Educating yourself is one of the important steps in beginning beekeeping. While we try to help you along based on our experience, it really helps to have books handy to provide detailed guidance or help resolve an issue.
These are books we own and use. Some of them are among the most recommended and best selling books about beekeeping. A few of them may be unknown to you. All of them are written by noted experts in the field. We have other books but these are the best.
We’ll break them down into general categories, describe the content and give a little background on the authors.
Getting Started Books
The Beekeeper’s Handbook
by Diana Sammataro and Alphonse Avitabile
If you only buy one book as a beekeeping newbie, The Beekeeper’s Handbook is the one to get. Initially published in 1978, the book is currently in its Fourth Edition (with an updated fifth edition underway).
The Beekeeper’s Handbook is the most used book in our beekeeping library. Beginning with “fun facts” listed on the inside front cover, The Beekeeper’s Handbook is full of information useful to both beginning and experienced beekeepers, supported by over 100 detailed illustrations and a glossary of terms.
Fun fact example: “Lethal dose of venom is 10 stings/pound of body weight.” So, let’s see that’s 10 times…never mind. Let’s just say I hope I never need to do that math!
Beginning with Chapter 1 – “Understanding Bees”, the authors cover newbie info like “Beekeeping Equipment” (Chapter 3) right through getting bees, seasonal management, hive products, and pest control.
Various beekeeping techniques are presented in detail, including step-by-step instructions.
For more advanced beekeepers, there are topics such as queen rearing and an extensive list of references for additional research.
If there’s a drawback to this book, it’s the focus on the Langstroth hive to the exclusion of other options such as the Warré and Top Bar Hives. We believe this is a minor issue for the beginning beekeeper since we strongly recommend starting with Langstroth hives as they are the most common and widely used variation.
See our article 3 Main Beehive Types (Which To Choose) for more information.
The Beekeeper’s Handbook is an excellent start to your beekeeping library and can be a source of valuable information for years.
About The Authors
Diana Sammataro is retired from the USDA Honey Bee Lab. She has a Ph.D. in Entomology and Apiculture from The Ohio State University. Ms. Sammataro has been a researcher, lecturer, and author on all aspects of beekeeping. And of course, she’s a beekeeper.
Alphonse Avitabile, according to the Foreword to the Third Edition of The Beekeeper’s Handbook, is an experienced beekeeper, a retired honey bee scientist, and college instructor, among other things.
The Backyard Beekeeper – An Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Keeping Bees in Your Yard and Garden
by Kim Flottum
The Backyard Beekeeper (now in its 4th Edition) is another excellent book for beekeeping newbies. First published in 2005, this book provides some history of beekeeping, just enough to give you an appreciation for the hobby you are about to start.
Beautiful color photographs help guide you through “starting right” with the proper equipment and location all the way to harvesting honey and making products from beeswax.
The Backyard Beekeeper is geared toward the small hobby beekeeper with limited space nearby (hence, the backyard). The author includes details on how to protect your neighbors and urban beekeeping.
The section “25 Modern Rules of Beekeeping” is a helpful, concise list of things to focus on. The glossary and resource appendices are useful (though not as extensive as The Beekeeper’s Handbook).
My biggest complaint about this book is the small typeface used. These old eyes would appreciate something larger. A Kindle or EBook version may not have this issue.
About The Author
Kim Flottum manages Bee Culture Magazine, where he has written and edited articles for 20 years. He has a horticulture degree from UW Madison and worked in the USDA Honey Bee Research Lab. He has authored numerous books about bees and beekeeping. You can find him here on Facebook.
Beekeeping for dummies
by Howland Blackiston
Part of the “for dummies” learning series of books, Beekeeping for dummies is in its 4th Edition.
Like other books I’ve seen in the “for dummies” line, this book has an easy to read format that covers what you need to know straightforwardly. The author describes it as a reference book, not a lecture. It’s easy to find the specific information you seek.
While the Langstroth hive once again takes center stage, this edition added information on Top Bar hives and has a whole chapter discussing different types of hives.
Beekeeping for dummies has a short section that may help you distinguish between honey bees and other stinging insects.
The book uses icons to highlight tips, warnings, things to remember, urban beekeeping points, and “all-natural” suggestions. Beekeeping for dummies even includes some recipes to make with your harvested honey.
Like other books, Beekeeping for dummies has glossary and lists of helpful resources. Of note for the newbie is Appendix B, Beekeeper’s Checklist. Beginners often overlook record keeping, and this checklist is an excellent way to start.
See our article Record Keeping For Beekeepers (A Guide To Why, What & How)for more information on checklists.
About The Author
Howland Blackiston is a past president of the Connecticut Back Yard Beekeepers Association. He’s been a beekeeper for over 30 years, has authored many articles, and appeared on TV and radio shows.
The Beekeeper’s Bible (Bees, Honey, Recipes & Other Home Uses)
by Richard Jones and Sharon Sweeney-Lynch
The Beekeeper’s Bible is a jack-of-all-trades book of beekeeping.
The section on “Practical Beekeeping” will give newbies much of the same guidance as other books listed here. For me, the value of this book lies in everything else.
Part One, “Bees And Beekeeping History,” is about 60 pages long and is a great read on how beekeeping has developed over time.
This book is full of photos, illustrations, and artwork covering everything from the history of beekeeping to making beeswax furniture polish. It combines the information you’d find in The Beekeeper’s Handbook with something you might come across in Beehive Alchemy (described below).
It’s a great book to pull off the shelf and leaf through for information.
About The Authors
Richard Jones is Director Emeritus at the International Bee Research Association in Cardiff, UK. He is an expert on insects and has authored articles for several publications, including New Scientist.
Sharon Sweeney is currently a Features Editor for TI Media in London, UK. She was a freelance writer researching and co-authoring this book.
More Advanced Books
Beekeeper’s Problem Solver (100 Common Problems Explored and Explained)
by James E. Tew
While the opening chapter of Beekeeper’s Problem Solver is titled “Beekeeping Basics,” I don’t think this a true beginner’s book. That’s not to say it isn’t a valuable addition to your beekeeping library. It will answer some beginner questions, but it’s not designed to take you through the early stages of becoming a beekeeper.
What this book does exceptionally well is to describe a problem you may encounter and provide a likely cause of the issue.
If you have a problem, scan the topics in the table of contents for your issue. (Some of the topics have odd wording like “Healthy bees are lying dead in front of the hive.” Sorry, but a dead bee doesn’t seem to be healthy, but I know what he’s getting at).
The solutions are short and to the point designed to keep the whole section to one page. Sometimes, the lack of detail requires further research on precisely how to implement the solution.
I’ve found myself randomly perusing this book just to find out the sort of problems I may encounter. I figure it will help me spot things I might not have noticed otherwise. The Beekeeper’s Problem Solver is worth having.
About The Author
James E. Tew is a Consulting Professor (AL Cooperative Extension System) at Auburn University. He has a Ph.D., Entomology from The University of Maryland. I first came across Dr. Tew on his web-based video beekeeping program from the Ohio State Beekeepers, which I recommend. He is the owner of One Tew Bee, providing information and presentations on beekeeping.
Honey Bee Biology And Beekeeping
by Dewey M. Caron with Lawrence John Connor
Honey Bee Biology And Beekeeping is one of the more expensive books you may come across. I don’t believe this is a book for the beginning hobbyist. The Forward (Foreword?) says it was “written to serve as a general textbook for a university course on bees and beekeeping.”
While there is a chapter called “Getting Started,” it’s way back in Chapter 11. The books listed above in as for Getting Started provide a much better guide for the new beekeeper.
Being designed as a college textbook, though, Honey Bee Biology And Beekeeping I wouldn’t describe the book as easy reading. However, it’s an excellent reference addition to your library. It covers virtually all aspects of bees and beekeeping that may interest you.
The book includes many illustrations, charts, and color photographs to assist the reader along with a glossary.
About The Authors
Dewey M. Caron is Emeritus Professor, Extension Entomologist at the University of Delaware. He has a Ph.D. in Entomology from Cornell University. Dr. Caron is a beekeeper with over 40 years of experience in teaching and bee research. Among other positions, he is Past Chairman of the Board of Eastern Apiculture Society. You may have seen that he wrote the Foreword to both The Beekeeper’s Handbook and Beekeeping for dummies.
Lawrence John Connor is the owner of Wicwas Press, a publisher of how-to guides and other books about bees and beekeeping. Mr. Connor has multiple degrees in entomology from Michigan State University. His career includes work as Extension Entomologist in Apiculture at Ohio State University and running a bee breeding program for Dandant and Sons. He’s authored many books about bees and beekeeping and articles for Bee Culture Magazine and American Bee Journal.
The Practical Beekeeper
by Michael Bush
The Practical Beekeeper is comprised of three volumes about “how to keep bees in a natural and practical system where they do not require treatment for pests and diseases and only minimal interventions.” You can get all the volumes in one hardcover edition or individual paperbacks. As a group, The Practical Beekeeper rivals Honey Bee Biology And Beekeeping as one of the more expensive items on this list.
The three books in the series are:
- Volume 1 – Beginning Beekeeping Naturally
- Volume 2 – Intermediate Beekeeping Naturally
- Volume 3 – Advanced Beekeeping Naturally
Some of the information in The Practical Beekeeper is on the author’s website Bush Farms. Volume 1 contains basic suggestions for beginning beekeepers, but I think the series is more valuable once you have some experience.
The Practical Beekeeper challenges some of the concepts that are “generally accepted” among beekeepers. While it espouses treatment-free beekeeping (no use of chemicals), it doesn’t take a hard-line approach. For example, the author discusses his use of certain things like oxalic acid to treat for varroa mites.
Many of the suggestions are about how to reduce the workload of the beekeeper. We’ve tried adopting some of the proposals like experimenting with foundation free frames and using all medium hive boxes. Some even refer to it as “lazy beekeeping.”
I think the book is a little light on illustrations and pictures, but it’s not a huge negative
Once you have some experience as a beekeeper, I believe The Practical Beekeeper is excellent book for opening your mind to other possible techniques.
About The Author
Michael Bush has been a beekeeper for over 40 years, and you can find plenty of his videos on YouTube discussing his methods of beekeeping. He is active on web forums. (He’s responded to some of my posts on Beesource’s forum.
Beeswax Alchemy (How to make your own candles, soap, balms, salves and home décor from the hive)
Beehive Alchemy (Projects and recipes using honey, beeswax, propolis and pollen to make soap, candles, creams, salves and more)
by Petra Ahnert
The subtitles of Beeswax Alchemy and Beehive Alchemy give perfect descriptions of what you’ll find inside.
Once you begin to products from the hive, these books will guide you through some exciting things to do with them.
For example, I had never heard of “encaustic painting” (or at least had not noticed it) until I opened Beehive Alchemy. If you don’t know, encaustic is a method of using heated beeswax and color pigmentation to create art. (See What Is Encaustic? on the Encaustic Art Institute website). I’m not sure I’ll try it (not being much of an artist), but it’s interesting, nonetheless.
About The Author
Petra Ahnert is a beekeeper and self-described Alchemist on her Facebook page. Her company Beehive Alchemy is “a small artisan soap, body care and candle company” selling the types of products described in her books.
Keeping Bees In Horizontal Hives (A Complete Guide Apiculture)
by Georges de Layens and Gaston Bonniers
The author of Keeping Bees In Horizontal Hives died in 1897. Yes, the book is old, but the translation from French makes it feel fresh.
Keeping Bees In Horizontal Hives differs from most of the beekeeping books here in that it does NOT focus on the Langstroth hive (or other vertical hives like the Warré). Instead, it proposes the horizontal hive (or Layens hive) as a more natural and sustainable way to keep bees.
Layens hives are similar to Top Bar hives, which are also horizontal. These hives consist of one horizontal box designed to minimize the amount of work and intervention by the beekeeper.
The Layens hive is different from other Top Bar hives. Traditional Top Bar hives are frame-less, requiring only a “top bar” from which bees hang their comb. The shape of the hive usually results in a somewhat triangular block of honeycomb.
Layens hives have frames much like the Langstroth; however, Layens frames are much deeper, yielding a larger comb structure.
We just took delivery of our first horizontal hive and will be trying it out next year. If you want to try a Layens hive, Keeping Bees In Horizontal Hives is a great guide to get you started.
About The Authors
Georges de Layens was a French apiculturist in the late 1800s and creator of the Layens hive.
Gaston Bonnier was a professor of botany at the Sorbonne in France and a member of several scientific bodies.