The Latest Books Reviewed.

Here we are in March and a little bit closer to the season starting in the North of Scotland. Its mild again after a few nights of below zero temperatures and hard frosts. The song thrushes are back in the garden making themselves heard with their distinctive notes at daybreak and evening.

It will be another month or more before I shall be opening up the hives for inspections. When I see drones flying, I know that swarm season is approaching and I shall start regular inspections. Meanwhile, there is still plenty to do and I need to prepare boxes of shallow frames for the first nectar flow. I have no more honey for sale till the next harvest and I’ve nearly finished labelling 45 small 3 oz jars of soft set honey for wedding favours. My great-nephew is getting married at the end of the month and I will be taking the honey down to Edinburgh for the big day.

Book Reviews.

This week I want to share a couple of book reviews with you. One of the perks of reviewing books for Northern Bee Books and Princeton University Press (PUP) is getting some lovely additions to my already large library. I’m sure many of you have read Interviews with Beekeepers by Steve Donohue? I enjoyed hearing about Steve’s journey round the world speaking to bee farmers and comparing how they operated across different landscapes so I was very interested to read his most recent book written with Paul Horton about how to keep bees healthy and producing large harvests. This book is full of practical beekeeping tips and was already on my shopping list before I was asked to review it.

Last year, I reviewed Bees of The World by Laurence Packer, and PUP have just sent another beautiful book in the same series called Wasps of The World. I think that you will like this one too and it traces the evolutionary history of our beloved honey bee as well as highlighting the importance of wasps in our environment. I didn’t realise that wasps came in so many varied shapes, sizes, and colours, and that they had so many diverse life histories and functions till now.

Title: Healthy Bees, Heavy Hives; How to Maximise Your Honey Crop

Authors: Steve Donohoe & Paul Horton

Publisher: Northern Bee Books

Year: 2024


ISBN: 798-1-914934-67-4

Cost: £28.95, available from Northern Bee Books

The authors of Healthy Bees, Heavy Hives are well-known in UK beekeeping circles. Steve Donohoe, author of the acclaimed work, Interviews with Beekeepers, is an experienced beekeeper, popular blogger, and Editor of Bee Farming Magazine. Paul Horton is a successful second-generation bee farmer, and former Government Bee Inspector. 

The foreword, written by Scottish bee farmer Murray McGregor, endorses the importance of this book for all beekeepers at every level, but especially those getting into bee farming. There are 11 chapters and 224 pages containing many beautiful illustrations. Clear, coloured photographs and detailed drawings and graphs enhance this publication and compliment the text. One particularly useful diagram charts the population of brood and bees over the early season and advises us when to add supers. The font is eye-pleasing and comfortingly large for some of us.

One of the features that marks this book out from others is the well- organised structure and writing style. The summary at the end of each chapter is spot on and useful. It stands out in yellow and black bumble bee colours and lists the important points covered in the chapter. The writing style is authoritative but friendly and easy going. The material is presented in a clear concise way that speaks to the reader as if with a mentor in the apiary talking over a hive. The language is clear and explanations are simple and effective.

The title is a clue to the content and we are guided through the beekeeping year of a beekeeper whose goal is to produce and profit from honey made by healthy bees. The authors are clear from the start that, “this is not about exploiting your bees”, and that making money from selling honey involves a larger number of colonies than hobbyists manage, and that migratory beekeeping is key to Horton’s success. His average yearly harvest per colony between 2019- 2022 was 68.55 kg. We are reminded that all beekeeping is regional and success is influenced by climate and weather, so what works well for one person in a certain part of the country might not produce the good results for someone in another region.

The authors share similar goals and evidence-based best-practice strategies, but they have different management styles which complement each other and make this book so interesting. They communicate and engage with other beekeepers across the world and this helps to keep the information fresh and current. For beekeepers expanding and improving their businesses, the main advice is to adopt and work their own systems. This book serves as a practical handbook to guide people on this journey, and it is jam-packed with good advice and tips. You must buy the book to discover them for yourself, but I shall be sharpening my curved-ended hive tool in time for the next honey harvest!

Maintaining honey bee health and welfare is key to the authors’ success and the chapters covering pests and diseases, and plants for bees are highly relevant for every beekeeper. The latter forms a forage diary for Horton’s migratory year and is most useful as it includes recommended hive densities per hectare for each different crop. The last chapter discusses harvesting, processing, and marketing honey under the pristine conditions of Horton’s state- of- the art premises. They even manage to squeeze in some advice on managing beekeeping finances and record keeping. This book is a must-have for every bee farmer, people curious to know what bee farming involves, and those keen to increase their honey production.

Title: Wasps of The World: A Guide to Every Family

Authors: Simon van Noort and Gavin Broad

Publisher: Princeton University Press

Published: February 2024

ISBN: 978-0-691-25705-1

Cost: £25/$29.95, available from Northern Bee Books and other good bookstores.

Wasps of The World: A Guide to Every Family, provides a directory of all the wasp families known to science at this time. Simon van Noort is curator of entomology at the Iziko South African Museum in Cape Town and coordinator of, a bioinformatics resource for wasps of the Afrotropical region. Gavin Broad is principal curator in charge of insects at the Natural History Museum in London and associate editor of the European Journal of Taxonomy and Insect Conservation and Diversity.

Wasps of The World is presented in four main parts over 240 pages. Beautiful and high-quality photographs illustrate nearly every page of this book and greatly enhance the text.

The introduction forms the first part and covers wasp evolution, anatomy, biology, conservation, and photography. The remaining three parts contain the higher categories of wasps and are arranged according to their age in evolutionary history. The first higher category is the Symphyta (sawflies and woodwasps), and the second is the Apocrita (Parasitica, the parasitoid wasps).  The Apocrita (Acetuleata, stinging predatory and provisioning wasps, bees, and ants) form the third category in this directory. Within these three categories the superfamilies are presented and each of these contains their relevant families listed in alphabetical order rather than how they relate to each other phylogenetically.

Wasps have been on Earth since before the dinosaurs and they come in all sorts of amazing shapes, sizes, and colours. They first appeared in the middle of the Triassic period, over 230 million years ago and were vegetarians until further evolution equipped them to prey on other insects. We learn the difference between parasitoid and parasitic wasps and how some wasps have evolved to live in water. They are one of the largest group of insects and many species have yet to be discovered. Readers unfamiliar with entomology will be astounded at the diversity of wasps and how honey bees (indeed, all bees) are really vegetarian wasps.

Brilliant blue-and-green iridescent cuckoo wasps cannot not fail to enthral the reader, and we learn that bright colours can act as warnings to other predatory insects (aposematism). Iridescence is caused by light refraction though the complicated arrangements of many thin layers of chitin that are stacked on top of each other to form the wasp exoskeleton. 

Bees are basically vegetarian wasps and feature at the end of this comprehensive directory under the species-rich group called anthophila which is considered a clade (a group of organisms understood to comprise all the descendants of a common ancestor). Within this section, the seven main bee families are listed, but for more information the reader is directed to the other splendid book in the series called “Bees of The World” by Laurence Packer.

Wasps of The World will be invaluable to entomology students, and useful for beekeepers wanting to understand more deeply the evolutionary relationship between honey bees and wasps, and their places in the environment. The general reader will also learn how important wasps are and that they are essential for maintaining healthy ecosystems through pest control, especially in the artificial settings of agriculture and forestry. Some wasp species also have a small role to play in pollination and in recycling carbon and nutrients. This comprehensive directory will serve to promote and raise awareness of an often underestimated and poorly understood group of insects.

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