We have three beehives at the bottom of the garden. Sometimes there are four, depending on whether a colony outgrows a hive and needs a second home. This warm summer has meant there has been plenty to forage so the bees have produced lots of offspring and honey. Next week we will take our first harvest and I think it’s going to be a bumper crop.
While the bees have been buzzing around during these last few months, I’ve been reading some excellent books to learn a bit more about them. Since people have been writing about bees for thousands of years, there’s plenty of literature to choose from, so I’ve narrowed it down to three of my current favourites.
The most useful bee book that I own, is the surprisingly good Collins Bee Keepers Bible (Collins 2010). It is a masterwork of research and is the best reference book I’ve found for dipping into and learning about everything from practical beekeeping to the history of bees, recipes and craft. It gives detailed instructions about making products from beeswax including cosmetics. I even learnt how to make beeswax candles from it. More of that in a following blog..
For a more academic approach to bee knowledge, The Hive – the story of the Honey Bee and us by Bee Wilson (John Murray 2004) is an intelligent, readable, thorough investigation into our relationship with these extraordinary insects.
The appropriately named author is a professional academic and food writer. Bee Wilson doesn’t pretend to be an authority on keeping hives, instead she explores the story of the bee as seen through human eyes. By examining the work, sex and politics of the hive, we learn how our greatest thinkers and philosophers have drawn comparisons with the bee community and that of human society. Bee cites all sorts of examples for this influence, from Egyptian hieroglyphs of the bee as king, US business logos of bees and hives representing industrious workmanship to the architecture of Le Corbusier which is compared to a ‘progressive’ beehive.
The book is ponderous and investigative rather than heavy and academic and leaves plenty of room for discussion of food and drink. After all, we wouldn’t want bees if it wasn’t for the honey they produce. She includes a deliciously tempting selection of recipes, all of which I’d like to cook and eat.
The Way of a Bee by Georg Rendl (Longmans, Green and Co. 1933) is neither a manual or a history but a beautiful, lyrical hymn to the bee. Written in such flowing, poetic prose, this is an exquisite observation of a bee’s life. Rendl was the son of a professional bee keeper and spent his life watching hives. From a bird’s eye perspective he tells the tale of a colony of wild bees, living through the four seasons. Beginning in winter, we learn of the hardship of the hive, a woodpecker predator seeking the sustaining honey, the bees huddled together for warmth. Then, as the spring gradually arrives, the life cycle of the bees starts again. Rendl, an intent and curious observer, writes of the bees search for honey during the summer, the industrious work in the hive, procreation and death.
A beautiful, true description of what he has witnessed, he records everything with a real humility and love towards the bees, marveling in their ingenuity.
But for now, it’s time to put another super in the hive and see how much more honey they will make…