Monica King here, a third generation beekeeper with a beekeeping book review.
“The Backyard Beekeeper” (Quarto Publishing) is written by Kim Flottum. Mr. Flottum has been the editor of “Bee Culture” magazine for the past thirty some years. At the magazine he finds answers to questions sent in by beekeepers of all experience levels. It appears he has used these questions to provide a fairly thorough book focused on the beginning urban beekeeper. Probably why this title has been in print now for fifteen years and is on its fourth edition.
Useful Starter Book
I would recommend this book to any hobbyist or anyone interested in becoming a backyard beekeeper. It provides a very extensive knowledge base to start gaining ones own experience. I say “start” because after a Southwest U.S. reader finishes from cover to cover, the next step prior to jumping into being a beekeeper would be to ask more questions from veteran beekeepers in your area and by joining the local clubs such as the Southern Arizona Beekeepers Association.
This book is a useful base but not the “bible” because the widespread issue of Africanized Hybrid Bees (AHB) are not adequately mentioned. I admit, I am no researcher but I have a great deal of hands-on experience. I am a beekeeper and do a fair share of established hive cut-outs and swarm removals throughout Southern Arizona.
Mr. Flottum writes that AHB coexist with varroa mites, making them sound desirable. He suggests keeping the colonies small and claims that the AHB purposely and frequently swarm for two reasons, for breaks in the brood cycle, and to isolate themselves from nearby colonies. He mentions that their approach works well with the mite cycles and honeybee cycle but has a downside to very little honey production. Personally, I do have to disagree with this due to my extensive hands-on experience.
Africanized Honey Bees (AHB) in the Southwest
For several thousand years, African bee hives, kept in harsh conditions, used to be smoked to the point of absconding multiple times yearly when man was harvesting honey. Within these several thousand generations the African bees quickly evolved to swarm multiple times per year, unlike the European bees. But often the AHB do not move far – I have found feral hives within close proximity to each other. Examples include three established hives under one shed floor and four established hives in an arroyo bank within 50 yards of each other. I see all sizes of AHB feral hives. Yes, they are known to swarm more frequently due to the genetics of an evolutionary trait imposed on them by man.
Swarming is no real solution to varroa mites because the mites don’t stay in the hive. They ride on the bees and are known to transfer to other bees when foraging flowers. Bees forage an average radius of two miles, so their spread can be fast. Researchers state that Arizona has an estimated ten feral hives per square mile. So in reality there is no getting away from mites.
AHB and Honey Production
Brazil was once at the bottom of the world’s honey production and since the introduction of the Africanized Hybrid Bee (AHB) they are now a leading producer! This clearly shows that when managed in rural areas, these bees can provide agricultural benefit. So would I recommend to a backyard beekeeper to embrace the AHB genetics? Absolutely not!
However I would have like to see someone address what to watch for and how to protect your urban backyard beehive from a hostile AHB take over. You see, AHB also swarm away when they use up all their stores. They use their stores because genetically they are truly horrible resource managers. They go right through their stores then look for other hives to move into. I do not doubt that the AHB also absconds when mite counts get too high in their own home.
AHB is Not Mite Resistant
During feral removals I often see varroa mite associated diseases. AHB are not mite resistant. A fact is that some honeybee hives can tolerate a higher mite load than others, AHB is one of them. These are two of the leading beekeeping issues in the Southwest: AHB and mites. Southwestern hobbyists may enjoy the sweetness of living around bees with some knowledge and beekeeping strategies just for those of us in this region.
I will still give this book four stars due to all the other material covered. To repeat – it’s a starter book. Sadly our Southwest region is just not adequately addressed.
Editors note – Put this topic on our “SW Books to Write” list, somewhere after “Cooking With Honey” (due in March 2020) and “Edible SW Landscapes” (October 2020). Both through Tierra del Sol Institute Press.
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