Book Review – Interviews with Beekeepers by Steve Donohoe

I won the book Interviews with Beekeepers by Steve Donohoe in a draw and so, although it is most definitely NOT in tune with natural beekeeping, I decided to read it and thought I would share a review as it does include some tidbits any beek may find of interest.

The author himself imports Carniolan and Buckfast queens, raises more queens from these and sells them around the UK, diametrically opposite to my interest in promoting a focus on local bees. The interviewees are, or were, all large scale breeders or bee farmers from the UK, France, USA and New Zealand – so, well outside my usual reading orbit, which is exactly why I did read it.

It is an excellently written book packed with fascinating information and the interview format works well, but I found it a really uncomfortable read: the tone can be gathered from the author’s comment on p.50, “there’s no room for sentimentality in farming” – something though that perhaps some other bee farmers, like Tim Malfroy for example, might take issue with.

Although this article is partly a book review, this blog is primarily for hobbyist natural beekeepers, so the first part of this post covers useful and interesting things I learned from the book for our core audience. In the second part I will briefly deal with some of the more upsetting aspects, commercial necessities and ethics but do not intend to cover that in any detail given the nature of this blog.

To cut to the chase: if you are a natural beekeeper I do not recommend that you buy this book. If you are, or wish to be, a commercial bee farmer (unlikely on this blogsite), it is a five-star volume packed with distilled information from experts who share an immense amount of their experience. Perhaps the real value of the book, though, is that there is no other book like it as it gives a snapshot of where commercial beekeeping really is right now, and I expect will be a core reference for researchers of the commercial field long into the future.

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Posted in Books, Publications | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Look up during lockdown

Our hives among flowers

This picture shows how we tend to think of hives – among flowers, because we humans tend to notice flowers at our level, and some colours ‘pop’ more to our eyes.

However, if you look up in Spring you can see lots of trees in blossom, and not just fruit trees – and the amount of nectar they produce can dwarf that from garden flowers. Continue reading

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Preparing for swarm season

Swarm on grass walking into box with queen

Swarms begin around late April in Oxfordshire, first in the warmer southern part and the heat islands of the towns and cities, then a couple of weeks later in the rural parts.

In earlier years we’ve written on this blog about how to attract swarms to bait hives, how to catch, and how to hive them. Rather than re-write from scratch, I’m going to simply point at a few exceptionally useful OxNatBees articles from times of yore:

  • This article covers the key info you need to know: tools, baiting hives, etc.
  • This post has some juicy stories about how things can go horribly wrong. Learn from our fails.
  • Here are some useful tips about dealing with the public.

Hope that helps. Any other stories, folks?

A detachable swarm lure on a post at an apiary. Placed where the swarms head anyway, it provides a convenient way to pick them up and place them in a box.


…It has just occurred to me that with everyone locked down right now, they might see more swarms from their hives than they expected… and be surprised by just how many got away while they were usually at work.

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Covid-19: evolution in action

Ferals under slate roof, entrance below gutter. Picture enabled by handy scaffolding!

I can’t help wondering if the lockdown will make people reassess high-intervention beekeeping.

This lockdown is going to exert heavy selection pressure for colonies that can fend for themselves.

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Posted in Ecology, Pests, Swarms | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

A new hive design: the Drayton hive

A new hive design has just been launched by OxNatBees member Andrew Bax – the Drayton Hive.

Overwintering Drayton hives nestle behind a screening bush

His new design consists of a deep horizontal hive which combines some of the best features of modern apicentric hive design such as excellent insulation and a window for non-invasive inspection, with convenient features like no heavy lifting and (foundationless) frames. What stands out about this design is that you aren’t tied to either interventionist or hands-off beekeeping, but instead you can experiment and find the style balance that appeals to you.

I asked Andrew about his beekeeping experiences and the story behind the hive.

How did you get into beekeeping and how long have you been keeping bees? Continue reading

Posted in Experimentation, Hives, Members | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Victorian Twitterstorms

Wherein may be found some fine forgotten lore alongside various engagingly heated debates of the Victorian era

Outrage and apoplexy predate the Internet. Beekeeping has always been a hive of differing opinions, and I’d like to share some examples from a book called Bee Keeping by The Times Bee-Master, published in 1864 in the marvellously florid writing style favoured by the Victorians. The author wrote a column about beekeeping in The Times and got many impassioned responses. In the preface he mentions:

Anonymous troll, c. 1864

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Top Bar Hives, warts and all

This article first appeared in BBKA News, January 2020.


Over the 9 years I’ve been using horizontal TBHs (HTBHs), I’ve seen many experiments in design and use. This article is intended to help those considering one find their way through conflicting advice.

Some early HTBH guides essentially promoted a gentle style of conventional beekeeping in an odd shaped hive which was regularly manipulated. Since then, enthusiasts in the UK have consistently found that allowing local bees to largely run the well-insulated non-framed hive, which is not treated with miticides and only opened occasionally, makes varroa a non-issue.

This survival rate graph indicates this ‘natural’ or low-intervention approach creates colonies at least as resilient as the more intensively ‘farmed’ bees. (Though BBKA surveys ignore colonies under 5 frames going into winter.)

Allowing the bees themselves to determine how the colony is run, and taking a ‘survival of the fittest’ (Darwinian) aproach, I do not replace queens. With six hives, I view a colony failure as simply weeding out the weak and an opportunity to restock with a swarm from a stronger strain. I do not merge weak colonies as there is no way to tell which queen is fitter. Continue reading

Posted in Experimentation, TBH | Tagged , , , , , , , | 15 Comments