Beekeeping is simple, but we insist on making it complicated


simple-smartWinter is a time for reading in beekeeping. I recently finish Simple, Smart Beekeeping by husband and wife team Kirsten Shoshanna Traynor (Author) and Michael Joseph Traynor (Contributor). I purchased the book at the VSBA Fall meeting, where Dr. Traynor and Michael spoke twice: once on the topic of pesticides, and again on beekeeping in Germany. Both were quite interesting so I supported their efforts by buying their book. The cost is a bit steep: $34.95 right now on Amazon; the meeting price was $25.

The high price is likely because of the photography. Professional photographer Michael Traynor takes some of the best bee photos you’ll see; just look at the cover. You can find his work at and Look for the great shot of pollen in a hive, which appears in the book as well. The pictures alone might be worth the price of the book.

In a recent review by Rusty at, she extolled the virtues of the book for new beekeepers. Perhaps I am caught up on some minor points, but I was not so enamored. The book does share some good information, and I learned a few new ideas from it. You can make up your own mind; here are my top three issues.

First, apparently I am a stickler for the meaning of words. Dr. Traynor has a Ph.D. in this field, yet she uses the word caste incorrectly. It really bothered me. While the term may have taken on a more generalized meaning of late, the proper biological definition is to represent multiple instances of a gender within social animals, distinguished by anatomical or morphological differences from each other. Dr. Traynor uses the word as in “cast of characters” to mean the three different types of bees (queen, worker, drone). The drone bee, as the only form of the male honey bee, is not a caste. Only the queen and worker form a caste, as each grows into adults differently and have very different biological functions in the hive. Honey bees have two genders, male (drone) and female, and two castes, both female (worker and queen). Even Rusty agrees with me.

My second issue with the book is Dr. Traynor’s insistence that new beekeepers should try not to use gloves. I understand this might give a more tactile feel for the bees, but really? Part of my issue is certainly that I still get nervous when a bee lands on my skin, I have to use gloves to keep my cool around the hives. I just don’t see why this is an important point to raise in a book meant for first-time beekeepers.

Related to this second issue is the equipment discussion. While Dr. Traynor mentions the various options, there was no clear “do this” recommendation. I understand the options yet was a little confused by the variations presented, without a clear message about the need for a brood area: either two deeps or three mediums.

My final issue was in her definition of top bar hive. The concept is quite nice: provide a list of words beekeepers should know. In her definition of top bar hive, Dr. Traynor says that “bees draw wild comb on bars instead of on movable frames.” This is not correct. I was a bit surprised that a professional in the field would not have a better definition. Wild comb is not a term I have heard, perhaps natural comb? Top bar hive frames are, of course, just as moveable as the frames in other hives.

Overall, I was expecting some very definitive “here is what I recommend” paragraphs to simplify getting started as a new beekeeper. Instead the book presents a number of options and indicates what the author users, without a reasoned clear recommendation that I could follow.

On the positive side, it is obvious Dr. Traynor knows her bees and there are some nice ideas in here for an early beekeeper like myself. Her idea of feeding bees sugar syrup in a gallon storage bag in interesting: just place it on top of the hive and poke a few holes in it (though make sure you have space above for the bees). The pictures are truly amazing, and the section on record keeping is very good. A good book to fill in more information about beekeeping, though perhaps not a first book to get started with as a new beekeeper.

Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated

This quote is attributed to Confucius all over the Internet, except on where it says this is a mistake. According to wikiquote, the saying first appears in print in Aero Digest in 1949, volumes 58-59. I suspect wikiquote is true as none of the other sites with the quote referenced any actual writings of Confucius.

I find it fascinating that such quotes can take on a life of their own and the Internet can make them seem true. This is also true of the quote “If the Bee Disappeared Off the Face of the Earth, Man Would Only Have Four Years Left To Live” which is commonly attributed to Albert Einstein. Most likely this quote was not from Einstein, and yet it persists.

For the post, many people try to make beekeeping simple yet it can get pretty complicated. It is not hard to throw some bees in a beehive, but caring for the colony and making some honey is not as easy; and keeping those bees alive for more than a year or two is even harder. So a Confucius quote about simplicity that was not actually from Confucius somehow seemed appropriate.

Enjoy the season!


3 thoughts on “Beekeeping is simple, but we insist on making it complicated

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