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.

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