I read a lot of bee books, maybe too many, I categorise them into two types; technical beekeeping manuals or more narrative tales about the natural history of bees and their keepers. This charming book, which kept me company on a recent business trip, sits between those two genres. It is the biography of a swarm from hiving until the beekeeper harvests the honey. Included are detailed descriptions of bee biology and their life cycle.
Published in Germany Bees & Honey was written by Michael Weiler an influential figure in the biodynamic movement and a beekeeper of considerable experience. Translated from German to English results in some interesting phraseology, for example, when describing bees flying down to a skep with a captured queen:
‘those still outside are gathering at the starting point on the branch on the branch flying round in the familiar lemniscatory loops’ (talking about bees flying down into a swarm catching box)
This gives the book real character and the mixture of photographs and line drawings provide effective illustration when required. Michael travels to the UK often to lecture on biodynamic beekeeping and based on this book I’m keen to listen to him in person.
Germany is the World’s largest consumer of honey and beekeeping there is popular. As an English beekeeper I was fascinated by some of the different approaches to beekeeping within the book:
- Keeping swarms in cool dark quiet places like cellar. This, I’m told, is a well known and common practice; I admit I’d never heard of it - but I’m still a fledgling beekeeper. It allows the bees to settle inside the box, giving the beekeeper up to three days to prepare a new site.
- Hiving swarms with a horizontal board. Most of us have seen images of a swarm walking up a sheet into a new hive. It’s a cool thing to watch and very British - all the bees queue as they wait enter their new home. German bees it seems are a tad more adventurous, they tightrope walk into the hive …. well almost. The method described by Weiler to hive a swarm is a little different. The new hive and the box containing the swarm are placed at a similar height with the entrances facing each other. A board is placed horizontally between the entrances creating a bridge. The queen is driven into the new hive and the rest of her workers follow. A sight I’d like to see.
- Walk in hives. Ever had a hive tall enough you needed to stretch to get the lid off? They are a pain in the arse, well a solution may be at hand. Page thirty eight has a picture of a ‘Baden three story hive’; a hive the size a wardrobe you can walk into. I’ve tried to find some other references to this monster on the Internet without success. The only evidence is this grainy photography - so I’m going to file it in the same box as the Loch Ness monster and the Yeti.
Bees & Honey: From flower to jar is different twist on a beekeeping book, it’s short enough to read on a commute or holiday and is packed with some great stories. I’d encourage you to grab a copy.