The Honey Factory: Inside the Ingenious World of Bees

Jurgen Tautz, Diedrich Steen

The Honey Factory: Inside the Ingenious World of Bees
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The Honey Factory: Inside the Ingenious World of Bees

Jurgen Tautz, Diedrich Steen

Bee hives might look like seething anarchy at first glance, but bees know exactly what they are doing. The universe of the beehive is an intricately organised, delicately balanced ecosystem. From the mighty queen to the lowliest worker bees, each bee plays its part in the whole.

The Honey Factory plunges the reader into the invisible life of a bee colony and reveals the secrets of this fascinating world. How do worker bees come to a collective decision? What does the honeybees' waggling dance communicate? What provokes the sexual excesses of the young queen bee? And why is the precious relationship between humans and bees a matter of species survival?

Combining the most fascinating scientific discoveries and greatest secrets in bee research, The Honey Factory answers these questions and more.


If there was such a thing as Bee School or, more accurately, Beekeepers’ School, The Honey Factory by Jürgen Tautz & Diedrich Steen would surely be the definitive text. It’s a comprehensive look into bee colonies – the hive structure, foraging techniques, communication between bees, and pretty much anything bee-related. It describes the annual rhythm of the hive; delves into the behavioural biology of bees; explains the natural drive to swarm; and explores the challenges and sensitivity required to be a modern-day beekeeper.

I was fascinated to see the hive described as a ‘super-organism’. The bees all working together – queens supplying eggs, foragers supplying honey, drones impregnating queens, nurses looking after babies – with the sole aim of maintaining the health of the hive, while the hive, in turn, looks after them.

As you’d expect from a book about bees, Tautz and Steen are advocates for the little furry foragers and drones and queens and nurse bees who work together to make our honey. Industrial pollination apiaries, especially in America, maintain certain practices that are downright cruel. For example, some American pollination beekeepers trek their bees all over the country, transporting them thousands of kilometres to work year-round. This might not sound so torturous, except bees are seasonal creatures, taking time off in winter, before replenishing the hive with honey in the spring – to work them twelve months a year is slave labour.

And then, of course, there’s the issue of varroa mites which are affecting colonies around the world, and leading to worrying talk of the extinction of bees altogether.

This book delves deep into the fascinating world of the honey factory, reminding us all that we need to look after these hard-working insects, especially if we want to enjoy the fruits (quite literally) of their labours.

Gabrielle Williams works as a bookseller at Readings Malvern and is the Grants Officer for the Readings Foundation. She is also the author of books for young adults.

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