Nov. 10, 2022

Winter Reading: What's On The List? (099)

Winter Reading: What's On The List? (099)

Winter tends to have a bit more time inside than outside and one way to spend that time inside is to catch up on your reading. Jim and Kim talk a bit about the books they read, the authors and publishers they like and where they get the books they...

Winter tends to have a bit more time inside than outside and one way to spend that time inside is to catch up on your reading. Jim and Kim talk a bit about the books they read, the authors and publishers they like and where they get the books they read all winter.

Along with the new books, they have their preferred “old standby” books they rely on for information on a particular topic to see how management approaches have evolved (or not) over the years. Beekeeping has evolved over the years and they like to compare then with now.

How do you look for a find a new bee book for your winter? Today, you have to consider how you like to read, because just as beekeeping is evolving, book formats are also evolving. Your choice is not only hardcover and all paper, it now includes electronic formats for reading on an iPad/tablet or audible for listening.

Finally, how do you actually evaluate a book before your read it? Start with the author. Are they known or unknown? How about the publisher? Do they publish lots of books on the subject or is this the first one? And finally, what about the quality of the information in the book? Is it in line with standard beekeeping or is it a novel way of approaching a problem or idea. You can also check the ratings of the book online.

No matter what, spend some time reading this winter. It will do you and your bees some good.

We hope you enjoyed today's episode. Please follow or subscribe today and leave a comment. We'd love to hear from you!


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Music: Heart & Soul by Gyom, All We Know by Midway Music, original guitar music by Jeffrey Ott

Copyright © 2022 by Growing Planet Media, LLC


Honey Bee Obscura

Episode 99 – Winter Reading: What's On The List?


Kim Flottum: Good morning, Jim. How are you doing?

Jim Tew: Kim, I'm actually all right. Thank you for asking. I'm glad to be here this morning.

Kim: We're getting into the season where there's less outside bee work to do than inside bee work to do. One of those things is without a doubt my favorite activity in terms of non-outside beekeeping. I've got a pile of books large enough to cover my car this summer.

Jim: [laughs] I like the way you make it sound seasonal, Kim, that we're inside reading books because it's cold. I'm inside reading books because I'm old not because I'm cold. I do read books, though. I do use them all the time. Hi, I'm Jim Tew.

Kim: I'm Kim Flottum.

Jim: We're coming to you from Honey Bee Obscura, where today we want to talk about what kind of books we're reading during the cold season while we sit by the fire.

Introduction: You are listening to Honey Bee Obscura, brought to you by Growing Planet Media, the folks behind Beekeeping Today Podcast. Each week on Honey Bee Obscura, hosts, Kim Flottum and Jim Tew, explore the complexities, the beauty, the fun, and the challenges of managing honeybees in today's world. Get ready for an engaging discussion to delight and inform all beekeepers. If you're a longtimer or are just starting out, sit back and enjoy the next several minutes as Kim and Jim explore all things honeybees.

Kim: Jim, there's two ways to look at this, and I'm always torn. I never resolve it every winter for 50 winters now, do I want to go back and look at the old books that have that wisdom and I'm comfortable with, or do I want to charge into the new world and look at some of these new books that are out there talking about stuff that I don't know much about and I'm not sure I'm going to be able to learn? There's a lot of both out there.

Jim: Absolutely. There's a lot of both. I was waiting for you to take a breath so I can say I want to do both, Kim, because I've got bee books I've never fully read. Number two, I've got bee books I have read and I've forgotten what I read. I use the old books that I've already got, but I'm always watching for new books on special topics or topics revisited, just to try to stay updated, just to see if I can know more.

Kim: That begs the question, what's the old books you use? What do you like best, or where do you go to most?

Jim: Okay. Can I put a disclaimer here, Kim?


I don't have 50 books sitting all around me to talk about here. I'm not reviewing specific books. I'm reviewing book concepts on where I go for me personally, Jim Tew, to start finding information or to review. Kim, I think because I've always done it because I did it in the earliest days of beekeeping, I still use the traditional books as the foundational books, ABC and XYZ of Beekeeping, and The Hive and The Honey Bee. Me listing them in that order doesn't mean anything.

I use those books to start looking for every talk I give, for every article I write, what do those foundational books have on beeswax, what do those foundational books have on the swarming. Then from that, I decide which specialty books I would want to go to that I might have or could get access to.

Kim: I grew up in a family of book collectors. My parents belonged to book clubs and saved them. I have many of the ones they saved from 60 years ago downstairs on a shelf. Of course, I don't read them very often, but I have them. It's a thing to have the books sitting on a shelf rather than have to go find him someplace. I'm with you in terms of old books. Where do I start? ABC and The Hive and The Honey Bee are good places, there's others out there that are--

I have most of the ABCs that have been published, and many of The Hive and The Honey Bees that have been published. It's neat to see sometimes today, when I have a question, to go back to those books and see how the answer to that question has evolved over decades. Do you ever look at that?

Jim: Kim, I do. I love that, Kim. I completely agree with you. Number one, I love my parents, but they were not book collectors. They used pet books. They used primarily the Bible. Other than that, I didn't grow up with a lot of books. When I got into beekeeping, it was a small group of books, Kim. It was The Hive and The Honey Bee, ABC and XYZ, and Beekeeping by Eckert and Shaw. Then you could frequently find that old book called Beekeeping by E. F. Phillips. That was most of the books on most beekeepers' shelves. Everything has come along here lately.

I'd like to go back to the few old books I do have, some of these ABCs and XYZs, there's a million of them out there, or there. You can find them in bookstores. I like to go back and look up, for instance, something obscure like using salt in your beehive. S-A-L-T, salt. You can read in the early books, where, yes, you need to put some salt in the sugar water you're using, and then somewhere around 1920 and 1930, poof, that little section on salt in those old ABCs may be gone. I'm intrigued by when an idea died in the literature. I use those old books for that.

Kim: I know you chase old books. You do it way different than I do. You're an online person. I know you're finding some of this stuff online. How does that work?

Jim: Oh, I do. I am completely intrigued by that. I'm not selling anything. I'm not pushing anything, I don't have any unique gifts. With all those qualifiers, I like to go to a platform called,, and type in beekeeping as a search character. The problem I have with is that I can't make it specific. I can't say I want to look for salt use in a beehive. I can only look for old books and then look in the old books to see if they mentioned salt use in a beehive. This platform has digitized copies of those books. You turn the pages just like you would turn a book page, and the photos are there.

I'm always interested to see which library, which university had the book, Minnesota, Wisconsin. It's an interesting source that those books come from that's beautifully photographed and added to it also. I no longer go crazy looking for a copy of Dr. C. C. Miller's Fifty Years Among the Bees because I'm almost certain I could go to and read it there. I use that a lot as I try to explore various concepts in beekeeping. Why is the equipment the depth that it is? How did we develop these measurements? To understand where those numbers came from, you've got to go back to the years when those numbers were being developed. I would use this online archival source to try to find that kind of information.

Kim: You brought up an interesting side point there. If you want to spend a good amount-- Not a good amount. If you want to spend an interesting amount of time, you mentioned C. C. Miller's Fifty Years, there's also a C. C. Miller's Forty Years. When you put them side by side, you can see the evolution of even one beekeeper over a decade. That to me shows that beekeeping was moving constantly. Maybe forward, maybe sideways, [chuckles] I'm not sure.

Jim: Yes. You've just stepped on one of my big nerves. Beekeepers evolve, don't they? Beekeepers think they're going to always be what they are in beekeeping. No, you're going to evolve. I have evolved. I have been a commercial beekeeper, a sideline beekeeper, a pollinating specialist, a pollen collector, and right now I'm just an old man, an old guy keeping up with bees and trying to stay current. Beekeepers evolve. What they read and how they read and get their information evolves too.

We're talking about books. I like books because I grew up with books too. All of a sudden, there's these online sources like YouTube where you watch videos. For a while, it was books on tape. You remember when you had a cassette player in your car?

Kim: I still do. What do you mean? I still do.

Jim: [laughs] I know, I know. You're you. [chuckles] Now, instead of books on tape is videos on tape because every beekeeper with a phone is now a video producer. I need to say that a lot of times when I need to find out a beekeeping fact, I'll go to YouTube or Vimeo and do something there to see if somebody else has been putting salt in their beehives. Listeners, I'm just using the salt thing as an example of an obscure topic that I would use these information sources for, not because I'm pushing salt use. Back to you, Kim.

Kim: One of the things you just mentioned was different people attacking the same problem different ways. How do you evaluate any beekeeping author, whether it's 100 years ago, 10 years ago, or yesterday? How do you evaluate? How do you know that this author has-- What's the word I want? How do you know that this author is worth spending your time with?

Jim: Okay. Now, I like the way you worded that. What's the word I want? Can I take a few minutes and think about that while we hear from our sponsor?

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Jim: Kim, I have some odd judging parameters. Number one, I'm not the most intellectually informed person in the world, but do I know the author? If I know the author and I've already have a preformed opinion of that person, that goes a long way toward either reading or watching their sources. Number two, who's the publisher? Probably good publishers are going to have good information sources, good authors, good writers. I'd like for it to be published-- I shouldn't say that. 3, 2, 1. I'd like for the publishers to be something that I recognize, but I don't require that. There are so many new companies now and side companies that that no longer really carries the day, but I still use it.

Thirdly, what's the quality of the book? That's unfair, isn't it, Kim? If it has high-quality pictures, high-resolution pictures, nicely done, graphs, charts, it's segmented nicely, it makes me think, "Well, somebody put a lot of time in this book," or in this video, "so I think I'll go with it." I don't mean to flaunt my career, but I spent my whole life in the university circle, so if it comes from a government beekeeping agency or if it comes from a university or a national beekeeping group like Canadian Apiculturist, something like that, this looks respectable.

Kim, you can never throw out a source just because it doesn't meet those expectations. You still have to look at the source and make your ultimate decision, in my opinion.

Kim: I think that's a pretty good opinion. There are several publishers out there that do look at bee books harder than other publishers. How's that?

Jim: Oh, I like that.

Kim: If you find a bee book that you like and you find the publisher, you can go to that publisher and go back and take a look. If this is the only bee book that publisher has ever put out, that gives you a direction. If there are 20 bee books that this publisher has done over the last decade, that gives you a whole different outlook on the quality of the publisher and probably the author and the book, don't you think?

Jim: I agree. Completely.

Kim: It's easy to do online. I'll use-- What's a good publisher? Princeton is a good publisher to look at. They've got decades of bee books and lots of authors working with them. That immediately tells me that what they're doing is being accepted by the bee reading public to the point where they continue to do it and they're continuing to be accepted. That's a level of-- What's the word I want here? A level of acceptance that I'm really comfortable with.

Jim: Can I tell you something really personal, for you and all the listeners too? When I read a book, it's right there in front of me. It's right there in front of me. Though I can't hear worth anything, I still have a good old factory sense. I can still smell things. I have to admit that the way a book smells goes a long way toward how much I enjoy or don't enjoy working with that book. I sometimes think those old books that I've got, that musty ambiance, just adds to the air of looking at that old book and thinking of what beekeeping was doing and experiencing in 1914 because I'm smelling that old age right there.

Alternatively, the new ink in these new books, I just get a high on that. That's weird, isn't it? That's silly. That's a waste of your time and the listener's time. I sometimes evaluate a book marginally on its smell.

Kim: It's not your socks?

Jim: No. Well.

Kim: [laughs]

Jim: Let me get back to you on that. I hadn't ever considered that kind of thing. There's usually a good smell. While I was rambling there, Kim, one other thought that needs to be brought out. When you spend a lot of time in these old books, they can take you down the rabbit hole now because some of that old information, we just didn't know what we were talking about. You have to know, as a current reader here in 2022 soon to be 2023, that something that was said in 1890 just isn't appropriate anymore.

Kim: Yes. I'm sitting here next to a pile of books about a foot and a half tall, and they're all 2022 or 2021. They're all almost brand new. We don't have time today, but next time or sometime soon, we'll have to look at what these people are saying about what we used to think that we don't need to think about anymore because it was wrong. It some interesting enlightenment here.

I want to mention one more thing before we go here, is that one shade of publisher has arisen in my professional career, and those are the people who do-- I did it when I was at Bee Culture Magazine, small, short books, pretty much focusing on one topic. It would be like a chapter out of a much bigger book. They've looked at this saying, beekeepers don't want a $40 book. They want a $20 book that tells them exactly how to handle melted wax. That line of publishing is opening up, and it's fairly current. I'd like to talk about that next time also.

Jim: Do you remember that you and I have talked about some of those old pamphlets for I think it was 1917?

Kim: Yes.

Jim: The Root Company used to do that. They used to publish on various specific issues on cellar wintering. The USDA had a booklet on cellar wintering, wintering in your basement.

For those of us, and I'm one of them, who has a short attention span, wants to read the topic, synopsis, and then be gone, there's a lot to be said about that. I want to admonish you and me both not to give up on those comprehensive tones, these current modern-day bee biology books with all the latest information in there.

It is tedious reading, but you slog through it and then you'd be qualified after you've slogged through it to write one of these booklets or these smaller books on specific issues like swarming or wintering instead of just burying that in the greater book.

Kim: I know both you and I have tried doing that over the years, we've got some publications behind us with our name on them, but neither of them are all-encompassing. They tend towards backyard beekeeping or solving problems, that sort of thing. Neither of us are going to save the world, but maybe we can save a few beehives. Which brings me to the point it says, I think we need to go now because I'm running out of time, but next time let's talk about some newer books you think we might be able to talk about. When I say newer, I don't mean yesterday; I mean the last maybe decade.

Jim: That'd be great.

Kim: Okay.

Jim: You know that bookshelf I talked about early on?

Kim: Yes.

Jim: It's grown from three or four books to hundreds of books.

Kim: Good.

Jim: I'm not a book collector and I am just a child compared to the book collection on bees that you have. There is a wealth-

Kim: Yes, there is.

Jim: -of bee information out there. I'd be happy to talk to you about it again.

Kim: All right. This has been fun. Books are half of my life. Finding somebody who I can talk to them about them, it always makes a good day. Thanks for coming along.

Jim: All right. Why don't you go work on your next book, Kim? You've written about a dozen so far, so go crank out another one for us.

Kim: All right. Next time.

Jim: All right. Bye-bye.

Kim: Bye.

[00:20:57] [END OF AUDIO]