Markus Imhoof outlines many of the problems facing beekeepers today in his book More Than Honey: The Survival of Bees and the Future of Our World, which Imhoof had originally produced as a documentary. His slant is strongly pro-bees and anti-pesticides and, in conjunction, anti-commercial agriculture. In particular, I found his interviews with a large almond farmer and with a migratory beekeeper fascinating both for their own awareness about the problems that their businesses engendered while still maintaining their capitalistic outlook.
Imhoof includes information that is of an introductory nature to a backyard beekeeper, e.g., the breakdown of the various responsibilities by which bees in the hive, before discussing in detail some of the research that is being conducted in laboratories on how bees behave. This chapter was filled with engaging experiments and tidbits. For example, I learned that a particular bee, dubbed Red-23, had observed another’s waggle dance for a food source but had decided to return to its own previous food source, which the researchers had removed. Rather than return to the hive or search for another nearby food source as had been expected, Red-23 flew off to the location described by the other bee in its waggle dance, which Red-23 had observed at the hive. Not only did the bee preserve the memory of the directions in the waggle dance, but Red-23 had sufficient locational memory to fly from its location to the described location without returning to the hive first. Wow!
In addition to research being conducted about bees, Imhoof describes practices regarding breeding bees and raising queens. I found this discussion of bee lineages and varieties interesting, but not as compelling nor quite so fascinating as the chapter about bees in laboratories. For someone who is more interested in breeding bees and raising queens, this chapter might be of more interest as it describes the processes different breeders have used to select for various traits and how queens are bred on a large scale. Similarly, I did find the discussion of beekeeping practices in China and the country’s use of human pollinators to be of interest, but it did not grab my attention the way that the research chapter had done.
I was, however, quite floored by Imhoof’s chapter devoted to Africanized bees, including their origin, spread, and species characteristics. I was surprised to learn that Africanized bees were superior to European honeybees in their resistance to varroa mites. Imhoof implies that Africanized bees are genetically superior and will survive as a species longer than the European varieties. I have encountered Africanized bees in the desert by an unexpected divot of water in a rock; the bees were definitely defensive. Reading about how beekeepers have been successfully raising Africanized bees was certainly eye-opening and caused me to re-evaluate what I’ve learned so far about this line of whoops bees.
The final chapter describes the process of making the documentary, which I more or less skimmed. Alas, I’m not a filmmaker. I’m a beekeeper.
On the whole, I would likely recommend seeing the documentary over reading the book if subtitles don’t bother you. I suspect the narrative arc is stronger in the documentary than it is in the book because the book is so strongly divided into thematic chapters. Although I haven’t seen the documentary, the trailer has some lovely visuals—and it intensifies the horror of the commercial packaging of bees that just isn’t present in the pages of the book. However, if you’re anything like me, you prefer your local library to purchasing or renting just about anything. In which case, I certainly recommend reading the chapters that strike your fancy—or even the whole book. Winter is the perfect time to tackle a little beekeeping reading!
Which beekeeping book have you read lately that you’d recommend?
Imhoof, Marcus, and Claus-Peter Lieckfeld. More Than Honey: The Survival of Bees and the Future of Our World. Greystone Books, 2014.