Simple, Smart Beekeeping by Kirsten S. Traynor, PhD and Michael J. Traynor. Copyright © 2015. Image Design Publishing, Middletown, MD.
No beekeeping book is harder to write than the beginner book. Where do you start? What do you include? And perhaps the most difficult decision, what do you leave out? To write a solid guide, an experienced beekeeper must think like a beginner and remember what it was like to be totally lost.
In the past when people have asked me to recommend a beginner book, I often hedged, usually offering three or four adequate alternatives. But now I can now recommend a beginner book with enthusiasm. Simple, Smart Beekeeping by Kirsten S. Traynor and Michael J. Traynor should be on every beginner’s shelf.
Awesome, instructive photographs
The first thing that caught my attention was the photographs. The book is loaded cover-to-cover with clear, sharp photos that illustrate every topic covered in the text. I found only a single two-page spread that does not have at least one photo—often there are two, three, or even four, and many are close-up images that illustrate a specific point. I particularly appreciated the photo of a soapy water wash to determine Varroa levels, the image of what a gentle puff of smoke looks like, and the photo of how to hold a queen by the wings. And I would love to have a print of the bee bread photo for my wall!
It is no accident that the photos are magnificent. Michael J.Traynor is a commercial and fine art photographer as well as a beekeeper. He combines those skills to give you the perfect illustration whenever you need it. And many of the photos are full page, allowing you to see every detail with clarity.
Good information in the right order
The second thing I noticed was how Kirsten placed a list of definitions at the beginning of the book instead of waiting till the end. There is a glossary at the end of the book as well, but Kirsten recognized the need to define certain terms right away. So immediately after a short history of beekeeping in Chapter 1, she supplies “The Beekeeper’s Alphabet” that contains a selection of words a beginner needs in order to understand the basics. I’ve always believed that once you learn the vocabulary of any discipline, you are well on your way to understanding it, so I think this arrangement is brilliant.
From there, Kirsten guides you through your first year of beekeeping, stressing how to build a strong and healthy colony that can be successfully overwintered. I admire the way she relegates the honey harvest to something you will do in the future, not something you will do in the first year. She shares my philosophy of stealing a bite now and then in the form of burr or misshapen comb, but otherwise saving the first season honey for the bees.
Another point she stresses is the need to perform beekeeping tasks on time. As the book illustrates, beekeepers can make choices about how to do things. But regardless of how things are done, they must be done on time. These two basic—but often overlooked—principles can make or break a first-year colony.
Kirsten earned her PhD studying bee biology at Arizona State University and is the editor of Bee World, published by IBRA. She writes in an easy-to-read, fluid style that makes each concept clear and approachable. I enjoyed reading Simple, Smart Beekeeping and have to admit I learned a few things on the way!
This book is a must-read for new beekeepers and a great refresher for those a few years into it. In addition, it would make a great gift for those still thinking about taking the leap into beekeeping because the authors paint a clear picture of both the work and rewards, while acknowledging that beekeeping is not for everyone. And others agree: the book was recently chosen by the University of Maryland for its beekeeping class.
So give it a try or give it to someone else; you will not be disappointed. Simple, Smart Beekeeping by Kirsten S. Traynor, PhD and Michael J. Traynor.
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