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.

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