Appalachian Beekeeper-Morgan Juncal

How long have you/your family/ancestors lived in Appalachia?

I was raised on a 20 acre horse farm in a quiet country town in Loudoun County, northern Virginia. My father owned a landscape company and my mother was an equine artist and horse breeder of some renown. In addition to horses, we also raised chickens, Jack Russell terriers, and a few head of cattle, amongst a few other pets. It was a modest but comfortable life for the most part, but I grew up exposed to the hard work that was required to maintain a functioning farm and household.

I am the oldest of three siblings and, predictably, carry the brunt of responsibility as such. Integrity, work ethic, and problem solving were instilled in me from a young age, and I attribute much of my ambition and success to my upbringing in this environment. I worked for my father for a few years doing landscaping and estate maintenance, and learned what it means to do hard physical work in the heat of the summer sun. My hometown, however, was in the ever-growing shadow of Washington, D.C. and by the time I graduated high school, my tiny town of Purcellville had grown from a post office and grocery store to a crowded, bustling miniature metropolis; by 19 years old, I was ready to get out. My family moved out to the Shenandoah Valley, and I moved all the way to Tennessee. To keep a very long story short, my career landed me in Maryville, just south of Knoxville, which is where my beekeeping journey began.

What research did you do before starting your first hive?

At 30 years old, I came to Maryville in 2019 to take a promotion as a manager for a certain home improvement retailer. Once I had settled in and purchased a home outside of town in Blount County, I quickly decided that, given my background in landscaping and horticulture, that I wanted to install a garden and flower bed to dress up my front yard. I quickly noticed that first spring, however, that there didn’t seem to be any pollinators visiting my gardens. At the time, I at least had the basic understanding that without the bees and butterflies, pollination could not occur in my vegetables and I would get a very poor crop. So, I set out with the idea that if there were no bees in my area, I would bring some in! I wasn’t interested in the prospect of honey harvesting at the time, just the idea of bringing pollinators to my garden.

I knew of a beekeeper that worked in my store, and so casually started chatting with her about what I would later come to understand as “bee-having” instead of “bee-keeping.” She seemed less than impressed with my blasé attempt at explaining why I wanted bees around, but she graciously offered to get me started if I was serious about trying. That green light was the catalyst that ignited what would become a full fledged obsession with Apis mellifera. I immediately ordered a hive and a copy of Beekeeping for Dummies (5th Edition) and read the whole thing cover to cover. After finishing the book, I promptly sold the hive I had bought (an unfinished 10 frame flow hive) because I decided it was all wrong for me. Instead, I purchased two wax dipped 8 Frame Langstroth hive kits from Galena Farms, and I’ve never looked back. My coworker gave me my first colony from a split off of her own bees, and she became my mentor in my first year, and is now a good friend. I asked her in the beginning if there was anything she would change about her own beekeeping journey, and she stated that given the opportunity to start over, she would run all 8 frame equipment due to the weight of the 10 frame boxes, and that cemented my decision going forward. I am now entering my 5th season as a beekeeper and I am starting the season with 20 hives.

I wanted to address the namesake of my apiary, Woodbooger Hollow. Having spent a majority of my life in the heart of Appalachia, and being a nature child and mythology buff, I wanted to give a nod to some of the local lore when choosing a name. A woodbooger (forest boogeyman) is an Appalachian nickname for Sasquatch, or Bigfoot, and the mountain folk in the southwest Virginia, northeast Tennessee area coined that term long before the Bigfoot phenomenon took the country by storm in the 1960s. Being that Bigfoot sightings are still widely reported in the area of the Great Smoky Mountains, in which my apiary resides, I absolutely had to tie all that together in my brand. And for the record, woodboogers love honey.

Do you prefer a solitary approach to keeping bees or would you rather be a part of a larger beekeeping community?

I worked as a retail manager all throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, and as an “essential worker” was exposed to a lot of the hateful ugliness that people are capable of. While I understand that a majority of what I went through was generated from fearful ignorance, it doesn’t make the experience any less traumatic.  I have since left my stressful career behind to pursue beekeeping full time, and despite the major financial adjustment I’ve had to make, I’ve never been happier. In fact, I tell everyone who will listen that beekeeping is my therapy, and being in the hives is a sort of mesmerizing meditation for me. It’s as if the rest of the world melts away, and the condition of the colony and the tasks at hand are the only things that matter in that moment. I have heard of others who experience a similar therapeutic effect from their hives, and so completely support the idea of veterans or (C)PTSD patients exploring the hobby.

Truly, I’m supportive of anyone interested in becoming a beekeeper, and am always happy to share my knowledge, fascination, and passion. I firmly believe in continuing education in beekeeping, as the beekeeping world is ever-changing, growing, and evolving. I read everything I can get my hands on, and have amassed a decent personal library of bee-centric literature. I am in approximately 14 different bee related groups on Facebook, and actively participate in discussion forums within those groups. I also subscribe to Bee Culture magazine and American Beekeeping Journal, listen to Beekeeping Today and other podcasts, and am now a certified Master Beekeeper through UT and the TN Dept. of Agriculture. I have attended the Nashville Honey Festival, the international Hive Life conference and intend to participate in NAHBE this coming year. Additionally, I am a member of the Blount Co. Beekeepers Association, Anderson Co. Beekeepers Association, and the Tennessee  Beekeepers Association.

I say all that to say: I actually consider myself a high functioning introvert, and left to my own devices I much prefer to keep to myself and practice beekeeping in solitude, but what I have come to understand is that having a community or “network” of beekeepers in your pocket is ultimately the pathway to success.

We as a community need to learn from each other; we need to communicate both our successes and our failures, both new innovations and new threats to our bees.

Social media is the way forward in this regard. There are a lot of “old dogs” with “old tricks” in this industry, and while I respect their experience and contributions of wisdom, there is also a lot of unnecessary stubbornness and resistance to change. At the risk of sounding sexist, I think this is where women excel in this industry- adaptability and open mindedness. Obviously, this is not a blanket statement as there are exceptions to every rule, but for instance, the conversation and support various drastically in the forums within the Women in Beekeeping FB group, and, say, East Tennessee Beekeepers, or even Beekeeping for Beginners, where there are unfortunately a lot of snide remarks made, especially toward new beekeepers who are asking an honest question, albeit a question that’s already been asked and answered 50 times or more. While I believe all questions are valid, I also believe one must be willing to put in the effort of researching their questions and attempting to find an answer on their own first.

Do you think women beekeepers differ from male beekeepers? Why/why not? How?

Women are incredibly creative problem solvers! A majority of the “beekeeping hacks” I employ in my own practices have been gleaned from other women in the field. For instance, one of my favorite pieces of equipment is a rechargeable cordless, bladeless neck fan. Having a breeze on your face on a scorching 98 degree day with 90% humidity and full sun is an absolute game changer, and mine will last about 6 hours on the mid fan power setting, which definitely matters during full inspections. Additionally, for those unwilling to ditch the leather gloves in their apiary, but who are wanting to capture pictures or take notes with their phone, a simple rechargeable stylus pen means you can type away while your gloves are still on. And lastly, women have a penchant for aesthetic appeal, and in a highly competitive honey market. Women are dressing up mason jars with bits of plaid cloth and bee charms, experimenting with creamed and infused honey, decorating their honey booths with farmhouse chic, and otherwise raising the bar to meet contemporary consumer demands. Even though fresh local honey sells itself, carving out a unique niche in this industry is the name of the game, and the women have got that figured out.

If you’re still reading this, by now you’ve probably realized that I’m a little weird. But I think all beekeepers are a little quirky in their own way. One pretty much has to be a little odd to willingly work hands-on with such an equally fascinating and dangerous super organism. For me, the fascination far outweighs the risk, and if I am being perfectly honest, I would still keep bees, raise bees, study bees, etc. even if there was no golden liquid byproduct of doing so. Every time I learn something new, I am enthralled all over again. Everything from their biology and life stages to their communication and navigation, their resilience and adaptability to their productivity and ambition. The plot of my story is this: My interest in pollinator conservation led to a hobby, my hobby became a passion, my passion became an obsession, and my obsession became a small business, a social media presence, a network of people and friends, a community, and a purpose. If we as a society can learn anything from the bees, it’s that life is not a competition, it’s a group effort to strive for the best possible future.

For more content like this, as well as fairly decent bee photography and videography (if I do say so myself,) folks can like and follow me on Facebook and Instagram @woodbooger.honey or visit my website at www.woodboogerhollowhoney.com or, can contact me directly at woodboogerhoney@gmail.com.