By Sue Moore
Charlotte Hubbard, a writer and business owner, is fascinated with bee keeping, something which runs in the family. Her late mother was a beekeeper on the family farm, Corey Lake Orchards in Three Rivers. Her late husband, Tom Sonday, was a beekeeper. Now, she is hooked and with the assistance of her husband, Marshall Beacher, she has expanded their hives.
“There is a mystical fascination of working with bees,” Hubbard said. “You can easily get in the zone when working inside the hive.”
Hubbard is a member of the Kalamazoo Bee Club, a sizable, very active group of area beekeepers. She also speaks to groups locally as well as nationally, sharing a wealth of information about bees and honey.
For example, spring honey is usually lighter in color and sweeter than fall honey, due to the differences in nectar of what is blooming when, she said. Bees collect nectar from different kinds of blossoms so honey quality can vary by what the bees are foraging.
A hive will contain 10,000 or so bees over the winter, building up to 50,000 or larger by summer’s end, she said. In the summer, bees only live about 42 days, so it’s important for the queen to keep reproducing – up to about 2,000 eggs daily.
The queen lives two or three years or longer, and if the hive is successful, she’ll swarm off with about half the bees in the colony to a new location and start a second colony, Hubbard said. The remaining bees will choose a new queen to take her place.
Bees are actually deaf, communicating by touch, scent and vibration, she said. The male bees, known as drones, have one job and that is to fertilize queen bees, an act that kills them.
The majority of the bees in a colony are sterile females, the worker bees. Honeybees die when they sting, so they typically aren’t aggressive, although you don’t always know what might annoy them. Because they do sting, Hubbard said it’s important to dress for the worst case. She admits to being stung fairly often—most of those resulting from accidentally grabbing, or backing into bees.
But, getting stung isn’t the only problem with raising bees. During the recent cold winter, Hubbard lost over 70 percent of her colonies, a horrific number, but still lower than what many other beekeepers experienced. To rebuild, Hubbard purchased 35 hives from a supplier in Georgia.
Hubbard sells the honey produced by her bees to raise money for Loaves & Fishes and Meals on Wheels, her late husband’s favorite charities. She also donates honey to these organization.
Honey is such a healthy, natural food, she encourages folks to consume more, and to buy local.
“You don’t know the honey unless you know the beekeeper,” she said, noting that honey sold in big box stores is one of the most tainted foods in America, even if it is labeled “Pure Honey.”
Hubbard’s interest in beekeeping has been passed on to her daughter, Becca Sonday, who was a beekeeper in Paraguay in the Peace Corps and who now works on the family farm.
Hubbard is in the process of writing three books on the more human, and humorous aspects of beekeeping. One will be published in just a few months. See http://www.hubbardhive.com for more information.