Monday, June 14, 2010

Book Review: Beekeeping by Werner Melzer

Beekeeping is one of those little books by a company called Barrons that you have undoubtedly seen someplace or other. I have another Barrons book called Plants for Your Aquarium. They produce a lot of titles about pets, and books for the school age educational market.

Oddly, like my aquarium plant book, the Barrons Beekeeping book turns out to be surprisingly good. The paperback volume would just about cover a tea saucer but isn't much more than a centimeter thick. It covers all the basics in adequate detail and even has a pretty good section on honeybee physiology. The book has a sizable number of color pictures, but it's really the illustrations that I like. There are several pen and ink illustrations; one is the Beekeeper's Year that shows the changing conditions and activities within the hive and of the bees. This is shown with the beekeeper's tasks, month by month. Behind it all are two curved lines showing the height of sun in the sky at noon and the amount of brood that should be present in a hive. It's a wonderful illustration well worthy of inclusion of Edward Tufte's Visual Display of Information.

Similarly, there is a nice page showing the life cycle of the bee that allows the novice keeper to easily determine the age of brood. If I could buy these in poster size, I would.

Melzer also devotes a fair amount of time to swarm control, and he advocates a method he calls artificial swarming. It uses the old queen and a method that selects for the same type of bees that would leave in a normal swarm. This is said to satisfy the swarm instinct. I really think that this is the only method of swarm control, as opposed to swarm prevention, that could work.

This book is another from England, and devotes some pages at the start to the bizarre English leaf hive that somehow exists like a bunch of filing cabinets in their own house. Mr. Melzer rightly keeps on track with normal Langstroth hives.

Since this book only costs $9, you should absolutely buy it, if not for the illustrations then for the clear, concise swarm prevention techniques. It's quick and accurate and just right for short reads any time. It's not Bees and Honey, or even Roger Morse, but it's a wonderful short volume.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Book Review: The Backyard Beekeeper by Kim Flottum

The Backyard Beekeeper is touted as "The Absolute Beginners Guide to Beekeeping" and it's probably about right for that. I would recommend this book to a true beginner.

The first thing that one notices about this book is that it's a fairly large size paperback. Not only does it have far more images than other books on beekeeping with which I am familiar, nearly every illustration is color. Backyard Beekeeping seems far more modern than the other books I own because it is. Published in 2005, this book is part of a wave of publishing for the post-Animal, Vegetable, Miracle crowd. Hives, for the most part, are shown in situ in yards that the Volvo may have just returned to when bringing the kids home from soccer practice or mom back from pilates. Beekeeping in Backyard Beekeeping is hobby beekeeping and hives are kept for pleasure as much as honey. As such, there are recipes and a full-page picture of dried lavender for you to infuse into the cosmetics you'll make from hive products.

In all it does a great job as an introductory text, with clear writing, tons of huge bright color pictures and a focus that more closely matches the goals of most hobbyists.

Mr. Flottum is unusual in that he advocates the use, exclusively, of medium supers for both brood chambers and honey supers. There are many reasons for this. I came to the same conclusion myself last year, before ever having seen this book.

Medium supers are lighter. A full deep can weigh 100 lbs. Too much for me to lift all day. Too much for Priscilla to lift even a few times. He also rightly, IMHO, opines that with one size super you can swap honey comb into the brood chamber if you need to prevent swarming by adding laying area, or swap empty comb into a super if a flow is on. When I switched to only mediums I had this in mind. I've also found during hive body reversals I can better control the brood nest with three mediums rather than two deeps.

The downside is that more supers cost more and they're more labor intensive to construct and paint. Kim goes a step further and suggests using 8 frame equipment rather than standard 10 frame. All this would make a hive of the same volume cost more than twice as much as a standard 10 frame hive with two deep hive bodies and three medium supers.

I found his writing sound and his advice great for the average hobbyist bee keeper for their first year or maybe two.

Where this book falls very short is the short shrift given to swarm prevention. In the long run beekeeping is about mastering the basics--controlling mites and preventing swarms. He devotes more room to both foot cream and salad dressing than he does to swarm prevention. If you're going to succeed in bee keeping you must manage swarms. It's complicated and just plain hard but it has to be done. I'd at least like to have seen 3 pages on this important topic. Optimistically, he devotes less than a page to swarm prevention and even that is part of spring inspections, without it's own heading. Then he gives two pages to catching swarms, which is way more fun to think about.

Backyard Beekeeping is a wonderful addition to the canon and makes beekeeping a lot more accessible. Beautiful in its layout and photography, well written and clear in its articulation, and smart in its advocacy of medium supers for all chores in the hive it's a solid piece of work. If someone you know has signed up for next year's bee keeping classes, buy them this book for Christmas. Then next year, get them Roger Morse.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Book Review: Ted Hooper Bees and Honey.

Ted Hooper's Bees and Honey is a logical successor to Roger Morse. My edtion was published in 1979 by Rodale Press. They're the people that bring you Organic Gardening and a whole host of other natural lifestyle publications. This book is considerably more complete than Morse's work.

As an example of this, there is a 3-page section called "Finding the Queen." I think this is the only book I have ever seen that has a section by that name. Many operations in bee keeping begin with the sentence, "Find the queen, then do manipulation xyz."

Now, this is much easier said than done. Imagine 50,000 bees in a hive, or even 20,000, and now think that maybe 4-500 bees are in the air and you've got a hive 50% taken apart. Finding the queen is a whole operation in itself. Priscilla and I see a queen in about 5% of our hive inspections, though we're mostly looking for evidence of a queen and not the queen herself. I like that Ted Hooper saw fit to address this oversight of so many bee keeping volumes.

As such, Hooper's Bees and Honey is a good middle-ground book for the beekeeper who's not a beginner, but also not a seasoned pro. This is pretty much where Priscilla and I are.

Bees and Honey is a pretty complete volume. It has many clear illustrations, a lot of information, and a good complete index. It's a very good "serious" book for the beekeeper who is becoming advanced.

I'd fault it only in that it was written in England and published there first. This is only a problem in that descriptions of manipulations of hives are complicated, because there are several types of hives in use in England. Bees and Honey focuses more on the standard hive we use here in the United States than other English volumes do, but it's still annoying to me to have to wade through the nonsense about the British National Hive and other overly complex gear that seemed commonplace there.

In all, Hooper is complete enough that he rivals many other stand-alone volumes combined into one place. His section on queen rearing is mostly as complete as Roger Morse's book on queen rearing; his section on swarm prevention as long as Snelgrove's book on the topic, and considerably more modern.

Still, I tend to reach for Roger Morse or Richard Bonny since both authors kept bees in New England, and not Jolly Old England. Looking this book over again has made me think I should consult Hooper more.

Review of Beekeeping Books: The New Complete Guide to Beekeeping

The New Complete Guide to Beekeeping by Roger A. Morse.

I still maintain that all the Roger Morse Guide to Beekeeping books are the best basic introductions to bee keeping that there are. People often ask me about top bar hives and foundationless comb. What I always say is, get "Roger Morse" right first. By this I mean understand the accepted way that most people have been successfully keeping bees in America since about the 1950s.

Roger Morse writes plainly and logically in a way that makes the reader understand the basic tasks and work by season. He also covers, in reasonable detail, swarm prevention, queen rearing and comb honey production. While the latter subjects aren't really required for the first or even second year bee keeper they are covered in enough detail to illuminate the many areas of even basic beekeeping that they touch upon. As an example, while the novice may not raise queens, reading about queen production will help her to understand the biology and life cycle of the queen.

Roger Morse's complete guides fall down in that they cover a little bit of everything, but don't go into a lot of detail about anything. Still, once you understand everything that Roger says because you have seen it in your hives you can call yourself a bee keeper.

There hasn't been a new edition of any of these books since about the early 1990s. So, the information is old but all the basic techniques still apply. Understand everything in a Complete Guide first, then make up your own mind. You probably know by now these are my most referred to and favorite books for basic information.