The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

The Barefoot Beekeeper

Barefoot beekeeperThe demise of both of our hives this autumn pushed me to look deeper into sustainable beekeeping.  I've got a couple more books to read before I settle on a new method, but The Barefoot Beekeeper by PJ Chandler was definitely a thought-provoking step in the right direction.  This week's lunchtime series will highlight the most intriguing tips I learned about natural beekeeping (and, specifically, top bar hives.)

Before you rush out and buy the book on Amazon, though, I should warn you that you might not want to pay $21.61 for the paperback version.  As reviewers there rightly mentioned, the book is short and sweet --- so why not download the ebook version from the author's website for $10 instead?  And if you're new to bees, you might want to wait on reading The Barefoot Beekeeper until you've pored over another beginner book and understand the basics of bee biology and behavior.

Those caveats aside, this book is the best natural beekeeping book I've read so far.  It delved much deeper into the issue than Natural Beekeeping and gave me much more food for thought.  If you're an intermediate level beekeeper, I think The Barefoot Beekeeper is a must-read.

Design a permaculture chicken pasture or tractor using the information in my 99 cent ebook.

This post is part of our The Barefoot Beekeeper lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Your readers may like to know that the BB has a series of podcasts on iTunes for FREE!

Comment by Tim Martin Mon Jan 2 13:46:11 2012

I'm in my first year of beekeeping. I heard Phil Chandler on The Survival Podcast with Jack Spirko. My goal is pollination, not high rate honey production, so his natural methods suited me just fine. I built two hives to his specifications (free on-line from If you view my YouTube channel (hicksdp) you can see some videos of my hives. So far, I've been blessed with two strong hives going into their first winter. If they have any honey left over in the spring, I'll gratefully take some. david form Alabama

Comment by David Hicks Mon Jan 2 14:59:52 2012

Tim --- Good point! I seem to have a blind spot when it comes to podcasts, but I know that many others really enjoy them. I believe you can get them all for free on his website as well (

David --- Great to hear the top bar hives are working so well for you! I'll be curious to see how they do in later years and if you can keep the bees happy without chemicals. In my limited experience, year one seems to be the easiest (as long as you feed the bees if needed), but then diseases and pests start to build up if you're not willing to use chemicals.

Comment by anna Mon Jan 2 16:17:40 2012

I have a copy of the book, and built two hives- one a top-bar and the other the Warre. The plans in the book are great, easy to follow and easy to amend to your own particular materials.

Also, don't forget the Natural Beekeeping Network Forum if you are a natural beekeeper. It is so nice to be able to draw on the experience and advice of so many natural beekeepers all over the world.

Comment by Eric in Japan Tue Jan 3 00:56:37 2012

As for that podcast, I listen to it regularly. Don't go into it thinking that it is an addendum to the book. While he does talk about some of the techniques that he writes about, most of the podcasts are interviews with beekeepers, or recordings of some of his classes or of seminars.

But I was pretty happy with the book. I bought it over a year ago and read through it quickly. But I didn't have time to get hives built and put out. Maybe in the Spring. Phil Chandler also has an online forum, articles and other info on his site, It is worth a look.

Comment by Fritz Tue Jan 3 08:03:40 2012

What books would you recommend for someone who is just starting to delve into the world of beekeeping?

BTW, I love your website! I've been reading for a while, but this is my first time commenting. :)

Comment by Summer Tue Jan 3 08:29:53 2012

Eric --- I didn't realize you had both a top bar hive and a Warre hive! I'm trying to decide between the two and would love to hear your feelings on the issue. If you were just going to have one kind of hive, which would you choose?

Fritz --- Thanks for the info on the podcasts! Good luck with starting into bees this spring.

Summer --- That's an excellent question. First of all, if you're not a book learner, there are lots of other ways to get the basics. Many beekeeping associations, extension services, etc. have basic beekeeping classes in early spring, so you might want to keep your eyes open for one. It can also help to hook up with a local mentor who can show you things hands on.

But (to actually answer your question) --- I read The Backyard Beekeeper, which was good for most of the first year (although I still ran into questions I couldn't answer nearly immediately and the book was very conventional.) I didn't shop around, though, and if I was going to read a beginner's book today, I'd probably choose "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Beekeeping", purely based on Amazon reviews.

Thanks for changing from a reader to a commenter! :-)

Comment by anna Tue Jan 3 09:36:50 2012

For those interested in natural beekeeping, you might want to check out Michael Bush's website. I see that he also has a book out now.

The thing about top bar hives is that they let the bees build the comb to whatever size they want. Modern foundation is not the size that bees would choose to build. Michael Bush goes into details about this and other topics.

Comment by RDG Tue Jan 3 10:59:25 2012
RDG --- I've been thoroughly enjoying his website for years and recently got his book. He's going to get his own lunchtime series one of these days, but probably not next week --- three bee series in a row might test the patience of even my most loyal readers. :-) )
Comment by anna Tue Jan 3 15:25:16 2012

Hmm... I think my favorite would be the Warre- but right now, neither of my hives have any bees. I finished them too late, and couldn't capture a Japanese swarm (I can't keep European bees because of the Asian giant hornets). But the theory behind the Warre seems to be more sound. I think to the bees, it seems more like a hollow tree- their preferred feral nest. And only opening the hive once a year makes sense to me.

I am also building a Japanese box. It is even smaller than the Warre, and has no top bars. You harvest by drawing a wire between the stacked boxes and come away with a box of honey and comb.

Comment by Eric in Japan Tue Jan 3 18:59:58 2012
Fascinating about having to use the Japanese bees. I guess I'll have to keep waiting to hear some side by side comparisons of the two hive types --- drat!
Comment by anna Tue Jan 3 20:30:11 2012
I downloaded The Barefoot Beekeeper ebook, and I would throughly recommend it to any aspiring natural beekeepers. It is obviously written by someone with a real love for bees and beekeeping, and full of great information. 10 out of 10!
Comment by Beekeeping Thu Jan 5 10:25:15 2012

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