A guide for those who are thinking of starting beekeeping,
or who just have.
Probably the first thing someone would do who wanted to investigate the possibility of starting beekeeping is to obtain a book. That book may be a gift, in which case the recipient hasn't usually got much say in the matter, or it may be purchased by the person themselves. Nowadays when many things are bought online it is not easy to see what you are buying, so you have to rely on a brief description, the cover and the reputation of the author. There is a lot of prejudice in beekeeping and reviews aren't always very helpful. On many occasions I have seen opposing views of the same book by different people, which is very confusing. How does the purchaser know how good the book is and how sound the information is with this lack of helpful information? Unless they can read it and are a reasonably experienced beekeeper they don't, if they are experienced enough to judge it they don't need the book in the first place!
It is far too easy to buy something with loads of nice pictures, but at the end of the day that is just what they are-pictures. I have recently seen an English book where a large number of photographs appear to be stock images from foreign apiaries, showing foreign hives in clearly foreign surroundings. What use is that?
I have given three possibilities below that I am happy to recommend. That doesn't mean I don't recommend others, but quite frankly this area of beekeeping literature is not particularly well served with high quality options. There are some books that haven't been written by beekeepers, or if they have they may be very inexperienced. For some reason there is a constant stream of people who seem to want to write a book as soon as they see a beehive! They can't aim it at experienced beekeepers, so the poor beginner is specially selected. There is one I know of that was written after attending a beginners course and another that was written after a year's experience. This in my view is disrespectful to the reader. This inexperience is seen in the number of times you see the same mistakes in books, where I think these "writers" simply copy what others have written, change the order of the words and the same mistake is seen in several places. As a teacher of beekeeping I have to tell people that what they have read is twaddle, but in fairness to them they have bought a book on a specialist subject and they expect it to be correct. The books listed below have been written by experienced beekeepers and I agree with most of the content in them. All of us beekeepers disagree about certain things and with such a vast subject that is to be expected. There are few photographs in any of them, but the content quality more than makes up for that.
As a first read I would be happy to suggest any one of these, but if you want to go any further it might be a good idea to have all three. As far as cost is concerned I think they would be money well spent. I think from a beekeeping point of view they complement each other well.
Bees at the Bottom of the Garden. by Alan Campion.
This book can be read in an evening and in my opinion is an easy read. It is very difficult to write a book for both non beekeepers and those fairly new to the craft, but the author does it admirably. I found there was little on colony management or problem solving, but this is dealt with in "Beekeeping. A Practical Guide" (below).
Even as an experienced beekeeper I would never tire of reading this book, and I can see beginners reading it more than once.
There are drawings, but they are well done and compliment the text well.
Better Beginnings for Beekeepers. by Adrian Waring.
Adrian Waring was the County Beekeeping Instructor (CBI) for Northamptonshire and a beekeeper since the early 1960s. I like his clear style and I feel the beginner will understand the content. In slightly more depth than "Bees at the Bottom of the Garden".
Adrian is an enthusiast of our native bee and this shows in the use of single brood box British hives and the relevant simple management techniques. His wealth of teaching experience is very much in evidence.
I think the rather unattractive cover of this book may not have done it many favours, as it isn't popular with some of the newer people who teach beekeeping. This is a pity as it is streets ahead of the flashier books in terms of sound content.
Beekeeping. A Practical Guide. by Roger Patterson.
I know this is my book and you would expect me to recommend it. The scope is wider than the other two and in greater depth, so may be slightly more difficult to read for the non-beekeeper, although everything is explained well and a second read should do the trick. I have written it so it doesn't get dated and could probably still be relevant in 50 years time. There are a few photographs and drawings, but they complement the text well. There are around 150 photographs online that go with this book, which of course keeps the cost down. I want prospective beekeepers to learn, not to be entertained by pretty pictures.
I am naturally rebellious and object to some of the twaddle that is currently taught and in places I may be a bit forthright, but I have found beekeeping to be hugely enjoyable and I want every beekeeper to enjoy their hobby, not for it to become a chore that many seem to want it to become.
I have been keeping bees for nearly 50 years and teaching for 40. I have drawn on this experience and pass on that knowledge. I do not try to describe several methods that confuse people, just the tried and tested ones I use myself.
This book is described further here.
All three of these books we recommend at the Wisborough Green Beginners day, that is held every year.