I've moved!

I've moved!

Thanks for stopping by, but it appears you are using a (very) old address for my blog. I've moved to a Wordpress site and you'll need to update your bookmarks for Bees on the Knob

I've moved!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Bargain Books and Reviews are moving

In order to let those who are more interested in gardening and beekeeping find the posts for these subjects, I'm moving the Books part of Bees (and Books) on the Knob to it's own blog: Books on the Knob. I'll leave all the book posts here at least thru the end of the year and have already migrated them over to the new site, so nothing will be missing. Make sure to update your bookmarks or RSS feed for the new location, as I'll continue to post my book reviews, info about free and bargain books and book contests around the 'net. Sometime after the first of the year, I'll remove the book only posts (except those that are book on gardening and beekeeping) and will stop dual posting on both sites. Hope to see you there!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Reading about Beekeepers

Unlike the references books of the past few posts, these are all books I'd love to see available on the Kindle. They are essentially memoirs of those who have raised honeybees for a living or as a hobby.

First, two from Sue Hubbell, the well known A Country Year: Living the Questions, which details her life on a 100 acre farm with 200 beehives, and her followup book A Book of Bees: And How to Keep Them that has more about beekeeping tasks and when to do them, interspersed with her prose. Both are an honest look at the real work involved in having so many bees. And there is some manual labor in even one hive -- honey is heavy and so are the boxes and frames used for your hive; even bees add to the weight when a hive is densely populated, with a deep hive body full of honey and bees topping 90 lbs (fear not, there are ways to avoid lifting anything this heavy). By the second book, her farm has expanded to 300 hives, with some scattered about on other properties. All in all, it's a good description of a typical sideliner beekeeper, which is the title for those who have grown beyond the hobbyist level, but are not yet considered commercial beekeepers (who migrate their bees around the nation on a constant basis).

For the story of a commercial beekeeper, check out Bad Beekeeping. A young man from Pennsylvania buys a honey ranch, then ends up herding his bees from Florida in the winter (where he raises 10,000 queens) to the badlands of southern Saskatchewan in summer. Covering a ten year span, this is a look at one of the few people who have kept bees across the US-Canadian border.

For those more interested in the backyard beekeeper, look to Fifty Years Among the Bees. Although many of the practices are now outdated, this is a classic in beekeeping.

And finally, this one isn't about beekeeping at all. It's an English horror film that predates (1967) the scares of Africanized bees in the US. Keep this one on hand for those relatives that are convinced your bees are dangerous: The Deadly Bees. No matter how yours misbehave, they'll be a lot tamer than the bees depicted here. Don't confuse this one with The Birds, although the group of that name does make a cameo appearance.

Advanced Beekeeping References

In yesterday's recommendations, I seem to have skipped over the excellent The Beekeeper's Handbook, Third Edition from Cornell University, one of the nation's top research sites for honeybees and developing new varieties of fruit trees (among other things). A book seldom makes a third edition without a lot of sales and in this case, each edition has been updated with the latest research and status of honeybee diseases and pests.

If you are wanting to get more detailed information about honeybees (or their disease and/or parasites), there are some weighty tomes out there to guide you (as well as excellent conferences each year geared towards both beginning and more advanced beekeepers). Two of the best are The ABC & XYZ of Bee Culture: An Encyclopedia Pertaining to the Scientific and Practical Culture of Honey Bees and 21st Century Complete Guide to Bees and Honeybees, Beekeeping, Apiaries, Africanized Honey Bees - USDA Government Research, Parasites, Mites, Pathogens, Threats to Pollination, Food Supply (CD-ROM). The first covers practically every topic you can thing of that pertains to honeybees, while the second specifically deals with the threats your hives.

One that is a little less helpful is A Spring without Bees: How Colony Collapse Disorder Has Endangered Our Food Supply. While giving a good overview of what is going on with CCD, which is still being investigated by top researchers around the world, and it's possible consequences, this particular book has a definite political slant. Right now, CCD is a collection of symptoms (a disorder, not a disease); only when the true source has identified will we be able to name the culprit (and find a cure). The prospects of growing food without the european honeybees, an insect that has been cultivated by man for nearly as long as he has farmed, are definitely not all rosy (although roses won't be affected). While rice, wheat and corn (and other grass grains) do not need honeybees to be grown as crops, many other staple foods do: beans (including soybeans), squash, peppers and many more. Alfalfa doesn't need pollination before being feed to cattle, but does use honeybees on fields where seed will be grown for the alfalfa farmers. Canola is another heavily pollinated crop, as are some crops that may not technically need honeybees (the alternate pollinator is in parentheses next to each), but have much higher yields when they are used: tomatoes (wind pollinated, bumblebees in greenhouses), apples (orchard mason bees) and blueberries (some native bees are better suited, but not easily raised in the numbers needed). However, the costs of raising enough of the alternate pollinators (which often have no honey crop to offset costs to the beekeeper) and/or the lower yields of wind pollinated crops will probably mean much higher prices in stores, if the european honeybee were to disappear. It's true that the european honeybee is not native to the US (or many other parts of the world) and that native pollinators do exist (or did) in most areas. The difference is the increased yield that commercial honeybees bring to intensive monocrops and the decline of native pollinators in nearly any area that is commercially farmed (or subject to typical surbuban grass monoculture practices). I'd skip this one for now and instead keep up with the topic in the bee journals (see below) and wait until a treatment is found before worrying too much about laying blame.

An hour long, in depth view of the inner workings of the hive, NOVA: Bees - Tales From the Hive doesn't get into beekeeping, but will provide you and any school age children a fascinating look at what goes on inside the hive.

Last, the second US magazine for beekeepers is the more technical American Bee Journal. Many starting beekeepers skip this one for a while, instead opting for Bee Culture magazine that I mentioned yesterday, but you really can't go wrong with either one (or both - they seldom overlap in their coverage).

Kindle Lotto - Score a Kindle by Christmas!

As previously reported, here and practically everywhere on the internet, Amazon's Kindle is sold out until February of next year, if you want a new one. When I posted about the refurbished Kindles over the weekend, a number of people were able to get one (several have them already in hand) and the stock on those sold out on Monday morning. But, don't give up. First, go ahead and place and order for a new Kindle - you can always cancel it if you manage to either win a Kindle in a contest or luck into one of the refurbished units. And here is where you must play the game to win: there have been several "new" refurbished units sold at Amazon after they "sold out" on Monday. As new refurbished Kindles are released end for sale (cleaned, tested and repackaged to look identical to new stock, at least as reported by those who have received theirs this week), they are added back to the web site. But they don't stay there for very long.

To "win" one of these refurbished Kindles, you must frequently check the status on the web site. To jump directly to the listing for the refurbished units and skip the long download times for the entire Kindle description page, bookmark this blog and use the [Check Availability of Refurbished Kindles at Amazon] at the top of the page (or use this address: http://www.tinyurl.com/RefurbKindle), then quickly order when one is in stock. The best way to do this is to set up one-click buying, as that way your order goes through immediately upon clicking the button - no need to log in, select a method of shipping, pick a credit card, etc. Of course, that may lead to a few inadvertent orders, so use this setting with care and consider turning it back off once you have secured your Kindle.

When's the best time to play? That remains unclear -- Amazon is on the west coast and those who've lucked into a unit so far have posted during the day or late in the evening, at least as far as east coast time. Checking first thing in the morning on the east coast is a good idea, but new stock may be posted at any time during the day (which at this time of year, is practically until midnight on the west cost). It's unlikely many will pop up on the weekends, but Saturday see have some stock now and then.

What if you don't want to play Kindle Lotto, but still want to surprise someone with a Kindle this year? Consider ordering a new Kindle and then putting a copy of the order and a printout of the Kindle description page inside an envelope for Christmas. Then buy a couple of paper books, to tide the lucky recipient over until it arrives, along with an Amazon gift certificate so that he or she can start shopping for bargains and favorites (this can be done anytime after your account recognizes that you have a Kindle, even if it isn't registered yet). You could do all this and throw in a nice evening out for dinner and still spend less than the used Kindles being sold in the Amazon Marketplace or on eBay (even if never opened, if you don't buy it direct from Amazon, I would not expect to receive the same warranty or return policy). Good luck!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Getting Started in Beekeeping through Books

When you search on Beekeeping at Amazon, you will get a wide variety, some very old, several very new and many in between. Some cover only a specific aspect of beekeeping, some are concerned only with "organic" practices and others that use "industry standard" practices. There are self-published books, compilations of articles and books by leading researchers in the field. In other words, the choices can be overwhelming. Although I recommend that every new beekeeper find a local club (they are in practically every state and here every county has one, with annual dues anywhere from free to $12, depending on whether they have a newsletter), a good reference book or two is also essential. Books are no substitute for hands-on-learning, but the better ones will give you a broad overview of the steps you need to take at different times of year in order to get that large honey crop (or just have enough bees to pollinate your orchard and garden). Often, also, local beekeepers are a good source of what they do, but the books will explain why it is done (and perhaps why you should not follow every local practice).

One easy to read book, unavailable when I started, is Beekeeping for Dummies and at $13.59, it's an inexpensive way to get your feet wet. It's fairly detailed and has lots of pictures, but if the cartoons and "for dummies" style isn't for you, there are several other good choices (which I'd recommend in any event). Kim Flottum has worked for the USDA Honey Bee Research Lab, written for and edited Bee Culture magazine, published books on honeybee pests and diseases, marketing, queen production, beekeeping history, beginning beekeeping, and the classic industry reference, The ABC & XYZ of Bee Culture: An Encyclopedia Pertaining to the Scientific and Practical Culture of Honey Bees. In 2005, he published The Backyard Beekeeper: An Absolute Beginner's Guide to Keeping Bees in Your Yard and Garden, also at that same $13.59 price.

Two that I started with and highly recommend are Hive Management: A Seasonal Guide for Beekeepers and Beekeeping: A Practical Guide, both by Richard E. Bonney. The approaches of the two books are different, with the former oriented around when to perform tasks, while the second is organized in a more traditional manner. There is some overlap, but both are excellent references.

Keeping Bees not only covers the basics of beekeeping, but also goes into detail on how to make the hive boxes and frames yourself. Even if you don't want to start from scratch, a basic understanding can make assembling the precut pieces a lot easier, as well as convincing you that you really should both glue and cross nail every single frame. For the more visually oriented and those who cannot find a local club or beekeeper to be a mentor, you may want to pick up Bee Keeper's Educational Series - Hive Splitting/Honey Extracting and Bottling on DVD.

If you want to stay away from using chemicals and insecticides on your bees, that doesn't mean any of the above books are less useful, just that some of the advice on what to use may not work for you, while the when and why remain pertinent. Be warned: not only is there no recognized definition of what it takes to have an organic apiary or create organic honey, many who simply discard traditional chemicals have had large losses even before the current Colony Collapse Disorder crisis amongst commercial beekeepers. There are exceptions: bees kept in areas that are considered fully africanized (Arizona and some surrounding areas) often are doing fine (but can be very temperamental, to say the least), due to the natural resistances of the smaller and fiercer africanized honeybees. Some other areas are also doing well, due to their isolation: most "wild" colonies of european honeybees have disappeared and if all their neighbors have fully treated bees, their organic bees may not be exposed to the various mites that are the reason for most chemical treatments. There is one book out there on organically caring for honeybees: Natural Beekeeping: Organic Approaches to Modern Apiculture. Just don't be surprised if you don't find any local beekeepers following all it's methods and that you local bee inspector advises you not to follow it's advice.

And if you are not in the USA, you may find the calendar portion of many of these books simply doesn't work for you, laws are not the same or that you have country specific crops that are not included. One book geared towards those in the UK is Teach Yourself Beekeeping (Teach Yourself) and for a magazine, look to Bee Craft. The links are for those in the US; as far as I can tell, Amazon doesn't sell magazine subscriptions in the UK, nor do they have a direct link to get this book (although several third party sellers do have it). Either, however, should get you started and cover that uniquely English crop, heather, which can be quite difficult to extract.

Tomorrow: Advanced Beekeeping references.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Secret Life of Bees

This time of year, our bees are hiding out in the hive, having sealed most of the entrance up to deter skunks and other predators that like to eat them in the winter, and are most likely clustered together keeping warm (especially with the recent snow and cold nights). But, that doesn't mean you can't read about bees. There are plenty of books on both beekeeping and beekeepers out there and some of those are making their way to the Kindle. One that is now available at a bargain price ($4.60) is The Secret Life of Bees, which is now in theaters and will soon be out on DVD. Set on a honeybee "farm", the book is really more about family and relationships, but is a very good read.

For those looking for a winter's read about bees (honeybees or otherwise), there are kid's books with bee themes (The Missing Honey Bees, The Adventures of Maya the Bee and The Bee-Man of Orn and Other Fanciful Tales), books by and about people who keep bees (Robbing the Bees: A Biography of Honey--The Sweet Liquid Gold that Seduced the World, Letters from the Hive: An Intimate History of Bees, Honey, and Humankind, A Keeper of Bees: Notes on Hive and Home), books dedicated to just the products of the hive (The Honey Book: The Many Uses of Honey), philosophical books about bees (The Life of the Bee), a few classics (Langstroth On The Hive And The Honey Bee and A Manual: Or an Easy Method of Managing Bees) and even books that are of a more scientific bent (The Little Book of bees, CHEATING MONKEYS AND CITIZEN BEES and a couple that are definitely not bargain books: Bee Pollination in Agricultural Ecosystems and Honey Bees: Estimating the Environmental Impact of Chemicals).

But when it comes to books you'll reference while actually working your bees or use in the honey room, I recommend old fashioned paper books (even if any of these come out as ebooks - there are not currently any real beekeeping texts out for the Kindle, although there are a couple of very short self-published pamphlets masquerading as such). Not only are the color pictures more useful, you don't want to get any honey or propolis on your Kindle. The honey will come off with water (but you don't want that much water on any electronic device), but propolis will be there to stay, making a sticky mess (much more so than honey) until the bulk is removed and leaving a stain anywhere it has been (keep this in mind when selecting clothes and shoes to wear both in the apiary and in your honey room or when working your empty boxes; they will get stained and the stains will not come out). Tomorrow I'll look at a few recommendations for those just starting out.