23 October 2020

A Honeybee Heart Has Five Openings by Helen Jukes

 While wandering through the stacks a couple of weeks ago, retrieving items to fill holds, this book caught my eye.  A young woman living in Oxford nervously looking forward to owning a colony of bees.....sounded interesting so it was coming home with me.  As a member of staff I don't pay fines but I do feel it's my civic duty to return books on time so my current read was set aside this past week.  Actually, my city's library system has recently stopped charging fines altogether as it can be a barrier to readership for many customers.  Fingers crossed this is a successful project because it's not fun to witness a parent berating an elementary school-aged child about overdue fines when they're hardly in charge of the car keys.  But enough about that.

We should all be so lucky to have friends as lovely and supportive as Helen, the author.  Drawn to learning more about bees through Luke, who looks after hives throughout London, her friends pooled their money to place an order for a colony as a gift.  A decisive move that forces Helen to stop dreaming about owning a hive and start preparing for their arrival in the coming Spring.

Reading stacks of books on the history of beekeeping, Helen shares some interesting facts but it's lightly done.  She also visits the Natural History Museum in Oxford several times to climb onto a platform to watch a colony of bees go about their business behind a glass wall.  To examine bees while static Helen scans the trays of bees collected over decades past but sadly they're impaled by pins.  Did you know that copper pins react with fats inside the bee that over time make them explode?  Or that bees hear through their feet?  And if you cut a length of string representing the kilometers foraging bees fly to make a jar of honey it would wrap around the earth one and a half times.  

Apart from the bee facts, I very much enjoyed Jukes' breezy and very natural writing voice.  Her nervousness when the frame for the bees arrive, and then the colony, is palpable.  Her instinct to nurture the bees goes into overdrive while worrying about the first rain that falls on their 'house' or their first chilly night when the temperature dips.  A blanket thrown over the hive does the trick.  Helen depends on Luke's experience to guide her through various situations as they crop up.  Once she asked him how she would know when there was enough honey for harvest.  If you gently rock the hive you can tell by the weight of it.  Makes sense once you know!

I brought this book home for a closer look but after the first page I couldn't put it down.  Apart from the obvious topic of bees, it's a book that is satisfying, relaxing and intriguing all at the same time.  As soon as I finished the book I sent off a recommendation to a colleague who owns a beehive.  She thanked me and placed a hold on the book.  She also let me know that she checked on her hive last week and the colony had died, something that has happened only twice in her seventeen years of beekeeping.  She's not sure if she will try again in the Spring but I hope Helen's story lifts her spirits.    


  1. Oh goodness.... I was barely into the 2nd paragraph of your post before I dashed over to the TPL catalogue to put it on hold. 32 people ahead of me, 10 copies. As much as 9 weeks...

    1. A perfect read to help you forget the frozen ground and frigid temperatures we'll have by then. And I'm impressed by the number of people in the hold queue!