Reviews of The Bee-friendly Beekeeper -- A Sustainable Approach by David Heaf

From The Beekeepers Quarterly, No. 101, September 2010, pp 55-56.

The Bee-friendly Beekeeper
A Sustainable approach
David Heaf
160 pp, illustrated throughout
in colour, Northern Bee Books,
September 2010. £25

bfb_cover_small.jpg (22893 bytes)Major problems in beekeeping, like Colony Collapse Disorder, have hit the headlines over the last couple of years. These have led beekeepers to re-examine the way in which they keep their bees in what is last becoming an alien environment for them. However, even before this time, several beekeepers had the foresight to see what was happening to colonies throughout the world and had begun to keep their bees in a less conventional way – more in line with beekeeping at the end of the 19th century. Just like the Victorian beekeepers who preached the message of ’humanity to bees’, there has been a renaissance in the welfare of bees, instigated by those whose approach to the craft is both ethical and sustainable. One of the stalwarts of this movement is undoubtedly David Heaf who will be known to readers of the BKQ for his articles on ‘caring’ (in the real sense of the word) for bees, and to those who have followed his pages on the Internet dealing with the same subject.

In essence, the book is a more detailed exposition of the subjects on which he wrote for us, which included principally the role of the ethical beekeeper and the way that bees could be managed so that they were disturbed as little as possible and by relying on methods which were sustainable and with low input. In ‘The Bee-friendly Beekeeper’, as in his articles, he shows how hives like the Warré – or the People’s Hive – allow beekeepers to achieve the desired goals.

While the book bursts with the sound, reasoned philosophy of the methods of management outlined, it is also immensely practical. The author shows us that he is an accomplished draughtsman in the plans which he has drawn to show the construction of hives and miscellaneous pieces of equipment (including a honey press, and hive lift, for example); the photographs that show his completed pieces of apparatus are proof of his ability as a craftsman.

This timely and important book should be read by all beekeepers, especially those who are starting in the craft so that they are aware from the very beginning that there are other methods of beekeeping which are sustainable and suit the needs of the bees much more than those described in most modern beekeeping manuals. The system of beekeeping he advocates is significant, as the majority of beekeepers are amateurs; it is their fascination with bees that is more important than any monetary return they may get. This being the case, by adopting the philosophy and methodology within the volume, beekeepers will find more satisfaction in their apiary work.

There is an extensive bibliography which will direct the 'new’ beekeeper to other sources should further elaboration on any of the topics within the book need to be sought.

Undoubtedly, for me, this is one of the most valuable books on bee husbandry to have been published for many years. Refreshingly different and with a strong message for beekeepers, showing how responsible beekeeping can easily be achieved.

David Heaf runs 20 colonies in the Welsh Hills at an altitude of 600 ft. He is the co-translator with his wife, Pat, of Abbé Warré's 'Beekeeping for All’ which was written in French.

Reviewed by John Phipps, Editor

From the bi-monthly Newsletter of the Nottinghamshire Beekeepers' Association, UK -- December 2010 edition

Stuart Ching, Editor

Most people pick up a book and flick through it -- to do so with this with this book gives the impression, even without looking in detail, of how well it has been produced. There is an abundance of images here. Then one starts to read particular pages and it is here that the depths of the material hits you! Many beekeepers have a good knowledge of the ways bees should be kept but this book will make them think again – and how! I had to read the first few chapters several times before I could believe how much my previous knowledge was being challenged (and enriched). If you think you know beekeeping look here and be surprised.

The rest of the book deals with the Warré hive and goes into fine detail of how to run this type of hive. However, beekeepers with the more traditional types of hive should not be put off by this as often the thinking behind any kind of beekeeping is explained in ways that are both thoughtful and make sense.

There is a wide ranging list of references and a complete index (although I would personally like to have seen the names of people separated from the techniques discussed in this).

This is the second time this year that I have the pleasure of seeing books that will become classics. Buy it for Christmas!!"

From Tidskrift for Biavl 11/2010, p. 347 (Denmark)

Englænderen David Heaf har netop udgivet bogen The Bee-friendly BeekeeperA sustainable approach" på forlaget Northern Bee Books.

David Heaf og hans engelske kollega Phil Chandler er begge fortalere for en mere bæredygtig form for biavl. Hvor Phil Chandler har kastet kærligheden på det horisontale topliste bistade (Top bar hive), har David Heaf koncentreret sig om det vertikale topliste stade – i dette tilfælde Warré stadet.

The Bee-friendly Beekeeper er en bog, som kommer rigtig godt rundt om de forskellige emner relateret til bæredygtig biavl og fordelene ved anvendelse af Warré stadet. Bogen starter dog med en rubricering af biavlere i forskellige "kasser" med hensyn til deres etik at drive biavl på. Problemet med det er dog, at man ofte ikke passer perfekt i én kasse, så hvad er værdien egentlig?

Bogen bærer dog tydeligt præg af at være skrevet af en kompetent person, idet David har en lang baggrund som biavler og biokemiker og påstandene i bogen er derfor ikke grebet ud af den blå luft, men baseret på ca. 200 referencer. David har virkelig været "ude i internettets kroge" for at finde det, han har ledt efter. Bogen har endvidere den fordel, at den ikke er fundamentalistisk og fordømmende over for den måde, som biavl praktisers i dag, men nøgtern påpeger de problemer, som der jo vitterligt er.

Bogen omhandler også det kildne spørgsmål omkring varroa problematikken – skal vi varroabehandle eller skal vi gøre det "hard core" – dvs vi selekterer selv for de familier, der kan sameksistere med varroa og betaler så prisen med mange familer, der bukker under. Her er der sikkert skyts til en lang diskussion – sikkert også med nabobiavleren!

Bogen er rigt illustreret med mange gode fotos og tegninger af Warré stadet – bl.a også ottekantede udgaver. Bogen burde derfor være interessant for de biavlere, som ikke bare fokuserer på honningudbyttet og "sådan plejer vi at gøre", men som i tænksomme øjeblikke filosoferer over, hvorfor man driver biavl, som man gør og som måske kunne tænke sig at gøre det på en mere bi-venlig måde. Dertil kan jeg varmt anbefale bogen.

Keld Andresen, keldandresen (at)

From Bee Culture December 2010

David Heaf's name should be familiar as he is the leading proponent of the Warré Hive, a top bar hive using stackable supers, rather than a long hive. The book explores current problems with bees, and the author's concern, and probable causes, then offers his management techniques as one solution. It is beautifully done, and indeed, does explore natural methods of raising bees using these type hives. Illustrations and instructions on building these are well done, though I'm not sure that just anyone could produce one of these, but they are less complicated than other English hives I have seen. Since there are no frames, and the rest is made from standard materials, the cost in much less than other hives. If keeping bees in standard Langstroth hives seems a less desirable choice, then this book is what you have been looking for.

From An Hes (the swarm) December 2010 Newsletter of the West Cornwall BKA

This new book, written by David Heaf, is well researched and thought provoking. He seeks to make beekeeping more sustainable both for the bees and for the environment, by promoting the use of the Warré hive. Warré, a French monk, called his vertical top bar hive the 'People’s Hive', being cheap and easy to make.

Heaf’s book is in two halves. In the first, after a fascinating description of the swarming process, he describes the requirements of the bees and how these conflict with the desires of modern beekeepers, especially that of maximising honey production, but also the use of the moveable frame hive and frequent inspections of it. He describes an alternative low tech mode of practice, which needs less equipment and also less interventionist beekeeping practices. He reminds his reader that opening a hive disrupts the humidity, warmth and scent homeostasis of the colony, which the bees naturally maintain. Indeed, he suggests that the vertical TBH should only be inspected once a year, at the end of the summer, to remove any surplus honey, while leaving enough on the colony for winter so as to avoid artificial feeding.

The horizontal TBH has its origins in tropical Africa and many think it less suitable for our climate, arguing instead in favour of a vertical TBH, but there are disadvantages. The big one is that ‘sub’-ing rather than supering is practised. This involves placing the new extra box at the bottom after lifting the others, full! to one side before replacing on top of the new empty one. Although he describes a lift to facilitate this manoeuvre, I am not sure that it is a hive suitable for women, children and those with a bad back!

It is an attractive thought to allow the bees ‘to get on with it’ uninterrupted, allowing the queen free to roam within the hive, the colony free to expand and contract the brood nest, drawing their own wax without introducing foundation avoiding the risk of pesticide accumulation and ‘choosing’ their own cell size, BUT there are drawbacks. Swarming cannot be effectively managed and so these hives are probably only suitable for use in the countryside away from neighbours; the colony cannot be easily inspected for brood diseases and this will not please our bee inspectors, and varroa treatment is a problem. Heaf asserts that varroa is less of a problem in these hives than in ‘conventional’ ones, that the bees left undisturbed are better able to control it themselves, but if this is so, then why are there so few feral colonies? He prefers to practise the Bond principle of ‘live and (or should it be OR?) let die.’ He reports a 4 year survival rate of 33%, so for those who only have one or two colonies, non treatment may well not be an option.

All that said, a Warré hive can be modified to be used with frames, either complete or with whole or half length side bars, in order to allow easier manipulation whilst still allowing the bees to draw their own comb.

In the second half of the book, Heaf gives detailed description of how to make and manage a Warré People’s Hive, including how to make the (essential) lift.

Heaf draws extensively on Tautz's The Buzz about Bees and on Warré’s book Beekeeping for All, both of which are also in our library and he also includes Rodger Dewhurst in his reference list.

I really enjoyed this book. It is informative and thought provoking, and will change your mental approach to beekeeping even if you don’t throw out your Nationals.


From Gwenynwyr Cymru -- The Welsh Beekeeper No. 171, Winter 2010

For those of you who want to build a Warré hive, David Heaf has written The Bee-friendly Beekeeper (NBB, £24) which has wonderfully clear drawings on how to build this hive (popular in France). One of the illustrations shows the author's cycle trailer full of spare boxes. I don't know if anyone has tried to cycle with a load on behind, but it causes wobbles and I find I usually end up on the grass and the boxes all over the road. An Indian three-wheel trishaw is much steadier and takes a Jumbo Langstroth hive easily.

John Kinross

From Hampshire Beetalk, December 2010

In this book the author examines the issues surrounding hive design, natural comb versus frames and foundation, the effect of intrusive manipulations, forage versus feeding, managing diseases and pests, and the raising of new queens. Each is assessed in terms of its social, economic and environmental sustainability as well as its appropriateness to the well-being of the honey bee colony. The analysis poses challenges to the traditional movable frame hive style of beekeeping but also encourages those beekeepers to consider the opportunities for adopting a more bee-centric approach.

The last two chapters and appendices occupy some 56 pages and are devoted to the vertical Top Bar Hive with lots of colour illustrations, line drawings for its construction, and tips on their management. The author and his wife produced the translation of Abbé Émile Warré's "Beekeeping for All", also published by Northern Bee Books.

Those beekeepers using conventional movable frame hives will find the preceding chapters stimulating and challenging. For those beekeepers opting for The Peoples Hive this book should be on your Christmas present list.

John Hanks

From Montgomeryshire Beekeepers Association Newsletter, January 2010

This book although not by the same author is perhaps best seen as a follow on from the book written by P J Chandler, The Barefoot Beekeeper. It gives much information on the ideology and practical techniques to be used with a top-bar hive, in particular the Warré Hive of the type currently placed in Montgomeryshire BKA's training apiary at Gregynog. It invites the beekeeper to examine some of the accepted practices of modern beekeeping techniques.

"In recent years, beekeepers on several continents have been suffering heavy losses of colonies. If we systematically investigate factors causing the losses, we can justifiably ask whether the way in which honey bees are kept is part of the problem. Could hive design, frames, foundation, intrusion, artificial queen breeding, drone suppression, queen excluders, artificial feeding, medication, transhumance and overstocking -- all elements of modern beekeeping -- be reducing the vitality of bees?"

"This book examines the issues surrounding these practices, drawing where possible on the primary literature in bee biology and apiculture, in order to identify an approach to keeping bees that is more appropriate. It also analyses the fundamental attitudes underlying the different ways in which we chose to keep bees"

Our 'traditional' ways are only a little over a hundred years old and mankind has kept bees for many thousands of years.

"Honeycomb is now known to be much more than just the skeleton of the bee colony super-organism. A case is presented for making natural comb the centre of a way of beekeeping that better respects the nature of the honey bee by allowing its species specific behaviours to be expressed. Among the hives based on relatively natural comb, the author presents the top-bar hive of Emile Warré as a practical and economical alternative to frame hives and describes the bee friendly features of it's operation. The book includes construction plans and modern tips for its management."

If the beekeepers sole intent is to maximise honey production at the expense of all else, then this approach to beekeeping will probably not appeal. If however the beekeeper has the health and welfare of the bees as a prime objective and is content to share the honey harvest with the bees then this methodology has much to commend it. In time to come the bee-friendly ethos may turn out to be the accepted way in which we are recommended, or even able, to sustainably keep bees at all - only time will tell.

I can recommend this book to any beekeeper interested in looking at alternatives to the accepted norms of modern beekeeping. It will certainly help to lift the veil of mystery and suspicion which sometimes seems to be evident when discussing the Warré hives in our club apiary, it answers almost every question I have ever heard asked about them. Definitely a recommended winter read, and who knows we might well have a few more top bar hive enthusiasts next summer.

Noel Eaton

From Beekeeping, the journal of the Devon Beekeepers Association, December 2010

[As currently there is such interest in "alternative " systems of beekeeping in Devon and we have had much discussion here on the ideas of David Heaf, I thought a review of David's latest publication was appropriate Ed]

This is certainly a very reader-friendly book. Its weight, size and texture of cover and paper make it nice to hold and handle. It is beautifully set out with a clear sans-serif font which is well spaced and very easy to read even in dim light and with ageing eyes. The 3D construction diagrams in the appendices are very carefully drawn and the exploded views, especially of the Warré hive lifting apparatus, could even tempt a non-techno to start an ambitious construction project.

The 150 pages are liberally spread with clear, beautiful, relevant and attractive drawings and photographs almost all in full colour. The author, designers and publishers must be congratulated for well thought out and well integrated ideas. The book’s presentation makes the reader want to read it. This is important for any publication of course but with the vital and increasingly fashionable messages that are explained and justified within the ten chapters of this book, sometimes in great detail, reading for serious study or for just interested enlightenment becomes a pleasure.

And this is important because the objective of the book is to promote the 1940’s beekeeping concept of the French priest Abbé Warré. Important, as this approach is considered controversial by some, unsuitable in the current apicultural environment by others and the epitome of unsustainable beekeeping by many. It is definitely a polarising topic for debate at a winter meeting for a lively group of local beekeepers. Is it friendly to rob them of their hard-worked-for honey for example? Or frustrate their reproductive urges in controlling swarming?

Consider the Title. "The Bee-friendly Beekeeper. A sustainable approach" Surely all beekeepers are genuinely "Bee friendly" which makes the tile [sic] immediately redundant unless there is an arrogant implication that other systems are not so friendly. The bee is by nature unfriendly to the unfriendly so only bee-friendly beekeepers are able to persist in the occupation. Once a newcomer has contracted the well known and soon developed "Bee fever", the respect developed for the precious insect only allows for friendliness in their care and management. What about "A sustainable approach" with the strong implication that any other is unsustainable?

But this book is a serious, well explained and intelligent justification for this "Approach" starting with an extensive definition and discussion of sustainability which is a popular buzz-word these days used to seek instant approval and a high moral position and rarely defined. As David Heaf says the fact is that " . . .if everyone in the world lived like British people they would need three planet Earths to

sustain them " and there is the crucial point made "What is sustainable in a practical sense varies from place to place on the planet". So for him, the main consideration is the reduction of global ecological beekeeping footprint. But surely there is the valid counterpoint that if any human activity has an "off-set" value in its ecological footprint then well managed beekeeping must score highly.

But the book raises personal concerns and his chapter on beekeeping ethics and the question of where we each position ourselves in ethical beekeeping makes for thoughtful private reflection likely to make every reader more bee-friendly.

And so the book moves to the author’s passionately held convictions on Top bar Hives and especially the rarely opened or internally examined Warré hives. David Heaf relates his convictions to over 200 well documented and listed recent research papers and publications including the revealing observations and explanations by Jürgen Tautz in his book "The Buzz about Bees". For anyone wishing to pursue the lines of argument there are plenty directions to follow. Whether after reading this book anyone will be newly converted to Warré and TBH beekeeping remains to be seen. But certainly here within there is plenty of guidance and justification. Whether this style of beekeeping is cheaper, easier or more eco-friendly than good skilled conventional beekeeping, for me, remains unproven. If it encourages and provides justification for "leave-alone", one examination-a-year beekeepering then that is to be deeply regretted

This is a book that has its tenets linked to modern research and Tautz’s scientifically based observations but at the same time, and maybe inconsistently, also quotes Rudolph Steiner’s 1923 lectures and such vague concepts as "hive forces being organic and becoming mechanised"; undefined "intimate relationships" between a colony and its queen and the dubious rather prejudiced suggestion that artificially raised queens produce inferior colonies.

This is one of the most important and enjoyable books of the many published in recent years. If it was on your Christmas list you will spend many hours on cold January and February evenings getting to understand better, bees and beekeepers whatever approach you have to sustainable beekeeping itself.

Glyn Davies

From Stratford upon Avon and District Beekeepers Association Newsletter, December 2010

The title of this book made me suspect that I would not agree with much of its content - and my premonition was not wrong. Heaf starts by telling us that all the problems our bees may be suffering are caused by the way in which we keep them. He spends some time discussing agricultural and environmental ethics and we are effectively invited to consider our own position - the Dominator, the Steward, the Partner, or the Participant. It quickly becomes obvious that if you keep bees in what most of us would regard as a normal manner then you are a ‘baddy’; you can guess who is the ‘goody’!

So what are we doing that is unsustainable? Almost everything: using hives with frames, putting on supers (forcing bees to gather honey stresses them!), using queen excluders, inspecting our colonies for disease, rearing good queens from selected stock, controlling swarms, moving colonies… the diatribe against what most of us would see as good practice seems endless and completely ignores that fact that in many parts of the world bees are actually thriving under this regime. Inspections and swarm control we are told stress the bees, so they should be left to swarm as much as they like - your neighbours may not agree with this policy and I do not see it as particularly bee-friendly to send swarms to an almost certain death from varroa. Selection for good temper is wrong because bees should be able to defend their home - again your neighbours may not agree! Inspection for disease is not considered necessary because you can detect foulbrood by smell - how irresponsible is it to allow things to get that bad before taking action?

So what is Heaf’s solution? Those of you who know of him will no doubt have guessed by now that the majority of the book is written to promote the Warré hive. For those of you not familiar with this hive, it was invented by an obscure French monk who died some 60 years ago, i.e. well before the major advances in our knowledge of the biology and especially the pathology of the honeybee. The hive consists of a series of boxes, each slightly smaller than a National brood box and fitted with just top bars. No frames, foundation, or queen excluders are used and new boxes are added as required underneath the colony (this requires you to make a ‘Gatineau lift’ - a wooden frame with a windlass capable of raising the entire stack!). Honey is harvested once a year by removing boxes from the top provided that they do not contain brood. Of course, most of these combs will have contained brood at some time and, as they cannot be extracted in the normal manner because they have no frames, they have to be mashed and then pressed - mixing the faeces in these brood combs with the honey; Heaf apparently does not have a problem with eating this!

The book, although expensive given that it is paperback and just 160 pages long, is well-produced (on recycled paper of course) and well-illustrated. It has a considerable bibliography - 117 references are used to support claims made in the text although some of these come from very dubious sources, e.g. Rudolf Steiner who wrote in the 1920’s: ‘… bees swarm around emergence of a virgin because they cannot stand the intensity of the light she emits; queens are only fertile because they develop in less than one sun cycle and hence are forever 'sun children', with boundless energies locked up inside them…’. It is unfortunate that some beginners, especially those who believe that they are on a mission to ‘help the bees’, are so easily convinced that this is the way forward. I shall not be changing to Warré hives!

Peter Edwards

From The Australasian Beekeeper, January 2011

In June 2008, the Australasian Beekeeper published an article on ‘Sustainable and Bee-friendly Beekeeping’ by David Heaf. The article was part of a series, published in other beekeeping magazines throughout the world, and the author has been encouraged by the positive response to the article to extend the articles in to a full book. It is not intended to be a manual on beekeeping, but some chapters are devoted to the basics of running a simple hive – the Warré ‘People’s Hive’ – as an example of a possible start on the road to sustainable beekeeping.

In recent years, beekeepers on several continents have been suffering heavy losses of colonies. If we systematically investigate factors causing the losses, we can justifiably ask whether the way in which honey bees are kept is part of the problem. Could hive design, frames, foundation, intrusion, artificial queen breeding, drone suppression, queen excluders, artificial feeding, medication, transhumance and overstocking -- all elements of modern beekeeping -- be reducing the vitality of bees?

This book examines the issues surrounding these practices, drawing where possible on the primary literature in bee biology and apiculture, in order to identify an approach to keeping bees that is more bee-appropriate. It also analyses the fundamental attitudes underlying the different ways in which we choose to keep bees.

It is suitable for beginners who already have a basic knowledge of the life of the honey bee, as well as for beekeepers with experience who want to discover a more bee-friendly way, either with their existing hives or with the Warré hive.

The opening chapter considers the development of a ‘natural’ hive as a result of swarming, as compared to the starting of a ‘new’ hive by a beekeeper who splits an existing hive. The author then goes on to a short and simple chapter on defining the fundamentals of sustainability, before comparing the spectrum of attitudes to nature that may be found among beekeepers. This then leads to a discussion of the three ‘S’ needs of the bee colony – shelter, seclusion and sustenance, with separate chapters on each.

Recognising the impact of bee diseases affecting ‘modern’ beekeeping, Heaf then looks at the control of bee pest and diseases within this system of sustainable beekeeping , as well as ways of breeding and making increase. Honeycomb is now known to be much more than just the skeleton of the bee colony superorganism. A case is presented for making natural comb the centre of a way of beekeeping that better respects the nature of the honey bee by allowing its species-specific behaviours to be expressed. Among the hives based on relatively natural comb, the author presents the top-bar hive of Emile Warré as a practical and economical alternative to frame hives and describes the bee-friendly features of its operation. The book includes construction plans and modern tips for its management.

The primary consideration in the authorship of this book is that of identifying the natural processes in the bees’ biology that will enable a form of husbandry which is healthier for the bee, and thus more economically sustainable, as well as being less artificial than the current practices which have been adopted over the past couple of centuries. Extremely well-presented, it is well worth reading, even if only to make the thinking beekeeper re-evaluate what he is doing now. It does not mean that beekeepers in Australia would have to stop keeping bees in hives with removable frames, but might represent the need to change your way of thinking about your beekeeping.

Des Cannon

From New View magazine ( ), Issue 58, Jan-March 2011

David Heaf has been keeping bees for many years and his wealth of experience underpins this book. As the title suggests, it is all about keeping bees in a more bee-friendly manner, whilst also taking into account aspects of sustainability. In the context of beekeeping Heaf explains that sustainability means "the activity has to make economic sense in that a beekeeper who lives all or partly from it should have a satisfactory return whilst at the same time meeting the needs of the bees." However, one only has to read the many recent reports of colonies across the world disappearing, dying, or succumbing to illness to know that all is not well in the bee kingdom and that perhaps the scales have been weighted against "the needs of the bees" for too long. In fact, has beekeeping become unsustainable in many parts of the world? If so, what can be done to rectify this situation?

Using a ‘top down’ approach (literally, starting from the top of the hive and working down to the bottom) Heaf systematically looks at all the aspects of modern-day beekeeping practices that might be contributing to this situation.

The kind of practices a beekeeper favours depends on which fundamental moral attitudes he holds to nature in general and to bees in particular. Heaf categorises these attitudes into four types: ‘dominator’, ‘steward’, ‘partner’, and ‘participant’. "The dominator holds that nature is for supporting the existence of the human race"; "the steward ... sees himself as entrusted with the use of nature, not with its consumption"; the partner regards animals as potential allies, thus presupposing that they have their own ‘say’ when interacting with humans"; "the participant sees nature as the totality of interdependent and interwoven life forms". The beekeeper must ask himself which one of these he identifies with. No doubt, says Heaf, the ideas expressed in this book will be ridiculed by commercial beekeepers who are solely profit-driven (bee ‘farmers’, in reality); but they are, thankfully, in the minority. The majority of beekeepers are in fact amateurs and they will find this book leads them to a deeper understanding of the dynamics of the hive and will hopefully encourage them to modify their beekeeping practices by making them more favourable to the intrinsic needs of the bees. At the same time the book raises consciousness for any impact on the environment their current practices may be having.

Heaf points out that it is the amateur beekeepers who can exert the greatest influence on the future well-being of honeybees and the husbandry that goes with them. Therefore, this is a timely book that could go a long way to helping bee populations regain and maintain their health. Of course, it is sometimes a difficult balancing act to keep the four main stakeholder groups bees, beekeepers, honey consumers and the biota (the living environment) happy in equal proportions, but this is a necessity if the future sustainability of beekeeping is to be achieved and maintained.

What do bees need to be happy and healthy? Heaf sums up their basic requirements under the headings: Shelter, Seclusion and Sustenance — the three S’s. He looks at the thermal (heat) and hygrological (humidity and evaporation) aspects of various hive designs. The bees need to maintain a constant temperature in the hive, but how can fluctuations in the temperature (for instance caused through the beekeeper inspecting the hive) be kept to a minimum? In answering this question Heaf advocates the use of the vertical top-bar hive, such as ‘The People’s Hive’ of Abbé Emile Warré, but there is helpful advice, too, for those beekeepers using frame hives on achieving a lower level of intervention.

Heaf gives a whole chapter over to the intricate workings of the comb because of its vitally important role in contributing to the health of the colony. It is the central area of activity within the bee colony superorganism. He puts forward a strong argument for allowing the bees to determine their own comb ‘architecture’, for it is known that if left to their own devices bees will build cells of varying sizes across their comb, for instance to accommodate the smaller worker bees or the bigger drones. It is common practice in modern beekeeping to use foundation (ready-made sheets of wax cells) which consist of bigger cells than the bees would normally build, and with each cell exactly the same. The bees are therefore prevented from expressing their natural instincts. Heaf argues that this latter method is a bee-unfriendly option that is likely to put the bees under more stress.

On the subject of Sustenance, we read where best to site hives to make life easier for the bees, as foraging for nectar and pollen is time- and energy-consuming. This leads Heaf onto the subject of the practice of importing bees. In 1923, Rudolf Steiner intimated that bees in a certain region are adapted to the climate and seasonal availability of forage in that particular region. Taking them to another region to which they are not adapted would probably result in a decline in their health. In these days when bees are shipped from one side of the world to another, Heaf asks us to consider this as a possible factor leading to the demise of bee populations worldwide. Indeed, many beekeepers have taken this seriously and are now trying to work only with indigenous, locally adapted bees. Colony density and its contribution to minimising the spread of disease and infestation is addressed, as is a dilemma facing bee-friendly beekeepers, namely whether or not and on what to feed bees artificially in times of emergency, or in preparation for the winter months. As this book is all about ‘a sustainable approach’ to beekeeping, Heaf comes down on the side of organically certified crystallised sugar in the absence of honey. But feeding honey to bees is another controversial issue as some beekeepers object that it may contain foulbrood spores.

Which leads the author into a deeper discussion on some of the most serious threats to bee health the Varroa mite, foulbrood and dysentery looking at possible causes, treatments and remedies. He feels much can be done to control these nuisances if bee-friendly management is adopted, strengthening their resistance to disease.

Heaf examines the practice of the artificial breeding of queens and its resultant problems. One of these is the reduction worldwide of the genetic diversity of honey bees. In 1923, Rudolf Steiner had "warned about the problems that artificial queen breeding would introduce eventually.., in 80 or 100 years time." The experienced beekeeper Emile Warré echoed this, writing: "artificial breeding that is practised in intensive beekeeping only gives mediocre and inferior queens... people will end up only with bees that are weak, poor workers, incapable of resisting disease, above all foulbrood." Are beekeepers now reaping what many of them have sown? Heaf describes the intimate and fascinating relationship that exists between a natural queen and her colony, built up over time and through intimate contact, and which cannot be duplicated with an ‘imported’ queen. Swarm management and ways to increase the colony are also discussed.

As mentioned before, Heaf is an advocate for ‘The People’s Hive’ of Abbé Emile Warré. The Warré hive differs fundamentally from the frame hive in that it is expanded from the bottom up (by lifing the top boxes and placing a new box underneath). This allows the bees to continue building their comb downwards, which is what they naturally are inclined to do and more importantly, avoids heat loss. With frame hives the boxes are added from the top and there is considerable heat loss from the hive. In the Appendix, full instructions are given for constructing ‘The People’s Hive’, with many expanded diagrams and detailed measurements. Heaf also provides instructions for building the Warré hive lift, which will be necessary once a hive has grown beyond two boxes. I would imagine that the construction of the hive and lift would not tax the ability of a keen and practised do-it-yourself enthusiast, but if you are not one of those then the services of a local carpenter may be required!

The Bee-friendly Beekeeper is copiously illustrated with colour photographs and diagrams showing the various hives and their components. Heaf states that this book is not for the beginner and that a basic knowledge of the life cycle of the honey bee is assumed, as well as some familiarity with elementary beekeeping. He therefore provides readers with helpful advice on where best to go for background reading, including, in the Appendix, a selection of Internet resources.

I hope this book will persuade more beekeepers to adopt the practices of bee-friendly beekeeping before it is too late.

Rosemary Usselman

Bees for Development, review by Dr. Monica Barlow, 7 January 2011

From Star & Furrow -- Journal of the Biodynamic Agricultural Association ( ), Issue 114, Winter 2011

This substantial book sheds refreshing new light on modern beekeeping.

In recent years I have been struggling to reconcile much of my conventional beekeeping and its adverse effect on bees. On occasions I have voiced my opinions that all was not right; these have often been met by calls of disapproval, as well as conflict with fellow beekeepers; sometimes there has been a glimmer of support. David Heaf offers an insight into the area of agricultural ethics applied to beekeeping. This describes a range of attitudes towards bee husbandry, all of which are acceptable, depending on the free and informed choice of the individual. To inform this choice, Heaf examines bee husbandry against the natural requirements of the honeybee.

Initially, he focuses on the provision of healthy living conditions for bee colonies; essentially, shelter, seclusion and sustenance. In these areas he discusses the importance of retaining nest heat and atmosphere; non-intrusion into the comb structure and the availability of a nutritious, varied diet. Later coverage of disease and pests examines the impact of chemicals, not only on pests and pathogens but on the bees, beneficial microbes and human beings. The chapter on breeding and making increase examines various options, one of which is artificial queen breeding. The long term impact of this practice, with relatively few breeding stocks, raises risks of in-breeding and reduced genetic diversity which may already be affecting honeybee populations.

The hive favoured by the author is the Warré hive, which offers optimum functionality and requires minimum intervention; its design principles can be traced back to 1677. In his coverage of the hive, Heaf provides a modern supplement to Warré’s book, translated as ‘Beekeeping for All’, which will assist beekeepers to manage the hive. This includes a number of modifications in use by beekeepers in different countries and climates, as well as drawings of hive parts to enable self build.

David Heaf has an impressive pedigree. He is a Doctor of Biochemistry, a long time biodynamic gardener and architect and manager of the Warré Beekeeping website. In the last four years, besides managing the web site and mentoring a growing e-forum, he has provided articles for magazines around the world, translated a couple of beekeeping books into English and written this book. He has also found time to build and populate a dozen Warré hives as well as manage, in total, some twenty bee colonies. His zeal and energy impresses me as does his eye for meticulous detail. He insists that any beekeeping comment, if not personal experience, is supported by evidence, preferably peer reviewed scientific papers.

This book is a significant piece of work. It logically challenges much of current bee husbandry; at the same time it enriches the reader with a deeper understanding of the honeybee nature. For those who decide to follow a bee-friendly path, it offers substantial practical advice; much of which has been gleaned from worldwide beekeepers.

The book is printed in an easy to read font on good quality paper with colour photographs throughout to illustrate text. The use of pictures taken by beekeepers around the world gives a tremendous feel of group ownership.

John Haverson
Andover and Hampshire Beekeeper Associations

From Maandblad van de Vlaamse Imkersbond, Jan-Feb 2011 

In het voorbije decennium hebben de bijenhouders op alle continenten zware verliezen geleden. Wanneer we systematisch de mogelijke factoren gaan onderzoeken die deze massale teloorgang van bijenvolken hebben veroorzaakt, kunnen we er niet onderuit ons de vraag te stellen of de manier waarop we bijen houden, eveneens deel uitmaakt van het probleem. Aldus de auteur.

Is het voorstelbaar dat al die elementen die zo karakteristiek zijn voor de bedrijfsvoering in de hedendaagse bijenhouderij, ertoe bijgedragen hebben om de vitaliteit van de bijen te reduceren, vraagt de schrijver zich af. Hij denkt daarbij aan de courante kasten- en raamtypes in hun talloze varianten, het gebruik van voorbedrukt kunstraat in was, paraffine, en plastic; aan het onophoudelijk ingrijpen in de nesten, de kunstmatige inseminatie van koninginnen, het uitsnijden van darrenbroed, het gebruik van koninginnenroosters, het systematisch beperken van het werksterbroed, de teelt uit een uiterst beperkte genenpool, het toedienen van ongeëigend bijenvoedsel, de aanwending van chemische stoffen om ziekten te bestrijden, het transport van bijenvolken over grote afstanden, de overconcentratie van bijenvolken op een monoflorale dracht op een beperkte plaats …

David Heaf onderzoekt in dit boek systematisch en precies die praktijken en toestanden, met de bedoeling een benadering van het bijenhouden te formuleren die op duurzaamheid, op meer bijenvriendelijkheid gericht is. Hij grijpt daarbij terug naar de basisgegevens van de bijenbiologie en de omstandigheden waarin bijen in de natuur leven en eeuwen lang overleven.

Bijzondere aandacht schenkt hij aan de fundamentele attitudes van de bijenhouder, aan de houding en de instelling van de imker in zijn relatie tot zijn bijen.

Is de bijenhouder de hebzuchtige dominator, die het bijenvolk zijn wil oplegt bij de afwikkeling van hun levenscyclus ? Of is hij een toezichthoudende steward ? Een gelijkwaardige partner of beschouwt de imker zich als een begeleidende participant ? De aangenomen attitude zal in grote mate, het welzijn, het duurzaam voortbestaan van het bijenvolk bepalen.

Aan dit ethisch aspect van het imkeren, heeft de auteur bij vorige gelegenheden reeds aandacht besteed in afzonderlijke bijdragen die - in vertaling - ook in ons Maandblad gepubliceerd werden. 

Van de ratenconstructie weten we nu, dat zij veel meer is dan alleen maar het skelet waarrond het bijenvolk zijn bestaan heeft opgebouwd. De auteur maakt er een punt van om aan te tonen dat de natuurlijke ratenconstructie, zonder de hulp van voorgevormde kunstraatvellen of strips en zonder de begrenzing van omkaderende raampjes, de kern uitmaakt van een duurzame bijenhouderij, die recht laat wedervaren aan de wezenlijke aard van de honingbij. Door de natuurlijke ratenbouw, waarbij het bijenvolk zelf de afmetingen van de cellen en onderlinge afstand van de raten bepaalt, kunnen alle soortspecifieke gedragingen van het superorganisme-honingbij het best tot uiting gebracht worden.

Volgens Dr. Heaf beantwoordt de Warré-bijenkast het best aan die vooropgestelde doelstellingen. Aangevuld met constructieplannen geeft hij er een gedetailleerde beschrijving van, samen met de bijenvriendelijke behandeling en de duurzame effecten op langere termijn.

In de loop van de jaren werden verschillende modificaties aan het basismodel toegevoegd en ook deze varianten voorziet de auteur van een uitvoerige toelichting. (Voor een eerste kennismaking met deze kast, kan de lezer eveneens terecht in de onderaan geciteerde bronnen en nummers van ons Maandblad) .

Naar de auteur beweert, zou zijn boek geschikt zijn voor zowel beginners die over een elementaire voorkennis van de biologie van de honingbij beschikken, als voor de geroutineerde imker die bereid is om over te schakelen op een meer bijenvriendelijke bedrijfswijze. De inhoudstafel verwijst in elk geval naar alle aspecten, naar elk onderdeel van de bedrijfsvoering waarmee de imker in de loop van een bijenjaar te maken krijgt.

80 illustraties in kleur en 16 tekeningen in zwart/wit op gerecycleerd papier, maken van deze 160 blz. tellende paperback een aanwinst in de bibliotheek van elke weetgrage imker met een passieve kennis van het Engels. Stevige argumenten en aanvullende toelichting bij de geponeerde stellingen zijn terug te vinden in de 117 bibliografische referenties. Een uitvoerige index ondersteunt daarbij de zoek- en naslagwerkzaamheden.

Het zou meer dan zinvol zijn om enkele belangrijke uittreksels van dit werk in vertaling in ons Maandblad te publiceren om ook de andere imkers een inzicht te verschaffen in wat Dr. David Heaf precies verstaat onder: ‘bijenvriendelijk’, ‘ethisch’ en ‘duurzaam’ imkeren.

Alois Schotanus

From the Australian Bee Journal, April 2011

At first glance the image on the front of David Heaf's new paperback shows a scene recognisable to anyone who has come across a swarm or feral nest in the wild and that is the familiar round ball of a cluster of bees, in this case clearly well established as sheets of pure white comb protrude through the mass.

A closer look at the tightly cropped colour photo that takes up almost the entire cover however and you realise this is not a feral nest hanging in a tree or wedged in some wall cavity but a view through a hive body from the bottom looking up towards the just visible top bars out towards the corners of the image. To be more precise it is a view through a top bar 'Warre' hive.

For those who don't know, Emile Warre was a French monk who developed a method of keeping bees which uses natural vertical comb attached to top bars only, preferably no foundation, wiring or side bars are used at all. Before he died in 1951 his 50 years of research studying 300 hive designs resulted in him releasing what he called 'the people's hive', the main criteria of which were simplicity, ease of management and natural qualities. He wrote a book called 'bee-keeping for all' which details his research and conclusions as to why his method of using square hive boxes filled with natural comb is more bee friendly and thus more productive through having a healthier hive.

Heaf, who also translated bee-keeping for all from French to English, puts forward a case for adopting a more sustainable approach to bee-keeping based on Warre's method and on the back cover asks - "given the recent reporting of heavy colony losses around the world, could modern beekeeping methods be a factor by reducing the vitality of the bee?"

Inside he looks at modern hive design, the use of foundation, frames, drone suppression and Queen excluders to name just a few and examines our own different approaches to keeping bees in an effort to provide an alternative that works more to the bees natural desires rather than ours, namely allowing more natural comb and less disturbance. On the sustainability aspect he talks about our ecological footprint, the energy that goes into hive materials, bee transportation and honey production, environmental care and bee density and the care of the bees themselves.

With the situation around the world where pests such as small hive beetle and Varroa and events such as CCD are threatening bee health, honey production pollination and even economies themselves , the idea that stocking an apiary with hives consisting of natural comb and that giving only once yearly inspections at extraction time could help combat any of these might seem quite a lofty claim, perhaps even reckless.

Tie in with this the words simplicity, easy to construct, less effort, and a whole awful scenario might unfurl in your mind of beginners worldwide being encouraged to pursue what appears to be an easier and cheaper, one-size-fits-all, fool-proof way to keep bees in something very closely resembling a box hive with minimal hassle, minimal thought and maximum output.

Well that's one thought. As he says at the start, this book is aimed at those with a basic understanding of bee-keeping and is not intended as a manual - there are plenty of references and a few pages of notes at the back listing resources, books and web-sites for that. That said, the inclusion of background information on bee behaviour and bee-keeping practices makes it easy for anyone who doesn't know about them to pick up. Taking the prologue as an example, if you know nothing about bees you are hooked in with his description of the swarming process and even if you do you might find yourself nodding or smiling as you recognize the familiar routine of such an event or recall when you had just missed preventing one and had to resign yourself to watching the unfolding spectacle. Rather than providing an A to Z account of bee-keeping Warre style, thoughtful observations touch on a range of concerns we all have and give food for thought through the 10 easy to read chapters, from different bee-keeper types (he breaks them down into 4 ), pests and diseases through to using and constructing a warre hive, all accompanied by lots of colour photos and diagrams as you go. Instead of trying to attract those looking for a cause to adopt it seems more attuned to those who know exactly what they are doing and why and counters criticism towards such methods like yearly inspection of brood comb with examples that modern bacteriological and DNA amplification methods could detect pathogens on the bee (he uses foulbrood as an example) at appropriate tolerance levels before it has completely invaded and ruined a hive by sampling bees from just under the lid without disturbing the brood - the moveable top bars not discounting a manual inspection of the brood if this is deemed mandatory, with regular comb management using a top bar hive knife keeping you ahead of the bees tendency to build cross comb. It sounds logical.

There are elements of this method that seem a little cumbersome like the need to have a winch to lift the entire hive stack up in order to add additional supers at the bottom but I do like the fact that it makes me think more about the inhabitants of the hive instead of all of the components that make it up. It steers my natural tendency to over fiddle to one that applies more analysis of both the bees and what I am there to achieve.

All in all I found this a good read and I think even my most steadfast bee-keeping friends with large scale apiaries will find this interesting. I may try a top bar hive down the track but for now I have a fresh approach to my Langstroths and more importantly their inhabitants. I'm glad for reading this book because I feel that I'm moving towards being a better observer of bees and on their terms, not just a beekeeper but an excellent host whose guests appreciate their stay.


Lyndon Fenlon

From Bee Culture, February 2012, p. 16.

This book evolved from a series of articles the author published in The Beekeeper's Quarterly, a journal you may have seen advertised on these pages. It is definitely British in flavor, but the information is universal. The value of the book is in the concepts that have become quite clear of late – in books on advanced beekeeping and articles written by researchers and beekeepers keen on staying in business. Bees need a safe place to live, that is – a proper shelter with clean, adequate comb to live on, enough good food to eat, an opportunity to live as stress free as possible, some protection from pests and disease if necessary, and management by beekeepers that works with their life style instead of with the beekeeper's life style. Heaf's argument is that hives without frames offer the best opportunity for this to occur . . . the Warré hive and other similar types. One has a hard time arguing with the concepts offered, certainly. And on a non-commercial scale the type of hives are less important than some give them credit for. And if you want to try this type of beekeeping, here is a good place to start.

David Heaf's Beekeeping Index