There are few things I love more in winter than diving into a great book while lounging on the sofa wrapped in a blanket and, every so often, taking a break to peek out the window at the softly falling snow and taking a sip of heavy red wine. This year in the Philadelphia suburbs, winter must be vacationing elsewhere. We have had no snow and temperatures are so warm, my garden is overrun with weeds that should have frozen to death months ago. Even so, I still have a sofa, a blanket and some wine, so I’m busy reading up on what I hope will become a new hobby this year: beekeeping. I’d like to begin this spring, but I’m not sure I can make it happen so soon. Besides all the research I need to do, I also would like to hook up with a local beekeepers’ group and take classes on the practical aspects of maintaining healthy hives.
For Christmas this year, I was given The Beekeeper’s Bible, a comprehensive book on all things bees written by Richard Jones and Sharon Sweeney-Lynch. I have been considering beekeeping as my next hobby because, you know, I’m not into enough things. Also, I find bees fascinating, I like honey, and I want a steady supply of beeswax to make candles and DIY beauty products like lip balm. With the honeybee population in crisis, it’s been said that one of the keys to preserving this very important pollinator is more small-scale, backyard beekeepers who raise bees in an environment that’s free from the chemical pesticides that are undoubtedly contributing to their demise. I would like to do my part to help save honeybees, just as I do what I can to help save monarch butterflies.
Calling a book “The Bible” of anything is rather bold, don’t you think? With a title like that, my expectations were high. As I got further into this bible, I found the title to be fitting since it covers just about every topic related to beekeeping. What I particularly appreciate is that, in addition to the thorough information about how to raise honeybees, there’s also plenty of information about why you may want to do so. Additionally, The Beekeeper’s Bible is chock full of gorgeous illustrations and helpful photography.
The Beekeeper’s Bible begins with a history of bees and beekeeping. I usually prefer to get right into learning the ropes, but I found myself completely engrossed in it. I read that throughout history, the bee hive has provided a model for the perfect society – everyone working together, eschewing selfish interests, for the good of the whole. Because of honey’s natural antimicrobial properties, it is an excellent preservative. In fact, ancient people coated the corpses of their dead in beeswax and then submerged them in honey during embalming. I also read about the emergence of beekeeping and the different types of hives used throughout history.
The Beekeeper’s Bible talks next about honeybee physiology and about how a properly functioning hive works. The honeybee society is truly a model for division of labor, hard work, and self-sustenance. Did you know that every honeybee you see out and about foraging for nectar and pollen is female? Not one of them is male. That’s because male bees, or drones, have one purpose: to mate with the queen after which they fall to the ground and die. Other than that, they basically sit around the hive and do nothing but eat. After some time, they are thrown out of the hive by the female workers who greatly outnumber them. Or, did you know that honeybees are so fastidious that they will not relieve themselves inside their home, but only outside the hive? Also fascinating is the waggle dance that female forager bees use to communicate the precise location, distance away from the hive, and quality of a food source to her hive mates. It’s all simply amazing, and it motivated me to start beekeeping so I could more closely experience these miracles for myself.
The next sections of the book became overwhelming for me personally because they discuss in detail how to actually keep bees and raise a healthy hive. The book even talks about gardening for the bees and how to grow continuous food sources for them in every season. Since I know virtually nothing, this section was helpful, but it made me wonder about whether or not I can actually become a beekeeper. I think reading the book first, attending some classes on beekeeping and then coming back to the book later is the best way to go. There’s so much information here that a newbie like me will not likely not remember it or put it all together. Once I am a beekeeper, I envision my copy of The Beekeeper’s Bible to be well-worn, sticky with old honey, and with many dog-eared pages that I return to over and over as a handy reference.
The book ends with the ultimate motivation for keeping bees: what to make with your own raw, local honey and free-from-chemicals beeswax. There are recipes for delicacies like honey polenta cake, pan-fried scallops with honey and lime marinade, and even a honey-laced hangover tonic. You can learn how to make your own hand-dipped beeswax candles and natural beeswax furniture polish. True to my personality as a pragmatist, I admit to skipping the first sections of the book when I first opened it and going right to the end, to the potential rewards of beekeeping.
This book, aptly called a “bible,” has it all. I enthusiastically recommend it even if you are not interested in keeping bees yourself. Simply learning about these treasured pollinators, how to garden for them, how to enjoy the fruits of their labor, and the truly amazing way they survive will get you excited to see and hear them come Spring.