Save Yourself, not the Bees

Beekeeping is not for the faint of heart–or faint or mind either. A beekeeper who is “keeping bees to help save the bees” is a beekeeper who has yet to wrestle with the harsh reality that most beginning beekeepers will kill more bees than they will ever help save. The beekeepers who reload and return to the beeyard, despite the despair of dead outs, may eventually tilt their cosmic scales back toward bee savior, but, on average, I wonder how many hives die before a beginning beekeeper actually becomes proficient enough to save bees–that is to keep bees from drowning under the virus load of varroa. It probably took me thirty dead outs over five years before something finally clicked and I started overwintering hives successfully and my hive numbers started multiplying

Now I’m in my tenth year of beekeeping, at least if you count the first five years which were mostly me killing bees. Sure, I could say it was varroa that killed them or pesticides or small hive beetles or poor nutrition or extraterrestrial bee snatchers or whatever the excuse de vogue at the time was (at the time, I, like many others, just lumped all these excuses into a singular catch-all excuse called Colony Collapse Disorder). But the truth is my hives died because, first and foremost, I didn’t listen. I didn’t listen to the advice of seasoned beekeepers because I thought I knew more than they did. I didn’t listen until, finally, enough cognitive dissonance erupted between my bee savior desire and my bee killer despair that I finally asked the great existential beekeeping question–“To beekeep, or not to beekeep?”

I chose to continue to beekeep–that is, to get serious about beekeeping, which is really the only way to keep bees now.

I hate to say this, but the term hobby beekeeping is now an oxymoron. Think about it this way: suppose you took up some other hobby for pleasure and relaxation. Let’s say fishing. You could just dig a few worms, buy a cheap Zebco and basic tackle, and then go catch bream or sunfish to your heart’s delight. And if by chance you don’t catch any, well, a bad day’s fishing is still better than a good day’s work. 

To fish, you don’t have to buy high-priced fishing gear, subscribe to Field and Stream, and join BassResource, the most popular bass fishing forum on the web. Of course, you could and many fishermen do. But even if you did–and this is the point–you still wouldn’t have to build your own farm pond and become an expert in farm pond management and ichthyological parasites to keep your bass from going belly up every winter. 

Or, put it another way: a fisherman just needs a hook, line, and sinker. A beekeeper needs a hive, veil, and standing appointment with a shrink.

All Hail, the Floor Inspector

If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a million times, “Take your boots off before coming inside.” There’s a boot tray on our back porch where I’m supposed to deposit my footwear before entering the inner sanctum. Sometimes my wife, the Floor Inspector, posts sticky notes on the porch door reminding me, “Take shoes OFF!” (emphasis hers). 

Hypocritically, she doesn’t remove her shoes. Nor does she require other people to remove their shoes. It’s just my shoes. So we have a double standard in which my manure-caked boots are discriminated against. 

The real problem here is my wife is a clean freak, descended from a long line of clean freaks who believe it’s a great moral failing to have a speck of dirt on the floor. And it’s darn near an unforgivable sin to leave a muddy footprint (even in plain mud, not red). All this has something to do with the quote “Cleanliness is next to godliness,” which I’ve told her a million times is not in the Bible—nowhere, not even hidden in Habakkuk. What is found in the Bible is Jesus making a blind man see with a saliva/dirt combo. That’s one-hundred percent indisputable evidence that Jesus is pro-mud. Of course, she fires back that Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, which she says is one-hundred percent indisputable evidence that Jesus is pro-clean floors. So we have a theological standoff. 

And our preacher, who has declined to take sides, is about as useless as a boot brush—you know, one of those stationary three-sided brushes that you kick your foot through repeatedly like a bull threatening to charge. Theoretically, the stiff bristles are supposed to dislodge contaminants. Mostly, they just smear your soles in a thin layer of mud, which, when applied to the floor, goes on in a smooth even coat and dries in two to four hours at 72 degrees. If home alone, this drying time provides some flexibility, allowing you to piddle around before returning (as the Floor Inspector pulls into the driveway) to hurriedly wipe the floors clean. 

Some of my farming friends have suggested I try the tip-toe, an old-timey mud abatement method in which full-grown men in boots walk en pointe like ballerinas. I can’t say I’m opposed to such old-fashioned methods, but this is the 21st century and there ought to be a better solution, one that doesn’t require me to develop grace, balance, and flexibility at an advanced age. Until I figure out what that solution is, I’m stuck taking my boots off and praying for a divine intervention for my wife, whose belief in the immaculate inspection is borderline heretical if you ask me. 

Infrequently Asked Farming Questions

Why is hay called hay?

The word hay is derived from Greek. On sunny spring mornings, after the dew had dried, ancient Greek farmers would start cutting grass with a scythe, only to look up a few hours later, point to the sky, and utter the exclamatory expression, “Hαγ!” Soon thereafter, the ominous cloud building overhead would dump inches of rain, ruining the prospects for drying and raking the grass into haystacks. Then all the farmers would gather at the sale barn and curse the local weather oracles. Exclaiming “Hαγ” at clouds after downing grass occurred so frequently that the whole process became known as κάνοντας Hαγ, or “making hay.”

Ham comes from pigs, so why, pray tell, are hamburgers made from beef? 

These were the first two pigs we ever raised. The black and white one led the cliff-diving expedition.

That’s a question that has long plagued me. I bet it has something to do with the fact that most pigs belong to Mensa. Those smart little porkers probably tricked cows into volunteering for hamburger patties. Once, a pig convinced me to jump off a cliff. I won’t bore you with the details of that story, but if your mom ever asks, “If your best friend jumps off a cliff, would you follow?” I can pretty much cut to the chase and give you the answer if your best friend is a speedy piglet who dives into a groundhog hole just before the edge of a deep gully. In that case, you would go flying off the cliff while rotating your arms like helicopter blades.

What exercises best prepare new farmers for the physical demands associated with farming?

I’m assuming the questioner is just being polite and using “physical demands” as a euphemism for pain. To increase on-farm pain tolerance, I recommend the following workout routine, performed twice weekly. (Remember to consult your healthcare professional before starting any new workout routine, especially this one.)

1: Three Acres of Strawberry-Picking Toe Touches. This exercise focuses first on flexibility and second on straighten ability after prolonged periods of bending at the hips.

2: Whack a Finger. This exercise mimics the pain associated with on-farm hammer use. Take a hammer, pick a finger, and give it a good whack. You’ll know you did the exercise correctly when the fingernail falls off in two months. An advanced method involves remaining silent while performing the exercise.

3: Corral Dodge Bull. This exercise provides a good cardio workout that lasts as long as you can escape the bull’s horn, after which the exercise focuses on how to stick a landing after being tossed thirty-feet in the air.

4: Hive Tipping Sprints. This exercise increases speed under duress. Pick your meanest hive and tip it over to resemble a fresh bear attack. Try to outrun the bees.

Where did the expression “meaner than a Jersey bull” arise?

Some people suspect the Holstein Breeders’ Association coined the phrase. Likely, they merely mimicked the marketing tactics of the Copperhead Snake Handlers’ Association who pushed  the saying “meaner than a rattlesnake” into the collective consciousness. Personally, I’ve always found Jersey bulls and rattlesnakes unobjectionable, though I’ve hardly got to know any as individuals since I was too busy running in the opposite direction.

Chicago Bull

A new desk for a new semester

Ever since I moved into the old white house 8 years ago – has it really been that long? – I’ve had a desk crisis. My cousins, who had lived her before me, left their old corner desk behind – and being low on funds, I was more than happy to keep it.

Let me tell you though – that thing was awful. I grew to hate that desk more than any other piece of furniture that I owned. (Sorry guys – but if you had actually liked it, you would have taken it with you.)

Years down the road, Stephen’s parents found us this fantastic craftsman style desk that a member of their church was throwing away. Cool woodwork, warm color, made from real wood – the only drawback was that the top was really too small to work on.

After going back to school this year and feeling like I needed a really good work space – I called up Poppaw and said it was about time for another episode of Hugh to the Rescue – the desk edition.

Poppaw and I decided that the easiest way to enlarge the desk would be to put a new top on it. My mom suggested adding black metal trim around the sides to hide the fact that the new top was not the original one. The end result – perfection.

To complete the ensemble, I added in my first library desk chair from my student worker days at Wingate. A wood storage box that I found on the farm as a little girl and hid in my grandparents barn – rediscovered still in its hiding place 17 years later. And an homage to the old white house – with photographs of every owner throughout its family history.

So, as I wrap up this post of procrastination – I must say that the new desk is perfect and will continue to be a perfect place to read, write, and craft.

Now it’s time to get cozy reviewing chapters 1 – 3 of The Education Dissertation…what joy is mine.

Where have the Bishops gone?….oh wait, here they are!

Image Well contrary to popular belief, Stephen and I have not fallen off the face of the planet nor have we defected to a remote corner of the world where the internet does not exist. Over the last year and a half since our last post, our lives have been beyond eventful and any spare time for writing blog posts has been channeled towards other things….like watching Chopped or sleeping.

This past year has been one of both feast (mostly feast) and famine – but now that we are on the upswing and our life trajectory is starting to fall in to place we’re excited to share some of what has been going on.

The Good

  • We bought our farm!
  • We’ve expanded our bee hives, plus all of our hives made it through this winter.
  • I have my first closet in 7 years, and it is our house’s first “real” closet in its 120 year history.
  • Stephen has had several articles published in different magazines and has a great new job working with farmers in our county.

The Bad

  • Over the summer we nearly lost Quigley, one of our favorite hens.
  • We did loose two bee hives through the winter of 2012/13 which put a big dent in our honey production.
  • A couple of family medical hiccups.

The Ugly

  • We had a skunk incident that probably left us both scarred for life and smelling hideous for months.
  • The plumbing in our old house has a mind of its own – meaning you have to do some weird stuff just to get the toilet to flush on occasion.

So, hopefully, we’re back – we have lots of stories to tell, with plenty of laughs for all.