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Today blogs have largely been replaced by other social media platforms, and none is more popular among beekeepers than YouTube, which is not surprising.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!

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!

Brace Yourself: A Wonkish Agriculture Deep Dive

An ancient wise man once said, “A calendar is a tool best used for kindling.” I don’t know many biographical details about this ancient wise man because I just made him up, but likely he was a beekeeper. Indeed, a nice glossy calendar burns well in a bee smoker, where it does much more good than it would hanging on my wall. In fact, I consult a calendar so infrequently I still have a 2020 edition hanging in my office–only six more years and the days of the week and month will match up again.

The thing about beekeeping is that the calendar doesn’t really matter. Bees use a calendar even less than I do. In the past, I’ve tried to jump the gun by doing early grafts for new queens, only to be disappointed by a cold snap that caused the bees to abandon the queen cells. And I’m sure glad I didn’t try it this year. The freeze we had before Easter weekend was devastating. It’s not even mid-April yet, and many commercial blackberry growers here have already filed complete losses on their early varieties. Several weeks of warm weather had the blackberries forming flower buds early. Then it got down to 26. Not good. 

And it’s heartbreaking for these blackberry growers. They won’t grow broke because of crop insurance, but any hope for a bumper year is dashed, replaced already by worry for next year. And though one bad year won’t break them, several in a row could. 

Which brings me to my second wise man: Charles Brannan (brace yourself–what follows could rival watching paint dry in terms of entertainment appeal). 

The Wonkish Part

Brannan was the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture under Harry Truman. I’m not sure if he said anything quotable and pithy, but he did come up with the Brannan Plan, which was basically a plan for an unabashed farmer subsidy.

Under his proposed plan, which was never approved, when prices of commodities dropped below a fair price, determined by averaging prices from the last ten years, the government would pay farmers directly to make up the difference. The government, however, wouldn’t buy the surplus causing the price drop. Instead, the government would let the free-market determine prices. Thus, if farmers flooded the market with eggs, the government wouldn’t buy eggs and let them go rotten just to keep prices up. Instead, the consumer benefited from a flooded market of eggs, with lower prices per carton at the grocery store, and farmers received a fair price. Eventually, the ten year average would drop because of the lower free market price. In the meantime, farmers weathered the down market and had time to pivot to another crop without going out of business. That was the grand idea within the Brannan Plan. The idea is the basis for modern-day crop insurance, except the subsidy is now funneled and hidden through private crop insurance companies.

In Brannan’s day, as now, the word subsidy doesn’t play well. In the age of Joseph McCarthy, Brannan’s plan was attacked as socialism. But perhaps the most controversial aspect of the plan was the limitation on that subsidy. The plan would only subsidize production on farms for what a “family unit” could produce to avoid encouraging “large, industrial farming.” The conservative Farm Bureau and Grange opposed, wanting instead a “food stamp” plan which subsidized consumers’ purchases of surplus foods. The liberal National Farmers Union supported Brannan’s plan. And, yes, conservatives and liberals have now switched sides. Liberals often rail against subsidized agriculture and promote “food stamps.” Conservatives often lobby for more farm subsidies and bemoan food stamps.

The two biggest criticisms of agricultural subsidies today are (1) subsidies are based on production and acreage, so the biggest farms receive the most subsidies, increasing their ability to buy out small farms, and (2) subsidies benefit field crops, like corn, wheat, and soybeans, more than other sectors of agriculture, like livestock and produce. Brannan foresaw both of these problems. He wanted to solve the first with the aforementioned limitation on subsidies based on what a family could produce. He wanted to solve the second by subsidizing nearly everything, based on the fair price approach. 

With the decline in small family farms, I sometimes wondered what America would look like had Bannan’s plan been approved. But it never happened. Instead, the philosophy of Earl Butz, another US Secretary of Agriculture, eventually won out. His mantra to farmers was, “Get big or get out.”

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More Infrequently Asked Farming Questions

Is it hard being an all-around farm expert?

The hard part is perfecting a belly laugh. Laugh too hard at another farmer’s mistake, and you’ll be attacked with a large ratchet. Yet show any hesitancy in your laugh, and people will doubt you’re an expert. Thus, pointing out another farmer’s problem and belly laughing afterwards, which is the major job responsibility of an all-around farm expert, is like tight-rope walking with no net–meaning it’s a very perilous activity that should only be attempted by trained professionals or those who pack up and leave town after a week. 

What’s the best ladder for farm use?

Every farmer needs a good flimsy ladder, one that bows and bends and bounces. A sturdy ladder is a big mistake. Nothing hurts worse than being wallopped by a stout ladder seconds after you’ve plummeted back to earth. Nowadays it doesn’t pay to add insult to injury. In the old days, some orthopedic surgeons offered two-for-one deals (for each shattered ankle, you got a cracked rib for free). But now, with the state of modern healthcare as it is, you can’t count on free handling for secondary fractures, so it’s best to be whalloped by a flimsy ladder. 

Nobody fell off a ladder like Ernest. RIP Jim Varney.

What do you know about nude beekeeping?

Little. I only know one nude beekeeper, Ned. Ned was just a regular guy who wore clothes in public, especially in the bee yard. He never once thought about disrobing outdoors until he accidentally left his shirt tail out and bees (from a dropped frame) regrouped on his shoes and started marching (unbeknownst to Ned) up his pant legs. The bees formed two flanks along the belly and the back and coordinated a simultaneous assault. Underneath Ned’s shirt tail and over his belt, the bees charged onto bareskin, where many sacrificed their lives on the rolling terrain of Ned’s mid-section. Afterwards, Ned began running and shedding clothes simultaneously, leaving a trail of garments behind, including his whitey-tightys. This disrobing routine was captured and posted to YouTube by a random passerby and thereafter Ned became known locally as Nude Ned. 

How does evil spread in the world?

Sandspurs in your shoe laces. If you’ve never experienced sandspurs, picture yourself strolling through a blooming meadow. Smell the flowers and feel the gentle breeze. Watch bees glide from flower to flower. Then, while listening to meadowlarks sing, take one more step and hear yourself utter, at the top of your lungs, your favorite exclamatory phrase. Hear it echo throughout the countryside. Then start hopping one-footed while calling for a medic.

(For more infrequently asked farming questions, check out this post. )

9 Pointless Pandemic Ponderings

  1. Fewer cars on the road mean less roadkill. Are buzzards going hungry?

  2. How do bank tellers identify bank robbers with everybody wearing masks?

  3. Simple solution to reopen the economy: everybody wears biohazard suits. Not enough biohazard suits? Take beekeeping suits and saran wrap the veil. (okay, not thirty minutes after I published this post, I saw a news story saying Trump economic adviser Stephen Moore recommended everybody wear space suits. That a top Trump economic adviser and I think alike is concerning–for me and this country. In fact, it’s so frightening I might grab a shovel and go bury gold in the backyard.)

  4. With handshakes now obsolete, will Free-Masons develop a secret elbow-bump?

  5. Bats get blamed for a lot of bad stuff, like coronavirus and vampirism. Did vampirism start in a Transylvanian lab? Screenshot 2020-04-23 at 2.11.24 PM

  6. How is the shortage of toilet paper affecting the port-a-potty industry?

  7. Why is the first person with coronavirus called patient zero? Shouldn’t it be patient one?

  8. If viruses just live to multiply and make life miserable, was my third-grade math teacher a virus?

  9. A gallon of milk is now worth more than a barrel of crude oil. Who says farming doesn’t pay?

For more farm thoughts, see On Farm Safety Thoughts.