For experts and hobbyists alike, the market has been teeming for some time with beekeeping books. These can range from those offering technical apicultural advice to those more general books on any number of topics tangential to the world of bees. In fact, the honeybee is such a ceaselessly fascinating creature – and their colonies such a marvel of natural complexity – that it won’t take a beekeeping initiate particularly long to realize just how many topics are contained under the general heading of “beekeeping”.
From general books for beginners to specific topics such as organic/top bar beekeeping and DIY beekeeping equipment, there is a rich store of published information on this most fascinating of hobbies (or, indeed, professions). Included here are fifteen of the best, selected for both their use and helpfulness to the beekeeper, as well as the enjoyment of the general reader.
Apiculture is now meeting, head on, the ecological threats which in recent times have become a major public concern. Not only have many realized that beekeeping is by no means a prohibitively difficult or expensive endeavor, but even governments are now supporting amateur and professional beekeepers in an attempt to combat the alarming spectacle of diminishing bee populations and the specter of colony collapse disorder.
This means that a great many people are now taking up apiculture casually. As they do so, the market for books on the subject has only grown. Long gone are the days when books on this topic would be confined to specialty or technical sections of libraries and bookshops – they are now stocking fillers and hardback bestsellers.
And with this popularity, comes a great deal of new information to satisfy the demand. Beekeeping is not a static endeavor. There may be certain items of universal advice that haven’t changed since prehistoric man inaugurated apiculture some 9000 years ago. However, more often than not, beekeeping moves with the times, whether that be changes in hive technology or the development and advancement of new diseases and other natural challenges. Many of the books on my list here are bearing the fruit of the latest apicultural research or are addressing problems that are unique to our time.
Read on, then, for a countdown of 15 of the best beekeeping books, in demand and on shelves in 2021.
By Malcolm T. Stanford and Richard E Bonney
The three subheadings beneath the title of this popular book – Honey Production, Pollination, Health – offer an indication of its general scope. Indeed, now into its second edition, Storey’s Guide to Keeping Bees has all the stuff of a solid beekeeping handbook for the use of both amateurs and experts. As you might expect, it prioritizes easy reference, clear illustration (much expanded for the second edition) and is simply one of those general books to be picked up when needed.
Storey’s Guide to Keeping Bees also boasts the academic credentials of Professor Malcolm T. Stanford, a professor emeritus of the University of Florida and a retired cooperative extension apiculture specialist. He has also authored the more specific Beekeeping Without Borders and he is the editor and author of the Apis Information Resource News – the longest running monthly newsletter of its type. The beekeeper would expect to be in good hands here; indeed, the book bares the fruit of specialist knowledge.
Its real achievement, therefore, is that it combines this specialist knowledge (there probably isn’t a more qualified apiculture specialist than Professor Stanford) with a total accessibility. This accessibility is achieved not through “keeping things simple” but rather providing fairly detailed introductions to the rudiments of beekeeping. On top of this foundation much additional reference information is provided, meaning this book truly is for beginners as well as the more experienced.
There have been some reported issues about the quality of the print and binding in this hardback edition, but this doesn’t seem to be a universal problem and, in any case, the book seems more than capable of withstanding the years of use it seems almost destined to have.
By James E. Tew
This incredibly useful beekeeping book, published in 2015, seems to have stuck around because it follows a format – tested in other areas but seemingly new for beekeeping – that beekeepers almost seem to have been crying out for.
The book focuses on beekeeping problems (a neat hundred of them), which addresses one of the more fraught corners of beekeeping. The general principles of beekeeping do not change, beekeeping technology changes only slowly, but the snags, pitfalls, and general problems of beekeeping seem to change year on year.
The pathogens and diseases that harm bees, for example, are constantly changing in relative prevalence from area to area. Furthermore, the early warning signs of bee ill health can be pretty tricky to spot while other hive problems are the result of ill-preparation months before. This all means that the way to solve the problems is to know about them before they happen! If you would like to know about all sorts of beekeeping problems (and in many cases, before they happen) then this book will make for a valuable addition to your library.
It is, however, far from exhaustive. The 100 situations here do not span everything that is likely to go wrong in a hive and, being a few years old, it’s just beginning to lag a bit behind the latest information (especially concerning diseases). The book makes no pretense that it is for anything but identifying these problems (which are often difficult to identify) so you will have to look elsewhere for detailed information on implementing the solution.
That said, this book will tell you what the solution is – and often for problems that you would otherwise not notice. Therein lies its value.
By L.L. Langstroth
My list covers the best beekeeping books for 2020. Some books, however, are timeless classics of the subject, with this 170-year-old book being perhaps foremost among them.
Moving away from the more squarely practical reference books to a book more of historical interest, this represents probably the most revolutionary work on beekeeping in history. L. L. Langstroth, its author, is not known as the father of modern beekeeping, who lent his name to the most widely used beehive, for nothing.
First appearing in 1853, Langstroth covers bee physiology, diseases, and techniques for the safe and efficient harvesting of honey and beeswax. The book manages, despite its age, to be actually useful to the novice beekeeper – not least because many of the theories and practical techniques that Langstroth pioneered have remained unchanged over the last century-and-a-half.
This book also outlines Langstroth’s design for the hive that to this day bears his name. It cannot be understated the extent to which Langstroth, with this single invention, revolutionized the beekeeping world. Even general readers of no apicultural experience will find this aspect of interest.
Also attractive to the general reader is Langstroth’s evident love of his subject and the creatures thereof – he often waxes lyrical about “the kindness of bees to one another” and “their infatuations with liquid sweets.”
Although it can hardly be called up to date information, Langstroth’s work remains a particularly useful resource for beekeepers. Used in conjunction with more modern materials, it makes for a worthwhile purchase.
By Tanya Phillips
Getting on to more specific books, this one is solely for beginners and is mainly concerned with the business of setting up a new colony from scratch. Right off the bat, one notices that this is a book that knows its readership. Dense explication and theory (often all but necessary for more experienced beekeepers) here give way to a real emphasis on visuality and the simple “step” based procedures.
That said, this guide does give ample space to beekeeping problems and pests and diseases. There is no pretense that beekeeping is a simple matter of the right equipment followed by a series of steps. There are many problems that can arise even at the most basic level of beekeeping and this book provides beginner beekeepers with the knowledge they require to spot and deal with these.
Naturally, however, the limitations of this book are related most often to it being aimed at absolute beginners. While this might be excusable, there is one rather glaring omission that is less so. This book provides precisely no information on how to make, store, and feed with sugar syrup with which newly installed bees often require to get started. This is certainly a mark against the book – or at least the feeding section.
With this one oversight set aside though, this is a book that will cover the basics across all the major areas of beekeeping – basics, colony management, feeding, harvesting, and troubleshooting. It is an excellent book to start off with.
By Dewey M. Carron
Neatly following the first book on our list aimed at absolute beginners is this work which, for over 20 years now, has been a standard introductory textbook to the biological science, theory, and practice behind bees and beekeeping.
Published in a revised edition in 2013, the book’s republication pays testament to its popularity – somewhat surprising for a nominal textbook. The secret of its success almost certainly lies in the fact that it brings to bear the heft of detail on a prose style that is actually admirably straightforward. To be clear, this book is not for absolute beginners, but you do not require an ounce of specialist knowledge to find value in it.
The book covers the expected topics (and offers some practical advice) but is encyclopedic in its scope. There are no step by step chapters on the most rudimentary beekeeping procedures, but by looking up the issue facing you in your beekeeping among the 360 odd pages of this physically large volume, you’ll arrive at pretty much all of the information you need – and then some.
The work is indeed clearly written and accessible, but the sheer amount of information could lead to readers scanning and skipping. This is not necessarily a criticism – we should be glad to have such a readable repository of beekeeping knowledge – but it might not be the most wieldy beekeeping guidebook, especially for beginners.
By Ross Conrad
The first book to deal with a specialist topic on my list happens to be a very timely one. A central contention of this book is that recent issues troubling apiculture – not least, as it states, the alarming spread of colony collapse disorder – have made natural (also called “organic”) beekeeping almost an obligation. This is a book for those convinced that natural beekeeping is the way forward – but it is also a very practical guide.
The book notably laments that the rise of certain bee diseases – varroa and tracheal mites etc. – have made standard practice the application of harmful chemicals to afflicted beehives. Author Ross Conrad clearly has something of a bee in his bonnet (ahem) where this issue is concerned – but that engenders a spirited attempt to outline natural beekeeping in a practical way. The book is clearly aimed at as wide a readership as possible.
Like a lot of beekeeping guides, there is an extensive section on bee biology and anatomy which is at once useful to the beekeeper and in affording a solid scientific underpinning to Conrad’s – at time’s almost polemical – championing the natural beekeeping alternative. The book also contains much information that will be useful to all beekeepers – even beginners could get set up with the information provided here.
That is not to say that this book could function as a consummate guide to beekeeping alone. There are many sections that downright advise against inorganic beekeeping practice, even where these are fairly standard and commonly practiced by beginners. The book is a balancing act between a genuinely thorough and helpful guide and forcefully written argument for the natural beekeeping way.
If you are already into natural beekeeping though – what are you waiting for?
By Hillary Kearney
Modern beekeepers with a functioning internet connection will already be well aware of Hillary Kearney. Running the very popular beekeeping blog Girl Next Door Honey, Kearney is known for chronicling her swarm catching endeavors and advocating for more natural and organic beekeeping practices.
Kearney’s book, Queen Spotting: Meet the Remarkable Queen Bee, is unique on my list because it is a practical guide to queen management (one of the most essential beekeeping duties) as well as a compelling book of interest to anyone who is interested in the lives of queen bees. Indeed, this is one of the books to be enjoyed even by those with no intention of becoming beekeepers.
The book takes a light tone throughout and this is what makes it so accessible. To this end also are included various fold-out puzzles, challenging the reader to find the queen bee hidden amid her many subjects. These puzzles are fun and will endear the book to the general reader, but they are also surprisingly good practice for developing that most important of beekeeping skills – finding the queen bee.
Queen bees are endlessly fascinating, so this book is off to a good start by the very nature of its subject. Yet, not only does it offer a practical guide to the many beekeeping duties and challenges that involve the queen bee, it would also make a fine gift for those people endlessly curious about the wonders of nature. Even those with the least interest in beekeeping cannot fail to find this fascinating. It would also be suitable for inquisitive children.
Although rich in detail regarding the queen’s role in a hive, the book does nevertheless lean towards beginners. Even so, the book is entertaining enough to be worth the purchase even if you are well versed in the topic already.
By Dean Stiglitz & Laurie Herboldsheimer
The cheeky title aside, this is not a book aimed solely at idiots. Featuring much information, this is yet another great general guide that “idiot” beginners and seasoned beekeepers will find much value in.
The book is wieldy, durable, and very well organized, meaning beekeepers should find it a very practical guide, to be consulted as and when needed and perhaps even worth taking into the field.
The book is also typified by a strong strain of anti-chemical polemic, and it seems clear that its authors Stiglitz and Herboldsheimer are very much beekeepers of the organic and natural stripe. The book advises against harmful miticide use, artificial feeding, and other techniques that are suggested to be perilous to honeybee health. That said, the reader doesn’t need to be a full-on top-bar hive back-to-nature beekeeper in order to find value here; after all, it is first and foremost a general guide, accessible to beginners.
Where this book perhaps oversteps the mark in its organic bent is its special emphasis on small cell foundation. Here, Stiglitz and Herboldsheimer seem to forget that this practice is actually not widely practiced by organic beekeepers; some remain unconvinced and, at any rate, small cell foundation is hardly appropriate for beginner beekeepers.
Yet natural beekeeping of course has a lot to say for it and it does not necessarily detract from this excellent beginner’s guide, that the authors are such passionate advocates of it. This is simply another great book for the beginner beekeeper and the general reader alike.
By Tony Pisano
For the first properly specific beekeeping book on my list I have this fine practical guide to building beekeeping equipment. Despite that general title, what the book is really concerned with is building hives – although there is more variety herein than you might think.
For one thing, there are simply lots of different kinds of hives and this book makes a point of letting you know that it contains the necessary information to build of them. Indeed, on the front cover the book states that it covers “8- & 10-Frame Hives; Top Bar, Nuc & Demo Hives; Feeders, Swarm Catchers” and, tantalizingly, “more”. As the author blurb makes clear, Tony Pisano is foremost a woodworker – with years of expert experience – who has turned his skills to constructing beehives
This book makes our list primarily because it really does provide the information and steps needed to build any type of hive. Of course, to what extent this book is for beginners then is an urgent question. Certainly, it is not for DIY beginners. The information in this book is well organized, clear, and complemented by many useful illustrations. Nevertheless, many beginner beekeepers might be somewhat put off by this round of woodwork being added to the many beekeeping skills that must be learned at the outset.
Of course, if you are handy around the house, you can probably construct these hives, an endeavor that isn’t too complicated and will certainly work out cheaper. A big advantage in doing so is that, as the book makes clear, you can tailor your beehive to your particular climate and forage zone. Elements like hive entrances, stand height, and general shape are all variables that you can optimize for the best beekeeping wherever you are.
Even though this book probably isn’t for those totally hostile to DIY, it is not at all difficult to make some of the equipment here. An 8-frame hive, for example, is perfectly doable with a good attitude and a hand saw. One glaring omission, however, is blueprint details on the construction of the specific frames, but this is not anything that using the book, in conjunction with the internet, will not fix.
By Les Crowder and Heather Harrell
Top bar beekeeping is known for its vacillating fortunes and popularity in the beekeeping world. Central to this phenomenon is that there is a constant debate between those who champion its organic and nature-mimicking elements and those who lament the lower yields that it produces.
Nevertheless, top bar beekeeping has much to recommend it. Indeed, with the most contentious issues in modern apiculture involving the use of the artificial remedies to disease, pesticides, and artificial feeding, the top bar hive is probably enjoying renewed popularity at the present moment. Top bar beekeeping also benefits from the specter of the colony collapse disorder, as it is seen as a viable means of preventing that catastrophe.
Almost certainly a product of this surge in top bar popularity is this book from apiculture experts Les Crowder and Heather Harrell. The book all but states that “more and more organically minded beekeepers are now using Top Bar hives,” implying that it is riding some kind of wave.
If you are – or would like to be – part of this top bar revolution, then this is a fine book to start with. Functioning as an introduction and a great general guide, it covers many of the top bar specific aspects of beekeeping. This involves topics like the height the hive is placed off the ground, the location of the entrance, how to harvest honey and beeswax, how to build the bars from which the comb hangs, and the ill-advisedness of using a queen excluder in a top bar.
It is important not to misidentify the shortcomings of the top bar hive as any shortcomings of this book. A top bar is a lot of work and does produce less honey. But with the benefits of top bar beekeeping manifold, this book is an ideal introduction.
By Kim Flottum
Kim Flottum’s The Backyard Beekeeper, now into its 4th edition, has proven so enduringly popular because so-called “backyard beekeeping” is pretty much the ideal entry into the world of apiculture for the majority of beekeepers who have neither the land nor the intention needed to set up a major profitable apiary. It is also popular because it is an excellent book.
First off, the book truly is for all. In fact, Flottum manages to effect such a successful synthesis of clearly outlined basics and expert knowledge that this book will appeal to backyard beekeepers of all skill levels. The book is also a visual and physical delight. Large, easy to read and wieldy in the field, it is also illustrated throughout in rich photographic color.
The book is a fine overview, containing information on equipment, seasonal duties, and much information specific to small apiaries. The only drawback is sadly inevitable for a book of this kind; regardless of all the useful information herein, where your backyard happens to be located is of very great importance – something that unfortunately cannot be covered here. Used in conjunction with local info from your local beekeeping association though, this is a winning book.
By Amber Bradshaw
“Wouldn’t it be great to raise your own bees, have a fresh supply of honey, and bring thousands of healthy pollinators into your yard?”
So begins the blurb of this popular and attractive book, which immediately reveals its specific appeal. This is very much a book for those with little intention to get into serious beekeeping but who, from an awareness of topical environmental issues or perhaps just a love of honey, are very attracted to the idea of beekeeping.
This is not to say the book doesn’t wrestle with its topic properly, but, like our previous entry, this is one for the backyard beekeepers. And it fills that role spectacularly, being as wieldy and richly illustrated as Kim Flottum’s fine book.
What distinguishes this work, however, is that, as its subtitle makes clear, this is a book that covers the earliest stages of beekeeping. In these pages, Amber Bradshaw takes the beekeeper through the first year of beekeeping. This is a time that is not without its significant challenges and which will not reward the beekeeper’s hard work with a particularly large amount of honey.
This type of book is welcome for the true beginners, but it should be noted that this is not one of those books from which a seasoned beekeeper will learn anything new. The book does not claim to be anything other than that, however, and the first year of beekeeping is indeed a challenge for many beginners. So long as it isn’t being bought for an expert apiculturist, you won’t go far wrong with this.
By Diana Sammataro and Alphonse Avitabille
Getting on for fifty years on the market – and now into its 4th edition – The Beekeeper’s Handbook is the closest thing we have on our list to a real beekeeping classic (with the possible exception of Langstroth’s immortal text). Helping hobbyists and experts alike since 1973, this revised edition brings with it a wealth of information on the ongoing challenges that beekeepers face (and truly, there is no shortage of those).
From setting up your apiary to seasonal duties, this book provides informative step-by-step guidance on it all. Richly illustrated and now available in a sturdy hardback edition, it makes for a fine addition to any beekeeping library.
The Beekeeper’s Handbook is another text that experts and beginners alike will be glad to have. Nevertheless, it really comes into its own at the beginner level. So detailed, yet clear, is each instruction that, short of embarking on specialist beekeeping (top bar etc.), the beginner will scarcely need anything else.
The book, however, seems to be written as if the only way to keep bees is with a Langstroth hive. Within this area, it is accessible and exhaustive, but you will not find much here related to other forms of beekeeping. Part of this is down to the age of the work (top bar beekeeping was still being developed in 1973) but, being in its fourth edition, you perhaps would have expected the authors to correct the omission.
For what it is, it is a great book.
By Richard Jones and Sharon Sweeney-Lynch
From handbooks to bibles, this is a beekeeping book that certainly makes fairly large claims for itself. Used idiomatically, a “bible” refers to a book that offers total guidance on a topic, no stone left unturned, all detail exhaustive and all advice sound…
Well, The Beekeeper’s Bible isn’t quite that good, but it is certainly a fine book, and yet another that will find a receptive audience amongst absolute beginners and more seasoned apiculturists. Co-written by the revered British naturalist Richard Jones (a familiar face on British television), the book is bursting not only with beekeeping advice, but a very extensive section on honey recipes and yet another on the history of beekeeping. That is what makes this offering truly unique on my list.
Therefore, although this book refers to itself as “the ultimate guide to the practical essentials of beekeeping”, what it really is is a book for those wishing to actually go beyond beekeeping and into the culinary world. One of the best loved of nature’s bounties (and for very good reason), honey forms the main ingredient of an impressive array of spectacular dishes. If your interests lie in the kitchen as much as the apiary, you literally cannot do better than this.
Naturally, with such an eclectic book, those after a practical and concise beekeeping handbook might find this far too sprawling. The history section, in particular, might well strike many as superfluous, which is a shame because this section is perhaps the most fascinating.
The truth remains though that this does serve as a richly detailed guide to apiculture. Its wide scope might put some readers off, but it is never boring.
By Howland Blackiston
Is there anyone who hasn’t heard of the famous and staggeringly extensive “for dummies” series? Just about to celebrate its 30th birthday, the series has long been known for those black and yellow covers, the triangle headed “dummies man” and, of course, an excellence of practical advice for beginners of all disciplines. The over 2500 titles still on the market speaks to the overwhelming popularity of this media franchise.
The title on beekeeping, now in its 4th edition and stretching to nearly 500 pages, is no exception to the brand’s reputation for thoroughness. Herein you will find plenty of information on even the more obscure and less-practiced forms of beekeeping. It is also yet another title in my list that more experienced beekeepers will find well worth having. The title is written by Howland Blackiston, a beekeeper of some forty years who will be a familiar face to anyone tuning in to nature documentaries on all of America’s major networks.
A winsome aspect of this book is that it stresses the importance of both tradition and individuality within beekeeping. As anyone who has read either Langstroth’s revolutionary work on beekeeping or some of the older books featured on my list will appreciate that there has been a beekeeping way of doing things for literally millennia. And yet, this book stresses that, as time goes on, most beekeepers will develop their own practices. Everyone’s immediate natural environment will affect their beekeeping, so this is by no means a bad thing. This book gives beginners the solid foundation upon which to develop their personal techniques.
The book is ever so slightly out of date – not featuring some problems that are pretty common nowadays (such as queen abscondence). But with this book as popular as it is (check those amazon reviews), and already in its fourth edition, this is nothing but a minor issue that will probably be corrected in the fifth.