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?