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.
Heather Harrell moved to New Mexico in 1996 from her home state of Vermont to pursue her masters degree in Eastern Classics, having long had an interest in the art of meditation and yoga and a yearning to pursue a career in academia. Her love of nature soon had her pursuing a life as an organic farmer, focusing on flowers, then medicinal herbs. Over time, and through her work with honeybees, she has moved her focus to the study of multi-use permaculture plantings, which support a diverse network of interrelationships in the natural world. Along with a wide variety of vegetables, she grows medicinal herbs, which offer nectar and pollen to pollinator species. She is very interested in how soil biology is affected by using biodynamic methods of planting, and is currently studying compost teas incorporating various types of manures and plant materials.
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.
Chapter 2, "The Supercreature," contains a thorough discussion of the social and industrial structure of a bee colony for farmers inexperienced with keeping a hive. The following section, "Beekeeping Basics," discusses issues such as being stung, placing a hive, and trapping a swarm of bees for commercial use. The authors' familiar voices elevate the book from a simple how-to manual to a memoir of common mistakes and earned victories in the beekeeping process.
In "The Seasons," section, Crowder and Harrell deal with diverse problems in an accessible way. The chapter provides succinct answers to common questions that beekeepers would have. When contemplating dividing a hive, they suggest: "Ideally, the queen would be moved to a new yard altogether, but this is not absolutely essential." In addition to dealing with times of the year, the chapter addresses a common pest for hives: bears. "It is important to set up the bear fence first.," advise the authors. "It is inconsiderate to bees and bears to leave bees unprotected in bear territory."
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.
Publishers Weekly Review-
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.
"Top-Bar Beekeeping shares New Mexico beekeeper Crowder's best practices gleaned from 30 years' experience working organically with top-bar hives, the one-story frameless hives in which bees build combs downward from horizontal wooden bars at the top of the structure. Top-bar hives are a less expensive way to get started in beekeeping. The video shows methods for establishing bees in such hives, managing bees and combs, and harvesting honey and wax, plus natural methods of pest control and planting forage crops for healthy bees. VERDICT These two outstanding videos for those interested in exploring beekeeping were inspired by same-titled print works by the beekeepers and are highly recommended for general audiences." (reviewed with Natural Beekeeping)