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Humans and paleontologists tell us that proto-humans have had a long relationship with bees. At first, of course, they were simply a source of honey (remember that, until the development of grain sugar, honey was the only source of sweetener) and the separated wax from the honeycomb had its own uses.
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Domesticated hives were developed, which was a simpler means of getting honey and wax than tracking down wild bee colonies. Remarkably, managed hives not only appeared thousands of years ago but were used by dozens of cultures around the world.
As the important role of bees as pollinators for gardens, field crops, and fruit tree groves became better understood, another purpose of keeping beehives expanded their use.
Now, of course, bees are a vital part of the farming industry, which makes the recent rise of Colony Collapse Disorder and other causes of the decline of honey bee populations an important issue. Little wonder, then, that bees are the subject of a large and varied number of books.
This short annotated bibliography provides a way to learn more about bees and the continued relationship we have with them.
Book List: 20 Books on Bees and Beekeeping
Wilson, Joseph S.
The Bees in Your Backyard: A Guide to North American Bees / Joseph S. Wilson and Olivia J. Messinger Carril. Princeton: Princeton University Press, . 288 p.
An excellent guide to the several genera of bees, comprising about 4,000 species, found in the United States and Canada. Includes 900 color photographs. Also features a chapter on how to attract bees to a backyard.
Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide / Paul Williams, et al. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015. 208 p.
Covers identification, natural enemies, threats, decline, and conservation. Also includes a chapter on how to attract bumblebees to a yard or other area.
Our Native Bees: North America’s Endangered Pollinators and the Fight to Save Them. Portland, OR: Timber Press, 2018. 225 p.
Narrative description of native bees, including a description of the range of different species and their ecology. Also describes threats to populations, including insecticides and the loss of habitat and food sources.
Mason Bee Revolution: How the Hardest Working Bee Can Save the World – One Backyard at a Time / Dave Hunter and Jill Lightner. Seattle: Skipstone, 2016. 154 p.
Description of mason bees and their close relatives, the leafcutter bee. This book provides a guide to keeping these species of bees and the plants and habitat necessary for them to thrive.
Buzz: The Nature and Necessity of Bees. New York: Basic Books, 2019. 283 p.
A natural and cultural history of bees. Includes a chapter on the future of bees and an appendix on their conservation.
The Bee: A Natural History / Noah Wilson-Rich, Kelly Allin and Norman Carreck. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2018. 222 p.
A detailed description of the evolution, ecology, genetics, and physiology of bees. It also includes the subject human-bee relationships, including beekeeping.
Seeley, Thomas D.
The Lives of Bees: The Untold Story of the Honey Bee in the Wild. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2019. 376 p.
Written by one of the world’s top experts on the honey bee, this work describes the behavior, social life and survival strategies of honey bees outside the “paradise” of bees in human-kept hives.
Bumblebees: Behaviour, Ecology, and Conservation. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012. 317 p.
The title pretty much says it all: a survey of the biology of bumblebees. This genus has become the focus, in recent years, of both greater scientific study and their use as commercial pollinators, particularly for tomatoes.
A Sting in the Tale: My Adventures with Bumblebees. London: Vintage, 2016. 288 p.
The author and founder of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, this book describes his life-long fascination with and study of this remarkable insect genus.
100 Plants to Feed the Bees: Provide a Healthy Habitat to Help Pollinators Thrive / The Xerces Society. North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing, 2016. 240 p.
The Xerces Society is a non-profit organization that focuses on the conservation of invertebrates.
The Bee-Friendly Garden: Design an Abundant, Flower-Filled Yard that Nurtures Bees and Supports Biodiversity / Kate Frey and Gretchen LeBuhn. Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press, 2016. 213 p.
Designs and plant lists for gardeners who wish to attract pollinators or those who just enjoy having a bee-rich yard.
Garden Plants for Honey Bees. Kalamazoo, MI: Wicwas Press, 2014. 396 p.
Learn which plants produce the pollen and nectar that attracts and most benefits bees and the gardener. Includes 750 photographs.
Seeley, Thomas D.
Following the Wild Bees: The Craft and Science of Bee Hunting. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2019. 185 p.
For centuries, “bee-lining” (as in “straight as a bee line”) was a practice to find wild bee colonies to replace hives that had succumbed to pests or adverse weather conditions. For a while, particularly in the late 19th century, tracking bees became an activity for outdoor enthusiasts and, after a hiatus, is making a comeback. This work describes how to capture, feed, mark, release and follow bees back to their native wild hives.
The World History of Beekeeping and Honey Hunting. Hoboken, NJ: Taylor and Francis, 2013. 705 p.
A scholarly work that is nonetheless approachable for the layman, this work extensively describes bee evolution and biology and human-bee relationships. Honey hunting and organized beekeeping, from prehistoric to ancient and modern times, in cultures through the world, is thoroughly surveyed.
The Beekeeper’s Bible: Bees, Honey, Recipes & Other Home Uses / Richard Jones and Sharon Sweeney-Lynch. New York: Abrams, 2011. 412 p.
Take this as both an almanac and a guide to beekeeping. It not only describes how to establish and maintain hives but hundreds of products that can be made from their honey and wax, including candles, furniture polish and beauty products.
Beginning Beekeeping: Everything You Need to Make Your Hive Thrive! Indianapolis: Alpha, 2017. 190 p.
A general guide to starting and keeping beehives, including the pros and cons of conventional versus natural practices. Issues covered include swarming, pests and other conditions that can adversely affect a hive.
The Backyard Beekeeper: An Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Keeping Bees in Your Yard and Garden, 4th ed. Beverly, MA: Quarry Books, 2018. 240 p.
A classic work, the book covers setting up colonies, the location of hives, types of hives, problems and treatments and honeycomb harvesting.
Honey Bees and Beekeeping: A Year in the Life of an Apiary, 3rd ed. Athens, GA: University of Georgia, 2006. 108 p.
Written by a Ph.D. entomologist, this book describes the seasonal activities in maintaining a healthy colony of bees. Included are instructions on how to select healthy bees, establish a colony, which tools are required and useful and methods for harvesting and selling hive products.
The Beekeeper’s Handbook, 4th ed. / Diana Sammataro and Alphonse Avitabile. Ithica, NY: Comstock Publishing, Cornell University Press, 2011. 272 p.
This new edition has been extensively expanded, updated and revised to include new care options for managing diseases and pests, overwintering protocols and other beekeeping methods. Thorough and user-friendly, it is considered to be one of the best books for amateur and hobby beekeepers.
The Beekeeper’s Journal: An Illustrated Register for Your Beekeeping Adventures. Bloomington, IN: Quarry Press, 2014. 176 p.
Keep your records, observations, and recipes in this attractive journal. Helpful tips, anecdotes, ideas and photographs, and illustrations will inspire any hobby beekeeper.
All of these books are, as of this writing in print. Before you purchase any of them, it might be preferable to check them out from your local public library. Any of the books not in their collection can be borrowed through their Interlibrary Loan system.