Book review – ‘Beekeeping: A Novice’s Guide’, by David Wootton (2011)

I bought this after reading a very positive review in the BBKA News and starting to follow David’s blog: ( I am pleased with it!

Do not buy this if you are an experienced beekeeper wanting to learn extra tips and tricks or scientific background to your beekeeping. Do buy it if you are a beginner wanting simply written, beautifully illustrated advice to get you started on the basics. As David says, “It is written by a novice, for novices, to demonstrate that taking up beekeeping doesn’t need to be complicated”.

Things I liked about it:

  • David is a professional photographer and used his own photos throughout the book. It is sumptuously illustrated, with a glossy colour photo on almost every page. I’m a very visual person so this really attracted me to it.
  • His is the first book I’ve found to have a step-by-step photo guide (p28-33) to making up a frame, down to where every nail should be placed. This really helps when you’re a beginner and, like me, not a natural carpenter!
  • He has similar thoughts to me on bee suits, smokers and feeders, preferring an all-in-one suit and round rapid feeders. About smoking, he says “I don’t smoke the entrance of my hives, as I’ve found it aggravates my bees unnecessarily. As a beginner, you can only judge this by observing how your bees react as you get to know their temperament.” Emma and I have also stopped smoking the entrances, as our bees are so gentle it’s not needed.
  • The book guides a beginner through the basics of their first year, from the first inspection to winter feeding. Making up sugar syrup is explained well.
  • It has a pollen colour guide! This is really quite unusual in a general beginner’s book and very fun to have.
  • Practical advice on storing combs and equipment over winter, a topic often not covered.

Little niggles:

  • There are a couple of minor typos and spelling mistakes, even though this is the 2nd edition. I’ve noticed this in a lot of beekeeping books – don’t the publishers use copyreaders?
  • He recommends that the third year beekeeper should replace some old frames with new frames of foundation gradually. In their ‘Replacing Comb’ factsheet, available for free on the Beebase website, the National Bee Unit team describe this as the comb replacement method that causes the most problems (they prefer either replacing old comb with prepared drawn comb or carrying out a Bailey Comb Change). 
  • It has a glossary but no index!
  • He describes a mouse-guard as non-essential if using a reduced entrance. Having seen mice damage in a nucleus with a round entrance about the size of a 1p piece, I don’t think it’s worth risking going without one.

These are just minor niggles and overall it’s one of the best beginners’ books I’ve read. If you are interested in buying it, cheap e-book editions are available at or it can be bought directly from David at

About Emily Scott

I am a UK beekeeper who has recently moved from London to windswept, wet Cornwall. I first started keeping bees in the Ealing Beekeepers Association’s local apiary in 2008, when I created this blog as a record for myself of my various beekeeping related disasters and - hopefully! - future successes.
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24 Responses to Book review – ‘Beekeeping: A Novice’s Guide’, by David Wootton (2011)

  1. It sounds like a great book I may enjoy, even though keeping bees in the city might be a problem for the neighbors. I am hoping to move at some point and get a little land that I might keep bees. I would have to get tested first for an allergy, but it would be a hobby I would find fascinating.There are many bees in my yard, but if the neighbors knew I was keeping them, they might run me out sooner. I want chickens too and that would be a much bigger problem I bet.


    • Emily Heath says:

      I know a few people in Ealing who keep chickens. They sound like a lot of work! Some people complain about the noise of roosters but I used to quite enjoy hearing one crowing in the morning when I was growing up. It is one of those noises we have lost in cities. Hope you get to move to your little piece of land, I would like to do that too one day.


      • Bibliopharm says:

        Isn’t that funny because I was thinking that chickens are easy and the bees seemed like a lot of work! Taking care of chickens is comparable to taking care of a house cat: Check daily to make sure they have food/water and to collect eggs. If you need a weekend away they are quite forgiving. Just fill up that feeder a bit more than usual. Anyway – you inspire me, especially if bees are even less maintenance. Thank for the novice book recommendation. I’ll definitely check it out.


  2. disperser says:

    Thanks. I might pick this up for the photography alone.

    . . . and I would love to beekeep, but I would be doing it to get back at neighbors with annoying yapping dogs . . . and that’s not fair to the bees.


  3. Great, to-the-point review on this book. It’s good to hear of book I wouldn’t have otherwise… I’ll have to look for it for the photos and pollen color guide alone.


  4. I am going to order my copy. I have beekeeping for dummies but I love the sounds of ll the pictures!


    • Emily Heath says:

      Cool! Bear in mind that it’s a UK book, so UK terminology is used and the book focuses on the National hive, which is the most commonly used hive here and a slightly smaller size to the Langstroth.


  5. Reblogged this on Romancing the Bee and commented:
    Sounds like an interesting and very helpful book on beekeeping! Thanks, Emily!!


  6. Thanks for posting! People ask me for helpful beginning beekeeping books, and this sounds like a good one!! 🙂


  7. milapostol says:

    Hadn’t heard about this one. Thanks for the review, and the thought of a pollen chart! I love the idea of that.


  8. Spotting the pollen is half the fun! I like the idea of a beginner’s beekeeping book encouraging this 🙂 Sadly, many publishers don’t hire copy editors or proof readers anymore and authors are often asked to check their own proofs. This started to happen quite a while ago particularly with the start of e-publishing and now self-publishing… Sounds like this book is worth buying despite a few typos though!


    • Emily Heath says:

      I think most people probably wouldn’t mind/notice the typos in this, there aren’t that many to be fair, it’s just that as an English lit graduate I’m extra picky! A shame that copy editors aren’t always used as it’s hard to proof-read your own work.


  9. Pingback: NTV – turning on your world » Bondo farmers turn to bee keeping

  10. Great suggestion to help us keep healthy and happy bees. I’ll have to see where I can order this book. My local bookstore has a small selection.

    Do you know when I should stop feeding my bees sugar water? I read a couple of websites but no one seems to be on the same page.


  11. Thanks for the book suggestion! Sounds like this book is worth buying to keep our bees happy and healthy. I’ll have to see where I can order this book since my local bookstore has a small selection.

    Do you know how long I should be feeding my bees sugar water? I have read a few websites but each has conflicting information. One site suggested if I keep feeding sugar water than the honey will taste like “sap”?


    • Emily Heath says:

      It’s on Amazon, or at least Or see if David is willing to post it to you directly.

      Bees should only be fed if they are low in stores, and/or in times of a lack of nectar or bad weather that prevents them leaving the hive. For example, they could need sugar syrup during an unusually long period of rain, like we’ve just had here in the UK.

      If the weather is good and there’s plenty of flowers around, they won’t need feeding. So generally they won’t need feeding during the summer months (except in the case of a swarm or new colony you’ve just hived on foundation). We’ve been feeding our bees during this May, but that’s very unusual and has been a result of the unusually bad weather.

      Feeding whilst you have supers on is a bad idea. I’m not sure what sap tastes like, but if you feed sugar syrup whilst supers are on they will store it in the supers – result, sugar “honey”, with none of the floral aromas of honey. Not only will it just taste like straight sugar, it will be illegal to sell this as honey in some places, depending on what your local laws are.

      All this is a very rambling way of saying that it depends on your local year-to-year weather conditions and the state of your colony, so it’s difficult to give a straight answer about which months of the year you should be feeding! But definitely don’t feed if your bees are busy filling out a super.


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