The Honey Factory by Jürgen Tautz & Diedrich Steen
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.