We assume you are like most people we know who are interested in bees and pollination: You are very practical and creative. Adept at learning with your hands, you prefer to be outdoors. You use books to answer questions that arise in the process of getting something done. Indeed, we suspect that many of you won’t read this book cover to cover but will instead turn directly to the chapter that offers salient information. In the end, it’s not important how you navigate this book. We simply want you to become inspired to rear alternative pollinators—bumble bees, mason bees, leafcutter bees, and others—for the pollination of crops and floral landscapes.

We urge you to be careful stewards of the pollinators we describe in this book. Most are in decline. Rearing bees can be a double-edged sword: It can be a huge service to an ecosystem by increasing the number of bees for pollination, but it can also move bees out of their native ranges and spread lethal diseases. We encourage you to foster the most sustainable, sanitary, and sensible practices possible.

We are adamant only about certain things:

  • Whenever possible, rear only pollinators from your area. Do not ship bees across state or national borders without careful consideration.
  • Mass production can lead to mass extinction. Use the most sanitary practices possible to discourage the development and spread of diseases and parasites.
  • When rearing any type of bee, avoid the use of antibiotics, pesticides, and other treatments as much as possible.
  • Always remember that careful and thoughtful bee management can affect our food systems and environment in profoundly important ways.

This book is unique for two reasons. First, to our knowledge, it is the only book of its kind to describe, in-depth, rearing and management practices for multiple alternative bee species. Other great books cover management of individual species, and we encourage you to check them out.

Second, this book combines scientific research with years of practical beekeeping experience. We’ve heard that our writing style is “folksy.” This is intentional. We’ve spent plenty of time wearing white lab coats and writing on clipboards; but learning how to manage bees also requires a lot of time spent driving dusty roads in battered pickup trucks littered with beef jerky wrappers. Beekeeping is part science, part art; part theoretical, part practical. We have tried to synthesize that knowledge in language that bridges those dichotomies.

Researchers across the country are constantly making new discoveries. Part of your responsibility as a beekeeper is to stay on top of these findings. Additional resources listed in the back of this book will help you do that.

Another responsibility is to be an astute observer of your bees. Local environmental conditions have a tremendous effect on insect populations. The management systems described herein might need to be modified accordingly.

Beekeepers are generally a tremendously diverse, highly individualistic group of people. In our experience, however, the one thing most successful bee people have in common is good record keeping. Therefore, our final recommendation is that you keep a journal, noting the emergence time of your bees each year, the corresponding bloom times of crops and wild plants, parasite problems, weather, and management activities. Over time, patterns will emerge, and you can adapt your practices accordingly.

No doubt you will encounter challenges this book doesn’t prepare you for. That’s part of beekeeping. Ultimately, figuring out these mysteries is what makes working with bees so rewarding.

We wish you the best of luck with alternative pollinators. Keep us updated on your progress!

— Marla Spivak, Eric Mader, and Elaine Evans