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Top-Bar Beekeeping: Organic Practices for Honeybee Health Paperback – August 31, 2012
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"Farmers who seek a guide to hive maintenance told through a thoughtful personal narrative will benefit from the discussion of this topbar style of beekeeping. The first-person style of the book allows a window into the practices of the topbar beekeeper while conveying a wealth of knowledge and a well-researched comparison of hive practices. The book is appropriate for beginning beekeepers as well as those experienced but looking for information on natural and organic beekeeping practices. The book’s ten sections discuss optimal practices of an organic beekeeper juxtaposed with discussion of industry standard practices and their drawbacks. Each section contains stories of the authors’ successes and failures as well as diagrams and pictures to explain everything from hive design to plant species for optimal pollination. Whether the reader is looking to start their own hive or simply increase their knowledge of honeybees, the book provides interesting and detailed discussions of all aspects of raising them. Crowder and Harrell offer not only advice on how to get started, but an in-depth discussion of all aspects of keeping a hive, from bee capture, breeding, and selection to honey processing. They have crafted a book that is both informative and engaging, filled with introspective advice and practical knowledge."
"Cave drawings show beekeepers “smoking” their hives, preparing for insect interaction. Today’s mass-produced honey relies mostly on the venerable Langstroth method of beekeeping, which has produced plenty of honey―but also has introduced plenty of chemicals into the process―through the years. Top-bar hives, named for the bars that run across their tops, are popular with bee beginners even though they produce less honey than Langstroth hives. But this account, the culmination of Crowder and Harrell’s 40 years of top-bar beekeeping adventures, shows the reader their method’s advantages: it avoids antibiotics, miticides, and other chemicals inherent to the conventional process. Crowder and his wife, Harrell, leave no comb unharvested as they take the top-bar aspirant from bee basics (stings, smoke, and hive transfers) through hive management (comb removal and feeding) to beneficial, and profitable, byproducts like beeswax. For those a bit lukewarm to the swarm, the book gives a fascinating insight into bees’ elaborate organizational and geometry skills, and it may even make one reconsider buying mass-marketed, chemical-laced honey."
"Reading Top-Bar Beekeeping reminds me of the classes I took with Les Crowder several years ago. He's a man who truly knows whereof he speaks, who has the gift of communicating with his small friends, the bees, and sharing his understanding with us. . . . This is the one book on beekeeping that I will recommend to my permaculture students."--Scott Pittman, Director, Permaculture Institute USA
"This is an excellent guide for hobby beekeepers who wish to keep bees using top-bar hives. Drawing on his more than 30 years of beekeeping experience in New Mexico, author Les Crowder describes in detail the special comb management techniques that this low-cost, but relatively intensive, form of beekeeping requires. Top-Bar Beekeeping also provides an eloquent appeal for beekeepers to make care, respect, and reverence the foundation of their relationships with the bees."--Thomas D. Seeley, Cornell University; author of Honeybee Democracy and The Wisdom of the Hive
"This book presents practical advice, gained from first-hand experience, on the organic management of top bar hives. This book will serve as an excellent guide to the ever-growing number of beekeepers that utilizes less intrusive management schemes such as top bar hives. Thanks to Les and Heather for their efforts to provide sound advice on natural ways to keep bees."--Dr. Jeff Pettis, USDA-ARS
About the Author
Les Crowder has devoted his entire adult life to the study and care of honeybees. Dedicated to finding organic and natural solutions for problems commonly treated with chemicals, he designed his own top-bar hives and set about discovering how to treat disease and genetic weaknesses through plant medicine and selective breeding. He has been a leader in his community, having served as New Mexico's honeybee inspector and president of the New Mexico Beekeepers Association. He is an avid storyteller and has spoken annually at the NM Organic Farm Conference for over fifteen years. Les is also a certified teacher and enjoys teaching children Spanish and science.
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The book makes a strong argument for organic beekeeping practice and rearing your own local queens. Much of this could be done with traditional box hives as well but the simplicity and low cost of the top-bar was seductive enough to persuade me. The sections on top-bar hive management and queen rearing were both very well done. If the the section on actual hive construction seems thin that's because it really is that simple. If you feel you need more detail or want a hive with some visual appeal there are plenty of free plans available online.
What I got out of the book was
1) Colony Collapse is probably the result of commercial beekeeping and agriculture practice rather than something that just happened randomly
2) I can effectively make stronger, disease resistant bees with organic methods and selective queen rearing.
3) Breeding strong disease resistant bees is not only good for me but good for beekeeping and agriculture in general. Me maintaining a couple of highly medicated hives with purchased queens does absolutely nothing to help the greater imperiled bee population.
4) I can do this and I don't need to drop $1000 up front just to get started. After evaluating money saved by not purchasing a Langstroth hive I'm redirecting my start up funds to better equipment - smoker, veil, etc.
IF you are interested in keeping a top bar hive, this is the book I would recommend above all others. It covers general beekeeping information well, and gives very practical advice specific to top bar hives. For instance, no other book I've read (or internet source I've come across so far) covers the various reasons and methods for re-arranging the bars of comb so thoroughly. This book also includes a number of illustrations to accompany the explanations of bar rotation. It also (as the title implies) spends time covering the benefits of chemical-free beekeeping, and gives organic methods of handling issues as they arise.
It has been my experience that most resources either:
1) Thoroughly address beekeeping with Langstroth-type equipment (leaving the reader to further research how to translate these practices to top bar hives)
2) Cover top bar hives very well, but assume that the reader is already familiar with general beekeeping methods including disease and pest management.
In my opinion, this book covers general beekeeping information and top-bar-specific methods better than than any other. In short, this book is the most thorough single source of top bar beekeeping that I have come across.