Return to Biblio ]
[ 1 ]
[ 2 ]
[ First Journey – 1951 ]
[ Third Journey – 1961 ]
[ Concluding Journeys – 1964 ]
by Brother ADAM, O.S.B.
St Mary’s Abbey, Buckfast,
South Devon – England.
Syria and Lebanon
By the time I entered Syria I had gathered quite a valuable collection of samples for the Bee Department at Rothamsted of value for biometric studies, but for no other purpose. However the Syrian Customs thought otherwise. The many cases full of glass tubes, each with its preservative, label and number, seemed to them too valuable to pass without payment of a heavy deposit. And I was on the way to Damascus, where they held that such things could be sold. After two hours delay, spent in the insufferable heat of the Arabian Desert, I was allowed to proceed (having paid substantially for the trouble I had caused), with every case securely fastened with a lead seal. This was but the beginning of the difficulties these samples involved, until more enlightened Customs were reached months later.
Among the marvellous vegetation of Lebanon must be counted many wild clovers. I had already seen many varieties new to me when in Galilee, but they grow in much greater profusion in Lebanon. Indeed I was told in Beirut that no record of all the species had yet been made; it is thought that there may be 150 or more. My attention was attracted particularly to two miniature species, one white and one red. Neither grows more than three inches high, but the profusion of blossom is amazing; the clover-heads form dense carpets of white or purple. When I first crossed the highest part of the Lebanon mountains coming from Damascus, huge patches of purple caught my eye, which proved to be the miniature red clover in full bloom; its value as a source of nectar was instantly apparent, for it was alive with bees. Indeed I had never before witnessed so many honeybees foraging with such intensity in a specified area. Moreover they must have come from a great distance, for on this otherwise bare and bleak mountain plateau no hives could be seen for miles. The miniature white clover is just as valuable as a nectar source. Both species thrive at sea level and at higher altitudes, but the tiny red clover seems to do best at about 3000 feet, and on the poor soil found on the Lebanon mountains. The white species (but not the red) I observed in Cyprus at the higher altitude of Troodos.
The flora of Lebanon is more luxuriant, and if anything more varied, than that of Israel. The mountainous country ensures a heavier rainfall, and the high humidity and the oppressive steamy heat impart to the low-lying maritime regions a genuine tropical character throughout the summer. The belt of citrus groves, banana and loquat plantations along the seashore furnish one of the main sources of nectar, but the extremely varied nectar-yielding flora of hill and mountainside provide a honey harvest no less rich. Indeed I believe that Lebanon has at its command one of the richest and most varied bee flora in the world.
The potentialities of beekeeping in Lebanon are reflected in the size of the primitive hives. Tradition and experience over the centuries have doubtless demonstrated the advantages of a hive which will hold a honey yield much above the average secured in other countries. The Lebanese hives are tubular, and measure a full 4 ft. in length and 11 in. in diameter. They are not made of timber, clay or stoneware, or of ferula stems, as in the other countries I had visited, but of wicker with a thin finishing coat of clay. Stiff wooden members are woven into the wickerwork lengthwise, to give the tubular construction the necessary stability and rigidity. These wicker hives cannot be stood directly on the ground (particularly in a humid climate); they are placed individually on shelves, a series of shelves being built one above the other, in an open shed with some sort of roof. At Baalbeck — renowned for its honey, as well as for its unique temple ruins — I saw the most capacious primitive hives of all; they were made of wood, and were no less than 5 ft. in length and 1 ft. in height and width internally.
Modern hives (Langstroth and Dadant) are in fairly common use throughout Lebanon. The Government is doing everything possible to encourage a still wider adoption of modern equipment and advanced methods of bee culture.
The native bee leaves much to be desired. Though it is not quite so irascible as the bee found in Israel, it resents interference. There is a marked difference in colour, size, temper and general behaviour of the Syrian bee north of Beirut. There have been some imports, but I am inclined to ascribe these variations to the influence of the Anatolian bee. Something useful might perhaps be evolved from this heterogeneous collection by selective breeding, but it is questionable whether the labour entailed would be justified. A good reliable strain of ligustica, and a distribution of breeding stock on the lines carried out in the adjoining country to the south, would seem to be the right solution. Such a course would yield quick and reliable results, with a minimum of expenditure.
Lebanon is a land of incomparable scenery, and it would be hard to find another of equal size with such a varied climate and such a rich flora. It is a country where bee culture should flourish as nowhere else in the Middle East.
I owe a great debt of gratitude to Sir Henry and Lady Knight, for the help they gave me in so many ways during my stay in Lebanon. I extend to them my grateful appreciation and thanks.
It was with keen expectations that I visited Cyprus. More than thirty-three years had passed since the first consignment of Cyprian queens reached Buckfast, and a number were imported later. I was therefore fairly well versed in the idiosyncrasies of this race (Apis mellifera var. cypria), but there were several important problems which could only be solved by studying it in its native habitat. Moreover there was good cause to suspect that a thorough search would reveal isolated strains of a more benign disposition than any we had so far possessed.
Cyprus was reached on May 17th. Representatives of the Department of Agriculture kindly offered me every assistance when I disembarked at Limassol. However, nothing useful could be done that day, for I had hardly arrived before it began to rain, and it rained with a tropical intensity. This downpour was not only unseasonable but also most inopportune, as the corn was still being harvested. It was however a welcome change to me after the steamy heat of Beirut.
I returned to Nicosia on the following Monday to call on the Department of Agriculture. Immediately on my arrival, the Department kindly gave me a list of all the important apiaries in the Island, complete with the number of colonies in each and the type of hive. After a brief consultation, Mr. Osman Nouri drew up an itinerary and issued instructions to the District Officers concerned. The first week was taken up by exploring the northern and central sections, and the search was then extended to the districts of Famagusta, Larnaca, Limassol, Paphos and Lefka. On June 4th I left for Greece from Larnaca. Thanks to the efficient arrangements and the willing co-operation of the various District Officers, I was able to carry out the search not only expeditiously but very thoroughly, and Mr. S.A.L. Thompson also made a substantial contribution to the success of my efforts.
The nectar-yielding flora of Cyprus is fairly varied, but it cannot be compared with that of Lebanon. Moisture is lacking, and there are no permanent rivers. The central Plain — the Messaoria — offers only a bare subsistence to bees for most of the year; it is barren and seared from the end of May until the rains return. The hills and valleys, and the two mountain ranges which extend in parallel lines from east to west of the Plain, offer a much richer provender. The highest peak of the Troodos range to the south reaches 6406 feet; the Kyrenia range to the north is lower.
The main honey crop is derived from fruit blossom, citrus, thistles and the wild thyme. Owing to the lack of moisture, the clover is useless to the bees, and it is probably for the same reason that the carob (Ceratonia siliqua) which is much prized as a nectar source in Sicily, does not yield freely here. This is most unfortunate, for Cyprus is famed for its carob trees; there are about two million of them and, unlike most trees, they seem to thrive everywhere. There are many secondary sources of nectar, from the commencement of the winter rains until the seasonal drought. Bees can collect enough to meet their needs throughout the winter — from the loquat, Acacia and Eucalyptus which yield in December, then from the various species of dandelion, bean and Anchusa, and towards spring from Oxalis, rosemary, sage, etc.
The extensive citrus groves are centred near Famagusta, Limassol and Lefka. The wild thyme, Thymus capitatus, the same species from which the famous Hymettus honey is derived, thrives only on bare and parched hillsides, where nothing of much value could subsist. The many species of thistle are mainly found in the more arid sections of the country. Some of them are lovely; the most beautiful of all, found everywhere by the roadside at the end of May, is clothed in a heavenly blue — the slender stem, leaves and all.
Nature has not been particularly indulgent to the honeybee in Cyprus. Except among the orange groves there are no heavy nectar flows. The native bee, by dint of effort, is able to make a living during the greater part of the year, but the amount of surplus gathered is small.
There are about 22 000 colonies of bees in Cyprus, less than 2000 of them in modern hives. Efforts are in progress to further modern methods of bee culture, and regular courses are given on advanced beekeeping at the Central Experimental Farm at Morphou. There is a small plant for manufacturing comb foundation at this Farm — the only source of it in the Island. Apiaries with modern equipment are largely owned by the great fruit-growing concerns. The beekeeping and queen-rearing establishment belonging to Mr. S.A.L. Thompson, at Jingen Bahchesi, Kyrenia, is probably the most progressive of its kind.
The primitive hives in Cyprus are of either burnt or sun-baked clay; they are tubular, about 30×10 inches internally. Apiaries containing 100150 colonies are quite common; the clay tubes are stacked and joined into one solid block, like the individual bricks in a wall. They are usually tiered four or five high, and a large collection of them often resembles a long boundary wall; the roofing tiles which are usually placed on top help to complete the illusion. Small apiaries are uncommon in Cyprus. In some villages, for instance Paphos, one may occasionally find hives built into the walls of houses, the hives opening on the inside into a bedroom or living room. Though Ferula thyrsifolia thrives in Cyprus, it is not used for hives: the more durable clay is preferred.
It is not known when or whence the first colony of bees was brought to Cyprus. The possibility of a vagrant swarm flying from the mainland must be excluded, since Asia Minor is 40 and Syria 60 miles away. There is some evidence indicating a descent from Egyptian stock; Cyprus was first occupied by the Egyptians in 1450 B.C., and it is known that about 850 years later there were bees on the Island, because Herodotus refers to a swarm which had taken possession of a skull suspended before the temple of Aphrodite. The attention of modern apiculture was first drawn to the Cyprian bee in 1866.
The Cyprian bee is midway in size between the Italian and Syrian. The colour of the first three dorsal segments is a clear bright orange; the fourth and fifth segments are also orange, but only near the ventral plates. Each of the first three dorsal segments has a sharply defined black rim, which is narrowest on the first and widest on the third segment. The colour of the three posterior dorsal segments is a decided black, which tends to enhance the orange of the first three segments. The ventral plates (except the posterior two) are usually a transparent orange without any trace of a darker coloration: this is one of the most characteristic markings of the Cyprian. The scutellum is pale orange, and the over-hair and tomenta are buff.
The queens are considerably smaller than any of European origin. Their colour and markings are much more constant, and the markings so definite, that a Cyprian queen can readily be identified. The abdomen is pale orange, but each dorsal segment bears a narrow, sharply defined crescent-shaped black rim. A somewhat similar marking is occasionally observed in a common hybrid queen, but the bands are then wider and not so sharply defined. Although they are small, Cyprian queens are exceedingly prolific. Their fecundity only reaches its maximum, however, when they are crossed with another race.
Contrary to expectations, pure Cyprians are not addicted to swarming. This would be fatal in their native home. Under the swarming impulse they usually construct a great number of queen cells — often several hundred — and they tend to build them in clusters resembling a miniature bunch of grapes. The breeding power of this race is truly prodigious, and more honey is devoted to brood rearing than pleases the beekeeper, but this must be regarded as a device of Nature to ensure the survival of individual colonies in their native habitat. Cyprians are hardy, long-lived and endowed with great foraging abilities. Their cappings of honey are dark and watery in appearance. They construct little or no brace-comb; they are disposed to use propolis freely, but fortunately not usually the sticky resinous kind, but a compound of propolis, cappings, etc., which does not readily adhere to ones fingers. Lumps of this mixture are often deposited along the entrance in the autumn. Cyprians pass through the winter more safely than any other race, even in our northern climate (although their native home is in the sub-tropics); this is one of their outstanding characteristics. I have never known a Cyprian colony, pure or first cross, fail to come through the winter.
Perhaps nothing has made the Cyprian bee more unpopular than its irritability. Most strains strongly resent any interference, and this irascibility is just as pronounced in its native habitat. Records of the first imports into Europe, however, laid stress on its remarkable docility, and I found that there are still such good-tempered strains in the Island.
Although the Cyprian is probably the most homozygous race known, my enquiry has revealed a measure of variation. There are many deep valleys where individual isolation is as complete as that of the Island itself. These isolated pockets hold the material for the further improvement of the Cyprian race; it should be possible by suitable selection to develop strains as gentle and as tolerant of manipulation as any Italian.
The absolute isolation and the harsh environment of the Island have together given us a priceless asset, and to the enterprising geneticist Cyprus is a veritable Treasure Island. However the thousands of years of inbreeding between relatively few colonies have in a measure masked the potentialities of the race, and experience leads me to believe that the pent-up qualities of the Cyprian will only unfold to the full in cross-breeding. But I must emphasize that although they are of incomparable value in developing new strains, pure Cyprians are useless to the average beekeeper.
Beekeeping in Cyprus is favoured by one unique blessing — the complete absence of disease. To maintain this good fortune, and to ensure the continued purity of the Cyprian race, imports of queens and bees are strictly prohibited.
I wish to express my grateful thanks to the Director of the Department of Agriculture, Mr. P.C. Chambers, for his invaluable help, and to the various District Officers for their co-operation. I should like also to record my gratitude to the late Mr. Osman Nouri, who made the necessary arrangements for the search in Cyprus; unfortunately he died suddenly shortly after my departure. I further wish to thank Mr. S.A.L. Thompson for the help he rendered in so many ways; I shall always recall with pleasure the brief visits to the mountain chalet above Kyrenia, and the view of Cilicia and the snow-capped peaks of the Taurus in the far distance.
After two days at sea, we sighted Cape Sunium about noon on June 6th. Athens was reached in the late afternoon, and what proved to be the most exacting and strenuous three weeks of my search lay immediately ahead.
Beyond the bare information that there are more colonies relative to the population (about one for every ten inhabitants) in Greece than in any other country, little was known of beekeeping conditions in this extreme section of south-eastern Europe. But the large number of colonies indicated a certain measure of apicultural prosperity, although not necessarily a substantial surplus yield per colony, which would presuppose amongst other things an indigenous bee of outstanding abilities. I was not left in doubt on this point for long.
The day after my arrival found us exploring Attica, as far south as Cape Sunium, with Dr. A. Typaldos-Xydias and Mr. C. Michaelides. Dr. Xydias, who met me the day before at the Piraeus, has been for many years Technical Advisor to the Ministry of Agriculture and may be regarded as the father of modern apiculture in Greece; indeed I realized daily during the next few weeks that Dr. Xydias is known and revered by every Greek beekeeper.
Our journeys took us twice to the Peloponnesus, and then on the last visit from Patras to Missolonghi, Arta, Janina, Konitse; thereafter to Metsovon in the heart of the Pindus range, and on to Kalambaka, Grevena, Kozania, Veria, Edessa, Salonica and the section of country north-east of that city. The trip to Crete I made alone, as the Agricultural Officials of the Island furnished all the assistance required. Arrangements were already made for a visit to a few of the islands in the Aegean Sea, to which both Dr. Xydias and I attached great importance, since it is here — as in Cyprus — that the most valuable breeding stock is likely to be found. Unfortunately, in the end I had no time for this visit.
The ancient Athenians, we are told, were constantly praising four things: their honey, their figs, their myrtle berries, and the Propylaea. The honey the Athenians were so proud of was gathered on Mount Hymettus, immediately east of the city. It is derived from the mountain thyme, Thymus capitatus and is highly aromatic, with a heavy body and a light amber colour: a most delicious honey indeed, but not one which will always appeal to a palate used to the evanescent flavours of our paler northern honeys. Wild thyme is not confined to Mount Hymettus: it is common throughout southern Greece, the Peloponnesus and Crete, where it is the principal nectar source. In these regions it thrives on any bare, rocky and otherwise barren hillside, where nothing else can subsist for lack of moisture. At the lime of my arrival it had just commenced to bloom, and at some of the apiaries I visited the air was laden with the rich scent of the newly gathered nectar. However, I was told that it was not secreting heavily for lack of the necessary atmospheric humidity.
Groves of orange and lemon abound in the maritime regions of southern Greece but, except near Arta, none are as large as those in the Middle East and North Africa. Other varieties of fruit of value to the bees are confined to the northern part of the country; there are extensive plantations between Veria and Naoussa. It is indeed in the north of Greece that the heaviest crops of honey are secured. The main sources are clover, sweet chestnut, wild sage, mountain savory and honeydew. Crete has an extremely abundant and varied nectar-bearing flora, with many species of Erica; these seemed to be absent in the Levant.
Greece possesses approximately 700 000 colonies of bees, and I was greatly impressed by the high standard of efficiency of its bee culture the modern (with Langstroth hives) as well as the primitive. In northern Europe beekeeping is usually regarded as a sideline, or as a pleasant hobby, and beekeepers often have only three or four hives. Not so in Greece! There are probably more professional beekeepers in Macedonia than anywhere else in Europe. Migratory beekeeping is the accepted thing, and it is practised on a grand scale with most laudable results. I was told that averages of 100 kg are not uncommon. From a good vantage point some thirty miles north-east of Salonica, it was possible to pick out apiaries containing altogether no less than 2000 colonies — the area was literally teeming with bees. To the west, beyond Edessa, in well nigh inaccessible regions adjoining Albania, extensive apiaries were tucked away in the folds of the hills everywhere, and the thousands of colonies in them had just been brought there from long distances. Now and again one could see equally large apiaries of primitive hives, which had also been brought to these inhospitable regions. Professional apiarists, modern and primitive alike, rely on migratory beekeeping for a dependable income.
The primitive beekeeping in Greece is instructive, and historically of great interest. We know that the basket hive of today was in common use in Greece more than 3000 years ago, and that the principle of the movable comb, re-discovered about a hundred years ago, was in fact employed in this hive by the ancient Greeks. The hive is constructed of wickerwork, and has the same shape as an earthenware flowerpot. It is 23 in. deep, 15 in. across at the top and 12 in. at the bottom (internally). Nine bars — 1½ in. wide to give the correct spacing — fit across the brim. The combs are attached to these bars, exactly as in the hive invented by Dzierzon about the middle of the last century. With a little extra care, each of the nine combs can be examined individually as freely as the combs of a modern frame hive. Moreover the shape of this Greek hive corresponds more closely than any modern rectangular one to the natural inclinations of the bees. In Greece the baskets are given a fairly substantial external and internal coating of clay, whereas in Crete — for some reason I was never able to discover — a thin coating only is applied, internally and for about two inches around the bottom externally. In Crete one occasionally sees earthenware hives of the same shape and size; they are skilfully moulded with a crucifix over each entrance. Occasionally one also sees hives made of reeds, somewhat similar in shape to our own English skep, complete with hackle. But the Greek skeps are usually larger, taller and more pointed; one type, less common, has a rounded dome-shaped top. They are all more capacious than their traditional English counterparts. I saw no hives of sun-baked clay or ferula stems, though Ferula thyrsifolia is fairly common in Greece.
In Crete, particularly on the peninsula north of Suda Bay, I saw extensive apiaries — set amidst the wild thyme — entirely of wicker hives. The bare wicker, with a few handfuls of reeds flung across the top, was all the shelter and protection provided. Some of these primitive apiaries contained more than a hundred hives.
A few miles south-east of ancient Mycenae and Agamemnons Tomb — in Argolis, Peloponnesus — is a unique walled-in bee garth with no less than ninety-eight bee boles, each with its basket hive, complete with the heavy coat of clay which seems traditional in that part of Greece. Even in ancient times great value was apparently placed on the direction hives should face, for each of these bee boles faces east or south-east.
The indigenous honeybee of extreme south-eastern Europe has so far, for some inexplicable reason, never attracted any notice. True, it is not endowed with any of the glamour that would arrest attention — it lacks the bright colour and uniformity of appearance which are often so highly valued. But as a general business bee, it has perhaps no equal. It resembles the Caucasian in many of its characteristics — tendency to propolize, and the construction of brace-comb. Both these defects are less highly developed in the Greek bee, and in some strains they are negligible. Its most outstanding qualities are gentleness, breeding power, and disinclination to swarm. I came across no bad-tempered colonies, except in Crete. The Greek beekeeper hardly ever resorts to a smoker; a small piece of smouldering fungus is usually placed on top of the frames while an examination is in progress. The bees are as good tempered and quiet under manipulation as the average Carniolans. Their breeding power is truly phenomenal: I am inclined to believe that no other race will equal the numerical strength of a Greek colony, or particularly of a Greek queen crossed with an Italian or Carniolan drone. But unlike the Italian or Eastern races, breeding is severely restricted — too much so, to serve our purposes — after mid-July. The brood chamber may well be found chock-a-block with stores at the end of July. The brood is compact and faultless in every respect, and our experience suggests that the Greek bee is less disposed to swarming than any other race or strain we have tested in our apiaries. But it is definitely inclined to propolize and to build brace-comb freely, and the honey cappings are rather watery in appearance. Our preliminary tests and observations indicate that the Greek bee embodies the qualities required for a honey gatherer par excellence.
Aristotle observed that the bees of Greece are not uniform in colour; in his time the bees with yellow markings were considered best. The Greek bees of today are brown, with a yellow segment showing here and there. However west of the Pindus range, from Messolonghi to Janina, they are uniformly black. We were assured at Janina that near Konitsa, on the Albanian frontier, a pure yellow variety could be found, but our search there revealed a mere sprinkling of yellow, which is as commonly seen east of the Pindus range as in the heart of these mountains. In these regions one rarely finds a colony absolutely uniform in colour ; a small and varying proportion of the bees have one or two tawny segments. As would be expected, the queens show a wide range of coloration; drones, on the other hand, show practically none.
In Crete — according to Greek mythology the birthplace of the honeybee — the bees show a high percentage of yellow markings. Indeed, the bees of this favoured Island are a mixed lot in every way. Before I left Europe, I was assured that in Crete I would find the most gentle bees extant, but the temper of some of the colonies I examined indicated a decided Eastern influence. In Cyprus I found the greatest uniformity, in Crete a deep-seated dis-uniformity.
Although our experience of the Greek bee has been confined to one season, the preliminary results indicate that, given a good strain, this race may well prove to be of great value. It is definitely superior to the Caucasian, of which I had previous experience.
I wish to record my deep appreciation to the Greek Ministry of Agriculture for the many facilities which were placed at my disposal, and to Dr. A. Typaldos-Xydias and Mr. C. Michaelides for their help and generosity, which I shall always recall with gratitude. I also extend my thanks to the beekeepers of Chalchidiki, whose help proved such a decisive contribution towards the ultimate success of all my efforts.
The indigenous bee of western Yugoslavia, of Montenegro and Bosnia, is reputed to be more prolific and less given to swarming than the typical Carniolan of Slovenia. Though the latter has the reputation of being prolific, I have in recent years been forced to conclude that this is not so. The measure of fecundity of a race or of an individual queen is rather an arbitrary concept, and the Carniolan is undoubtedly prolific when compared with the old English native bee; Cheshire and Cowan clearly made such a comparison, and their verdict seems to have been repeated ever since without being checked. The average Carniolan is not prolific according to our standard. We have tried out more than a dozen strains recently, secured from widely different parts of its native habitat, and most of them could not fill more than seven M.D. frames with brood at the height of the season, whereas our own strain would readily fill ten. It was therefore with a keen concern that I looked forward to a search of the Montenegran Alps and the high mountain range along the Dalmatian coast, for I confidently hoped to find there a strain better adapted to our particular needs.
On leaving Greece I intended to make for Skoplje, then to turn westward towards Cetinje immediately north of Albania, and to go on to Ragusa, Sarajevo, Split and Ljubljana. Alas! a mishap on my last day in Greece — a burst tyre which could not be replaced — made it necessary to use the less hazardous route from Skoplje to Nish, Belgrade, Zagreb and Ljubljana. Even so, it proved a most gruelling journey, and we had the uncomfortable knowledge that we had no spare tyre. Blit after a nightmare journey, in a country where roads are almost non-existent, Ljubljana was finally reached safely.
Ljubljana, or Laibach as it used to be known, is the centre of Carniola and the headquarters of the Slovenian Beekeepers Association — Zveza cebelarskih drutev v Ljubljana — which helped me in my search in Slovenia. This Association, like most others on the Continent, supplies its members with all necessary equipment at cost price. It also publishes a monthly journal of very high standing, Slovenski Cebelar. The members of the Association own altogether 70 000 colonies, of which 50 000 are in modern hives. The total number of colonies in Yugoslavia is about 800 000, half in modern hives.
We secured our first Carniolan queens more than fifty years ago from Michael Ambrozic of Moistrana, Upper Carniola, who founded the world-wide trade in these queens and bees. We had since then imported queens from various sources and with varying results, but it had been impossible to obtain direct imports from Carniola since 1939. I therefore looked forward with keen anticipation to visiting the central habitat of this race. Furthermore, I had an idea that I would find something of special value, apart from gaining a more precise knowledge of the environment which helped to mould the most classical type of Carniolan, which is found in this region.
Our search took us first to Lower Carniola, south and south-east of Ljubljana. The bees here are fairly uniform, but as we travelled further from Central Carniola, either due east, south or south-west, the slight variations in external characteristics became more apparent. In addition, the temper of the bees occasionally left something to be desired. However, east of Ljubljana, close to the Hungarian frontier, the bees seemed to me to be more prolific and perhaps less disposed to swarming, but less uniform externally (this may be due partly to the influence of the Banat bee, a sub-variety of the Carniolan whose central habitat is further east or south-east of Maribor). A month later I had an opportunity to explore the adjoining area to the north, approaching Hungary from Styria.
The Carniolan bee in its classical form and in greatest uniformity is only found in the isolation of Upper Carniola, particularly in the secluded valley running due west of Bled. The towering Karawanken to the north and north-east, the Carnic Alps to the north-west, and the Julian Alps to the west and south-west, constitute an insuperable barrier. In fact this lovely valley from Bled to Bistrica forms one of the most perfect mating stations designed by Nature, and it is not surprising that some of the best Carniolan queens are reared there.
In the very centre of this valley lives Jan Strgar, known the world over as a breeder of Carniolan queens. His establishment was founded in 1903, and a considerable section of Slovenski Cebelar for December 1953 was appropriately devoted to commemorating this event. In spite of his advanced years, Jan Strgar is still actively engaged in beekeeping and queen rearing; strangely enough, he has retained the primitive Bauernkasten to this day, apparently with great success. Most of the Carnica queens sent to England between the two World Wars came from Bitnje, Bohinjska Bistrica. One noted breeder, Jose Susnik, Brod 1, Bohinjska Bistrica, has a mating station at the western end of the valley; Franc Vook, Hro 27, Lesce, Bled, is another breeder of high repute.
In my first report (Bee World 32 : 49 & 57, 1951) I gave a fairly comprehensive outline of the general characteristics of the Carnica bee. That description also holds good for the strains found in Carniola itself. There are undoubtedly some variations; indeed the wide variation between one strain and another is one of the most marked features of the race. We have had some strains which could hardly have been surpassed for uniformity in external characteristics, but which proved valueless in practice. Too much stress is often placed on uniformity, particularly in the Carniolan. There is a factor for yellow in its genetic make-up, which often manifests itself as a seasonal variation. The breeder of one of the best strains assured me that his bees will not infrequently show some yellow coloration on the first dorsal segments in the early part of the summer, but that these markings will completely vanish in subsequent generations raised at a lower temperature in the autumn. Actually the best strains (judged by performance) I have so far come across are known to manifest a fair amount of yellow. In every race, variations in colour find markings are shown in the most startling manner, in the queens, and this is especially true of Carniolans. There is a danger that by placing too much emphasis on external uniformity, we may lose the much more important objective of performance.
One outstanding fact is the complete absence of brood diseases throughout the native habitat of the Carniolan bee. This impressed me deeply, for in every country I have so far visited (except Cyprus) A.F.B. and E.F.B. are common, and in some instances endemic. But Carinthia and Carniola seem to form an island of immunity. Acarine, Nosema, and paralysis are present, but not foulbrood. Its absence cannot be fortuitous (the mountain barriers would retard, but not prevent, the spread of disease, and I have seen A.F.B. in an almost inaccessible region of the Pindus mountains on the fringe of Albania). We are dealing here not with a true immunity, but probably with an innate resistance.
Beekeeping conditions in Carniola, especially in Upper Carniola, are very similar to those in the adjoining Austrian Province of Carinthia. However, in Central and Lower Carniola, especially in the mountainous region along the Adriatic, there is a more varied nectar-bearing flora. In Upper Carniola honeydew from the pines forms the main source. In Central and Lower Carniola limes abound, and they seem to yield freely here; they were in full bloom at the time of my visit, and I was able to sample pure lime honey. Another honey of high quality is gathered in August and September in the mountainous region of Dalmatia, from the mountain savory, Satureia montana. Some of the more enterprising professional beekeepers transport their colonies in spring to the rosemary, which grows in great profusion on some of the Islands of the Dalmatian coast. Some wonderful crops of a honey of supreme quality are thus secured. Many colonies are also moved into the Istrian Peninsula at the end of June, for the honey from the sweet chestnut, which is however of a lower quality. There are many secondary sources, and the flora in general is more favourable to beekeeping in north-west Yugoslavia than in the adjoining Austrian territory.
I have no idea when house apiaries first came into use. In Carniola beehouses are an accepted and integral part of both primitive and modern beekeeping. For migratory beekeeping the hives are stacked in sectionally constructed sheds. I did not see any beehouses in Yugoslavia outside Carniola.
The people of Yugoslavia are renowned for their kind-heartedness and hospitality, and I received more than my share. The evening before my departure, the Slovenian Beekeepers Association organized a great farewell gathering in Ljubljana. Amongst other things, souvenirs of ancient beekeeping were presented as a token of good will and remembrance. I owe a deep debt of gratitude to the President of the Association, Krmelj Maks, to the genial secretary, Franc Cvetko, and to the Editors of the Slovenski Cebelar, Vlado Rojec, Stane Mihelic and to Josip Kobal. I extend to them all, and to each one individually, my heartfelt gratitude. And I shall always recall with a very special remembrance the kindness I received at the hands of the Slovenian people.
On leaving Yugoslavia I had a number of enquiries to make in the adjoining Carinthia and Styria, which in due course proved of great value. However, the Ligurian Alps were the next important sphere of search. A brief visit had been made there in October 1950, but we were unable to secure any Ligurian queens as the season was too far advanced.
The world-wide fame of the Italian bee is partly based on the success achieved with the first imports made nearly a hundred years ago. These bees came from the Ligurian Alps — hence the name Ligurian bee. Our findings indicate that the genuine leather-coloured Italian, which embodies all the desirable qualities which have made the Italian so popular, is only found in the Ligurian Alps, in the mountainous region between La Spezia and Genoa.
Apart from the direct practical value, I felt that a more precise knowledge of the tawny Ligurian would have a great bearing on our future cross-breeding experiments, and after much effort I now succeeded in securing queens of the type required. The parcel containing the collection of precious queens was left overnight in my room, ready for posting next day. To my amazement, the next morning both table and package were covered with tiny black ants, and on touching the parcel, thousands of these wretched creatures fell out of the cotton wool packing surrounding the cages. All the queens and bees had been killed by the ants. The loss of the Ligurian queens proved the greatest disappointment of my journey: I could not retrace my steps for the required time and energy were no longer at my disposal.
However, I went on to the south of France in the firm belief that I could include the Iberian Peninsula. But it soon became clear that the long sustained effort since February called for a halt and an overdue rest and I returned to Buckfast on September 29th.
Gradually but surely, and step by step, information of value concerning the manifold races of the honeybee is being accumulated, and a more precise knowledge of the range of their distribution is emerging. The jigsaw puzzle of the races can thus slowly be pieced together. The mode of their evolution is being revealed stage by stage, so that the individual defects and qualities can be more readily traced to their primary sources. We are by degrees coming to a truer and more perfect understanding of the vast fund of potentialities which is at our command for the creation of the perfect bee. But much remains to be done, for in an undertaking of this nature, where unforeseen difficulties and delays are inevitable, time is an all-important factor.
I desire to express my deep gratitude to Dr. C.G. Butler for his unfailing support, and to Mr. A.W. Gale for his generosity. The work could not have been carried thus far had it not been for the timely assistance which they gave.
in Bee World, 35(12), 1954, 133-245.
[ Adaptation française ]
[ Return to Biblio ]
[ 1 ]
[ 2 ]
[ First Journey – 1951 ]
[ Third Journey – 1961 ]
[ Concluding Journeys – 1964 ]
by Brother ADAM, O.S.B.
St Mary’s Abbey, Buckfast,
South Devon – England.