A house without books is like a hive without bees

The weather swings to and fro. Spring is not quite in the air, though the birds are singing about it. I’ve been meaning to share some of the books I’ve read lately, at least the ones related to beekeeping. In the past few months I’ve read The Quest for the Perfect Hive, The Beekeeper’s Problem Solver, and The Thinking Beekeeper.

Book Stack

It turns out all three of these books were holiday gifts.

The Quest for the Perfect Hive

Quest Perfect HiveThe first gift, from my lovely wife, was straight off my Christmas list. The Quest for the Perfect Hive: A History of Innovation in Bee Culture was written by Gene Kritsky and published in 2010. If you are looking for the history of hives from around the world, this is not your book. The first chapter discusses the origins of beekeeping, from Egypt to Greece and beyond. From chapter two on, however, the discussion is squarely in Europe and the United States. Having read a book on Russian beekeeping in the past months, I was a little disappointed not to see more about the history of these and other outside-of-Europe hives.

I still found this book fascinating, from bee niches to glass jar hives to bee houses. With first-hand knowledge by the author and his own pictures from locations and museums across the countryside, I sped through the entire book in a couple days. I especially enjoyed how beekeeping was presented at various World Fairs in both England and the U.S.

In the final chapter (called The End of Innovation), Kritsky laments the lack of hive innovation since the start of the 20th century. Standard beehive frames and extractors create a circle of dependency that is hard to break, and easy to follow. He takes heart in the advent of the top bar hive and rise in hobby beekeepers trying new designs and new approaches. If we start inventing again, he says, “we may find the next perfect hive.”

The Beekeeper’s Problem Solver

Problem SolverFrom my friend who works in a New Hampshire bookstore, one I had not heard of. The Beekeeper’s Problem Solver: 100 Common Problems Explored and Explained, by James E Tew. Published in 2015, the book has a great format: numbered problems, each with a Cause and Solution along with a photo and a related bit of bee trivia.

For example, #32 Some capped brood have small openings, covers the fact that bees often leave a small hole temporarily as part of closing up a cell. However, ragged openings or an abundance of such openings can also indicate certain diseases. The image for #32 is of partially capped brood, with some holes of course, along with a brief description of how bees cap cells. Tew says that honey is capped with pure beeswax, while brood is capped with a mixture of wax and propolis. Cool stuff.

I’m not sure that the content is any more than most beginning beekeeping books, and in some cases the topics seem rather advanced (#46 Larva won’t slide off the grafting tool). It is a wonderful gift, and I enjoyed the layout, the great pictures, and reading my through topics. Each item is a two-page spread, which makes it very easy to pick up and read a few problems at a time.

The Thinking Beekeeper

Thinking BeekeeperThe final gift of the set was The Thinking Beekeeper: A Guide to Natural Beekeeping in Top Bar Hives, by Christy Hemenway. Published in 2013, the book is a bit of a sales piece for Hemenway’s company Gold Star Honeybees. One interesting feature, something I’m not a fan of, is that her hives have their entrance in the middle. This requires two follower boards, and the manipulation of the hive area to ensure that the brood nest stays at one end of the overall cavity. While it was interesting to read about how this is done, it just seems easier to have an entrance at the front of the box and let the bees prepare the hive as they deem best for the coming winter.

The section on diseases is also a bit light, and essentially boils down to the idea that a healthy hive can handle whatever nature throws its way (which, to be fair, is mostly true). The discussion on varroa mites is short, and the only treatment mentioned is to dust with powdered sugar. Using powdered sugar alone has been shown to be insufficient, and the discussion did not mention brood breaks, drone capture, or other non-chemical manipulations known to reduce mite levels.

As you can tell, I’m not a huge fan of this book, though I am glad to have read it. The book is highly rated on Amazon, so nice to know what’s inside. It seems to me that most beekeepers think very hard about what they are doing, so the somewhat presumptuous title kinda sums up the attitude in the book.

The Other Books

In the stack of books at the top of this post are two other holiday gifts, plus Wyatt Magnum’s book Top Bar Hives (a great book). I learned about the first one, The Bees in Your Backyard, from the Honey Bee Suite blog. It is a reference book for North American Bees, something I’m looking forward to using in the spring and summer.

The Facts on File Dictionary of Proverbs is a book I wanted for reference. I referenced this book in a prior post (in the end notes), and it seemed a good source for a crazy guy looking to make blog post titles constantly link to bees in some way. A good third of the book is a keyword reference with every word in every proverb indexed – very heady stuff, I assure you! I used this reference tonight, looking up all the quotes that contain the word “book” to find an appropriate title for a post about books. Need I say more?


Our title is comes from a quote by Horace Mann, the well-known proverb “A house without books is like a room without windows.” According to Wikiquotes, this quote was coined in The Duty of Owning Books, published in 1859. According to my sources, in this book Mann says he would rather have a house full of books than a house full of furniture.

Of course, we adapted the quote, from rooms with windows to hives with bees. After all, what is a hive without bees in residence? It would be an empty, dark place, kind of like a room with no windows…. Just as paper exists to be filled with ABC’s, a hive is meant for bees.

3 thoughts on “A house without books is like a hive without bees

  1. It’s always fun seeing what other people are reading. The Bees in Your Backyard looks very interesting. My husband gave me a book on insects in New England a few years ago, which includes a section on bees, and I reference it quite frequently (not just for bees). The Beekeeper’s Problem Solver looks like one that might make it onto my wish list this year.

    I read Christy’s book before I got TBHs. It’s good, but I like Mangum’s book better. My hives have end entrances, but in Christy’s defense, double follower boards/side entrances have a couple nice features. In the spring/early summer, you don’t have to keep the brood at one end. They are in the middle with honey on both sides. This means you can check both sides of the brood and add space on both sides. After the solstice, then you make a mid-season shift and essentially manage the same way you would end entrances. Also, in summer, air enters the hive “the cool way” between combs. In winter, the entrance should be far away from the cluster so that air doesn’t blow in on them directly.

    However, like you, I’d rather skip the extra work of shifting.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The Beekeepers Problem Solver looks like a book that I need to keep under the hive roof for quick reading when our bees present us with the latest mystery. I didn’t know cappings for brood were made with wax and propolis, I wonder why workers do this – does the mixture make a better sealant for the larvae? Does the book shed any light?


    • Nothing further in this book on why they use propolis in brood cappings. I am sure I’ve read it elsewhere, though am unable to find a reference at the moment. I think the propolis mixed in makes the cap more porous so the larva can breath, and perhaps help with disease control. If I can recall or find where else I’ve seen it I’ll let you know.

      Liked by 1 person

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