In search of the best strains of bees
if you prefer,
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[ First Journey – 1951 ]
[ Second Journey – 1953 ]
[ Third Journey – 1960 ]
[ Adaptation en français ]
by Brother Adam, O.S.B.
© Erik Österlund picture
St. Mary’s Abbey, Buckfast, South Devon, England
Extract of Bee World,
45(1) 1964 p70-83
45(2) 1964 p104-118
Original published in Deutsche Bienenzeitung
Bee World 45(1) 1964 p70-83
This report concludes the series which Brother Adam has published in Bee World since 1952. No other person has ever travelled so long and so far to study the different races and strains of honeybee, and to obtain breeding stock from them, to use and observe under the conditions of his own apiary.
In this article Brother Adam covers his journeys in Morocco, Asia Minor, northern Greece and the Aegean Isles, Yugoslavia and the Banat, Egypt and Libya.
When in December 1948 this work was first considered, it was confidently hoped the task could be completed within a few years. However, though the scope of the undertaking was in no way enlarged — every country visited was included in the programme originally determined — the work was not finally finished before the end of 1962: at every stage the task called for a great amount or detailed planning, organisation and co-operation.
The first report appeared in Bee World in 1952. It contained an outline of the purpose and scope of the undertaking, and details of my findings in France, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Sicily and Germany. The second report, published in Bee World 35:193-203, 233-244 (1954), recorded the findings in North Africa, Israel, Jordan, Syria, Cyprus, Greece, Yugoslavia — or more precisely Carniola — and the Ligurian Alps. The third report, appearing in Bee World 42:123-131 (1961), dealt exclusively with the Iberian Peninsula. In the autumn of 1954 I paid a brief visit to Turkey and the Aegean Islands. A paper on „The Honeybees of Asia Minor“ was submitted to the XVIIth International Beekeeping Congress in Rome, but no details of the journey in question have up to now been published; they are included in the present report. An account on the Aegean Islands appeared in German in Bienenpflege 1961. In July 1956, I was able to visit Bosnia, Herzegovina, Montenegro and the Pester Plateau in Serbia. Details of this journey are incorporated in the present report, along with those of my visit to file north-eastern section of Serbia, the Banat.
The concluding journeys, carried out in 1962, covered Morocco, Turkey, northern Greece, north-eastern Yugoslavia and finally Egypt. I left England for Morocco on March 26th and, after proceeding to Turkey and Yugoslavia, returned to Buckfast on June 28th — in time to assist in the main work of the season. On October 23rd I set out from London Airport for Cairo and returned again in January 1963.
I crossed from Harwich to Hook of Holland on the night of March 26–27th, to avail myself of the Autobahn from the Hague to south Germany, and from there followed a route via Lyon, Narbonne, Barcelona and along the Mediterranean coast to Gibraltar, where I awaited the arrival of Dr R.H. BARNES, who volunteered to accompany me on the journey in Morocco. I heard his plane coming in shortly after midnight, and we met at breakfast the following morning. A few hours later we were on our way to Tangier.
I had firmly intended to visit Morocco in 1952, but when I was in Algeria I was prevented by various difficulties from proceeding westward to the adjoining country. On looking back, I feel this delay proved fortunate, for I would most certainly have never been able to carry out the work to my satisfaction in the circumstances then prevailing. I was not specially interested in the native black bee of Morocco, for I realized it could not differ materially from the indigenous bee of Algeria, A. mellifera var. intermissa. The primary object of my visit to Morocco was to obtain more precise knowledge of the Saharan bee and its habitat. In this connection, Monsieur Paul Haccour of Sidi-Yahia du Gharb, whom I met at the Congresses in Rome and Madrid, rendered me invaluable service. Mr. Haccour, who owns about 2000 colonies, is one of the keenest commercial beekeepers I have had the pleasure of meeting. Moreover, he spoke Arabic and possessed a life’s experience in dealing with the Moroccan people.
So our first point of call was his home, a country house some miles from Sidi-Yahia, set in the midst of eucalyptus, mimosa, citrus and many other kinds of sub-tropical trees. The heavy scent of orange blossom pervaded the area, particularly early in the morning before the sun dispelled the high humidity; by noon the temperature approached 90°F [32°C]. We arrived at a season when the countryside was attired in its richest flora. An exceptionally heavy rainfall during the previous few months had made the flora unusually luxuriant. After two days, in this marvellous setting, spent in visiting some of the beekeepers nearby, we set out for the Sahara accompanied by Mr. and Mrs. Haccour.
Our route took us across the northern Atlas, via the Col du Zad. Here at 6600 ft we were back in wintery conditions, surrounded by snow everywhere. Indeed, we were told that we would not have got through this Pass by car a week earlier. The night was spent at Midelt, a small village in the eastern foothills of the Atlas. Next morning, as we approached the fringe of the Sahara, the character of the vegetation changed, and date palms made their appearance here and there. In place of the bare rock and boulders, sand dunes came in sight. Well before midday we reached the Tafilalet, a group of oases which Mr. Haccour considers to be the cradle of A. mellifera var. sahariensis.
The Saharan bee
I believe it was Philippe J. Baldensberger (†1948) who first drew attention to the race in 1921. He discovered this bee at Figuig, the most easterly Moroccan oasis. As far as our present knowledge indicates, Figuig is also the most easterly point at which the race can be found. It is certainly not found in the more well known oases of Algeria, such as Laghouat, Bou Saada, Biskra or Ghardaia. Westwards its distribution extends at least as far as Ouarzazate, as we were able to verify ourselves. It should be realized that this race is hemmed in by two great natural barriers: by the towering Atlas chain of mountains on the north-west, and by an endless waste of sand in the east and south. Moreover, each of the various oases is almost as effectively isolated one from others by miles of barren desert extending between them. As far as I could ascertain, there can be little or no interbreeding in most localities.
The question arises: how did this race originate? There can be no doubt that this Saharan bee is a distinct race — distinct in its external and physiological characteristics. We know that throughout North Africa, from Tripolitania to the most southerly point of Morocco bordering the Atlantic, the jet-black bee, A. mellifera var. intermissa, holds undisputed sway. But here, wedged in between the Atlas and the Sahara, we have within a relatively small area, confined to the fringe of the desert, miniature pockets of a distinct yellow race of bee. I cannot for one moment believe that sahariensis should in course of time have evolved from intermissa. There is no similarity between the two races. Mr. Haccour holds the view that Jewish immigrants may have brought the original stock from the Middle East more than two thousand years ago, and that in the intervening years, due to the special environment, the bee we now know as sahariensis was evolved. However, all the Middle East races are well known to me, and I can discern little or no similarity. Externally sahariensis resembles Apis indica more than any other bees, but the similarity extends no further.
The pure sahariensis is not yellow; the colour might best be described as light tan. But a wide variation is manifested, and the colour extends in varying degrees to all the dorsal segments. Owing to the darker colour and the considerable variation in markings, the Saharan bee is by no means as attractive as the more brightly coloured races. In size this bee is midway between ligustica and syriaca. The queens also vary in colour, from bright yellow to dark brown — though never black. The drones are remarkably uniform and have two conspicuous bronze–coloured segments.
I have found the pure queens moderately prolific. The bees are relatively good-tempered, but rather nervous, particularly in times of dearth. When a hive is opened they run to and fro, just as wasps will when their nest is disturbed. They also fly up in great numbers, but do not act aggressively. Also, when under manipulation, the bees fall off the combs very readily. They seem to have the least foothold of any bees I know. In this respect the Italian bee represents the other extreme — she can only be dislodged with force. One other notable characteristic of sahariensis is its quick flight from the entrance. There is no loitering of any kind — a quality which I believe Baldensberger already noted. She tends to propolize, but not excessively. The pure sahariensis suffered a heavy loss of bees at Buckfast in the severe winter of 1962–63, but the colonies survived in surprisingly good condition and strength. Those with first–cross queens wintered outstandingly well in every way. A first cross, Saharan queens to our own drones, has proved surpassingly prolific — indeed the most prolific cross we have so far tested in our apiaries. In addition the brood is wonderfully compact and — most remarkable for a first cross — little or no drone brood is raised. This characteristic was manifested by every colony with a first–cross queen of this type. I regard it as a most desirable quality, for most hybrids tend to raise drones to excess, and certain crosses will invariably spoil a set of combs or foundations to such an extent that their further use in uneconomic. Though the pure sahariensis is reputed to be addicted to swarming, I have not found this to be so in a first cross. It is premature to express a view on the nectar gathering and general foraging ability of this cross, since the summer of 1962 proved a complete failure in south-west Devon. Indeed it was the worst season in my forty-nine years of beekeeping. I will however say this: the Saharan bee, when suitably crossed, has great possibilities. On the other hand, the pure sahariensis is itself unlikely to prove of much value to the beekeeper.
A number of claims are made for this race, such as exceptional tongue reach, great wing power and foraging ability. The question of tongue reach will be determined as soon as reliable biometric data are at hand. The sahariensis is undoubtedly an exceptionally active bee, but I cannot say whether her range of flight is as great as has been assumed. Evidence may be forthcoming later to give us some reliable information on this point. Considering the environment in its native habitat, the assumption may well prove correct.
Environment and flora
One of the very first things that struck me on arrival at Erfoud, the principal town in the Tafilalet, was the seared and ragged condition of the palm trees. They looked withered and lifeless, with none of the deep green we usually associate with the fronds of a palm, and which I had seen in the Algerian oases and in other parts of the world. These palms gave an indication of the climate and environment in which the Saharan bee ekes, out an existence. Here, on the fringe of the Grand Atlas and the Sahara, temperatures vary from near freezing in winter to nearly 120°F [49°C] during torrid spells in summer. There are sharp differences between night and day temperatures in all desert countries, but here they seemed especially harsh.
Apart from a few desert flowers, the date palm, eucalyptus, citrus, lucerne and various other legumes furnish the main sources of nectar. The legumes are cultivated in small plots in amongst the palm trees. From the condition of the colonies I was able to inspect, I could only conclude that the fight for survival here is of the most exacting kind. Where a live colony should have been, all too often we found an empty hive and traces of the erstwhile combs. The number of colonies in the oases we visited seemed small at best. It is therefore not surprising that the local beekeepers will not readily part with a queen, or still less with a whole colony.
In my 1950 Michelin map most of the regions we passed through were marked as zones d’insécurité, and modern beekeeping has not had time to penetrate in to these out-of-the-way places. (We came across only one modern hive, in the gardens of the Governor of Goulmina). The bees are kept, according to custom, in cavities in house or garden walls. The walls are constructed of sun-baked clay, and the cavities, are not very spacious — usually about 8 inches high, 10 inches deep and about 20 inches wide [20×25×50 cm]. Access to the cavity is obtained by removing a wooden cover (made either in one piece or of a number of individual boards) which is cemented in place with clay. Where the cavity is in the wall of a dwelling, access is obtained from inside the house or a room. This seems the most common way of beekeeping in these remote places. However, at Goulmina in the gardens of the Governor, I observed a number of special constructions in clay of unusual dimensions and design. The entrances were fitted with a guard to prevent the intrusion of marauders — a board about 8 inches square fitted with auger holes of a size permitting the passage of a bee, but nothing larger. This is apparently a necessary precaution, though at the time I could not perceive any evidence of the many enemies that exist in other parts of North Africa, apart from the wax moth. I had observed no such dearth of bees in the Algerian Sahara. At Laghouat for instance — an oasis no larger than those visited in Morocco — there were at least fifty colonies: of black Tellian bees, of course. Admittedly, in the Moroccan oases there is no beekeeping; bees are merely housed and left alone. Now I have a measure of experience with the Saharan bee in England, I can only ascribe the scarcity of bees in its native habitat to a combination of exceptionally adverse circumstances. Indeed, it seems difficult to believe that this race should have been able to establish itself at all in such an environment, and survive to our day.
We were unable to include in our search the oases east of the Tafilalet, but went west from Ksar-es-Souk as far as Ouarzazate. We can say that sahariensis extends from Figuig to Ouarzazate, but the actual limits of its distribution east and west of these points remain undetermined.
The black bee of Morocco
From Ouarzazate we crossed the southern Atlas by the Col du Tichka (7448 ft), passing to our left the Dj Toubkal (13 644 ft), the highest mountain in North Africa. All the way from the Tafilalet to Ouarzazate we were rarely out of sight of snow-capped peaks. Now we were in the midst of snow again, but not for long; in another 74 miles Marrakesh was reached, from where we retraced our way northwards again. The primary objective of my visit to Morocco was to gain a first-hand knowledge of the Saharan bee and its habitat, but I also look the opportunity to extend my knowledge ofthe black North African bee found in the regions west of the Atlas. It was soon apparent that the French colonists had at one time or another imported queens from Italy, and possibly from America. Even south of Marrakesh indications of these imports could be observed. In general the black indigenous bee did not materially differ from the Tellian bees as found in Algeria — with the one difference that their temper, which was bad enough in Algeria, had here developed to a savage ferocity. I came across one exception near Petitjean, at a rather remote apiary of about 300 colonies belonging to a Berber family. Their bees resembled more closely in external appearance the Carniolan bee, and could he handled with a measure of impunity. If these colonies had been in modern hives, owned by Europeans, or within a few miles of a village or town, I would have concluded this was the result of an importation, but the apiary was far from any habitation; the owners lived in Bedouin-type tents; the hives were of wickerwork and lay abandoned amongst weeds and grass. And to complete this primitive picture, there was a skull of some creature hung up to ward off evil.
On our way northward from Marrakesh we traversed almost the whole length of Morocco. Due to the exceptional rainfall during the previous winter, the country was a riot of colour. Shortly after leaving Marrakech, and the last of the palm groves, we came to a veritable ocean of yellow extending as far as the eye could see, seemingly of the common mustard (Brassica campestris). A little further on were extensive areas of coriander (Coriandrum sativum), cultivated for its fruit. Bees were working the coriander vigorously. Presently great expanses of the North African marigold came into view. Most of the northern half of Morocco west of the Atlas was like a vast bed of flowers, with a greenhouse temperature and humidity. From all I could tell, this region must offer great possibilities to an enterprising apiarist.
Dr. BARNES and I had to leave the day after our return to Sidi-Yahia. Our hosts kindly accompanied us as far as Larache, where I took the last samples or the indigenous black Moroccan bee at an Agricultural Station close by. There we had to take leave of Mr. and Mrs. HACCOUR. Without their help I would have never been able to carry out this part of my search and, as I now realize, I would have missed a great deal of invaluable information and the acquisition of breeding stock which may in due course prove of far-reaching economic importance. I therefore wish to express to them here my deep gratitude for the help extended to me.
From Gibraltar Dr. BARNES left by air for England. I made my way by road to Barcelona, where I embarked on April 17th for Istanbul.
As the Karadeniz entered the Dardanelles by the first light of day on April 23rd, my thoughts went back to the time of the First World War. The ridges to the left, for which men fought so fiercely, were covered in spring-time flowers and glowing in the warmth of the rising sun. The mainland to the right was, I knew, regarded as one of the most favoured region for beekeeping in Asia Minor.
As indicated previously, I first visited Turkey in the autumn of 1954. On that occasion I came by road through Yugoslavia and northern Greece. Eight years ago the road from Istanbul to Ankara had only a gravel surface most of the way, and for many a mile a very indifferent one at that. To my pleasant surprise I now found a first-class motor road extending the whole distance.
On my previous visit I made my way to Ankara with a great measure of uncertainty as to what I should find. I knew that to the south of the Taurus I would meet an influence of the Syrian bee and, in the Far East, of the Caucasian. But I had no inkling what would await me in the rest of Turkey. Two years previously, at the time I was in Israel, I heard of a book Studies on the honeybee and beekeeping in Turkey by the late Prof. F.S. BODENHEIMER, who for a short while resided in Ankara. The book was published in 1942. However, it was not until August 1958 that I managed to obtain a copy on loan. A little later Prof. BODENHEIMER very kindly presented me a copy. But it was undoubtedly fortunate that I did not see a copy before 1954, for otherwise I might well have written off Asia Minor as of no practical importance in so far as my search was concerned. The book contains many interesting details concerning primitive hives and methods of beekeeping. The chapter on races deals mainly with biometrics and tentative generalisations. The matters of primary importance from my point of view — the physiological characteristics and qualities of economic value — are not discussed. A few are indirectly touched upon such as colony population counts made in the vicinity of Ankara, but these unfortunately convey the impression that the Central Anatolian bee is the least prolific of any known races, and for all practical purposes of no economic value. Also the statistics cited on the extreme fluctuations in colony numbers in certain areas might well he interpreted as indicating an inherent lack of stamina or inability to withstand exceptional winters. However, as my findings have shown, none of these assumptions have been borne out by practical experience. But, as I was able to indicate in the preliminary report published in 1958, the Central Anatolian race is of surpassing economic importance.
The first trip to Asia Minor embraced the country between Ankara, Sivas. Erzincan, Bayburt, Trebizond, Samsun, Sinop, Kastamonu; and westward as far south as Eskisehir and Bursa: broadly speaking the northern half of Turkey. The journey in 1962 covered the southern half, including the more important sections explored in 1954, but excluding the eastern military zone. The exclusion of this eastern zone was in many respects a great pity, but looking back, it may have been fortunate. Road conditions in Turkey, particularly in the more remote parts, are unimaginably bad, and the ground I managed to cover would have taxed any driver’s endurance. Conditions proved nearly impossible east and north-east of Ankara in 1962: the ground had not yet dried cut in May, and the danger of getting hogged down, with no help in sight, was always present. Rivers were still in spate, and had to be forded without knowing whether the depth of water was too great to prevent a safe crossing. The memory of the hazards, and of the experiences endured, will haunt me for a long time to come. Great improvements in road conditions are however now in progress, including the construction of arterial motor roads.
According to the Encyclopædia Britannica, Asia Minor includes Turkey proper, Armenia, Cyprus and the whole of the Arabian Peninsula. However, my search was on this occasion confined to what is commonly accepted as Asia Minor, the area bounded by the frontiers of modern Turkey east of the Bosphorus and Dardanelles, covering approximately 300 000 square miles, 900 miles from east to west and 300 miles from north to south. This is not a very large expanse of country, but a number of distinctive races have their habitat within it. This may seem surprising without a knowledge of the topography and climatic variations of the area.
Topography and climate
Anatolia is ringed by mountain ranges to the north, east and south, and a minor range between the western spurs of the Pontic chain and the Lycian Taurus completes the ring. This western range, though attaining heights close to 8000 ft here and there, declines towards the Aegean and Sea of Marmora. In the far east the reverse is true, the highest altitude of 16 916 ft being attained in Mount Ararat — the traditional resting place of Noah’s ark. Within this ring of mountains is Central Anatolia, a steppe about 3000 ft above sea level.
Along the coast from Alexandretta to the Dardanelles the climate is Mediterranean, with rainy winters and dry summers. The northern seaboard, from the Bosphorus to Batum, has a heavy year-round rainfall, increasing as the Caucasus is approached. The average precipitation near the Soviet frontier is about 100 inches [250 cm]. I have a vivid memory of the night of my arrival in Trebizond at the end of August 1954, when it was raining with the intensity we are accustomed to in South Devon. In eastern Turkey, in former Armenia, the rainfall is by no means as heavy, but winters are severe and protracted. When 1 was in Erzincan in August 1954 I saw snow from the previous winter still lingering on the surrounding heights.
Central Anatolia has hot and dry summers and severe winters, with temperatures –46°F at Ankara. The rainfall is scanty, averaging 13 inches a year or less. A year-round rainfall, experienced along the Black Sea coast, is unknown in Central Anatolia, where the little that does fall comes mainly in winter and spring. Throughout the greater part of summer this section of Asia Minor presents a spectacle not greatly different from the Arabian Desert several hundred miles to the south-east. The huge salt lake, Tuz Gölü, in the heart of this plateau seems only to emphasize the barrenness of Central Anatolia.
Vegetation and flora
In the fertile, semi-tropical plains and sheltered valleys of Cilicia and Antalya, eucalyptus, orange, lemon, date palm and cotton are some of the main sources of nectar. In the rich pastures of the southern slopes of the Taurus, various kinds of clover can he found. In the higher regions, oak and fir furnish honeydew and the alpine flora nectar. On the Black Sea coast we meet a far more varied and luxuriant vegetation than along the Mediterranean, due to the much higher and year-round rainfall, though west of the promontory of Sinop the vegetation tends to be poorer and less varied, as the rainfall gets less towards the Bosphorus. Almost immediately east of Sinop, between Gerze and Alçam, there is a large expanse of jungle, with a richness of vegetation I have not seen elsewhere on my travels. The world’s best tobacco comes from the area between Bafra and Samsun. East of Samsun olive and citrus can be seen everywhere; and east of Trebizond tea is extensively grown. On the high ground behind the coastal lowlands are forests of pine, fir, cedar, oak and beech. On the slopes facing north various Ericaceae are common, among them E. arborea and ling. Here also are Rhododendron ponticum and R. luteum, from which the poisonous honey is derived.
The vegetation of western Anatolia is more similar to that of southern Europe. The area south-west of Izmit is one of the world’s most bountiful fruit-growing regions. Though it is known principally for its figs and raisins, fruits of many kinds seem to grow to perfection here. This region is also the most favourable for beekeeping in Asia Minor. Central Anatolia is, on the other hand, the least favourable: spring makes its entry suddenly, with an ephemeral burst of growth, which by midsummer has wilted, the countryside becoming barren, brown and seared. There are almost no trees in this part of Turkey, except round human habitations. The villages and towns of this upland steppe resemble an oasis in summer, but in place of the palm tree the stately poplar reaches skywards. As one would expect, the honey flow in this region is brief but abundant, followed by three to four months of heat, drought and dearth before winter returns. In the spring flush or verdure, many flowers unknown to me graced the countryside. However, judging from the honey obtained and the vegetation I saw, I conclude that the primary sources of nectar are various species of thistle.
To the east of the central plateau, towards the Armenian highlands, the ground rises steadily with a corresponding increase in rainfall and in the severity of the climate. There is a gradual transition in the vegetation too: beyond Sivas green pastures can be found even in late summer. The honey here is similar to that derived in England from white clover, except that the density is higher. At Bayburt, at 5000 ft, the vegetation seems poor and sparse; nevertheless I came across some modern hives with two Langstroth supers solid with honey. Kars, close to the Soviet frontier, is reputed to be one of the best honey-producing vilayets; but here, as in many other areas with extensive forests, honeydew is the main source.
Asia Minor has since ancient times been known for its poisonous honey, derived from the violet-flowering Rhododendron ponticum and yellow azalea, more correctly R. luteum. These two shrubs grow wild en masse only on the Black Sea coast of Turkey, which is their native habitat. The general symptoms of poisoning are nausea, dizziness, headache, blurring of vision and temporary blindness, the severity depending on individual susceptibility and on the amount of poison ingested. Losses of bees have recently been reported in parts of Scotland where rhododendron are grown extensively, but on my visits to the Black Sea coast of Turkey I have never heard of loss of bees from this source.
At the Beekeeping Institute at Ankara I was shown a list of the nectar-bearing flora of Turkey. Included in this list were such well known sources as lime, acacia and chestnut trees, which I observed now and again, but never in sufficient numbers to constitute a source of any importance. To both my guides beekeeping was an unfamiliar subject, and the language difficulty proved an additional handicap. However, from the information gathered, I was left in no doubt that the diversity of flora offers great possibilities to the beekeeper in Asia Minor.
Modern and primitive beekeeping
Agriculture is the main source of revenue in Turkey, and the main occupation of most of its people. Great strides have been made in raising the standard of every branch of agriculture since the end of the Ottoman Empire. Every vilayet now has a Director of Agriculture, and in many there is a College of Agriculture where both boys and girls are given free tuition. Beekeeping is included, and in the grounds of these colleges I found almost invariably a large modern apiary: one also had equipment for making comb foundation. There are also experimental centres and nurseries throughout the country, from which the enterprising farmer, fruit-grower or poultry-keeper is supplied high-class stock. Almost of these centres beekeeping is represented too, but the most important centre for all matters relating to apiculture is the Bee Institute already mentioned: Türkiye Aracilik Enstitüsü, Umam Müdürlügü, Ankara. A station for raising queens had been established here since my visit in 1954, and as far as I know it is the only place in Turkey where queen rearing is carried out on modern lines.
The Ministry of Agriculture periodically issues statistics which include the numbers of colonies kept in modern and primitive hives in each vilayet, but the figures given cannot be very exact. Large fluctuations in the number of colonies often occur, due to drought in Central Anatolia or to other exceptionally adverse conditions in the eastern sections of the country. It is generally assumed that the average number of colonies exceeds one million of which most are in primitive hives at present.
In no country I visited have I observed such a variety of primitive hives. In the northern half of Turkey, or wherever timber is abundant, oblong wooden hives about 3 ft ×10×8 inches [1 m ×25×20 cm] are in common use. They have a removable cover at the back, or more often a detachable section on top, for taking the honey at the end of the season. Log hives are in use, also logs split in half and hollowed out with a chisel. To get at the honey, the upper half is lifted off with the combs attached. Cylindrical hives in wickerwork appear more common in the southern parts of Asia Minor, but I have seen them here and there in the northern sections. All these hives, with few exceptions, were used in a horizontal position. Occasionally I saw box hives in open sheds stacked in tiers one on top of the other, but more usually they are set out singly. Near Isparta I came across wickerwork hives of about the size and shape of our skeps, but pointed and externally covered with clay. Many odd patterns can also be found upon occasion. Clay pipes, used generally in Syria and the other Arab countries, and in Cyprus, appear to be uncommon in Asia Minor.
Of modern hives, the Langstroth size and pattern are used almost exclusively, though at Aydin I came across an apiary with hives of an unusual size, fitted with twelve frames about 10×10 inches, set parallel to the entrance. The hives were expertly made and well kept, and everything indicated that the owner was a keen beekeeper. Near Trebizond I found to my amazement one of the latest fads, a hive fitted with tapering frames as advocated by a French inventor about fifteen years ago. Rather surprisingly, at a number of the Agricultural Colleges the hives were of an English pattern with gabled roofs, lifts with splints, porch and alighting board, and legs. How this pattern found its way to Asia Minor I was unable to discover.
The modern hive has not taken on in Turkey as quickly as in many other parts of the world, although the Ministry of Agriculture has spared no effort to get it adopted everywhere. Apparently the authorities did not at first appreciate that a modern hive is of no value without comb foundation and a honey extractor. On my first visit I observed a great deal of modern equipment in a derelict condition. Where it was in use, I was often confronted by a hopeless tangle of combs, built in any way the bees fancied. One beekeeper, appreciating the need for foundation, fitted the frames with plain sheets of wax, seemingly formed by pouring liquid wax on a slab of stone. It was not surprising therefore that a reversion to the primitive hive took place, for the old-time beekeepers knew how to deal with a colony in it, and how to take the honey at the end of the season. However, on my last visit I was pleased to note everywhere that modern hives were fitted with comb foundation. Great progress during the intervening eight years was apparent on all sides.
The honeybees of Asia Minor
As we have seen, the Anatolian Peninsula presents every type of topographical variation. The climate ranges from sub-tropical to arid upland steppe and near arctic conditions, all within a relatively small compass. In such a wide variety of conditions one would expect a corresponding variation in the indigenous honeybees. This is in fact the case. Whilst we shall have to await the results of the biometric studies, made on the samples I have been able to collect on these journeys, before final classification is possible, I can indicate in general terms the races I have found, and some of their qualities and physiological characteristics.
Up to now there have been no importations of any consequence into Asia Minor. At the Agricultural Institute at Bursa I was told that at one time a number of experimental importations of Italian queens were made, but that the queens of foreign origin produced bad-tempered offspring when mated to native drones. In view of the unsatisfactory results obtained, the importations were discontinued. Moreover, as modern beekeeping is not as yet practised very extensively, it may be assumed that the bees now found have not been affected by cross-breeding and therefore embody the results of environment and of adjustments effected by Nature from time immemorial. Migratory beekeeping, which would have a bearing on this question, is not widely practised except in the western sectors adjoining the Aegean, where also the greatest concentration of colonies is found.
In the most southerly point of Turkey, at Antakya — the Antioch of ancient times — the bees do not differ from A. mellifera var. syriaca. This is also true at Gaziantep. However, at Mersin, although the bees are still extremely aggressive, they appear to me larger and more prolific, and by no means identical in external appearances to the pure syriaca. These differences have been confirmed in the crosses we have at present in our apiaries. Further to the north-east, at Malatya, the differences (apart from colour) are still more pronounced. This deep orange colour is found as far north as Erzincan, but I am unable to say how far eastward it extends. It is not found north of the Taurus. At Gümüsane, some 50 miles due north of Erzincan, we come to a pure black bee, which seems to me distinct from the Caucasian we already know. It may appear surprising that within such a short distance from Erzincan a race of bees should be found so different in external appearances as well as behaviour. These two places are however separated by a high mountain barrier, impossible for bees to cross. At Bayburt, 50 miles east of Gümüsane, situated at 5000 ft on the fringe of Armenian plateau, I came across what appeared to me a hybrid. On the Black Sea coast, the dark bee extends westward as far as Samsun. The range of distribution east of Trebizond remains undetermined. We have a few first-crosses of this black Pontic race in our apiaries at present, and have found them prolific, good foragers, but given to excessive swarming. This cross is different in many ways from any of the first-cross Caucasians we have up to now tried out.
We have at the present time pure and first-cross queens under test and observation from places ranging from Mersin in the south to Sinop in the north, and from the furthermost eastern sections of Asia Minor to the most westerly parts — including specimens from the European section of Turkey. But these tests have so far extended over one season only and, unfortunately, over a season which proved a complete failure, and followed the severest recorded winter in this part of the world since 1740. Therefore, apart from temper, fecundity, swarming tendency, thrift, wintering ability and a few other characteristics, it has not yet been possible to form an estimate of their relative honey-gathering ability. On the other hand, no better opportunity could have presented itself to test the wintering ability of these races and crosses than the arctic winter of 1962-63. With few exceptions the bees of Asia Minor withstood this test supremely well, both the pure and crossbred stock.
Whilst it has not yet been possible to assess the economic value of the importations made in 1962, the available evidence suggests that we shall not find a bee superior to that of Central Anatolia. The first importations of this race reached us in 1955 (A442), and I have therefore been able to form a fairly reliable estimate of its economic value.
The Central Anatolian bee
From its first existence the honeybee has been forced to adjust itself to its immediate environment or perish. The indigenous bee of any particular region reflects in its characteristics the qualities needed for survival in that region. There is perhaps no more classical example than the native bee of Central Anatolia — A. mellifera var. anatolica.
I have already given an outline of the exceptional climate in the upland steppe of Central Anatolia; this in turn governs the flora on which the bee depends for its existence. In the Armenian highlands the winters are admittedly more severe and last longer, but the general conditions are not as exacting as in Central Anatolia — or for that matter anywhere else in Asia Minor.
The honeybee of Central Anatolia is of unimpressive appearance. She is small, resembling the Cyprian in size, but has none of the glamour or uniformity in colour of that race. The colour of the Anatolian bee can best be described as a smudgy orange, turning to brown on the posterior dorsal and ventral segments. The scutellum is usually dark orange. The queens have a dark crescent-shaped rim on each dorsal segment — a characteristic of all Eastern races — but here they are browny-black, and in place of the yellow or light orange we have a dark orange. But beneath this sombre exterior are hidden qualities of incomparable economic value.
The Anatolian tends to extremes in both its good and bad qualities. Fortunately, she has few undesirable characteristics, the most serious of them being her disposition to build brace-comb beyond all reason. This is of no great consequence in primitive beekeeping with fixed combs, but an excess of brace-comb renders null and void the essential advantage of a modern hive. The Anatolian in addition uses propolis freely, which accentuates the drawbacks of the brace-comb. However, both these defects are largely mitigated, if not eliminated, when queens of this race are crossed with a good strain of Italian or possibly Carniolan. Indeed, it is only when suitably crossed — either in a first or second cross — that most beekeepers can hope to secure the best economic results from the Anatolian bee.
As for her good qualities, I believe I can state in all truth, that the Anatolian stands beyond comparison — certainly in foraging powers, thrift and wintering abilities. When crossed, she is extremely prolific. By mid-June a twelve-frame Modified Dadant brood chamber will usually be found chock-a-block with brood and honey. However, she does not breed to excess out of season, as so many other races are disposed to do. She is slow in building up in spring; she will not make a determined effort at extending her brood nest before settled weather has set in, but will then outstrip every other race. She does not squander precious stores and energy in premature and futile endeavours, in changeable and unfavourable early spring weather. After the main honey flow, and in times of dearth, she contrives to husband her reserves of stores and energy in an uncanny way. I regard the thrift of the Anatolian — particularly in our uncertain climatic conditions and honey flows — as one of her most valuable economic qualities, a quality which is sadly lacking in so many of our present-day strains, which breed to excess in times of dearth. Experience has shown that the Anatolian bee will take care of herself in times of dearth and in seasons of failure, when others die of starvation.
I have stressed the great fecundity and breeding powers of this race. I would however point out that, were it deemed desirable, one could without much difficulty develop a strain by selection which would accommodate itself readily to a single brood-chamber of British Standard dimensions.
Though so prolific when crossed, the Anatolian is not given to swarming, as our experience has demonstrated. She is also very good tempered, bearing manipulation with the greatest calm and composure, although she definitely resents interference in cold weather and late in the evening. Moreover, with regard to temper, there appears to be a considerable variation in strains, as I could verify myself when in Turkey. But the Anatolian is no exception in this respect; there is to my knowledge no race which does not show up a difference in temper between one strain and another. When unsuitably crossed, or when mated at random to drones of unknown origin, bad temper will result in almost any strain or race.
As already indicated, the Anatolian is endowed with an inexhaustible capacity for work — a faculty which enables her to turn her other good qualities into something of concrete value. Indeed, this bee embodies the highest development of industry and honey-gathering ability of any race known to me. In addition, we have here a bee that not only does extremely well in a good season, but one that does exceptionally well in indifferent and poor seasons. This is of far greater consequence and practical importance than a surpassing performance in an occasional really good season. The ability to do well even in the poorest of summers was clearly demonstrated during the disastrous season of 1963. On the other hand, in the exceptionally good season of 1959, when our average honey yield amounted to 169½ lb. per colony, the Anatolian crosses far exceeded this figure, and fulfilled our expectations in every way.
The Anatolian possesses many qualities and characteristics which may bewilder those who are unacquainted with the peculiarities of the race. For instance, Anatolian queens will usually take up to a week longer before commencing to lay after mating. This peculiarity has seemingly nothing to do with the weather, for the same delay would occur when under ideal mating conditions. On the other hand, I have found that 25% of the queens will give a full four years’ service, with unimpaired energy and fecundity, even in a normal honey-producing colony. It may be assumed that this exceptional longevity — which is most remarkable considering the great fecundity of the queens — is in some measure transmitted to the worker progeny. The extraordinary strength of the colonies, in relation to the actual fecundity of the queens, could not well be explained otherwise.
I wish to emphasize once more: the pure Anatolian cannot be relied on for maximum performance. It is only when suitably crossed that the full economic potentialities of the race come to the fore. Furthermore, as no selection has been done in its homeland up to now, queens of the best stock are not readily obtainable. But no doubt, in view of the great progress now under way in Turkey, the prospects of obtaining select breeding stock should materially improve.
Whilst I have had the good fortune to discover in the Central Anatolian bee a race of surpassing economic value, the two journeys to Asia Minor were accompanied by untold vicissitudes and difficulties. I was also compelled to cut short the programme in 1962, due to an accident. When travelling beside the shores of Lake Egridir a tyre burst — though I had special heavy-duty tyres fitted as a safeguard against such an occurrence. The car plunged down the high embankment and overturned on a heap of rubble. Fortunately, the damage was mainly superficial. With the arrival of help, the car was put back on the road and we were able to proceed to the next village. For the essential repairs I had to wait until I reached Salonika some weeks later.
I desire to express my appreciation and thanks to the Turkish Ministry of Agriculture for the help rendered, and also to the two officials Mr. Sevki Akalin, who accompanied me in 1954, and Mr. Karaman, who took over this task in 1962. I also wish to express my sincere thanks to the British Embassy, as well as to the American Embassy, for the invaluable help extended to me.
Bee World 45(2) 1964 p104-118
Northern Greece and the Aegean Isles
After completing my task as best as I could in Asia Minor, I proceeded via Edirne and Kavalla to Salonika, where the repairs to the car necessitated a week’s stay. I availed myself of this opportunity to make a further exploration of the Greek section of Macedonia. The authorities at the American Farm Institute kindly provided the necessary facilities. My stay in Salonika coincided with the annual conference of the Greek beekeeping instructors, held at this Institute. Presiding at the conference was Mr. Soulakiotis, head of the beekeeping section of the Ministry of Agriculture, who had accompanied me on one of the voyages to the Aegean Islands in 1954. On my arrival, he very kindly at once offered his services again. The instructors were planning a trip to the Isle of Thasos, and M. Soulakiotis invited me to join the party, but I could not well accept, as it would have taken up more of my time than I could afford.
It was in 1952 that I sent the first consignment of Greek queens to England. With the assistance of the American Farm Institute I was able to procure a further supply from the Chalkidiki Peninsula. The original stock imported in 1952 gave us extremely good results, and the intervening years have in no way diminished my first appreciation of the value of this race. Indeed I consider this as one of the most valuable races we have. I was therefore very glad of this opportunity to procure a new supply of breeding stock.
In 1952, when I explored the mainland of Greece and the Peloponnesus, I included a visit to Crete. It was then already realized that my search would not be complete without exploring some of the Aegean Isles — notwithstanding the many difficulties a visit to these more remote islands would entail. The Aegean comprises 483 islands, and it was dear at the outset that only a few could be visited. Indeed many of the islands are barren, or the vegetation so scanty as to preclude the necessary subsistence for bees. On the other hand there are islands, such as Thasos, Icaria and Samos, with an exceptionally high honeybee population. I was able to include these islands in my programme in the autumn of 1954, after my first visit to Asia Minor.
The Aegean is in many respects a veritable fairyland, but a voyage to the islands can — except on luxury tourist boats — prove a most unpleasant experience. The small steamers, that ply between the islands carrying freight and passengers, are often overloaded with cattle, domestic animals, fish and human beings to the point of suffocation. When, as is often the case, the treacherous currents in the narrow straits contribute their part to the discomfort of the passengers, the result defies description.
My first objective was the island of Ios, near the centre of a group known as the Cyclades. It was fairly certain that the bees on the other islands would not be substantially different. Another voyage to the Southern Sporades included Samos and Ikaria. The most southerly islands of this group were purposely avoided, because of the likelihood of importations during the Italian occupation. I intended to visit the most northerly island of the Aegean, Thasos renowned for its honey and beekeeping, but a fortunate circumstance made this unnecessary.
The island of Ios comprises about 46 square miles, and has a population of approximately 7000. According to tradition Homer was buried there. At the time of my visit the bee population numbered about 3000 colonies, of which 550 were in modern hives. Ios is very mountainous, and all the hives were at the heather, on the heights of the island. As there are no roads, to get to the bees we had to avail ourselves of donkeys or mules, the only means of transport at hand. This was a slow and arduous way of getting about. However, the hives, both modern and primitive, were carried up by the same means. A donkey carries four primitive hives, the beekeeper trudging along on foot with one on his shoulder and another tied to his hack. These poor islanders spare no effort, and a more arduous mode of transportation could hardly be visualized.
We had to set out from our hostel by the quayside before daybreak. The party comprised nine persons and most of the way we had to ride in single file along a treacherous track. As dawn broke I observed at first a great variety of subtropical vegetation. Then at higher altitudes I saw more and more heather. Though Erica verticillata was most common, I could observe of her varieties previously unknown to me; unfortunately, no one in the party could give me their botanical name. Gradually a group of hives came into view here and there, sheltered in a hollow or the lee of a rock, but never more than ten to twenty in one place.
There was no doubt, the bees here belonged to the same race as that found on the mainland of Greece. Very strangely, I could observe the same phenomenon here as in Crete, namely, an occasional colony displaying a stinging propensity rivalling that of some Oriental races. The majority of colonies were in every way as good tempered as those of the mainland, where I never met an instance of this extreme irritability. Such isolated manifestations of extreme bad temper are difficult to explain, for there were no visible indications that this was the result of an importation from the Near East.
We had to remain on Ios for two days until the arrival of the next boat. We then proceeded to Sikinos, Pholegandros, Santorin — the black pearl of the Aegean — and to Anaphi, the most southerly isle of the Cyclades. Anaphi is renowned for its thyme honey, and whilst our boat was at anchor in the roadstead, the evening breeze was laden with the heavy scent of the thyme. On our return voyage to Piraeus we passed Amorgos, Naxos, Mikonos, and Syra, where we called on the outward passage, and on this occasion, for a brief interview with the Director of Agriculture in charge of the whole of the Cyclades.
I had only a short stay at Athens, until the Ministry of Agriculture completed the necessary arrangements for my visit to Samos. Samos is renowned in many ways, perhaps foremost for its muscatel. It is a highly fertile island of about 180 square miles, with a population of 67 500. There are 4855 colonies of bees, of which 3480 are in primitive hives. The next largest island, Ikaria, though only about half the size of Samos, has 8240 colonies according to the figures submitted to me by the Director of Agriculture at the time I called. Both Samos and Ikaria are under the jurisdiction of the Director at Vathy Samos.
According to these figures the colony density on Ikaria is about 91 hives per square mile, and probably the highest in the world. Thasos, in the northern Aegean, which is about one-third larger has 10 000 colonies and is commonly referred to as the „Bee Island“. On both these islands honeydew, derived from a pine, Pinus halepensis, constitutes the main crop. However, on Ikaria Erica verticillata seems of similar importance. As far as I could ascertain, Ikaria and Thasos, with Chalkidiki — the Peninsula on the northern shores of the Aegean — are the most important beekeeping centres of Greece, and areas where the production of honey forms the sole means of livelihood of many beekeepers.
The bees of Samos and Ikaria are apparently of western Anatolian stock. The nearest point of Samos is barely one mile from the shores of Asia Minor, and Samos and Ikaria lie eleven miles apart. When on my way from Aydin to Ephesus in 1962, Samos was clearly visible from the main road some miles inland.
As already indicated, there was no need for me to visit Thasos. When en route from Istanbul to Salonika a few weeks earlier, I had an opportunity to visit Philippi, a few miles off the main road between Kavalla and Salonika. I felt I ought not to miss this chance to visit the site where St Paul founded the first Christian community on European soil — apart from the other historic associations of Philippi. So when I turned off from the main road to Salonika, my thoughts were in the past. But before reaching Philippi, I observed on the plain to the left of the road an enormous array of wickerwork hives, lined up row upon row. I counted four hundred but there were many more. The regular layout was dearly the handiwork of a beekeeper who took great pride in his calling. The hives were all of one pattern and of enormous capacity: the apiary was the work of an exceptionally competent beekeeper, owning an unusually prolific bee.
Apart from their great capacity, these hives had another interesting feature. The vertical staves of the wickerwork projected a full two inches at the bottom, and therefore permitted the bees‘ entry and departure in every direction ad libitum, and an amount of ventilation far in excess to what is usually considered necessary. This seemed all the more striking, for the beekeepers in Greece usually keep their hives‘ entrances contracted far more than is customary here in England.
I was informed that these hives came from the Isle of Thasos. They were brought here at this time of year, when there was nothing for the bees to gather on the island, whereas here on the mainland they were able to eke out an existence. The large number of colonies on one site, their excellent condition and the exceptional capacity of the hives, conveyed to me all the information I required concerning the bees and beekeeping on this island.
From these details it will be appreciated that beekeeping on the islands of the Aegean is a factor of major economic importance. Although the bees on some of the islands may not possess any special value for breeding purposes, their productive and economic value cannot be questioned. No one can make a livelihood with bees of inferior stock — particularly where, as is usual here, primitive beekeeping is the rule rather than the exception.
It is generally conceded that the most typical forms of A. mellifera var. carnica are found in Upper Carniola and the two adjoining Provinces of Carinthia and Styria. In the English-speaking countries this race is commonly known as the Carniolan, for the first importations — indeed most of the importations up to 1940 — came from Upper Carniola. However, the geographical distribution of the race extends far beyond the three Provinces named. As far as we know at present, it extends to the whole of Yugoslavia, Hungary, Rumania, Bulgaria and the greater part of Austria. But precise details are lacking. The Greek bee, A. mellifera var. cecropia, is doubtless a sub-variety of carnica. In appearance the two races do not differ, but there are clear and decided differences in their physiological characteristics. As far as I have been able to ascertain, the hees of northern Greece, particularly those of the Chalkidiki Peninsula and the narrow strip of country between the Aegean and Rhodope mountain range, including both Greek and Turkish Thrace, owe their economic superiority to an influence derived from the Anatolian bee. How far the Anatolian influence extends into Bulgaria, into the plain of the Maritsa, we do not know. There are undoubtedly considerable variations the further we get away from the main centres of the habitat of carnica. In fact even within the confines of Yugoslavia considerable variation is found — though externally the bees differ little or not at all from carnica as generally accepted.
I made an extended trip through Bosnia, Herzegovina, Montenegro and south-western Serbia, and found the bees of these areas more prolific and less given to swarming than the true carnica. However, they are more disposed to propolize, and were apparently also more susceptible to nosema. Indeed this susceptibility was so highly developed that we could do very little with these strains here in England.
References appear now and again in apicultural literature concerning a sub-variety of carnica found in the Banat — a region situated where the frontiers of Yugoslavia, Hungary and Rumania meet. This bee attracted attention already more than a hundred years ago. However, most of the references I have been able to trace confine themselves to a bare statement of the existence of the race, and precise details of its characteristics and economic value have hitherto eluded me. That this bee of the Banat should have attracted special attention more than a hundred years ago seemed to justify further investigation, but no opportunity presented itself until 1962, on my way back from Asia Minor. Arrangements to carry out this project were made long in advance with the Secretary of the Yugoslav Beekeepers‘ Association, M. Rade Zivanovic, who some years ago spent a short time at Buckfast with another leading member of his Association, whilst on a business visit to England.
The Banat is situated to the south-east of the present Hungarian frontier, enclosed by the Danube to the south, the river Moros on the north, the Theiss on the west and the Transylvanian Alps on the east. During the Turkish occupation, from 1512 to 1718, the land was allowed to go derelict, but under Maria Theresa immigrants from western Europe were encouraged to settle and repopulate it. Evidence of this recolonization are still visible everywhere. However, the Banat is no longer an integral unit; one-third of its area now belongs to Yugoslavia, and the rest to Rumania.
I had often heard of the extensive acacia forests of this region, and as I travelled north from Skoplje I observed the acacia in bloom everywhere. Hence on my arrival in Belgrade I was not surprised to find that the hives had been moved east to the acacia woods close to the Rumanian frontier. The way to these forests led through a hopeless country for motor vehicles. Now and again it seemed as if our efforts to reach our objective were doomed to failure. Here and there we passed mounds of earth which at one time marked the frontier between the Christian and Mohammedan Empires. At one point we had to follow a gully bordered by a high, almost vertical bank of clay to the north. To my amazement this bank harboured hundreds of nests of Merops superciliosus — a bee-eater more commonly found in the countries adjoining the Mediterranean. Great flocks of these lovely birds disported themselves in the neighbourhood.
These extensive acacia forests are confined to areas of poor sandy soil, which could not be utilized to good purpose in any other way. Maria Theresa had them afforested with acacia — one of the few plants that would thrive there. Beekeepers are now the beneficiaries of the undertaking initiated by the Empress. It was at once apparent on our arrival that the honey flow was at an end: with every breath of wind the faded blossoms tumbled off the trees like snow. But the bees had done well. There was an atmosphere of prosperity in the clearings in which the hives were placed.
I was given complete liberty to examine any colony I pleased. As the hives were full of honey, such examinations were not easy, but they were facilitated by the remarkable docility of the bees, which made it possible to perform the work without a veil. Breeding had been severely restricted by the heavy flow, and I could not observe any signs of swarming. One thing struck me at once: the Banat bee showed very much more colour on the first three dorsal segments than I had hitherto observed in any of the carnica strains. The colour was not a clear yellow as found in the Italian, but a tawny yellow or rust-brown usually associated with the primary race. However, in the true carnica the rust-brown shows up only now and again, and never to the same extent as in the Banat bee. There is actually a fairly wide variation in the colour of the Banat bee, and in some it might be described as yellow. The scutellum of the workers varies from yellow to brown; the overhair is light brown, and the tomenta grey with a tinge of yellow.
We do not know how this sub-variety originated. As already stated the Banat bee was regarded as a distinct race long before any large-scale interchange of queens took place from one distant region to another. Indeed the modern hive had only just been invented, and until then an exchange of queens was hardly a practical possibility. The settlers of Maria Theresa’s time came from parts of Europe where none but the common black bee was known. This bee seems to be to all intents and purposes a freak of Nature — brought about by a chance combination of factors that form part of the genetic make-up of carnica, and which manifest themselves spasmodically in the rust-brown markings that cause so much concern to the present-day breeder, who aims at perfect uniformity. The fact that this bee has been able to assert and maintain its distinctiveness, in the heart of the habitat of its parent race, is surely a remarkable phenomenon.
Apart from colour, we have no precise information yet as to the characteristics in which this variety differs from the true carnica. We are in possession of a number of pure Banat queens, but there has not been enough time to draw any conclusions as to the relative merits of this sub-variety and the carnica we know.
I have to express my gratitude to the President and Secretary of the Yugoslav Beekeepers‘ Association, through whose help it was possible to carry out this part of my search.
On leaving Belgrade I made my way back to England, where I arrived at the end of June. I was thus able to assist in the main work of the season, and to complete the final preparations for the journey to Egypt in the autumn.
It was a typical cold, damp and misty October morning when I set out on the first stage of my journey to Egypt. But at Zurich it was warm and sunny — one of those charming autumn days so characteristic of this part of Switzerland. By 9:30 that evening the lights of Alexandria became visible: when we landed the temperature was 81°F [27°C].
A group of officials from the Ministry of Agriculture and Cairo University, headed by Dr. Salah Rashad, welcomed me at the foot of the steps from the plane, and within a short time I was in Cairo.
Before setting out for Egypt, some last-minute difficulties threatened to upset t he long-planned arrangements. Prof. A.K. Wafa, who undertook all the preparations, and who had keenly looked forward to my coming, suddenly fell ill. He had to come to London for treatment, and I met him there the day before I left England. However, Dr. Salah Rashad of Cairo University, and Dr. Mohamed Mahmood of the Ministry of Agriculture, jointly took over and carried out the arrangements which Prof. Wafa set on foot. At the conclusion of my visit to Egypt, in fact the day before I left, Prof. Wafa returned to Cairo and was able to join in the farewell celebrations organized by Dr. Rashad.
When Egypt is mentioned in apicultural circles, a picture is conjured up of the migratory beekeeping carried out on the Nile in the time of the Pharaohs. From all we know, it may be safely assumed that beekeeping played an important part in the life of the people of the Nile Valley from time immemorial.
Climate and environmental conditions
We know all too well that wherever beekeeping is practised, success and failure revolve round a nicely balanced adjustment of sunshine, warmth and moisture. In the Nile Valley these essentials are virtually never absent. Admittedly, sunshine and warmth vary in degree, but they can be relied upon as surely as night follows day. The needed moisture is here not dependent on the fitful vagaries of wind and rain, but on the life-giving waters of the Nile. Of winter as we know it, there is none. The nights can be fresh from mid-November to mid-February, but the temperature rarely if ever drops to freezing point. Temperatures are high in summer, reaching up to 110°F [43°C] at Cairo and even higher further south. However, the extreme heat is tempered by an almost constant wind from the north throughout the year, without which the climate would be very trying indeed.
Of the total area comprising Egypt, 96.5 % is barren country. Excluding the larger oases, all agriculture and beekeeping is confined to the Nile Valley and Delta. The great triangular area of the Delta, the most fertile region of Egypt, extends 100 miles from south to north and to a width of 155 miles along the sea from Alexandria to Port Said. The rich alluvial soil varies here in depth from 55 to 70 ft. Every square yard of this area is under intensive cultivation, as is also all the arable land within the confines of the Nile Valley. The width of the Valley varies from 6 to 16 miles. Towards the far south the width declines to 1 or 2 miles, and on approaching the Sudan all vegetation ceases. All along the Valley there is a sharp line of demarcation on both sides between the cultivated ground and the fringe of the barren regions.
Great efforts are in progress to bring limited sections of the desert under cultivation, particularly within the confines of Kharga and Dakhla oases, situated far south in the Libyan Desert — now referred to as the New Valley. Smaller schemes are under way in the Wadi Natroun and at Mariout between the Nile Valley and the desert road from Cairo to Alexandria. Areas, which a few years ago were destitute of vegetation, are now producing crops of many kinds, as I could witness myself. Bees and beekeeping closely follow on the heels of these new ventures.
Unlike other countries, Egypt does not possess a wild flora of value to the honeybee. Nor are there any woods or forests, as we know them. Apart from the date palm, eucalyptus and citrus, few trees of any importance to bees are found. The main nectar-bearing sources are cultivated crops of one kind or another. The date palm, the most common tree in Egypt, is of considerable value as a source of nectar, and on occasion, when the fruit is fully ripe, bees will collect from dates an almost black syrup, of which I was shown a sample at the Ministry of Agriculture. Eucalyptus trees border the main roads everywhere. But the orange blossom is doubtless one of the most valuable sources of nectar. In Spain, Greece, Turkey and Palestine the orange groves are confined to certain limited areas, but here they are dotted about the whole of the Delta and Nile Valley, and also in the larger oases.
Of the cultivated crops, Egyptian clover (Trifolium alexandrinum) colloquially known as bersim, forms one of the primary sources of nectar. This clover constitutes the main fodder crop for cattle and is therefore grown everywhere. Cotton is another major source, which is again grown everywhere. Indeed, one-third of the total arable land in Egypt is devoted to the cultivation of cotton. According to the information given to me, there is a substantial difference in the amount of nectar secreted between the various varieties of cotton, short-fibre cotton secreting most abundantly. Broad beans (Vicia faba) are extensively grown and play an important role in beekeeping — not as a source of surplus but for building up the colonies. Beans commence to flower about mid-December and it is on the nectar derived from this source that colonies build up for the main honey flows. Whilst almond, apricot and peaches provide subsidiary help, apples, pears, plum and cherries are not grown extensively in Egypt; on the other hand, many kinds of sub-tropical fruit develop to perfection here, and no doubt some of these are of limited value to the honeybee. Maize, rice and sugar cane are grown extensively, but these are of no value as sources of nectar.
In many parts of the world, when a particular nectar-bearing source is under consideration, we automatically qualify its value according to its dependence on the right type of weather. No such qualification is called for in Egypt, except for the period of the khamsin — the hot, dry, sand-laden winds of the spring months coming from the south. When these prevail, the sun is obscured, and their fiery breath can wilt the most promising display of blossom in the matter of a few hours.
Beekeeping new and old
I have been unable to ascertain when and by whom modern beekeeping was first introduced to Egypt. Modern hives were apparently found here and there in small numbers at the turn of the century. However, I believe it was the late Dr. A.Z. Abushady, on his return to Egypt in 1926, who — with his habitual drive and enthusiasm for modern developments — initiated the real break with the traditional ways of beekeeping. In a garden of a suburb of Cairo, I was shown English hives containing specimens of the aluminium comb foundation invented by Dr. Abushady during his stay in England. At an early stage the Langstroth hive was adopted, and this is now used exclusively, with a few minor modifications here and there.
Great progress can be discerned in Egypt in every sphere of endeavour, including the advancement of modern beekeeping. The Ministry of Agriculture has even been considering the possibility of enforcing the universal use of modern hives throughout the country. But it is realized that the time for such a step has not yet come. Nevertheless, in view of the great difference in the amount of honey obtained, the modern hive will in due course inevitably supplant the old-time methods. I have it on good authority that the yields from modern hives average 60 lb. [27,3 kg] and from the primitive hives 6 lb.
Throughout the whole of Egypt I saw only one kind of primitive hive, of the sun-baked day cylindrical pattern. These hives vary a little in size, but are usually about 46 inches long and 8 inches in diameter internally. The walls are about 1½ inches thick, and therefore of substantial construction and weight. However, there is no migratory beekeeping, and they are handled but once when placed in their permanent position in a stack. These hives are never used singly, but always in stacks, tiered one on top of each other, seven to ten high. When in their permanent position, the spaces between the tiers are filled with clay at both ends. A disc of sun-baked clay, fitted to the hack and front of each cylinder, completes the individual hive. The disc in front is provided with a small aperture for an entrance, which is at the top, not at the bottom as is commonly the custom in other countries. These stacks of hives convey the appearance of gigantic blocks of clay, only the outline of the individual cylinders showing at the front and back. In the Delta one can often see two or more of these stacks set one behind the other, but with an adequate working space between, and two to three hundred hives in each stack. On the other hand, depending on the space available, single stacks extending up to 150 ft. in length are not uncommon. In one such stack I counted no less than 1200 hives. In Upper Egypt smaller stacks are more usual, with 150–200 hives.
The silt carried down by the Nile turns extremely hard when baked in the sun. For material for making the primitive hives, the Egyptian beekeeper uses the alluvial soil he finds wherever he may be, and he mixes this with finely cut straw. The hives cost him nothing, apart from the time and effort needed to fashion the cylinders. Moreover, these clay hives, stacked in the way they are, ensure the most efficient protection against the extreme heat and fierce rays of the sun. In Egypt modern apiaries must be provided with an overhead shelter or shade of some other kind. It would be inviting disaster to expose modern hives to direct sunshine.
Special tools are used with these primitive hives, each designed to facilitate a particular operation. An iron tool, resembling a miniature sickle of stout construction, is used for prising open the cover-plates. A number of instruments made of steel, about 4 feet long and furnished with a hooped handle to give the necessary control and purchase, are also used. One has a large bowl fitted to the far end, and this is used for hiving swarms; the end of another is shaped like a double-edged sword, for cutting free the combs when the honey is taken; a third is fitted with a hook or prongs, for withdrawing the honey combs from the cylinders. The interior of the hives is lit up when necessary, with the aid of a mirror. To drive the bees into the forward section, and to keep them in subjection whilst the work is in progress, a whiff of smoke is applied now and again from a smouldering cake of dried camel dung.
For all we know, this method of beekeeping may date hack to the time before recorded history. But one thing seems evident: the hives used by the ancient Egyptians on their migratory expeditions up and down the Nile could not have been made of clay. The weight and near impossibility of handling such hives seems to preclude their use in this manner.
The present-day status of beekeeping
Beekeeping has always played an important role in the life of the people of the Nile Valley. That this is so at the present time no one will question. I was in fact greatly surprised at the extent and importance attached to beekeeping in modern Egypt. No precise figures are available as to the number of colonies, but reliable estimates place them at 1 500 000. Apiaries of over 1000 colonies are common. On the outskirts of Damanhur there is a modern apiary of 400 colonies. In the Province of Tanta there are 21 000 modern hives and 107 000 primitive ones. Several factories specialize in the manufacture of modern hives, and the appliances required by modern beekeepers, including comb foundation. The export of honey is engaging the attention of the Government.
In several respects Egypt is ahead of many other countries. The overriding importance of reliable breeding stock is here fully appreciated. Bee-breeding stations play a vital role in the advancement of apiculture. A number of them are operated by the Ministry of Agriculture and others by private enterprise. One such station, owned by the Government, is at Fayum near the southern shore of Birket Qaroun. Here pure Italians are bred in complete isolation. Another in the north, on a peninsula jutting into Lake Mansala, west of Port Said, is operated on a co-operative basis and is reserved for breeding Carniolans.
Importations have been made for a great many years. At one time, before 1922, Cyprians were imported, but this race has gone out of favour completely. I believe it was Dr. Abushady who popularized the Carniolan bee. At the present time the great majority of the modern hives are stocked with pure or hybrid Carniolans. I came across only one commercial beekeeper who favoured the Italian bee. Some of the American strains are now also being tested, but the Carniolan is certainly the most popular bee in Egypt today. Moreover, no efforts are considered too great to ensure pure mating and to secure pure stock of this race for distribution to beekeepers. The native bee is practically nowhere kept in modern hives.
The Ministry of Agriculture operates a number of breeding establishments, as well as that at Fayum: there is one at Borg el Arab, west of Alexandria, and a whole series at the oases in the southern Libyan Desert. It also runs a Quarantine Station at Noubaria, where all imported queens are retained for a certain period. The Ministry has furthermore its own Experimental Stations for research purposes. However, the primary apicultural research is carried out by the Faculties of Agriculture of the various Universities. Foremost among these is Cairo University, headed by Professor A.K. Wafa. At Ein Shams University Dr. M.A. El-Banby has concentrated on the biometric and biological studies of the Egyptian bee: at the University of Alexandria Prof. El-Deeb is in charge, and at Asyut University Professor M.H. Hassanein. An extensive experimental apiary is attached to each of these Universities.
The Bee Kingdom League — the Association founded by Dr. Abushady — takes a very active part in the advancement of apiculture, and it publishes a bee journal in Arabic giving the latest information on every aspect of beekeeping. I met all the principal members of the League at a reception organized for this purpose.
Throughout my stay in Egypt I was pleasantly surprised at the keenness evinced by the authorities, as well as by the individual beekeepers, to gather any information they could. There was everywhere a great eagerness for advice and particulars of the latest advancements in all apicultural fields. To meet this demand, I gave a series of lectures on the more advanced aspects of bee breeding. In Egypt the main efforts have hitherto been concentrated on securing purity of stock. I suggested that the work should be carried a step further, to the improvement of strain by selective mating in isolation. Egypt is in an ideal position to lead the world in this. The numerous oases, guaranteeing absolute isolation, together with such favourable climatic conditions, give all the essential requirements for an intensive scheme of selective breeding of the honeybee.
The Egyptian bee
The indigenous honeybee of Egypt, A. mellifera var. fasciata, has aroused interest from the very inception of modern beekeeping. As early as 1864 importations were made into Central Europe for the purpose of ascertaining its economic value. Further importations were made early this century, though purely for scientific purposes, by Professor H. von Buttel-Reepen, and also by Dr. Egon Ratter, who at that time lived in Czechoslovakia. Whilst in this country, Dr. Abushady made an effort to promote the importation of the Egyptian bee, but he did not meet with much success.
The Egyptian bee is unquestionably one of the most intriguing honeybee races. It is the smallest honeybee — apart from Apis florea. In its native habitat I observed here and there individual bees not much larger than our common housefly. But its appearance would captivate the imagination of every lover of the honeybee, The bright orange colour, and particularly the nearly white pubescence — which makes the bee appear to have been dusted in flour — gives it an irresistible charm. The bright orange extends to the fourth dorsal segment; the ventral segments are almost completely yellow, excepting the last two which are dark. The thorax, and the dark colouring of the dorsal segments, are jet black. The scutellum of the workers is bright orange, but that of the queens and drones is black.
As would be expected, the queens are smaller than in any other race. The abdomen of the queen is a bright orange, with a narrow sharply defined crescent-shaped rim to each segment — the characteristic marking of all oriental races. I have not yet been able to assess the fecundity of the queens; according to Dr. El-Banby they are not prolific in comparison with the other races, and this is doubtless so.
The pure fasciata is according to all accounts greatly addicted to swarming; this must be a hereditary disposition, for the primitive hives are fairly capacious and do not restrict breeding. Many swarm queen cells are constructed; they are usually not built singly but in clusters even on the face of the combs — a characteristic I have not observed in any other race. Anatolians, Syrians and Cyprians will construct queen cells in clusters; but always on the edges of the comb. The queen cells of fasciata are small and almost smooth.
The natural comb of the Egyptian bee has smaller cells (32-33 per square inch instead of 28), but I find brood rearing progresses normally in comb with cells of common size. The honey cappings are exceedingly watery, far more so than those of any other race. However, this bee does not propolize — a rare quality which she shares with the Indian races. For breeding purposes, I consider this as one of her most valuable qualities. (It must not be assumed that there is no propolis in Egypt: at Fayum, where Italian queens are bred, I found the interior of the hives plastered with the most resinous type of propolis found anywhere). Another of the valuable qualities of the Egyptian bee is her highly developed instinct of self-defence and disinclination to drift. The two qualities are complementary, and with the close stacking of the primitive hives, with no distinguishing marks between one entrance and another, drifting and lack of self-defence would create an impossible situation.
I heard various opinions on the honey-gathering ability of the Egyptian bee. In its native environment it must be fairly productive, judged according to the capacity of the primitive hives and the relative fecundity of the queens. One of its greatest drawbacks is undoubtedly its temper. However, in some sections of the Delta I found reasonably good-tempered bees. In other parts, particularly in Upper Egypt, the reverse was the case.
Most remarkable of all, the pure fasciata has no ability to form a winter cluster with the onset of severe cold, as experienced in temperate zones. She may never have possessed this quality, or alternatively she may have lost it in the course of time from disuse. In the Nile Valley the need for the honeybee to form a winter cluster never arises. When the Egyptian bee is crossed, the ability to form a cluster seems to dominate, but a colony of the pure fasciata cannot be overwintered with any certainty in Northern Europe.
When I set out for Egypt I feared it would be exceedingly difficult to find specimens of the pure fasciata, considering the wholesale importations that have been going on for nearly half a century. I soon learned differently. Whenever I came to a group of primitive hives, I found what was to all intents and purposes the pure native bee. One cannot well make a mistake in its identification, for the external characteristics of the pure fasciata are totally different from those of imported races. For some reason which has not yet been determined, the fasciata queen does not normally mate with drones of foreign races in its native habitat. Indeed doubts were expressed whether it would cross at all, for some experiments carried out in Egypt seemed to show a physical inability. However, this is clearly not so, for crosses were obtained in Europe long ago. We secured cross-matings in the exceptionally unfavourable summer of 1963. But the fact remains that the ancient indigenous bee of Egypt has managed to retain its purity in its native habitat in the midst of imported races.
This descendant of the Pharaonic bee, of which we can still see representations made on Egyptian monuments as early as 3500 B.C., will inevitably be doomed to extinction with the progress of modern apiculture. Thanks to her great vitality and the number of primitive hives, she has up to now managed to maintain her purity. The fasciata has not measured up to the needs of modern beekeeping, but this does not imply that she is of no value. I feel that every effort should be made, before it is too late, to retain this race at one of the numerous oases — perhaps at Sivas — for use in the future by the specialist breeder. It would be a major tragedy if this bee were lost to posterity.
This report would not be complete without a brief reference to the major problems which beset beekeeping in Egypt. This country is seemingly free of bee diseases, but the Egyptian beekeeper is faced with other problems no less formidable.
I have already indicated the great importance of cotton in the economy of Egypt, and the value of this plant as a major source of nectar. Unfortunately, the highly poisonous insecticides used for pest control are causing beekeepers immense losses.
The use of insecticides is a modern development, but the hornet (Vespa orientalis) is a menace as ancient as the Pyramids, and one found in all the countries adjoining the Mediterranean. Hornets cause serious losses in Cyprus and Palestine, but seemingly in no way approaching those in Egypt. It may be difficult to visualize the havoc wrought by oriental hornets without having oneself witnessed it. The honeybee can put up a successful fight against wasps but not against the oriental hornet, which seems to devour bees for a pastime. The damage to colonies would be catastrophic were it not for the counter-measures taken everywhere. Modern apiaries are usually provided with a battery of traps, similar to our wasp traps but much larger. The primitive hives are generally fitted with small guards over the entrances, like our queen-excluders but made of bamboo. This prevents hornets from entering hives, but in no way safeguards the bees when they venture outside. A person is therefore stationed all day amongst the hives, whose task it is to kill the hornets as they make a dash for the bees at the entrances. At one primitive apiary a rather different method was adopted: the cylindrical hives were left open in front, so that the bees formed a solid cluster there covering the combs completely. Any hornet venturing near was overwhelmed by the bees, but individual bees could depart and alight directly on the cluster without risk of getting killed. It seems that hornets cannot catch bees in flight.
Apart from hornets and wax moth, I could not observe in Egypt any of the numerous enemies that bees in other parts of North Africa have to contend with.
In the Libyan Desert
I have already referred to the unique possibility oases can offer to modern apiculture for a progressive breeding scheme. The authorities in Egypt have been aware of this, and tentatively established a series of breeding stations at Kharga and Dakhla — the two large oases in the southern Libyan Desert. Though they are spoken of as two single oases, they are from our point of view two groups of a series of small oases. Kharga lies 145 miles by road south-west of Asyut; Dakhla is a further 125 miles to the west of Kharga.
A journey into the desert is no simple affair. Water, petrol and everything else has to be carried — including a competent mechanic in case of a breakdown. We set out with four vehicles and a party of fourteen people. Amongst the party was Professor Baker of the U.S.A., an authority on mites. He took advantage of this opportunity to include the two oases in his particular field of research.
The outward trek proved uneventful, though full of interest. Kharga was reached at night with the moon high in the sky lighting up the desert scenery. Kharga was already in ancient times a place of renown, as the Assyrian and Roman temple ruins bear witness. At present the oasis comprises six villages and a population of about 14 000. But an ambitious land reclamation scheme is under way here, which will soon change the existing state of things beyond recognition. The project depends on the existence and exploitation of the huge subterranean water supply below the oasis, estimated at 740 million cubic metres. This region is virtually devoid of rain; usually many years pass without any precipitation.
We spent one day at Kharga, exploring its suitability for breeding purposes. The Ministry had already established a small apiary for initial tests. Next day we set out for Dakhla, our main objective. The desert between the two oases is mountainous, rocky, very wild, and bare of all vegetation. However, at one spot by the roadside, a few dozen square yards in area, water seeped to the surface and a wild gourd grew in profusion. We were now approaching an oasis whose beauty of scenery and richness of vegetation and flora surpassed anything I had seen in Egypt, Algeria or Morocco. Dakhla, due to its remoteness and difficulty of approach, was until recent years cut off from the outside world.
Our first call was at Tenida, where in a palm grove close to the village the Ministry had one of its bee-breeding stations. Here a great prosperity was at once visible. At the next station, about 15 miles further south, the richness and abundance were even greater. This station had about forty colonies and, though all had two or three Langstroth supers, the hives were full up with new comb and honey. This apiary was barely a mile from the great sand dunes and the limitless ocean of sand. It was very strange to see these riches of newly gathered honey, with the hives full of bees from top to bottom, in the month of December. I could also not help reflecting that here an Alpine bee had been brought into an environment as different as could be imagined from that of its native habitat. A more telling instance of the wonderful adaptability of the Carniolan bee — and of the honeybee in general — could hardly be found.
The same evening, though it was getting almost too dark, we inspected a third station, also with about forty colonies; here we found the same prosperity and abundance. Our leader Dr. Mohamed Mahmood had, however, kept his greatest surprise until next day, when he took us to a small oasis named Rashda. This one was undoubtedly the most idyllic and romantic of all, and the superabundance and richness of vegetation and flora was truly astonishing. The Ministry’s bee-breeding station was tucked away in an enclosure amongst date palms and orange trees, the latter laden with fruit.
I must remind the reader that the sole object in establishing these breeding stations has been to ensure pure mating — hence the large number of colonies. However, it is now realized that to obtain not only pure mating, but an improvement of strain as well, only the best colonies of a particular line must be retained at each station to furnish the drones. By limiting the efforts to pure mating, the primary economic benefits of breeding are completely missed.
Nightfall had arrived before we finished our task at Dakhla. We were therefore compelled to make our way back across the desert to Kharga by the light of the moon. Early next day we set out on our return journey to Cairo, which it was hoped would he reached by 9 o’clock in the evening. Alas, no end of misadventures en route delayed our return. The first car reached Cairo at midnight; the other vehicles turned up many hours later.
After returning from the trip to the oases, the time was at hand when I had to leave Egypt. My last afternoon was spent on the Mukattam heights overlooking Cairo with the great Pyramids in the distance. It proved a blustery December day with heavy rain clouds drifting across from the Libyan Desert. Next day, when I left for Jerusalem, the sun shone as brilliantly as ever. The plane flew over the Sinai Peninsula. And I was vouchsafed a brief glimpse of St. Catherine’s Monastery and Mt. Moussa. On arrival I could observe the first harbingers of spring. Amongst the rocks in the Cedron Valley the dainty miniature crocus Colchicum steveni was in bloom; and a few days later I saw whole drifts of the wild cyclamen Cyclamen persicum. The stirring of new life and warmth of the sun made the arctic conditions I found on my return to Europe in January 1963 seem an anticlimax.
I cannot finish this account of my visit to Egypt without expressing my thanks to the Ministry of Agriculture and to Dr. Mohamed Mahmood, and above all to Professor A.K. Wafa and his deputy Dr. Salah Rashad; also to all the good people who helped me in one way or another. I shall always recall with deep gratitude the many kindnesses I received during my stay in Egypt.
With the completion of these last journeys I have finished the task I set out to do. But our knowledge of the honeybee races is still far from complete. We know next to nothing of the indigenous honeybees of Iran and Afghanistan; nor have we much precise information concerning the economic characteristics of the races found in Africa south of the Sahara. Until these gaps in our knowledge have been adequately filled, any conjectures as to the origin of our present-day races will, I believe, lack a secure basis. The three Indian species, with the possible exception of Apis indica, have little bearing on our investigations. No doubt with the growing appreciation of the more fundamental aspects of bee culture, and the research in progress connected with breeding and the genetics of the honeybee, someone with the necessary facilities and experience will take up the work where I have left off. In the course of my own search I covered about 82 000 miles by road, 7792 miles by sea and 4760 by air.
Extract of Bee World,
45(1) 1964 p70-83
45(2) 1964 p104-118
Original published in Deutsche Bienenzeitung
[Return to Biblio]
[ First Journey – 1951 ]
[ Second Journey – 1953 ]
[ Third Journey – 1960 ]
[ Adaptation en français ]
by Brother Adam, O.S.B.
St. Mary’s Abbey, Buckfast, South Devon, England