Jeff Klinkenberg on the Harold P. Curtis Honey Co. and Colony Collapse Disorder
LaBELLE — Sure, things look bad for the bee man. But we are talking about Harold P. Curtis. Bees sting him and he hardly flinches. Bees die by the thousands and he raises another brood. Just let a bear approach his hives. He will not surrender a hive without a fight.
Morning. Clearing skies. Citrus trees blossom through clouds of excited bees. His famous orange blossom honey is waiting to be gathered.
Seventy-seven now, he has been a bee man since age 3. His daddy taught him how, and his granddaddy taught his daddy how, first in North Carolina and then in Florida.
The Harold P. Curtis Honey Co. store has been a fixture near the Caloosahatchee River on N Bridge Street since 1954. The family's hives — about 3,000 in all — can be found in the groves, in the pines, in the mangroves and along the beaches of south Central Florida.
As they buzz around him by the thousands, Mister Harold, as he is often called, works calmly and deliberately, without a veil, without a protective suit, the way he always has done.
"If I ever have to wear one of those astronaut suits to gather honey,'' he drawls, "I'm a-quitting."
A tough old cob, he has no plans to retire.