Sunday, September 4, 2016

BeekeepingBeekeeping by Werner Melzer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

"Ask your neighbors not to hang out their wash on the first warm day but to dry it indoors."

Bees are my favorite animals. I had read Maurice Maeterlinck's The Life of the Bee when I was a boy, almost 60 years ago, and since then I have been fascinated by bees' behavior and their rich social life. I had read Maeterlinck's The Life of the Ant as well, but ants do not interest me in the slightest: to me, bees are wonderful while ants are just insects. I have read and reviewed here on Goodreads Biology of the Honey Bee , a research monograph by M. Winston. I have always been dreaming about becoming a beekeeper, even more so now, with the honey bee species in grave danger: the bees colonies have begun to dramatically die out due to the ubiquitous colony collapse disorder syndrome. So I was ecstatic when for my appallingly high-numbered birthday my wife bought me a beekeeping starter kit. I have no choice now but to indulge in my dream hobby the coming spring, unless the anti-Zika spraying kills all insect life in our region.

The extremely concise, outright tiny Beekeeping. A Complete Owner's Manual (1986) by Werner Melzer has been (well) translated from German. One might infer the European origins from the sentence used in the epigraph. Why shouldn't the neighbors hang out their wash on the first warm day?
"If the wash is hung outside it may well be spattered with little yellow dots."
Europeans dry their laundry outside more than the Americans do and on the first warm day, which in Germany usually falls at the end of February or the beginning of March, the bees take their cleansing flight, when they defecate for the first time since the fall.

The book is filled with practical, hands-on advice for the complete novice in beekeeping. It begins with a short section Introduction to Bees, about the biology, development cycle, and the social life of these wonderful creatures. Then the basics of beekeeping are introduced: structure of a typical hive, right location for hives, and - most importantly - what a beekeeper has to do, when, and how. The best feature of the book is the chapter Beekeeper Yearly Work Cycle, which presents all the beekeeping chores categorized by months of the year: I like the variety of non-intuitive hints and advice. The book closes with the discussion of the products of beekeeping - honey, wax, pollen, propolis, etc. - and the short chapter on diseases and pests of bees. Beekeeping is indeed an "owner manual", but I doubt whether it is as complete as advertised. Nobody loves very short books more than I do, but I am afraid the author might have overdone the conciseness a little.

I am an applied mathematician and in whole seriousness I will state that at least at this stage I find beekeeping more difficult than even the advanced university math - mainly because of the sheer complexity of detail and the unfamiliarity with terminology. In fact, reading the book made me more intimidated with the perspective of keeping bees than I had been before. I have learned that I need to sign up for beekeeping courses to get some practical training and that I should join a beekeepers' association. Moreover, having read the book really thoroughly I am still quite unclear about many, many concepts; for instance, creating an artificial swarm, making a brood nucleus as a means to prevent swarming, or rearing queens. Also, I would have liked to read more about the mysterious phenomena of swarming and supersedure. I learned a little about these from Dr. Winston's research monograph, but there seems to be little connection between the theoretical knowledge and the practical hints given by Mr. Melzer.

This certainly is a very useful introduction to the wonderful world of beekeeping, but I will need to read many more books before I start playing God and tinkering with an actual hive.

Three stars.

View all my reviews

No comments:

Post a Comment