So what, if any, are the drawbacks to a book which unites all beekeepers?
- It's not a light bedtime read, unless you suffer from insomnia. It's extremely dense and detailed. This is what makes it so valuable, but if you try to read it cover to cover (as I did)your brain will eventually dribble out of your ears.
- Hooper writes from a British perspective. For example it deals almost exclusively with National hives, which are by far the most common in Britain. In other countries, different hive designs and even different bees predominate.
- The book tells you everything you might want to know, but it doesn't tell you what to do. I'm sure this is deliberate - I'm all in favour of encouraging people to develop and use their common sense, rather than relying on dumbed-down instructions for every situation. But some of the other students on the course I attended a few months ago yearned for a clear set of instructions, at least when they were just getting started.
- Some of the instructions do seem downright dodgy. For example I read the section on moving colonies very carefully before collecting my bees a few weeks ago. Hooper said one should knock two-pronged staples into the hives to hold them together in transit. My other major beekeeping reference (Yates and Yates Beekeeping Study Notes) disagreed, saying this was a really good way to annoy the bees and make lots of holes in your woodwork. I agreed, and relied on ratchet straps and a lot of sticky tape instead.
If you keep bees, or would like to keep bees, and are British, you really have to own this book. Make sure you get an up-to-date version. The early editions pre-date the varroa mite, for example, and other important recent developments in British beekeeping, but the latest editions have been brought up-to-date. Once you know the book inside out and back to front, you can choose to ignore the advice in it and keep bees your own way. But when you are starting out you should follow Hooper's advice closely, and you won't go far wrong.