In Search of the Best
Strains of Bee
Second Journey (1)
if you prefer,
by Brother ADAM, O.S.B.
(1898 – 1996)
© Erik Österlund picture
St Mary’s Abbey, Buckfast,
South Devon – England.
in Bee World, 35(10), 1954, 193-203.
In the report published in Bee World for July and August 1951, on my journeys and findings of the previous year, I stated that the search must of necessity cover all the countries bordering the Mediterranean, which possess an indigenous bee of outstanding merit. At the end of June 1951, preliminary preparations were made for carrying out this project the next year. In a search of the kind that we are engaged in, nothing can be accomplished without the direct assistance and close co-operation of the central and local authorities in each country concerned. Therefore the more thorough the initial preparations, the mote likely the prospect of success. Eight months devoted to this part of the task proved none too much. I desire to record here my deep appreciation and gratitude to the authorities in every country I visited, for the assistance they gave me. Indeed without their wholehearted co-operation, the success achieved would never have been possible.
In a search of this kind, the timing and the sequence of the countries visited are largely dictated by the progress of the beekeeping season. As events proved, my timing was most fortunate. I left England on 19th February. My first objective was North Africa — Algeria, Morocco, Tunis, Tripoli, Cyrenaica and Egypt. But after my departure, a message was received from the Egyptian authorities requesting a postponement of the visit, in view of the current political difficulties. Furthermore, when already in Algeria, the imposition of martial law prevented the projected search eastward along the North African coast. In fact I was compelled to return by sea to Marseilles and sail from there to Israel, where I spent ten days. Haifa was reached on 9th April; Jordan was then visited, and Syria, Lebanon, Cyprus, Greece, Turkey, Yugoslavia, northern Italy, and lastly Spain and Portugal. But as the search progressed it became clear that Turkey would have to be omitted on this occasion, if the task was to be concluded within the time and means at my disposal. On reaching the Ligurian Alps, about mid-August, a further factor arose which cast some doubt about the inclusion of the Iberian Peninsula that autumn, even though the ultimate success of the work seemed to demand it. The long drawn-out effort since February made a break essential, but after a brief rest I was able to return to England on 28th September.
The indigenous honeybee of North Africa is known by a number of names. Naturalists called it Apis mellifera unicolor var. intermissa. The zoologist H. von Buttel-Reepen gave it the sub-title intermissa, for he thought it was an intermediate species between the single-coloured black bee of Madagascar and the variety lehzeni of north-west Germany and Scandinavia. Whether this supposition is correct, further research will determine. However, since 1906 this race has been known in scientific literature as intermissa.
Frank Benton of the U.S.A. visited Tunis in 1883, to ascertain the value of the bees found in this part of the world. He collected some queens and caned this new variety the „Tunisian bee“, assuming no doubt that this race was confined to Tunisia. John Hewitt visited the same country subsequently and brought the North African bee to the notice of English beekeepers under the name of the „Punic bee“. In North Africa it is commonly known as the „Arab bee“.
The distribution of this race in its most typical form is confined to the region of North Africa bounded on the east by the Libyan Desert, on the south by the Sahara, on the west by the Atlantic, and on the north by the Mediterranean. It is therefore isolated on every side by a barrier insuperable to bees. Its native habitat is clearly not limited to Tunisia; it is also indigenous in Tripoli, Algeria and Morocco. However, its main centre of distribution is undoubtedly in the high ground known to the Arab as tell; the name „Tellian bee“, first suggested by Ph. J. Baldensberger, would therefore seem to be the most appropriate.
Surprisingly enough reference books have only the scantiest details of the characteristics of the Tellian bee, and the information given is almost all disparaging. In an effort to obtain some first-hand experience of this race, I tried unsuccessfully to import a few queens direct from North Africa over thirty years ago. However, from the information collected in the extreme south of France and Sicily on the 1950 journey, I had high hopes of the Tellian for cross-breeding. My findings in its native habitat confirmed these expectations, which have since been further substantiated by observations made in our own apiaries in 1953. The biometric investigations carried out by Dr. F. Ruttner, on material supplied to him, have corroborated my view on the value of this race for cross-breeding. According to his findings the Tellian incorporates all the known external characteristics of the European races of honey bees.
When we set out at the end of February, wintry conditions prevailed almost everywhere. A more violent contrast and transformation than that which I found on stepping ashore at Algiers would be difficult to visualize. The orange blossom was well forward; several eucalyptus were in full bloom — there was in fact a riot of blossom defying description, in gardens and fields, in the woods and primitive bush, and in the hills and the desert. Swarming was in full swing and the main flow at hand.
Professor A. Sturer was at the quayside at Algiers, and also M. Paradeau, one of the most progressive and successful professional beekeepers in North Africa. I wish to convey my grateful thanks to him for his invaluable help, without which it would not have been possible to accomplish the task within the time at my disposal. His preparations during the proceeding months, together with his intimate knowledge of local conditions, enabled us to explore Algeria more thoroughly and speedily than would otherwise have been possible. We set to work within a few hours of my arrival.
A series of apiaries was visited in quick succession in every part of Algeria — in the secluded valleys amongst the snow-capped peaks of the Djurjura range, in the primitive bush still found here and there along the Mediterranean seaboard, on the sparsely populated plateau wedged between the Atlas and the Sahara, and on the very fringe of the Desert and in the Desert itself. We visited a large number of commercial apiaries; these are mainly in the fertile region between the Atlas mountains and the Mediterranean, where the almost boundless citrus groves are found. However, our main search took place in the primitive apiaries in remote parts of the country, where by force of circumstance the Tellian bee has retained its greatest uniformity and purity.
Extensive beekeeping and the use of modern equipment is mainly restricted to the French population, and the progressive commercial apiarists rely on hybrid Italians. The hives are of Langstroth or Dadant pattern. The huge citrus groves (mainly oranges) provide the principal source of nectar. Extraordinary crops are secured in a favourable season and with appropriate management. Considerable yields are obtained also from eucalyptus, rosemary, lavender, thyme and a host of secondary sources. Migratory beekeeping is widely practised by the professional apiarists.
The beekeeping carried out by the natives is of the simplest and most primitive kind imaginable. Throughout the whole of Algeria we never came across any other type of primitive hive than that made of ferula stems. Ferula thyrsiflora grows everywhere in profusion, and to gigantic stature. It furnishes the cheapest possible hive material; the mature ferula stems can be had for the gathering in the autumn, and a complete hive costs about 75 francs (about 1s. 9d.). On our journeys we often passed camels and donkeys with loads of these hives on their way to market. In spite of the very primitive mode of beekeeping, the crops secured by these Arab beekeepers probably fall not far short of those obtained in some European countries with modern equipment and by advanced methods. Apart from the possible initial cost of the ferula hives, these Arabs do not incur any expense in producing honey.
In Sicily, where ferula hives are also widely used, some protection from sun and rain is given; the hives are neatly stacked in tiers, four or five on top of each other, perhaps as many as twenty tiers side by side, the whole arrangement forming one huge block of hives. In addition, an open shed provides some protection against extremes of temperature and torrential rain. No such orderly arrangements and elementary safeguards are met in a primitive Arab apiary. Usually the ferula hives are scattered about on the ground with a wanton abandon; often they are disintegrating. Thus exposed to the elements, the bees must thrive or perish. However, they have not only to brave extremes of temperature and, torrential rain in winter; they must also defy a host of enemies such as is perhaps not found elsewhere in the world. In the course of ages, in environments of this kind, Nature has relentlessly moulded the Tellian bee as we know it today. But as so often happens, where surpassing qualities are found these are themselves the direct cause of some serious defects.
With a somewhat subtle unanimity, every work of reference I have seen gives the Tellian bee a deprecatory mention. The general appraisal and recommendation is thus summarized: „an inferior race in almost every respect, one that should never be imported into any country“. However more than seventy years have passed by since Frank Benton collected his first queens in Tunisia and, as so often happens, what was at one time discarded as of little value is — with increased knowledge — later deemed to be of supreme importance. Admittedly the Tellian bee is of no value to the amateur beekeeper. But there seems little doubt that it is one of the most valuable races for crossbreeding. Its intrinsic usefulness for this purpose will be largely determined by the care exercised in selecting the breeding stock and — equally important — in the care brought to bear on the crossing, in order to bring out the best qualities of the race.
The pure Tellian bee is black — jet black — and if anything more so than the „Nigra“ of Swiss origin; its blackness is accentuated by the scanty tomenta and over-hair. It is perhaps slightly larger than its nearest cousin, Apis mellifera var. sicula. The queens are more uniform in colour than those of any European race. They are jet-black, long and slender and very pointed — quite unlike the plump Italian or ponderous Carniolan queens in shape. Both queens and bees are quick in movement and liable to extreme nervousness when manipulated. Indeed, when a hive is opened, the bees are disposed to „boil over“ and „mill around“ inside the brood chamber in a most alarming manner. But if left a few minutes and given a chance to calm down, they will thereafter submit to manipulation as readily as any of the common bees of northern Europe. They can be bad tempered, but not more so than the black bees of southern France which used to be imported in such large numbers into this country. Though we came across some extremely bad-tempered Tellians on our search, we discovered at the same time a few strains which could be handled with the greatest impunity. In my estimation the most serious defects of the Tellians are: (1) extreme swarming tendency, (2) a highly developed susceptibility to brood diseases, (3) a lavish use of propolis, (4) watery cappings. Against these defects must be set unparalleled stamina, fertility and foraging power.
The extreme addiction to swarming of the Tellian is doubtless a direct effect of its amazing stamina and fertility. The pronounced innate susceptibility to brood diseases is a defect of nearly every variety of the common European dark bee, particularly the French ones. This defect is however even more marked in the Tellian than in the French bee. There are in fact a great many close similarities between these two races — for instance the lavish use of propolis. In every characteristic (except cappings) a close relationship can be traced, but the qualities are more pronounced in the Tellian.
The fecundity of the Tellian is remarkable. But extreme fertility is of no avail unless it is coupled with a high degree of stamina, and it is in this very quality that the Tellian surpasses every other race. Moreover stamina is the source of a whole series of desirable traits, longevity, hardiness, wing-power, etc. Observations made in 1953 lead me to believe that the Tellian is the longest-lived bee. I also noted that it is active at temperatures at which no other honeybees would dare to venture forth, not even Carniolans.
As already indicated, the Tellian has not only to brave extremes of climatic conditions in its native habitat, but it must also withstand the ravages of innumerable enemies. The huge jet-black pollen beetle, Cetonia opaca, unknown in northern Europe, is an ever-present menace, and will, if it can find its way into a hive, wreak sad havoc among the combs. The bees seem fairly helpless in face of this creature. They are equally defenceless against the voracious blue-cheeked bee-eater, Merops superciliosus — one of the most lovely birds in creation, but a deadly enemy of the honeybee. This bird thrives on bees, though it will occasionally include a wasp or two in its diet. The loss of bees is all the greater because Merop superciliosus does not live singly, but in flocks of up to a hundred birds. It is estimated that a flock of this size will dispose of a pound of bees in a day. The bee-eater is a seasonal menace, for it migrates in September to the Cape of Good Hope and re-appears in March. The Oriental hornet is represented in full force in North Africa; the blind ant (Dorylus fulvas) must however be regarded as the most treacherous enemy. This insect will make its way into a hive unnoticed by gnawing a hole through the bottom board, and before the beekeeper is aware that something is amiss, the colony has perished and the invader has made good his escape. Lizards and toads are constantly around the hives. When lifting the roof off a hive, it is not uncommon to find a batch of lizards scampering away. Wax moths are a serious problem in every subtropical country; a colony which is not resistant, and which cannot maintain its strength through the summer months, has little chance of escaping destruction from their ravages.
It is often claimed that the production of parthenogenetic or impaternate females is a common phenomena in Tellian colonies. I have not so far found any evidence to support this view.
Our search in Algeria would not have been complete without exploring some of the oases in the Sahara, and we should have missed one of the best opportunities found in Nature to study the effects of many centuries of inbreeding on the honeybee. Moreover, there was every likelihood that, in the complete isolation and added rigours of an oasis, a strain of the type required for crossbreeding would be found. Though our time was drawing to a close, we nevertheless decided to visit Laghouat, Ghardaia, Bou-Saada and perhaps some less well-known oases en route if at all possible.
Since my arrival in North Africa I had seen much of the wonderful flora of Algeria: pinky white drifts of asphodel; wide expanses carpeted in bright orange by the native marigold, Calendula algeriensis: Oxalis corniculata rubra and variabilis in great masses; giant dumps of the glistening white Erica arborea; and thymes in mauve, blue and purple. Perhaps the sections of primitive bush along the Mediterranean seaboard contain the most fascinating collection of wild flowers and shrubs within any given space. The most important nectar-bearing sources of this sub-tropical jungle are rosemary and lavender, Lavendula stacchas, which thrive here in a profusion hardly seen elsewhere. But on our way south into the Sahara we found a totally different kind of wild flora: the desert in bloom, in its full but ephemeral springtime glory — a dense carpet of desert flowers, stretching to the horizon in every direction. The air was heavily laden with the sweet scent of honey, and the traffic of insects gave the impression of al large number of swarms crossing to and fro overhead. But there were no honeybees amongst this busy throng. In these desolate regions they could not survive after the brief, brilliant spell of spring.
At Laghouat we found about fifty colonies of bees, owned by three beekeepers: one a Christian, another a Jew and the third a Mohammedan. At the apiary owned by the Christian, the bees were in modern hives and kept with a meticulous and finicky solicitude characteristic of an amateur. At the apiary belonging to the Hebrew, we found a conglomeration of different hives, as well as boxes of every size and shape suspended upside-down amongst the branches of tangerine trees; these contained newly hived swarms. Dead virgin queens could he picked up by the dozen under these boxes. The third beekeeper, a retired Arab officer of the French colonial forces, graciously allowed us to view the seclusion of his bee garden, but not until the customary formalities had been duly observed. His apiary consisted of ferula hives, of traditional shape and size, except that for some reason they were encased in a heavy coating of clay. The old Arab proudly pointed to one hive, hidden in a mountain of alfa grass, which furnished no less than seven swarms the previous year. At the end of the swarming season no more than two or three hundred bees were left. Yet this miniature colony survived and filled the hive with new comb, brood and honey – ready to respond again to the impulse of colonization. Inbreeding — perhaps since time immemorial — had in this instance no harmful effect on viability of the brood and on the stamina of the bees. Indeed, it was at Laghouat that we found the most powerful stocks of pure Tellians, covering twenty combs of Dadant size in March. The bees at this oasis were remarkably good-tempered, notwithstanding the fact that at the time of our visit a fierce sandstorm was raging.
Owing to the violence of the storm there was no possible chance of penetrating deeper into the Sahara. We had to retrace our steps, and even the journey north, to Bou-Saada, proved a perilous venture. The extreme heat, accompanied by a following sirocco, further accentuated by the difficulties of the desert track part of the way, proved almost our undoing, as there was no water within miles to replenish losses from the car radiator. Though I endured extremes of heat and hazards of one kind or another during the subsequent months, the ordeal of the trip from Laghouat to Bou-Saada was never equalled. We reached Algiers on 30th March, and next morning we left for Marseilles, to re-embark on 2nd April for Israel.
I have refrained from a more detailed description of the less obvious characteristics of the Tellian bee, for my investigations are not yet concluded. However, all the findings I have made up to now indicate that the Tellian is a primary race, and that the numerous varieties of brown or black bees — at least those of western Europe — have in the course of time evolved from the Tellian. I have not yet had an opportunity to explore the Iberian Peninsula, but the strains I found in the extreme south of France are in every characteristic only a few degrees removed from the prototype. The close affinity is obvious. The pattern of evolution, north and north-eastwards from the Pyrenees, can be readily traced, and the differences are only of intensity and degree. The studies of Dr. F. Ruttner, on material supplied to him from North Africa, confirm my tentative conclusions.
Last-minute difficulties debarred me from including Morocco in my search in 1952. I was also reluctantly compelled to omit the extreme south-western fringe of Algeria, the habitat of the Saharan bee.
After a rather unpleasant seven days at sea, Palestine — the land flowing with milk and honey — was reached on 8th April. I spent the night on Mount Carmel, and on the journey to Tel Aviv next morning, the Holy Land revealed itself in all its springtime glory. I was told that the extraordinary profusion of wild flowers, which I saw, had not been known for nearly half a century; it was due to an exceptionally heavy rainfall the previous winter.
The route to Tel Aviv took me through the most fertile part of Israel, through the Plain of Saron extending southward from Mount Carmel. A belt of orange groves, about twenty miles wide, stretches all the way to Jaffa and beyond. The groves were in full bloom, and the heavy fragrance of orange blossom pervaded the countryside. I was told that the nectar flow had almost reached its greatest intensity, and that beekeepers were already busy extracting.
At the Ministry of Agriculture in Tel Aviv I was introduced to Mr. D. Ardi, Apicultural Adviser to the Government. Plans were quickly drawn up for the search throughout Israel, and it was arranged that Mr. D. Ardi should act as my guide. I wish to record here my grateful appreciation to him, for his help and hospitality.
The dynamic drive of this newly formed State was in evidence everywhere. Economic problems are being solved in the most direct and effective way possible. Perhaps the most notable example is the action taken by the Israeli Ministry of Agriculture to supply the highest quality breeding stock to beekeepers throughout the country. The breeding stock is raised at Government-owned mating stations, the most important being at Hefzebah, near the site of ancient Caesarea. By law no other bees may be kept within three miles of this mating station. Breeding stock of a specially selected strain of Italians is sent out from Hefzebah; this strain was exhaustively tested over a period of years in the climatic conditions of Israel, side by side with many strains from various sources, before it was generally adopted. By this course of action the Israeli Government is assisting the craft in the most effective way possible.
It is occasionally claimed that Israel possesses its own indigenous race of bees, but more comprehensive enquiries showed that there is no clear-cut difference between the bees found in Lebanon, Syria and Palestine. The slight variations do not warrant a special classification. Geographically Israel is part of Syria, and there are no natural barriers, which would prevent an intermingling if there had been more than one indigenous race.
The Syrian bee, Apis mellifera var. syriaca, closely resembles the Cyprian; the two races are however quite distinct, although closely related. The Syrian bee is smaller, and it shows every defect of the Cyprian in an intensified form — particularly temper. In my estimation the temper of the Syrian deprives this race of any practical value it might otherwise possess, although — unlike some European races — it will not attack unless interfered with. Primitive beekeeping is therefore well able to get along with this bee, for beyond the annual taking of the honey at the end of the season (when colony strength is at its minimum) no interference is called for. But the manipulations demanded by modern beekeeping do not seem feasible with Syrian colonies. Even miniature colonies covering only a few combs will not tolerate disturbance, as I found by experience. Moreover a swarm of angry bees will pursue and attack any living creature within reach. This habit of attacking en masse at great distances from the hive is a very dangerous trait. Tellians, Cyprians and some French strains also show it, but to a much smaller degree.
The pure Syrian is an elegant bee. The abdomen is very pointed, and the first three dorsal segments are a clear lemon-yellow. Tomenta and over-hair have a silvery sheen, and the scutellum is bright yellow.
The fecundity of Syrian queens is prodigious — too much so. The bees are good foragers and have great stamina. They are however given to excessive swarming, and when the swarming impulse has taken hold of a colony, it will construct an enormous number of queen cells, often hundreds of them. One of the Syrian’s most noted good qualities is its intrepid defence of its home.
The true Syrian is distinct in appearance and biological characteristics from all other races. It is however no longer easy to find colonies of the pure Syrian. In Israel itself they can perhaps only be found in Upper Galilee, in the region between Lake Hula and Metulla. In the Jordan sector they are more common. But in northern Lebanon and Syria the influence of the Anatolian bee can be clearly discerned. In fact there is considerable variation even in colonies immediately north of Beirut. Hybrids predominate everywhere in Israel, for strenuous efforts are being made to supplant the indigenous bee.
There are a few Israeli beekeepers who regard the introduction of Italians as a serious mistake. The well-worn arguments in support of the indigenous bee are brought forward in Israel, as in many other countries. We visited one of the adherents of the Syrian bee, and were given a demonstration of their docility. I left unconvinced. In my estimation the Syrian bee has not one redeeming quality which would atone for its irascibility. Though I was often assured that really docile strains do exist, I never came across any on my search. On entering an apiary where Syrian bees were kept in modern hives, one was instantly confronted by a horde of angry, hissing bees, and a throng of them would pursue one for a considerable distance after leaving the apiary. This extreme viciousness is sometimes regarded as eminently desirable: one of the most able Arab beekeepers assured me that he only got a honey crop because the temper of his bees prevented unwarranted persons interfering with his hives.
In 1952 Israel possessed about 33000 colonies of bees, and efforts are in progress to double this number within a few years. The required material is being imported from America. Langstroth equipment is used exclusively, and to ensure economy and simplification in management, full-depth brood chambers have to serve as supers. Primitive hives are only found in isolated Arab villages.
Commercial beekeeping is mainly confined to the communal co-operative settlements or kibbutzim. Some of the kibbutz operate up to a thousand colonies. Emphasis is placed on intensive rather than extensive beekeeping; the scarcity of timber, the high cost of imported hives and general economic conditions preclude any haphazard keeping of bees. The main honey crop is from the orange blossom, which yields 20-30 kg per colony. At the end of April or early in May the hives are taken from the orange groves in the coastal plain to the hills and mountains of Galilee, to gather the second crop from the wild flowers, the most important being acacia, cactus, lavender, wild carrot, sage, thyme and a great variety of thistles. The second crop averages a further 20-30 kg per colony. Commercial beekeeping undoubtedly has a promising future in Palestine.
As one would expect, the honey crop in the Levantine countries depends largely on the rainfall during the brief winter months. This is true for the orange blossom, and even more so for the crop from the wild flowers. Yet hopes raised by an abundance of rain may in the end be dashed to the ground by the dreaded khamseen at blossoming time. This happened in 1952. All the Middle East countries had an exceptionally heavy rainfall the previous winter, and the orange groves were laden with an exceptional abundance of blossom. But as nectar secretion reached its maximum intensity, the hot khamseen from the desert shrivelled the blossom in a few hours. Instead of a record crop, only 6 kg per hive was secured — the lowest average for ten years. However, the wild flowers on the hills and mountains were unaffected, and an exceptional crop was secured from them.
From mid-July until November, when the rainy season starts, there is no nectar or pollen; during this period the colonies must also fight for survival against hornets and wax moths. This fight is a grim one: the colonies are first weakened by the hornets, and the wax moths give the coup de grâce. In spite of every effort by the beekeepers to combat the hornets, by poison baits and the destruction of nests, the annual loss of colonies is about 10 per cent — in some seasons even 30 per cent. Some beekeepers have been compelled to move entire apiaries to areas less heavily infested with hornets.
The rain and cold in November bring to an end the fierce struggle between the honeybee and its enemies and, with the beginning of the rainy season, a new lease of life sets in for the bee. In the maritime regions the carob (Ceratonia siliqua) and the loquat (Eriobothrya japonica) yield abundant nectar and pollen when the weather is favourable. In the higher regions severe though brief wintry conditions are not uncommon; winter however offers no serious problem to the beekeeper.
I had heard so much in years gone by of the Syrian bee through the kindness of Fr. Maurus Massé who, during his sojourn at our Monastery at Abon-Gosch, tried to make the best of this race. He had little success, and small reward for his efforts, and I am now no longer surprised at his failure.
On 19th April I crossed over to Jordan, to our Monastery of St. Benoît on Mount Olivet. This is south-west of Jerusalem, and gave a perfect view of the Old City and the Temple Area. Until quite recently Syrian bees were kept at the Monastery, in modern hives, but with no great success.
The Arabs have great faith in their native bee. Over and over again I was assured that there were two distinct varieties of indigenous bees, one of which builds combs in the shape of the moon, and the other in the form of a furrow. It was further claimed that the former was of good temper, but short lived and a poor forager. The second kind was of vile temper, but long lived and a great honey gatherer. Unfortunately this ready differentiation will not bear close scrutiny. Expressed without the Oriental simile, a cast hived in an Israeli clay cylinder will build comb parallel to the entrance, and therefore in the shape of a more or less perfect circle. On the other hand, a prime swarm will at once occupy the greater part of the cylinder and build comb at right-angles to the entrance — or cold-way in the more prosaic language of the European. A cast has little chance of escaping the ravages of hornet and wax moth, and is therefore in the eyes of the uninitiated short-lived and not very valuable as a honey gatherer. This notion of there being two distinct varieties of bees, of one and the same indigenous race, is surprisingly widespread in the Middle East. The same view, based on the same differentiation, is held in Cyprus.
Considerable efforts have been made in recent years to introduce the modern hive into Jordan. But without introducing a more manageable bee at the same time, these well meant endeavours seem doomed to failure. There is nothing to be gained by putting Syrian bees into a modern hive and then — because of their unmanageability — leaving them to their own devices. They might as well be hived in a clay cylinder. The net return in surplus honey would show no material difference, but there would be a substantial difference in the cost of production between the modern and primitive way of keeping bees. In a country without timber, a sustained effort to introduce a bee more suitable to modern methods of management will probably never be made, the cost of a frame hive will never be justified. The sun-baked clay cylinders cost next to nothing and, if large enough, they offer a satisfactory home for the Syrian bee.
My enquiries in Jordan took me to a great many primitive apiaries, but I came across none containing many colonies; there were a dozen at most, but more often only two to four. The clay hives are substantially constructed and of no mean capacity, and thus well suited to the extremes of temperature and the ability of the native bee. They are 26 inches long and 12 inches in diameter internally. The walls are a full 2 inches thick. Less common are the hives of stoneware, made in the shape of an Oriental water jar of about two gallons capacity. The narrow neck forms the entrance. The jars rest on their sides, and the opening for removing the honey is at the back which is fitted with a detachable disc. These stoneware hives have the advantage of great durability, and also provide an almost complete safeguard against the many troublesome pests. But hives of stoneware require shelter from the direct rays of the sun, whereas the clay cylinders do not. These stoneware hives seem to be confined to Jordan and Lebanon: at least I did not see them anywhere else.
On 7th May I left Jerusalem for Syria and Lebanon, via Jéricho and Amman. As I approached Jéricho, the wheat harvest was already in full swing. The season was advancing rapidly. The lilies of the fields had gone until the next return of spring, and the landscape was brown and seared. But on leaving Israel I was again confronted with some of the loveliest scenery imaginable, in the verdant valley of the Wadi Salt, along which the road winds its way to Amman after leaving the Plain of Jéricho. This narrow valley, set amidst the desolate hills of ancient Moab, with its profusion of wild flowers, its masses of oleander in full bloom, and the vivid scarlet waxy blossom of the pomegranate everywhere, combined to form a picture of unforgettable loveliness. In this beautiful setting, the Jordan Department of Agriculture recently established an experimental apiary, between Suweile and Ensalt.
When I arrived in Amman I paid the expected call at the Department of Agriculture, and then set out on the hazardous trek across the desert to Damascus.
in Bee World, 35(10), 1954, 193-203.
by Brother ADAM, O.S.B.
St Mary’s Abbey, Buckfast,
South Devon – England.