30 September 2011

( a new honeybee haven in the hills )

a new honeybee haven in the hills
by jennifer hetrick

a trained police officer and bagpipe player in a band called the punkabillys, jason marshall is trying out another life-hat in his latest pursuit of raising honeybees just outside of zionsville in hereford township, berks county.
while serving with the douglass township police department in montgomery county, marshall stopped to chat a few times with adam nowicki who resides on merkel road in gilbertsville, once handing a jar of his backyard sourced honey to marshall while he was on duty. marshall felt a slow affection brewing for the idea of raising honeybees for himself, someday. last summer, he finally took his curiosity to a serious level, but it was too late in the season to bring bees in for the year. this past may, he had several thousand honeybees shipped up from hardeman apiaries in georgia, building the hives himself.  

marshall’s left arm, peppered with tattoos, often attracts the bees right on the spots where cherry blossom and lotus flowers are painted into his skin. he feels their airy, light pecking from the tattoos confusing the bees into thinking they’re really attempting pollination through the ink.

in the very beginning, marshall parked a chair on his back lawn and sat observing the behaviors of the honeybees, in awe of their way about life.
“i love the smell of wax, honey, and wood,” marshall says about the hives. “it amazed me, once you start working with them, how gentle they are.”
marshall notes that it’s usually other nearby flying insects which are aggressive and threatening—honeybees will only sting (and then take a turn into belly-up status) if you really anger, irritate, or disrespect them. yellow jackets are often seen buzzing around hives, as unkind stinging winged ones, but they stick around because they, like many humans, want honey for the taking, too.
honeybees do their best to defend their territory, their homes, to invasion from not only yellow jackets but unfortunately, also terribly destructive mites and other diseases which sometimes attack honeybee hives.
in the first year, honeybees only produce a watery sugar mixture. so marshall anticipates having some honey to jar up next season, if he can keep his colonies alive through the cold of winter, which is one of the hardest trials of a new beekeeper.
marshall explains that during winter, honeybees flock together into a softball-sized mass, fluttering their wings closely in the air in order to keep warm, not freezing. if the honeybees only cluster into a golf ball-sized mass, they will not survive, he reveals about small details making a big difference in survival chances.

while researching the lives of honeybees and their connection to people, marshall discovered that some asian countries have such a devastated supply of them that they use chicken feathers to whisk around in place of bees’ work, since pollination can’t usually occur in nature, aside from self-pollinating plants, without the help of honeybees. this says a lot in light of food production for people and the importance of not letting honeybees fall into jeopardy or extinction.
in his five hives, marshall houses four italian queens and one russian queen. one of his hives has a somewhat more aggressive bunch of bees to it, which he says is because the feisty queen passes on her genetic traits to them, meaning her offspring will be similarly aggressive. but for the most part, his honeybees are happy, kind creatures.
a misconception marshall has seen in some people is that with urban beekeepers, neighbors sometimes get stung and blame it on the honeybees. but ordinarily, they’re being stung by another type of flying insect, unfairly putting the blame on honeybees.
marshall has taken several courses in the subject of beekeeping since his start, but he continues to seek out more educational resources for this ongoing learning experience. most recently, he participated in a pennsylvania association for sustainable agriculture-sponsored course called late season care for bees: a hands-on workshop for intermediate beekeepers, hosted at two gander farm in fleetwood.
he’s working to become involved in different beekeeper associations throughout southeastern pennsylvania, thankful that beekeeping isn’t a competition but instead something those running their own apiaries are happy to talk about with others in the same field. marshall notices that people enjoy hearing him tell his story of raising honeybees, as they seem to find it a curious labor. it doesn’t hurt that honey is all too easy to love, too. marshall hopes to have a bit of honey for bottling next year if his bees make it through the chilly season. if all goes well, he’ll even have a bit of honey to sell.
to reach marshall for a pinch of  honey-speak, e-mail him at dropkickmarshall@yahoo.com. 

( hike your heart on out, a bit )

hike your heart on out, a bit
by jennifer hetrick

set back within a stretch of more than 400 acres in amity township, berks county, is monocacy hill off of geiger road.

the township purchased the land from a quarry in 1967 using federal and state assistance; since then, it has stood as a continued landmark of appreciation for nature and the outdoors to both people living near the hill and trail enthusiasts from around the region.
in 1998, the monocacy hill conservation association stirred into existence at the hands of locals who felt a strong need to preserve and care for the area well out of respect for how valuable it is, especially with so much development evident even with the fortunate spans of agricultural sweeps around the douglassville area.
the association today has about 20 to 25 active members who volunteer in tending to the trails and landscapes around the hill, but the member lineup actually totals about 90. this is an integral component in the association in that membership is its primary source of funding to continue preserving and protecting the space.

red trillium, bloodroot, & cardinal flower are some of the blooming 
beauties tucked in along sections of monocacy hill

photos courtesy of risa marmontello )

the association’s president, risa marmontello, points out that active members maintain the parking and picnic areas, along with keeping the trails cleared, which means identifying fallen limb and tree debris after bad storms. the association even added benches as break stops on trails when feet begin to grow tired, and large educational signs about native plants are also scattered throughout the hill’s paths, thanks to the association’s efforts.
today, the expanse encompasses five trails totaling about five miles. the longest, lower trail, starts at the parking lot and loops around the base of the hill. creek trail follows the south side of the park and leads to a small waterfall which a lot of people gravitate to when they visit for hiking. monocacy trail is the steepest and leads to a captivating, well-sought after viewpoint over a small portion of the county. stonewall trail connects lower trail in two places, and railbed trail curves around the northern part of the hill near a railroad line which was dug in but never actually used.

( a view from monocacy trail
photo courtesy of risa marmontello )

marmontello is known to be trimming and clipping at overgrown foliage and lower plants when she find herself trotting along the trail, and she’s hoping to do a little more maintenance here and there at the hill this winter if the weather by chance cooperates away from snow-saturated days in the next few months.
with several invasive species on the grounds, the association is working to remove them, as time permits. boy scouts have contributed in replenishing native tree seedlings, like oak, maple, poplar and hickory samplings.
another detail making the hill indispensible in the local landscape is that, being undisturbed, it holds water better than it would if it were stripped or developed, adding to its ecological significance.
throughout a year’s time, the association hosts several fitness walks, along with a native wildflowers walk in the early spring and a fern walk each autumn. annually, a geologist visits the trails to talk about features specific to the hill, and all educational and recreational walks are free to the public. a new history walk is also in the works.

( this mossy water feature sits along creek trail
photo courtesy of risa marmontello )

there is even at least one geocache along the trail; geocaching is the adventurous hobby of seeking out small, hidden containers full of trinkets set out at specific coordinates findable through global positioning system devices, with the specific location information available on www.geocaching.com.
to find out more about the monocacy hill conservation association, see maps of thetrails, and keep updated on events revolving around hiking and recreational fun, visit www.monocacyhill.org or search for the association on facebook.
and to meet the association’s members, learning more about the trails and volunteering at the hill, stop in at their autumn open house scheduled for sunday, october 16 between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.