After a decades-long hiatus from beekeeping, I decided to return to the undertaking a couple of years ago. The wonder of, and love for, bees was instilled in me as a young girl, by my father who first introduced me to them in the back yard, with honey smeared across my fingers. As they licked up the honey with their funny, little tongues, he explained to me how they were all little girl bees (except for the lazy drones back in the hive!) and said, “They’ll never hurt you unless you hurt them first.” Never once was he wrong. And never once have I lost the fascination with the utter miracle that is a wee honeybee.
But everything has changed since Dad first began teaching me about bees. Back in those days you pretty much just dumped a package in a box lined with foundation, walked away, and came back in a few months to reap the rewards of their unceasing labor. Even as I bought the first of my apiary equipment, in anticipation of spring, I was daunted. Pesticides, Varroa mites, tracheal mites, zombie flies, nosema, AFB, SHB, EFB, CCD, wax moth, stone brood, sac brood, chalk brood, parafoul brood, winter die-out…good grief – it’s enough to make you quit beekeeping before you ever start! To say nothing of all the cures and preventions for it all! Everything I read had an ominous whiff of gloom and doom and the odds of a hive making it for long without some serious issues didn’t look good - to say nothing of the costs and work involved in keeping them hanging on.
I come from a “conventional” beekeeping background, and I read up on all the treatments and preventions. I didn’t like any of them. Why give antibiotics to someone that isn’t sick, for crying out loud? And why dump poisons into a hive of little bees, the label for which warns in bold print that you have to be wearing gloves to touch it yourself? Why force into their lives and home what I wouldn’t want to eat in my own honey? Even organic essential oils and other “natural treatments,” are intrusive and disruptive to the delicate balance which is the ecology of a beehive. None of it made sense to me, and none of it seemed to be working particularly well, but it seemed like there was no other way.
Daunted, but undeterred, I ordered my bees and started reading about natural beekeeping. I perused a number of web sites, read some forums, scanned through books but, I am sorry, they were mostly a turn-off. Not a few of the people writing some of the stuff seemed like absolute flakes, some of whom were downright nasty in their philosophizing (not to say that doesn’t occur on both sides of the apiary, because of course, it does). Maybe I was looking at all the wrong sources, but nowhere could I find anything like solid evidence their way worked – just esoteric opinions on the evils of the conventional beekeeper and his methods.
Enter Michael Bush and “The Practical Beekeeper” (Volumes I, II, and III).
In a clear, succinct way “The Practical Beekeeper” intelligently illustrates why what we have been doing, and they way we have been doing it, simply is not working any longer and will never work again. Michael Bush shows us – proves to us – the incredibly simple, natural methods that do. “The Practical Beekeeper” series addresses the plethora of issues facing our bees around the world today, intelligently and historically relates how we got where we are, and what we need to do to get back where we need to be. There is no issue facing beekeepers today – from Varroa mites to old-timers being able to lift heavy hives – which “The Practical Beekeeper” series does not address. Michael Bush’s beekeeping methods are natural, cheaper, easier, proven to work and – most important of all – what is best for the bees. Everything he says makes absolute sense because it is founded squarely upon the science of nature and proven results.
Mr. Bush is clearly an extremely intelligent, learned, and articulate man who knows his bee stuff. His matter-of-fact style isn’t preachy or flaky and his manner of writing, though sometimes addressing complex issues in a thorough and scientific manner, is easy to read and understand. “The Practical Beekeeper” series will take you through everything you need to know, starting with the basics in Volume I and moving up to rearing your own queens in Volume III (Yes, it can be done – it’s easy, and produces better queens!).
If you are a new or aspiring beekeeper, or maybe just curious about bees, buy this book. You need it. There’s nothing wrong with some of the old, conventional standbys – they’re great books; I own most of them and still refer back to them. But get started out on the right foot from the get-go: Buy “The Practical Beekeeper” first even if, like me, you have to buy them one volume at a time. It is the best money you will ever spend on your bees.
If you are a conventional beek and you have had umpteen hives, and dozens of bee books for years, buy “The Practical Beekeeper” anyway. You need it. Put aside, for a moment, what you think you know (which may, in fact, be a lot) and just listen to what Michael Bush has to say. If you don’t believe his way works, take a look at his Health Certificates since 2004, which he makes readily available on his web site. The methods in “The Practical Beekeeper” will save you time, save you money, make your life so much easier, and increase the health of your apiary.
Make no mistake, the majority of beekeepers of every persuasion – from “conventional” to “organic” – love their bees. From the guys who make a living on pollination, to the vegans who think it is immoral to rob them of their honey, beeks are dedicated to helping their bees survive and we do what we do because we love them and we are trying to do what is right the only way we know how. And there is wisdom on both sides.
But, in ways we are only just now beginning to understand, we have, with our tinkering and our interfering and our meddling, been unknowingly hurting these incredible little creatures for centuries. We are finally paying for it. What is worse, so are the bees.
Michael Bush’s “The Practical Beekeeper” shows us the way home.