Volume No. 17 Issue No. 9 September 2020  

  The summer of 2020

     Longtime local journalist Bill Radford and his wife, Margaret, live on 5 acres in the Falcon area with chickens, rabbits, dogs, cats, two noisy parrots, goats and two horses. Contact Bill at billradford3@gmail.com

   Summer's ending, and I'm OK with that. I'm not fond of the days turning shorter, but I'm ready to say goodbye to the summer heat.
   It was an unusual summer in that it was a pandemic summer. There was no escaping the heat by retreating to an overly air-conditioned movie theater and watching the latest summer blockbuster, though theaters are now finally starting to open. We had to remember to take a mask everywhere and work to maintain that social distance. We called off a summer trip to the Midwest over COVID concerns.
   But I'll remember this summer for other things, too.
   It was the summer of ... the zapper. One reason to look forward to the end of summer — it’s also the end of fly season.
   The flies come out in force every August, and this August was no different; if anything, the flies seemed to be a bit worse this year. So we added a new weapon to our arsenal: The Hoont fly zapper.
   From the product description: “The Hoont fly zapper insect and bug killer features two high-intensity 10-watt ultraviolet bulbs that attracts all pesky flying insects into the device. Insects then make contact with an extremely powerful high voltage electrically charged metal grid, instantly killing them. Kills a limitless amount of insects.”
   We first tried the zapper in the kitchen. While it did zap flies here and there, it was not nearly as effective as getting out the trusty old fly swatter and going on a kill mission. Still, it was nice to hear that crackle when a fly did go into the trap –- though the noise usually got the dogs barking. We later moved the zapper to the barn, where, of course, the fly load is much worse. We turn it off at night, though; my wife and I both had the vision of a fly entering the zapper, somehow lighting on fire, then falling into the hay and starting a barn-destroying blaze.
   It was the summer of ... exciting new tools. The horses spend their summers in the pasture leaning over the fence to investigate that whole “the grass is always greener on the other side” thing. The result: bent T-posts and a sagging fence. So we enlisted the help of our neighbor Loy, who used his tractor to push all the T-posts back upright. But the original fence builders had used T-posts that were A) too short, and B) too far apart. So we added taller T-posts between each of the shorter ones, adding up to about 75 new T-posts in all. That would have been a lot of work with the T-post driver –- work that my once-injured rotator cuff would not have been eager to have taken on. Loy, though, had the answer: a gas-powered T-post driver. As it weighs 40 pounds or so, that still would have taken a physical toll, except that Loy had a technique for using an implement on his tractor to lift the driver up; basically, all we had to do was help secure it over the T-post, hit the start button and hold on.
   We also partnered with a couple on renting a gas-powered log splitter. Over the years, we had accumulated quite a lot of logs that were too big for our wood-burning stove. But with the help of the log splitter and my very first chainsaw (an electric one), we now have a supply of usable wood for this winter and possibly several future winters. And despite my wife's distrust of me around sharp things, there's been no loss of limbs.
   It was the summer of … no pool. We've had above-ground pools of varying sizes the past several summers. Some were big enough that we had to have water trucked in because we didn't want to wear out our well pump; others were small enough that we could fill them ourselves. But we always spent more time cleaning the pools than relaxing in them; even when we tried to cover the pools, they always filled up with grasshoppers (see the summer of no garden, below) and other flying insects, making the floor of the pool a slippery bed of dead bugs. We planned to look into becoming a member at one of the area pools this summer, but the pandemic sank that idea.
   It was the summer of … no garden. We did have a flower garden this summer, but we gave up on the idea of anything grander. We've had gardens in past summers, growing tomatoes, kale, potatoes, radishes, corn and more -– or at least trying to. But the relentless sun, the moisture-zapping winds and, most of all, the voracious grasshoppers always made it an uphill battle to produce anything. We had toyed with the idea of getting guinea fowl, which apparently are quite savage eaters of grasshoppers. But they can also be quite loud, so we chose the peace of the neighborhood over the elimination of the hoppers.
   It was the summer of … the bees. After toying with the idea of getting bees for a couple of years, my wife finally took the plunge — fulfilling a dream she's had since taking a beekeeping class in college. One worry we had was the absence of food for them out in the prairie, which was one reason for the flower garden. There's also an alfalfa field within flying distance for bees and other forage here and there. Still, we've been supplementing their diet all summer long with sugar water, and everyone seems to be prospering. And even making a bit of honey.
   And nobody's been stung! Although, the neighbor cat we saw sitting on top of the hive the other day could be in for a surprise.
Margaret Radford consults with the bees. Photos by Bill Radford
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