Never Walk Behind Pepper

For those who’d like to donate to a worthy charity, may I suggest the MFTTF, the Misfit Farmer’s Tractor Tire Fund. All contributions go directly to my bank account, which has been depleted this summer by the disintegrating structural integrity of rubber on my farm. It’s got to the point that I now look at the Amish’s horse-drawn implements with envy, and I have a lifelong fear of horses. 

Of course, my wife dismisses equinophobia. Years ago, when we purchased her old family farmstead, she was actually excited that Ringo, a Missouri Foxtrotter, was thrown in for free and ridiculed my general life philosophy that “All horses should be feared, and free horses should be feared always.” 

Haunting me were childhood memories of my cousins’ lunatic steeds: Red, Pepper, and the pony (I forget the pony’s name, though its memories are largely the most traumatic). But I do remember the pony rearing and galloping full speed toward a barbed wire fence with my wailing cousin atop. She looked like a miniature Annie Oakley. At one point, her cowboy hat, attached by chinstraps, fully deployed like a parachute and was the only thing slowing the runaway pony. Soon thereafter, my cousin toppled off the side, and the pony skidded to halt in front of the fence, which at that point was the best possible outcome.

I’m not sure whatever happened to that pony—I lost touch with it after it nearly killed my cousin, but I suspect it was probably donated to another family who needed a good free pony.

Unlike the pony, Big Red and Pepper occasionally proved trustworthy enough for excursions outside their pasture. Though I have no particular horror stories of Pepper, the frequent warning “Never walk behind Pepper” still reverberates in my mind. So much so, the pepper shaker stays hidden in a cabinet, lest I walk past the kitchen table and flinch. 

Once, my family took Pepper and Big Red on a horseback-riding trip to Sugar Loaf Mountain. Sugar Loaf was really more mound than mountain, but being in the coastal plain where everything was flat, the abnormal increase in elevation achieved mountain status. I viewed much of the surrounding countryside while performing a full split atop Big Red who was intent on wandering wherever he pleased, his jockey experiencing too much paralysis to control the reins. To continue his journey unencumbered, Red eventually reared up and dropped me off on a pine tree. 

I’ve never been on a horse since, but at this point horse shoes seem a lot cheaper than tractor tires.  

Beekeeping YouTubers You Might Like

It used to be if you wanted to get into hobby beekeeping, first you planted a little garden, then you got chickens, then you started a blog, then you got bees. Tomatoes, chickens, blog, bees–that was the natural progression of the homesteader’s journey to beekeeping. But this is 2021, and, let’s face it, blogs are dead. I mean, if your blog is like mine, it likely gets as much traffic as a dead-end road in the middle of the Sahara. 

Today blogs have largely been replaced by other social media platforms, and none is more popular among beekeepers than YouTube, which is not surprising. If we’re being honest, most beekeepers are a little bonkers, or at least they appear that way. In fact, the only people I know who wear white jackets and talk to themselves are beekeepers and the certifiably insane. Sometimes while I’m working hives, people will sneak up on me while I’m conversing with myself. It’s pretty easy to do because usually I’m in the beekeeping zone, focused on the inner-workings of the hives, and thus I lose awareness of most things in my immediate vicinity, like the location of my hive tool, the dwindling fire in my smoker, and the neighbor who just snuck up and listened to me mutter to myself for minutes before finally asking if I have any honey for sale. It’s a little embarrassing, but I guess it’s only fitting–add a few straps here and there and our modern beekeeping garbs would bear a striking resemblance to the early 1900s fashion trends at the looney bin. 

Anyway, the point here is that it’s not a big leap to go from talking to yourself to talking to a camera. Enter YouTube.  

Nearly all the YouTube channels I follow are beekeeping-related. There’s a couple of Star Wars channels and sports channels thrown in, but my video history is heavily-dominated by people jabbering to their cell phones or GoPros about Apis mellifera. So in an effort to share my YouTube addiction with others, here are some of my favorites beekeeping YouTubers:

Ian Steppler: Ian lives in Canada, but don’t hold that against him. His videos provide a great source of insight on the hard work it takes to be a full-time professional beekeeper. He may have an EZ-loader, but commercial beekeeping isn’t easy, and his videos prove it. 

Kaylee Richardson: Kaylee is an up-and-coming beekeeper, and bees are a major part of her small-scale homestead operation. If you’re wanting to get into homesteading, her videos would be a great place to start.

Bob Binnie: Bob is the Mr. Rogers of beekeeping YouTubers. Much beekeeping wisdom flows through his calm and soft-spoken voice. Bob is a full-time commercial beekeeper and owner of Blue Ridge Mountain Honey Company. 

Kamon Reynolds: Kamon is a commercial beekeeper in Tennessee. His videos are very informative, but I also appreciate the fact he’s willing to video himself doing stupid stuff, like standing on an empty bee box atop the roof or his car to catch a swarm in a tree branch overhead. It makes feel good knowing I’m not the only who does dumb things.

Mr. Ed: Mr. Ed is the beekeeper for a monastery in Louisiana. He is quite possibly the world’s most positive and happy person, even when he’s extracting mean bees from walls. He is a master of cut-outs and removals. 

The Dirt Rooster: Another master of the cut-out, occasionally the Dirt Rooster and Mr. Ed will team up for a cut-out and appear in each other’s videos, at which point it’s like watching a major superhero crossover movie. YouTubers, assemble!

Keeping Track of a Lost Nut

YouTube should be banned. I spent five minutes watching a man perform a small engine repair, which inspired me to waste three hours trying to attempt the repair myself before I finally realized I had better just load up the trailer and fork over cash to someone more competent in Briggs and Stratton mechanics. This was yet another blow to my pride. I’ve already surrendered basic auto repair over to others and now I can’t even fix my own lawn mower. 

I’d like to think I could have fixed it myself if I had the proper tools and time, but who am I kidding? If I had the proper tools, I would have spent half a day searching for them because apparently all my tools go on vacation just when I need them most. For instance, I spent nearly thirty minutes on my hands and knees searching through the grass for a ⅝ hex nut that I thought I had dropped. Really, it was just living the high life and sunning on top of a wooden fence post. I had put it on the fence post so I wouldn’t lose it, but that only works if you remember that you put it there. 

The problem is I’m one of those people who doesn’t have a brain for details. Never have, never will. In college, one of my dorm mates could watch any run-of-the-mill movie once and then recite large portions of dialogue, word for word, back to you a year later. Meanwhile, if I watched the same movie, I would have forgotten nearly everything about it within hours, no alcohol needed to perform that feat. I mean, I’d remember the gist of the movie, like who lives or dies or falls in love, etc, but details like dialogue and characters’ names would be lost to me. 

And thus it is with my repair efforts. I often know the gist of how to repair something, but distilling the gist down to nuts-and-bolts details is where I go awry, hence the unneeded search and rescue mission for the lost nut chilling on the fence post. 

Thankfully, opposites attract, and I married a woman who lives and breathes details and plans and schedules. She more or less keeps track of the lost nut that is me and tells me the important details of day-to-day life that I need to know. In return, I cut the grass each week (at least when the lawnmower isn’t broken), take out the trash, and occasionally load the dishwasher. 

Sometimes I think her color-coded daily planner is her first love, but I can’t complain too much. If she didn’t love me a little bit, I figure she would have poisoned me years ago, likely by sneaking a daily planner into my hands to cause anaphylactic shock. 

Some Serious Beekeeping Advice

There’s a certain cruelty to beekeeping: By the time you finally figure out what you’re doing, you’ll likely lack the drive to do it. And by drive, I mean the DMV will have revoked your license because you’ll be old and decrepit and generally untrustworthy to operate a motor vehicle. The learning curve for beekeeping is that long and arduous. 

This is my tenth year keeping bees, at least if you count the first five years which were mostly me killing bees. So in commemoration of ten years of beekeeping, I thought for once I’d actually try to give some practical advice on this blog, so here it goes: 

For bees, the next three months are incredibly important. Hives aren’t lost during winter. They’re lost during July, August, and September. Usually what happens is beekeepers (myself included) get really excited about bees in the spring. As spring progresses toward summer, some of that excitement fades because, let’s face it, working hives is hard work. Harvesting honey during the middle of July is even harder work. Once your honey is in jars or buckets or barrels, you feel like you’ve accomplished your goal and take a well-deserved rest. Wrong. At least here in NC, July, August, and September are the most crucial months in beekeeping. Often there is a severe summer dearth of nectar and pollen. Couple this with exploding varroa levels, and you’ve got a recipe for a dwindling hive. So by the time October rolls around, you may only have a few frames of bees, which is not what you want going into winter. Though that hive will likely die during a February arctic freeze, it was really lost in late summer.  

So my advice is this: steel yourself for the upcoming dog days of summer and invest in a bee jacket with good wicking technology. It’s a lot cheaper than buying new bees each year.

Happy July 4th!

The Menace of Modernity

If there’s one universal truth to life, it’s that whenever you’re trying to carry something into your locked domicile, like a squirming baby or the ten bags of groceries cutting off circulation to one hand, then your keys will be in the opposite pocket of your free hand. Then you’ll have to attempt the awkward cross-body pocket plunge where your right hand enters your left pocket or vice versa. 

Despite all the advances in technology, no one has yet figured out a way to eliminate this uniquely modern problem. Fifty-years ago, did Andy or Aunt Bee have to worry about spraining a wrist while digging around in an opposite pocket? No, residents of Mayberry didn’t need to dig for keys cause no one locked their doors. Five-thousand years ago, did cave people worry about dropping a child on the ground while excavating the contents of an opposite pocket? No, their loin cloths didn’t have pockets, plus their caves didn’t have doors. 

It just goes to show you the unintended consequences of our technological advances. Sure, locks may help protect personal property and prevent incursions from robbers or in-laws who live next door, but just think about all the time you waste in a lifetime fumbling for keys in your pocket. Cavemen may have had a life expectancy of 23 years, give or take, but at least they didn’t waste half their lives performing mundane modern activities: like looking for keys, cutting grass each week, staring at a computer, and standing in line at the DMV or post office or gas station while people buy scratch-offs. 

Instead, your average cave person could probably just sit back and smell the bat guano after a pleasant day foraging for berries, all in the comfort of a spacious cavern, no house payments to worry about or cave doors to lock.