The Beekeeper's Lament

Added by Kent Pegorsch on

This article originally appeared in the Wisconsin Honey Producers Association's Badger Bee publication as the president's monthly column.

"It's a rare season that ends as it begins," says John Miller in Hannah Nordhaus' book, The Beekeeper's Lament. With that thought, 2018 should be an outstanding year in Wisconsin!

Beekeeper Kent Pegorsch
Beekeeper Kent Pegorsch invites you to look inside a beehive

I have written about my affinity for beekeeping books in the past. For many years my favorite book has been The Joys of Beekeeping by Richard Taylor (1974). The books is a utopian view on how and why people keep honeybees. However, for the past 10 or 15 years, I haven't read past the first few pages. The book seems a bit too innocent for the challenges we face in beekeeping today. The chapter titles such as "Spring," "The Honey Flow," "Puttering," "Comb Honey," and "Honey Spinning" seem to be from a pleasant universe that runs parallel to beekeeping today. Not a chapter about Varroa, viruses or infertile queens can be found.

The book I have found myself reading repeatedly is The Beekeeper's Lament – How One Man and Half a Billion Honey Bees Help Feed America by Hannah Nordhaus (2011). A much more realistic, but still philosophical, book about the realities we face in beekeeping today.

The book is based on John Miller, a large commercial beekeeper, and his challenges in today's beekeeping world. The chapter titles "Beekeeper's Roulette," "Faustian Bargains," and "Survivor Stock" seem to be much more familiar to today's beekeeping world. Many of the other characters in the book are beekeeping folk that many of us know in the industry.

Beehives in woodland meadows
Our beehives nestled in Waupaca woodland meadows

While taking us through the changes in beekeeping over the past 20 years, the book still makes me glad to be a part of this beekeeping fraternity. Chapters entitled "Fast Cars and Big Trucks," "Bittersweet Bounty," and "Next Year, Right?" bring home how optimistic beekeepers can be. Among all the important attributes a successful beekeeper must have, being optimistic has to rank high on the list.

The combination of John Miller's personality and Ms. Nordhaus' ability to explain our current world of beekeeping makes this an enjoyable read for people inside and outside the beekeeping community. On these days when I find more weak colonies or failing queens than usual, remembering this book makes me feel less isolated. I know these are challenges that all beekeepers face. A little more knowledge and a little harder work should make this an outstanding year!