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Creative Careers Interviews : 2009 : Susan Brackney Interview

Creative Careers in the Arts Interviews

Author and Beekeeper
Susan Brackney

By Molly Anderson-Childers

Susan Brackney This month, I'll be interviewing the Bee Queen: Susan Brackney is a freelance writer and beekeeper in Indiana, and the author of the forthcoming Plan Bee: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Hardest-Working Creatures on the Planet. This unique book is an amazing find for anyone who is simply curious about the mysterious world of the honey bee. It's also full of practical information for anyone who wishes to work with bees and tells the story of how beekeeping has impacted the author's life. Filled with little-known facts, myths and legends about bees, it's a fascinating read.

Well-known as a nature writer, Brackney's articles have appeared in the New York Times, Plenty, and Organic Gardening, and elsewhere (like Be Mused on Creativity Portal). She is also the author of The Insatiable Gardener's Guide, The Lost Soul Companion, and The Not-So-Lost Soul Companion. Welcome to Creativity Portal, Susan — we're so glad you could "bee" with us today!

Q: I understand that some of your relatives were beekeepers. How did you originally become interested in beekeeping?

A: My great-grandfather was a beekeeper — and so were many people during his time. You know, if you wanted eggs, you had chickens. If you wanted honey, you kept bees. I've always been interested in self-sufficiency. I love finding out how to do the things that we have gotten so far away from doing for ourselves. I make my own soap, and I like to grow a lot of my own food.

I knew that having honey bees around would give my garden a good boost. Also, I knew honey bees were running out of decent places to live, so I wanted to give them a hand — and having some fresh honey now and then couldn't hurt either!

Q: You got your start as a beekeeper in an amazing way. Can you tell our readers the story of this fortuitous turn of events?

A: One of my dearest friends ran across everything I would need to get started in beekeeping at a garage sale. He knew I'd always wanted to be a beekeeper, but that I couldn't afford to buy the hives, smoker, and bee suits new. I really think it was meant to be, because the man who was selling all of his beekeeping gear had just married a woman who was allergic to bees. So he gave up beekeeping for love. Isn't that amazingly sweet? That's how I got my start in beekeeping…and all my friend wanted in return was honey for life.

Q: Can you explain why honey bees are so important to existence as we know it on this planet? What vital role do they play in the natural order of things?

A: Honey bees are crucial when it comes to our own existence. One bite out of every three or four bites of the food we eat is the direct result of the pollination of bees and other pollinating insects, so, without bees, we might not have as much variety in our diets. Berries and almonds — and lots of other produce — are expensive now, but without bees, they'll cost a whole lot more. In fact, some foods could become fairly scarce.

Q: What are the greatest threats to honey bees today, and what can be done to ensure their survival for generations to come?

A: By now most people have heard about Colony Collapse Disorder, which is wiping out bee colonies in astounding numbers. Scientists are finally closing in on the possible cause, but, really, the condition may well be the result of several problems at once. Bees have always had to deal with natural parasites like mites, assorted diseases, even raids by bears... But people have contributed to the bee's troubles in some ways also.

By transforming previously forested land into subdivision after subdivision, we've made it harder for wild honey bee colonies to find good nesting places. Bees really like to nest in dead, hollow trees. And we've exposed them to harmful agricultural pesticides for decades now. Generally, people have also tended to kill bees right away if they've nested in an inconvenient spot, but, fortunately, that's starting to change.

Learning all you can about honey bees and the important work they do, and passing that on to your kids would go a long way toward promoting the insect's longevity. On a local level, you could get to know any of the resident beekeepers around and regularly buy honey from them. It wouldn't hurt if more people took up beekeeping, so, if you're game, you could always put on the veil!

Q: What is the best way to handle a swarm of honey bees near your home?

A: I am really, really glad you asked about this. A swarm of bees is quite something to see in person. It can be thrilling for some people, but it can be unnerving, too. Truthfully, as long as the bees aren't in the way — like hanging over your front door or something — then you can just leave them alone. They are quite docile when they're in a swarm, and eventually they will leave on their own. It could be in as little as a few hours to a day or so, but, as soon as the bees agree on a new, final destination, off they will go.

But if you have pets or little kids — or if someone nearby is allergic to bees — it's a good idea to get in touch with the closest beekeeper to have the swarm removed. Your county extension office often will have a list of beekeepers in your area. City animal control sometimes does also. But, if you still come up empty, every single state in the U.S. has a state bee inspector. Call that office, and you'll likely come up with a couple of names and numbers to try. Bee Culture Magazine has the whole list of state bee inspectors here:

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