We all have our favourites, don’t we? There are the books we refer to again and again because they contain so much wisdom, and the ones we love because they remind us of a golden era in history. Here are the ten best books on beekeeping (in my opinion):
1. Honey Farming – R.O.B Manley
This is, in my opinion, the greatest beekeeping book ever written. Unsurprisingly, given that it came out in the 1940s, some of it is now out of date. However, most of the skills and challenges of keeping bees, particularly on a large commercial scale, are the same as they have always been. It’s the same insect, after all. This is definitely not a book for beginners, but there are too many of those anyway. This book is based on the considerable experience of Manley, who was the first bee farmer in England to have over 1,000 production hives. He is a very practical man; open about the problems he has faced and the solutions he has found to deal with them. His writing style is wonderful; this is not just a list of techniques and facts about bees – it is a work of art that is both beautiful and incredibly useful. There is plenty of wisdom in here to benefit a hobby beekeeper who has maybe three or more years of experience.
2. Honey By The Ton – Oliver Field
Oliver Field used to work for Manley before he branched out on his own, and this lovely little book came out forty years after Manley’s masterpiece. It shows my bias towards commercial beekeeping as this book is essentially an updated, slightly abbreviated, version of Honey Farming. It’s all about the answer to the simple question, “how do you go about earning a living from honey production?” Field, like Manley, is very practical and a problem solver. He also has that innate stoicism that comes along with farming, based on the certain knowledge that something is bound to go wrong at some point. It’s all about how we respond to adversity and use our knowledge of bees and nature to recover.
3. Beekeeping At Buckfast Abbey – Brother Adam
First published in 1975, this little book is packed with information on exactly how Brother Adam organised the commercial beekeeping operation based at Buckfast. Having had conversations with people that worked there, including David Kemp, who was his assistant for ten years, I find this book fascinating. Brother Adam was ahead of his time; he may not have been right about everything, but he was a brilliant beekeeper and breeder of queens. I know that Mike Palmer, the great beekeeper in St Albans, Vermont, follows Brother Adam’s queen rearing method almost to the letter. I do too. This book describes how Adam ran things at Buckfast, including trips up to the heather on Dartmoor, rendering wax from old comb, raising queens and so much more. A piece of history.
4. The Honey Bee – V.R. Vickery
I have this as a hardback, and it’s large (8.5” x 11″). Most of the diagrams and photographs are black and white, but there are some colour photos at the back. I haven’t read this one for a few years, but I will dig into it this winter, as there is so much information within, presented in an accessible way. Dr Vickery kept bees in Canada, and taught apiculture there for many years. It is obvious that he was a good teacher and communicator, as well as a scientist. He was a great advocate of taking bees through the winter in Canada in nucleus colonies. This book does an impressive job of combining the biology of the honey bee with practical beekeeping, and there are plenty of clear diagrams, tables, and charts to satisfy dataphiles.
5. Guide To Bees & Honey – Ted Hooper
Probably still the best book for beginners, and one that old timers can still refer to as well. It’s just a great all round book on beekeeping. If I was going to recommend one book for somebody in their first years of keeping bees, this would be the one.
6. ABC and XYZ of Bee Culture
Not one to be read from cover to cover; more of an encyclopaedia covering all things related to honey bees and beekeeping. What’s more, it looks great on the bookshelf. I have the 40th and the 42nd edition. It’s fun to just open a random page and read.
7. Queen Rearing & Bee Breeding – Laidlaw and Page
This book very comprehensively covers pretty well everything there is to know about raising queens, and selective breeding. A bit of an old one (1997) but I like old books. I can’t think of a better book on the subject. For a newcomer to raising queens, it could be confusing, as so many methods are covered. Most methods work most of the time, so beginners should probably find a local beekeeper and copy what they do at first, then modify things as they gain experience.
8. The Biology of the Honey Bee – Winston
I don’t spend much time delving into some aspects of bee biology because I’m more interested in the activities involved with keeping bees rather than learning about the names of their organs, or the various pheromones that they secrete. However, understanding the biology of the honey bee can help with understanding their behaviour, which can make us better beekeepers. I think this book is the best one out there on the subject, and I hope to read it again soon, as it is packed with incredible information.
9. Swarming Biology and Control – Wally Shaw
A recently published book (2021) which covers swarming in an excellent way. The section on the biology is important to gain an understanding of why the various methods of control, described later in the book, are meant to work. Wally combines a dry humour with good scientific knowledge and decades of beekeeping experience. The colourful diagrams are easy to follow. You may not agree with everything he says, but that’s the way of beekeeping. It’s a modern classic on swarming, and one for every beekeeper’s bookshelf.
10. Varroa Management – Kirsty Stanton
This book came out in 2022, so it’s brand new, and I am very impressed with the way it has been put together. The text is large and the diagrams clear; the whole thing is so easy to follow, and it’s great for beginners and old-timers alike. Varroa management is critical to successful beekeeping; this book is brilliant at describing the treatment options available to the UK beekeeper. Kirsty does not recommend using alcohol wash to monitor mite infestation, which is a shame as I think it’s the best method, but I’m not going to quibble about that when the rest of it is genius.
YouTube vs Books
More and more beekeepers choose to expand their beekeeping knowledge by watching videos rather than reading books. I think that’s a shame because books are beautiful things that you can hold in your hands, and read in the scorching sun when you are on holiday (iPads conk out when it gets too warm). However, there are some great resources out there on YouTube. I’m going to be doing more on YouTube next year, as part of promoting the book that I am writing with Paul Horton. The lectures that have been recorded from the National Honey Show are a great resource, particularly the talks by Michael Palmer, but I’m sure we all have our favourites. I suppose mine is The Sustainable Apiary from back in 2013. It’s rumoured that Mike may be returning to the NHS next year.
Happy Holidays to all readers; may you have peace and love in your lives throughout Christmastime and the year ahead.