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  • Writer's pictureRoger Bray

Book review – Bumblebee Keeper

Bumblebee Keeper: A personal story of pollinator management. Author: Nelson Pomeroy

Review By Roger Bray

I have read a number of beekeeping books, including some very old books that are now historic. When asked to review Bumblebee Keeper I initially thought, ‘another insect book?’

Reading the preface of the author, Nelson Pomeroy, suggests this book is more than just an insect book. It is documentation of learning about bumblebees by Nelson from a childhood fascination to a lifetime of employment developing the keeping of bumble bees. The book covers how Nelson developed the types of bumble bee nests and overwintering of queens that provided bees to be used for specific pollination purposes.

When we look at the history of honey bee keeping, a large amount of the discoveries relating to beekeeping have not been recorded as it had been a simple process to rob bees of honey from their natural homes in hollow trees and other cavities. A destructive process that generally ended with the death of the colony. The beekeeping that developed 5,000 years ago in ancient Egypt, and other places in the world, relied on natural swarming with the beekeeper providing a container that had a cavity bees could occupy and fill with their honey and brood.

It wasn’t until people like Huber and Langstroth developed moveable frame hives and made advances in the extraction of honey that beekeeping really progressed from the mid-1800s. Then too, Dadant, Root and others started a written record to spread information on development of equipment and spread knowledge of beekeeping through their books and magazines. A fair amount of the development of beekeeping and the spread of knowledge had been completed within 100 years. In recent beekeeping history there have been few substantial industry developments since Von Frisch worked out the secrets of the bee dance.

There it is in a nutshell, much of the beekeeping industry of today has been as a result of some key developments that have been conveyed for others to build upon as changing situations provide.

In Bumblebee Keeper I saw a publication similar to those that have been written describing the development of the honey industry as we know it today. I consider Nelson’s contribution to bumblebee keeping and the documentation of his work with the same respect I have for the pioneers of early honey beekeeping already listed.

What struck me with Nelson’s book was the devotion he had to learning about bumble bees and the developments he, and a small group of his colleagues, made to domesticate, and commercialise a species of animal that offered all sorts of hurdles to successfully being able to breed numbers of bumblebee colonies on demand.

Nelson describes how luck, and a childhood obsession if you like, played a part in being in a position to be able to observe the life cycles of bumble bees as they went from overwintering as a queen and starting a nest, to be populated by her offspring as the colony developed. He describes the opportunities he accepted that allowed him financial return while developing his passion.

This book would appeal to anybody that has an interest in insects. Its text is in everyday language with pages generously stacked with photos and diagrams that show the inner workings of bumble bee colonies. I see the book invaluable to those growing crops needing insect pollination in situations that honey bees may not be able to sustain. The development of netted orchards and indoor horticulture poses all sorts of hurdles for honey bees, therefore consideration must be given to bumble bee pollination. Bumble bee pollination has been successful in glasshouse growing of high value crops. The book also provides reference material for scientists to further develop bumble bee keeping, perhaps into a hobby that people can enjoy in their back yards.

I thoroughly recommend Nelson’s book. It is a great read which I believe will one day become a historic (bumble bee) book.

The Bumblebee Keeper by Nelson Pomeroy is published by Northern Bee Books, UK. It is sold in New Zealand via $48.30 incl GST.

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