The Bees Are Settling In

The 24,000 honey bees that I picked up and put in the two hives Saturday seemed to have settled into their new homes on this Easter Sunday.

Now, it’s a battle to survive the next month.

Twenty-four thousand bees may seem like a lot — the buzzing they made in the back of the car was a bit unsettling. But a strong colony has twice that many bees. And mine are young and struggling at the moment.

The bees I picked up were probably about a week old. They had been taken from established hives and put in boxes with queens whose scents were unfamiliar. They were then trucked several hundred miles. Their tightly ordered, social lives are in disarray as they attempt to start anew.

Plus, there are no honey stores from last year to draw on and no nectar or pollen yet to make new honey.

It will take several days for the queens, assuming they’re accepted  by the colonies, to start laying eggs and then three weeks for those eggs to hatch and new bees to replace my original bees, who will then be approaching the end of their lives.

They’re racing against time now, and I’ll do all I can to see them through it.

The bees arrived from Georgia in three-pound boxes. About 12,000 bees were in each box. The buzzing coming from the back of the Subaru was constant as I drove home from the pickup point. Very eerie.
Each package of bees comes with a mated queen — she’s the big bee on the right with the red dot — in a separate cage along with a few nurse bees. The white substance on the left is a hard sugar candy that plugs an escape holes drilled into the end of the box. The bees in the package, drawn to the queen, will eat the candy to release her. In the process, they will get used to her scent and accept her as their queen.
I’ve suited up in a protective coat and veil to insert the first be package in the Calabria hive, which is two boxes separated by a wooden divider. The deeper, bottom section is the brood box. That’s where the queen will lay her eggs, about 2,000 a day, and where the bees will raise their young, store pollen and nectar and make honey to get them through the winter. The shallower top box is a “super,” or surplus, where eventually the bees will make honey for me.
For the foreseeable future, the supers will be chow halls for the bees. I’ve filled four, one-quart Mason jars with equal parts water and sugar. I’ve punched small holes in the lids that the bees will use to suck out the solution. It will have to hold them until the nectar starts flowing in a couple of weeks.
This is one of the frames that are the guts of the hive. There are 10 in each brood box. The wooden frames hold a sheet of beeswax. On this foundation, the bees will build comb where the queen will lay her eggs, where forager bees will store nectar and pollen and where workers will store honey.
Bees are methodical planners. I’ve numbered and marked each frame so that I can replace them in the right order and orientation after inspections. Putting them out of place seems to be doing a disservice to the orderly bees.
Here’s the open brood box of the Calabria hive about 24 hours after I installed the bees. I had to remove five of the frames to make room for the box that contained the bees. I also removed the queen cage and left the top of the box open before closing up the hive.
That brown substance on the top of the frames is a pollen patty that you can buy from bee-supply stores. It will also help sustain the bees. I removed the now empty bee cage on the right and added the missing frames before closing up the hive.
I tacked the queen cage to one of the frames. It’s suspended from that yellow ribbon and the clump of bees on the left are busily chewing away at candy to release the queen. I’ll check on their progress in a couple of days.




Hives Ready for Occupancy

hives.jpgThe hives in my backyard are ready for the bees that arrive tomorrow. A local commercial beekeeper is picking them up in Georgia. They’re probably on I-95 right now.

Their arrival has been delayed for two weeks. Cold weather prevented the queens from mating. It seems that bee amore is dependent on temperature.

Speaking of lovers, these will be Italian bees. Most managed bees in America these days are of that sub-species because it is less aggressive. Why sting when there’s honey to be made?

Old hands at beekeeping recommend naming or numbering hives for record keeping. Our niece Isa painted the one on the left in bold, abstract colors. I’m calling it Tuscany, the birthplace of some of the world’s great artists. Her sister, Olivia, opted for a simpler design,  a bee house with windows and doors. It’s Calabria, the pastoral region in the heel of the Italian boot that is the home of all my ancestors.

Come back tomorrow for pictures of the bees moving in. I’m planning to play a Caruso aria to keep them calm. It worked for my old man.


It Was a Haul, but Rezoning Approved

Except for the time it took to get through three agenda items and a couple of presentations, there were no surprises at last night’s Board of Commissioners’ meeting.

We approved Keith Walsh’s request to rezone 22 acres on the corner of Main Street Extension and Swansboro Loop Road to allow for the construction of 35 single-family hones. The vote was 4-1 with Angela Clinton objecting.

Walsh agreed to ask that the property, which is now outside city limits, be annexed. He also pledged not to disturb the four acres of wetlands on the property. His plan is to divide the wetlands when the land is subdivided and include deed restrictions on the individual lots that would protect them. He said, though, that he’s willing to discuss keeping the wetlands in one tract and protecting them through a conservation easement. That’s something we’ll discuss when Walsh submits his subdivision plat for approval.

Stormwater runoff was also an issue. Walsh noted that his soil scientist found sandy soil on a portion of the tract that would allow the runoff to soak into the ground rather than be collected in a pond. Called “infiltration,” that type of treatment is much preferred over the convention pipe-and-pond systems. Walsh said he would explore that approach with the state permitting agency.

A couple of residents expressed concern about the loss of wildlife habitat and traffic of Swansboro Loop Road, which need to be re-paved. The road is maintained by the state, and a contract to repave about two miles, starting at Main Street Extension, was let earlier this year.

Thanks to all who showed up to speak their minds.

We also unanimously approved the annexation of the Walmart but tabled a decision on a change in park policy that would allow alcoholic beverages to be served at catered events in the Rec Center. The commissioners first wanted to see the specific rules that would cover such events before making a decision.

We had a few presentations at the beginning of the meeting, including one about an opiod-treatment program in Nashville, NC. It all took an inordinate three hours. Thanks to the five hardy souls who made to the bitter end. If we ever have four items on an agenda, they’ll have to bring their sleeping bags.

Rezoning, Annexation and Booze

The Board of Commissioners at its meeting tomorrow night will consider rezoning 22 acres at the corner of Swansboro Loop Road and Main Street Extension for a 35-home subdivision.

The commissioners will also decide whether to annex the Walmart property and whether alcohol could be served at events at our Rec Center.

The rezoning request was originally on our agenda for Jan. 23, but was withdrawn by the developer, Walsh Real Estate. At the time, the project included more than 40 houses and wasn’t consistent with our land-use plan.

The plan envisions the property, now zoned agricultural, to be low-density residential. While I could make a convincing argument that 35 houses on 22 acres isn’t “low-density,” our land-use plan does. It’s one of it’s many weaknesses that I hope we address when we amend the plan this year.

Not only has he cut the number of proposed houses, the developer has also agreed to avoid the four acres of wetlands on the site. I’ll ask him if he’s willing to permanently protect them with a conservation easement, but all we can do is ask.

The required traffic analysis predicts that the development when fully built out will generate about 335 vehicle trips a day, which doesn’t exceed the carrying capacity of the roads.

Walmart, as required by the 2015 legal settlement of the developers’ lawsuit against the town, is asking to be annexed. The voluntary request, according to the settlement, was timed to 30 days after the town issued its certificate of occupancy. By then, the developers didn’t own the property and won’t have to pay the extra tax. Funny how that worked.

The vote is likely to be unanimous.  The store, for all intents and purposes, is in town. The tract adjoins our corporate limits. Our cops and firefighters answer calls there. We might as well get paid for it.

While we should accept the reality, we shouldn’t forget the history that an unanimous vote will obscure. The project was the most divisive in the town’s history. It pitted neighbors against each other and residents against their government. Out-of-town developers strong-armed the town board to get their way. Walmart officials responded to residents’ pleas with silence.

Now that I said my piece I can hold my nose and welcome Walmart to town.

Alcohol is currently not allowed in any town parks. Our Parks and Recreation Department is asking for an exception to that policy to allow alcoholic beverages at catered events at the Rec. Center. There would be several conditions: The caterer must have the proper state permits from the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission. The user must furnish proof of liquor liability insurance, and the town must be named as an additional insured on the insurance certificate. The user must observe all state ABC regulations, and all alcoholic beverages must be consumed inside the building.

I have several questions about all this. Has there been a great demand to allow alcohol at events at the Rec Center? Has the town lost business because of alcohol ban? How much? Will the rec department not hold kids’ events in the building when alcohol is being served?

If you have questions about this or any other item on the agenda, come by at 6 p.m. at Town Hall to pose them. Hope to see your there.

You can find the full agenda here.

In Celebration of Rev. Langstroth

They gave Lorenzo Langstroth sort of the bum’s rush in “bee school” yesterday. He invented the hive that revolutionized beekeeping and is still in use 150 years later, the instructors noted during the first of four classes that will lead to state certification as a beekeeper. With a lot to cover in four hours, they then moved on to bee pollination, hive location or some such.

Lansgstroth markerIntrigued, I came home determined to learn more about the acknowledged “Father of American Beekeeping.” The initial Google search produced the image of this street marker that I immediately remembered from one of my morning ambles through Philadelphia on our visit there in the fall. I’m a sucker for historic markers. I’ve been known to turn around if I pass one as I zip along at 60 mph. I strolled past this one on Front Street, near the intersection with Chestnut, along the Philly waterfront. It told about this guy who invented a new beehive in 1852 and wrote a manual for it that advanced beekeeping and honey production worldwide. Interesting, I thought at the time, and ambled on.

Langstroth, who was born in Philadelphia in 1810, must have been a weird kid, or at least that’s what the neighbors must of thought as they watched him spend hours on his hands and knees playing with ants on the sidewalks outside his house. While later studying just up the road at Yale, Langstroth transferred this fascination with small, social insects to bees when his saw a friend’s hive in 1838. He brought home two colonies. For most of his life, Lorenzo Langstroth would never be without bees.

After moving around New England as a Congregational minister, Langstroth returned to Philadelphia in 1848 where he set up a two-acre apiary on the west side of town. He immersed himself in his bees, mostly at first as a distraction from his periodic “head troubles” and bouts of depression. Lansgstroth watched how they moved in and out of their hives, and he read everything anyone had written about them.

Lansgrtoth with hives
Lorenzo Langstroth shows off his invention in his apiary in the 1850s. Photo: American Philosophical Society

There’s some debate now as to whether Langstroth discovered “bee space” or merely applied it to invent the first practical, man-made hive. Bees like to have precise 3/8-inch gaps in their hives to move around. They fill anything wider with propolis, a resinous substance that bees make by mixing wax with pollen and tree sap. It hardens into a glue tougher than anything you get out of a bottle, and it made early beekeeping difficult and often fatal to the bees.

People have been keeping bees in boxes and containers almost since there were people. Clay pots were the preferred containers in North Africa 9,000 years ago. Art in the tombs of Egyptian emperors 4,500 years later shows a variety of vessels used as beehives. Skeps, cone-shaped structures made of branches and leaves, and hollow logs were common in Langstroth’s day.

No matter the design, though, the bees got very angry when beekeepers tried to extract the honey by tearing into the propolis. Keepers found it a lot less painful to simply kill the bees first.

Langstroth was “pondering” all this while walking late one afternoon from the apiary to his home two miles away. “The almost self-evident idea of using the same bee-space…came into my mind, and in a moment the suspended movable frames, kept at a suitable distance from each other and the case containing them, came into being,” he wrote in a reminiscence published in 1893. “I could scarcely refrain from shouting out my ‘Eureka’ in the open streets.”

He patented a wooden box that opened from the top and had removable frames 3/8 of an inch apart on which the bees would build their combs of honey. The frames could be lifted out the box to extract the honey with a minimum of disturbance. His Langstroth on the Hive and the Honey-Bee, published a year later, provided unsurpassed practical advice on bee management.

The simplicity of the Langstroth Hive made it easy to copy. Quickly, beekeepers around the world adopted it, despite Lanstroth’s efforts to end infringements of his patent.

Endlessly imitated and modified, the Langstroth Hive helped make commercial honey production and bee pollination large-scale industries. By the 1880s, most American beekeepers used some form of the Langstroth Hive. By the late twentieth century, more than 100 American crops and one-third of the American food supply depended on bee pollination and the Langstroth Hive.

Langstroth in 1858 gathered his family and moved to Oxford, Ohio. There, between continued struggles with illness, he devoted his time to beekeeping and research, writing articles and playing chess. In 1863, Langstroth became one of the first Americans to import the Italian honeybee (Apis mellifera ligustica), whose queen bees he and his son sold to beekeepers across the United States. Today, the Italian bee is the most popular commercial bee in North America because it is less aggressive than other subspecies.

In 1874, Langstroth retired from beekeeping.  He died 21 years later while giving a sermon at the Wayne Avenue Presbyterian Church in Dayton, Ohio, where he lived with his daughter.

That’s Isa, on the left, and her sister, Olivia, standing behind their tricked out Langstroth Hives.

Here are the words on Langstroth’s tombstone in Dayton’s Woodland Cemetery:

“Inscribed to the memory of Rev. L.L Langstroth, ‘Father of American beekeeping,’ by his affectionate beneficiaries who, in the remembrance of the service rendered by his persistent and painstaking observations and experiments with the honey bee, his improvements in the hive, and the literary ability shown in the first scientific and popular book on the subject of beekeeping in the United States, gratefully erect this monument.”

We had our own celebration yesterday of Langstroth and his invention. Our nieces, Isa and Olivia, came from Hillsborough to trick out the two Langstroth hives that will be in my backyard. Olivia wanted her hive to look like a home and painted window with curtains and flower boxes. Her older sister chose an abstract design of splotches of bold colors.

The bees, who are scheduled to arrive on March 24, won’t mind. The whimsy of it all would also probably please the reverend.


The Fix Is In

RALEIGH – It was more like an oil-industry conference. And a cheesy one at that.

The “listening session” that the U.S. Interior Department sponsored a couple of weeks ago on President Trump’s proposal to open virtually the entire U.S. coastline to oil and natural gas drilling featured placards that informed us what oil is and why it’s important to the country. No warnings about spills, no pictures of burning rigs or oil-coated cormorants. A handful of smiling government experts politely answered questions and directed people to laptops if they wanted to submit comments. A sign warned that all such comments should be based on facts, not emotions.

It all was terribly boring, not very informative and ultimately not worth the drive. I got the impression that’s the way they wanted it.

I drove away from the North Raleigh Hilton on that cold, wet afternoon with one, dreary conclusion: The fix is in.

oil rally
Hundreds of opponents packed a rally in Raleigh to oppose offshore drilling. Photo: N.C. Policy Watch

Understand that we shouldn’t even be talking about this right now. The federal government two years ago approved a five-year, offshore leasing plan that ends in 2022. Widespread opposition along the East Coast forced Interior, which manages drilling leases three or more miles from shore, to exclude the Atlantic Ocean in its approved plan.

But Trump signed an unprecedented executive order in April to reopen that plan to allow leasing “to the maximum extent permitted by law.” That means just about everywhere, including off the N.C. coast.

The first step in the process outlined in federal law is to accept public comments on the environmental review that the law also requires. Thus, the “listening sessions.”

I had gone to Raleigh as Swansboro’s mayor pro temp to submit into the official federal record the resolution the town passed last year opposing offshore drilling. But no one there could take it. They pointed me to the computers. One smiling, young Interior official informed me that I would have to travel to Washington if I wanted to hand deliver it.

In the past, I would have joined hundreds of people in a packed meeting room. We would have all been given an opportunity to step to a microphone and say our piece before a federal hearing officer and, yes, hand over anything we wanted. All our documents and comments would have become part of the official record.  Back then, the meetings were called hearings and they would last hours. They could be loud and, yes, sometimes, rude. Like democracy, they could be messy.

Clearly, that’s not what the Interior Department wanted when it scheduled these listening sessions in 23 capital cities in coastal states across the country. As in those other places, hundreds of drilling opponents showed up in Raleigh, but the session’s format discouraged any official outbursts of boisterousness. So, as in those other places, opponents repaired to the opposite end of the hotel to hold a loud, rousing rally decorated by signs and banners and punctuated by invective. But all out of range of Interior officials.

The department avoided holding these sessions in coastal locations where residents are most at risk and where emotions are the highest. That’s also by design. When it last collected comments on the environmental assessment two years ago, Interior held four meetings in North Carolina, including three here on the coast. While they were similar in format to these “listening sessions,” those meetings were less scripted, manned by more officials and included information on environmental and social risks and alternative energies.

But why replicate that effort and spend the money if the decision has already been made? Unlike the last time, it’s hard to believe that what’s going on now is a honest attempt to gauge public sentiment or to assess risks. Forgive me for refusing to believe that this president, who has eliminated protection for public lands, turned the Environmental Protection Agency into a shill for industry and cut regulations, cares about sea turtles, fishing grounds, migrating whales or oil-covered beaches. Forgive me for failing to trust that this Interior secretary who has proposed opening public lands to drilling and mining and who, along with deputies, has met 180 times with oil-industry executives will protecti our natural resources?

To reach any other conclusion that this environmental assessment will determine that drilling is good for us is laughable. So is thinking that what they’re doing now is anything more than merely going through the motions of meeting legal requirements.

While I expect Interior to race through the study, don’t expect to see rigs appear off our coast any time soon. The many irregularities in Interior’s process guarantees legal challenges. And no oilman who must answer to shareholders will attempt to drill in a virgin territory like the Atlantic with oil selling below $50 a barrel and when a glut of natural gas has those prices at historic lows.


Finances, Permits and a Pothole

The Board of Commissioners, meeting last night at the old meeting hall while our current room undergoes renovations, got great news about the town’s financial health.

We also approved permits for a barbecue restaurant on Corbett Avenue and an assisted-living facility on Swansboro Loop Road.

The board hit a rocky spot though when it appointed members to a steering committee that will help us fashion the much-needed update to our state-mandated land-use plan. To select nominees for this very important committee, we used a process that I thought was rushed, lacked transparency and required more open, thoughtful deliberation from the entire board. For those reasons, I tried to delay consideration of the committee and, failing at that, was one of two commissioners to vote against the list of nominees.

Auditor Gregory Redmon, a CPA from Tarboro, gave our comprehensive financial report for FY 2016-17 glowing reviews. Some of the highlights Redmon noted:

  • The town’s assets exceed its liabilities and other expenses by more than $7 million. That so-called “net position” increased by more that $617,000 last year alone because of our ability to increase capital assets and reduce liabilities.
  • At the close of the fiscal year, the town’s fund balances, essentially our savings accounts, stood at more than $2.6 million, an increase of more than $931,000 since the previous year. About 65 percent of that amount, or $1.7 million, is unassigned to pay future expense and thus available for spending at the board’s discretion. That unassigned fund balance amounted to about 53 percent of total our total expenses. The state requires cities and counties have an unassigned fund balance of 8 percent, or about a month of expenses. Most towns Swansboro’s size have fund balances of about 40 percent.
  • The town’s debt increased by about $800,00 during the fiscal year. That money was spent on installment purchases and financing for equipment, vehicles, a new fire truck and the addition of a sleeping quarters for fire fighters.
  • The town received a Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting for the 21st consecutive year.

We should all be very pleased. Much of the credit goes to our staff, led by Manager Scott Chase and Finance Director Sonia Johnson. They have worked hard to cut expenses and stretch our tax dollars. The previous Board of Commissioners and mayor also took seriously its obligations to spend our tax dollars wisely.

The commissioners last night approved the special-use permit for Moore’s Chicken and Barbecue Restaurant on the corner of Corbett and Hammocks Beach Road. The permit hearing was tabled at our last meeting at the request of the developer, Baldwin Design Consultants of Greenville. There’s no reason to rehash all the project details here. You can find them in previous posts below. Baldwin did include an important amendment to its plans by including internal road access from adjacent, undeveloped properties. That should alleviate some of the traffic problems on Hammocks Beach when those properties are developed.

We also approved a special-use permit for Swansboro House, an 80-bed assisted-living facility on about 23 acres on the Loop Road across from the baseball fields. The commissioners had approved this project last year, but the developer, Onslow Propco Holdings LLC, reduced the building’s footprint by about 5,000 square feet to about 38,000 and changed the façade. Those changes required the developer to return to the board for a new permit.

The developers committed to avoid the half acre or so of wetlands on the site and to incorporate innovative methods to control stormwater.

The land-use plan provides the policy foundation for the town’s development ordinances, such as its zoning codes.

The project didn’t raise any serious concerns among the commissioners and was approved unanimously.

It saddened me deeply that the selection of the steering committee to devise our new land-use plan turned contentious. I generally believe that the appointment of these volunteer committees should be unanimous, but I was so disturbed by the process used to select the committee that I decided to make an exception in this case.

The committee will be the most important one we appoint in my time on the board. It may work as long as a year fashioning our new land-use plan, which is the community’s blueprint for future growth and its policy foundation for our development ordinances. The task is important enough that the board should have carved out serious time to discuss the committee’s mission and composition. We had time. The committee won’t start working until May at the earliest.

At our meeting on Feb. 13, we directed Mayor John Davis to work with our manager to compile a list of nominees from recommendations submitted by board members and others. I assumed that the board would discuss the list in an open meeting and begin culling it down into a workable committee. Instead a couple of weeks later, we were emailed the names of 20 people who would serve on the committee. That list was amended twice with no explanation why people were added or deleted.

Though I talked to the mayor several times after original list was distributed, there was never an open discussion among board members about the committee’s composition or qualifications.

Then, it was rushed onto the agenda last night. After failing to persuade enough commissioners to pull the appointments from the agenda to give us time for serious deliberations, I felt I had no choice but to vote against the nominees. Commissioner Roy Herrick joined me.

To those on the committee, please understand that my vote wasn’t personally directed at any of you. I know most people on the committee and nominated a couple of them. They are good people who care about Swansboro and will, I’m sure, work hard to fashion a good plan. I look forward to joining them.

I objected to a rushed process that took place mostly in the shadows.