Sue Hubbell and her Bees

One of the first really good beekeeping story tellers whom I remember encountering was Sue Hubbell. Her books, A Country Year: Living the Questions (1986) and  A Book of Bees and How to Keep Them (1988) showed me that books about beekeeping don’t need to be dry renditions of mechanics and simplified biology. They can be entertaining, motivating, and thought-provoking, while also providing the truth about real-world bee management challenges.

Sue Hubbell died last week at the age of 83. Her beekeeping began when she and her husband spent a year (1972) roaming America and ended up in the Missouri Ozarks, suddenly owning 90 acres and 300 hives of bees. Her beekeeping really began when Mr Hubbell moved on, leaving Sue divorced and the sole proprietor of all those bees.

She ran the farm alone, learning to fix machinery and manage the bees and honey sales. She wrote about her midlife adventures in American Bee Journal in the late 1970s and later in her books. At the time, I was a no-nonsense commercial beekeeper with little time for fun stories about hippie-style beekeeping. But that wasn’t Hubbell’s style at all – and her message was all about hard work, common sense,  and love of nature. I actually enjoyed her articles in ABJ and sought out her books. I wasn’t disappointed. You can find a long list of her work (8 books and a hundred articles) here, and you’ll see that she wrote for New York Times, The New Yorker, The Smithsonian Magazine, Time, Harper’s, and Discover, among others.

From my own copy of Sue Hubbell’s Book of Bees, this is how she starts her story:

“For a long, long time – for nearly forty years – I never had any bees. I can’t think why. Everyone should have two or three hives of bees. Bees are easier to keep than a dog or cat. They are more interesting than gerbils. They can be kept anywhere. A well-known New York City publisher keeps bees on the terrace of his Upper East Side penthouse, where they happily work the flowers in Central Park.
I have had bees for fifteen years, and my life is the better for it. I operate a beekeeping and honey-producing farm in the Ozark Mountains of southern Missouri. I keep three hundred hives of bees, separated into groups of ten or twelve…”

You want to read the rest, don’t you?

About Ron Miksha

Ron Miksha is a geophysicist who also does a bit of science writing and blogging. Ron has worked as a radio broadcaster, a beekeeper, and is based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He has written two books, dozens of magazine and journal articles, and complements his first book, Bad Beekeeping, with a popular blog at www.badbeekeepingblog.com. Ron wrote his most recent book, The Mountain Mystery, for everyone who has looked at a mountain and wondered what miracles of nature set it upon the landscape. For more about Ron, including some cool pictures taken when he was a teenager, please check Ron's site: miksha.com.
This entry was posted in Books, People and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Sue Hubbell and her Bees

  1. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for another interesting article, Ron. I remembered the first sentences of her book, but couldn’t recall where I had read it. Now I can look for a copy of her book!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Susan Rudnicki says:

    Arghhh! Yes, I do! She use ferals?

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Susan Rudnicki says:

    And that is a bumble bee on the cover….

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ron;

    Did I remind you of Sue Hubbel? Ron, as I told you, she made beekeeping seem accessible to me. I put Hubbel’s “A Country Year” up there with “A Year in Provence” by Peter Mayle and “We Took to the Woods” by Louise Dickinson Rich for exploring a new begining in an alien culture essentially. “A Country Year” re-lit my childhood interested in bees, and the “A Book of Bees” gave me bee-fever.

    I re-read both books on my summer vacation in the Wilds of Maine. It was perfect and reminded me of where the growth of my wanting to keep bees came from.

    Hubbel’s choices in running a business with true husbandtry inspires me. Her choices to simplify and standardize her equipment, and thinking about the what she has time for and having to prep for her busy harvest times showed some real grit. I so admire her always showing measured care of her bees, but not coddling a laying-worker hive (i.e., no time for thith, shake out, combine, and bye!).

    Do you know any other books that are like this about beekeeping or bee hunting? Seeley or Edgell perhaps?

    I am really, interested in making Bees a sideline and was inspired by Will Steynor’s presentation “Beekeeping as a Profitable Sideline”. Could you please recommend any sources for practical information and make a sideline more efficient? Ron, when is your book coming out?

    Hapopy Bee Keeping,

    BernieBee

    Like

    • Ron Miksha says:

      Hi BernieBee!
      Thanks for your comments. Everything you say about Sue Hubbell sounds true. When you were in the “wilds of Maine”, you were really in the right place to enjoy her books.
      I didn’t find out about Ms Hubbell’s death until I saw the notice in the New York Times.
      Regards,
      Ron

      Like

      • Hi Ron;
        I wish she had written more books on bees, I will check some of her other works out of the library and see if there are any more anecdotes on honey bees. Is there a voice to replace Sue Hubbell? I wish there were more books on honey bees and their keepers. I have found none yet, I wonder what the English and German canon might contain. In gardening, there are writers such as The Garden Path trilogy by Beverley Nichols and The Gardener’s Year by Karel Capek (Czech) that are delightful.

        I wonder what it is about beekeepers that make them all write manuals and not experiential books that are fiction or non-fiction as long as the anecdotes were real. It is the difference of the operational mind and the creative mindset. Bees are often an operational activity that I enjoy, but it is because there is so much to think about, observe, and actions to do mindfully that I don’t drift into being creative. I do get in a creative mindset about bees when I am sitting next to the colonies, and dreaming about the 52 hives I hope to have someday, and dreaming about planting forage plants, shrubs, and trees near my yet to be located apiary.

        There are must be a ton of beekeeper stories out there stuck i people heads that have no expression, just know one listening is bothering to write them down. I already have a couple of incidents already, that make my friends laugh. Plus, the pain of the first bee stings over the first few years, and all the worry and itching, and self-recriminations while you suffer. If Farmer + Crazy = Beekeeper, then there must be hilarity, drama, and even crime stories to be told. I love Sue Hubbells story about the truck full of bees that some potential thieves open and meet a wall of angry bees!

        Just a long-winded observation by a beginning beekeeper.

        Thank you for all the effort you put in your blog, Ron.

        Happy Beekeeping,

        BernieBee

        PS I will blog this observation…

        Like

  5. Erik says:

    I hadn’t realized that Sue had passed away. I read her “Book of Bees” in my first year and greatly enjoyed the discussion of honey bees and beekeeping recommendations in the context of a larger story. I have yet to read A Country Year, though I’m sure I will one day. I enjoyed her laid back style, and direct discussion about dealing with area farmers and other folks while keeping bees.

    Thank you for letting us all know.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.