My friends all know my husband and I started hosting a bee hive in our garden last year; for a small yearly fee, we enjoy having the bees in our garden, pollinating our plants and trees, providing endless hours of fascination for us, and the beekeeper takes care of them and does all the hard work. Once a year, the beekeeper gives us a small percentage of the honey they produce.
I've always been fascinated by bees, and as a kid learned that if I was very still, I could watch them as they worked away extracting the pollen and nectar from the powder puff (Calliandra haematocephala) tree in our front yard. I was giddy when MT told me he'd found this setup for us and arranged for it as my Christmas present. But I wanted to learn more about how these fascinating insects - who are responsible for 80% of the pollination behind the food we eat - worked. I wanted to know what went on inside the hive.
The Honey Factory provided exactly that. To say that I learned something vital in every chapter would be almost an understatement. The chapter on bee vision and how and when they can see us, has made an incredible difference to how we move about in the garden when they're at their busiest. Unfortunately, I read this chapter after MT got stung at the corner of his eye and on the edge of his ear (within seconds of each other), BUT he hasn't been stung since, even after gardening just outside their hive door.
(Hint: bees can't see things that move slow - think of their vision as a flip book animation; the pages have to move at a certain speed before they 'see' something, and the faster the pages move, the clearer they see what's on them. So, move slowly around bees, and if they are too close for comfort, be still, or move slowly away. Also, sweat is an attractant, so take that into consideration when deciding whether to freeze or move slowly away.)
The chapter on the structure of modern beehives was also incredibly enlightening as I now completely understand excluders and funnels - what they look like and how they work. The mechanics of swarming, too, now make much more sense.
The book was originally written in German, and the perspective is primarily from German beekeeping, but this presents no problem in terms of the knowledge contained herein; honey bees are honey bees the world over (Apis mellifera). It's told in alternating sections by a beekeeper, Diedrich Steen, and a scientist, Jürgen Tautz; first from the friendly, some might say 'folksy' POV of the everyday, though expert, beekeeper, and then from the POV of the scientist. The science is hard science, sometimes made simpler for the broader audience the book is aimed at, but really, not all that simplified. The section on the science of bee foraging started to become a miasma of site A, site B and feeding substations; even with the charts and graphs, there were a number of eye-glazing moments.
My only real gripe was the weird tone of the book. It's a translation, so keep that in mind, but there was a folksy tone to the writing that danced back and forth between being weirdly friendly and patronising. The tone felt aimed at small children but the science was definitely aimed at adults. An example:
The house telephone works best when dances are held on open, uncapped comb cells. The telephone net is impaired on other dance floors because they cannot oscillate freely. Dances on capped cells, on the wooden frames or, as we will see later, on the bodies of colleagues in a swarm attract significantly less attention.
Gaps and holes between the comb and the frames are gnawed out by bees to provide the net with the necessary flexibility. Telephone-repair bees have ensured that the dance floors keep swinging and the house telephone remains intact.
Additionally, in the introduction the authors announce their intention of referring to the hive throughout the book as The Honey Factory, and by god, they do. By the end it irritated me; I get that they're trying to make this accessible to a vey general audience but I don't think it's asking too much of any reader that picks this book up to understand "hive" in relation to honey production.
This is the only reason I dinged the book 1/2 star; the information is outstanding for a beginner wanting to know the mechanics of how a hive works, but the tone of the language, either through intent or translation, was the single barrier to an otherwise perfect read (for me - as always, your mileage may vary).