Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Honeybees: A Brief Overview and the Bees at Rose Hill

By Alice Askins, Site Manager of Rose Hill Mansion

A bee colony usually contains one queen bee, a fertile female; up to a few thousand drones, or fertile males; and a large population of sterile female worker bees.  The workers are the ones we usually see, and they have varied roles in the hive.  Eventually a worker goes outside the hive and spends the rest of her life as a forager. 

Foragers cooperate to find food and use a pattern of "dancing" to communicate with each other about the direction of a food source and how far it is from the hive.  In 1911 a bee keeper estimated that a quart of honey represented bees flying over 48,000 miles.
Honeybees establish new colonies by swarming. A mated queen and about 60% of the workers leave the hive.  The group clusters temporarily in a nearby location, and sends out 20 - 50 scouts to find suitable nest sites. A scout returning to the cluster promotes a location she found by dancing to tell the other bees about its direction and distance. The more excited she is about her findings the more excitedly she dances. If she can convince other scouts to check out the location she found, they may go to look at the site and join her in promoting it. Several sites may be promoted by different scouts at first, but after several hours (sometimes days,) of persuasion, a favorite location emerges. When all scouts agree on a site the cluster flies to it. Meanwhile in the original colony, the remaining bees have prepared for the change by raising a new queen.

People have managed honeybees for many millennia.  We use them not just for honey, but for commercial pollination of crops and other plants. Their pollination services are worth billions of dollars. That is why Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is so alarming. Beekeepers have seen slow declines of stock for many years.  In early 2007, North America experienced abnormally high die-offs (30–70%) of honeybee colonies, an unprecedented decline.   We don’t know why this is happening, but most of the evidence suggests that CCD is caused by a combination of factors rather than a single pathogen or poison.

Inside the back wall of the barn at Rose Hill we have had a colony of honey bees.   We think they were in there for years and may be descendants of the bees dislodged from the Rose Hill porch column in 1966.  Though the bees have not been aggressive, we decided to find them a better place to live.  The trouble was that while most bee keepers will collect bees that are swarming (out in the open looking for a new home) very few will actually open up a wall to take them out.  Fortunately we found a bee keeper who will.

Tammy Fazzi of Dryden is dedicated to the wellbeing of the species.  She will take colonies from barns, silos, and anyplace else she can reach with scaffolding and ladders.  On Wednesday May 8, Tammy and her assistant made the trek up to Rose Hill. 

After removing the first couple of boards with a crowbar, Tammy began to collect the bees in her special vacuum.  They were angrier than most bees she usually encounters.  Although she was wearing protective gear, bees crawled down inside her gloves, then up inside her sleeves, and stung her arms.  Some got up under her veil and stung her neck.  She had to stop and put on duct tape.  She said, incidentally, that when you have been stung many times, it does not hurt as much.  She would know, but it is hard to imagine.

I was hovering well back, taking pictures with a zoom lens.  Some of the bees came after me, and I decamped and hid in the carriage house for a while.  This meant that I missed the moment when Tammy cut a rectangle out of the wall with a sawzall and exposed the honey combs.

She took the combs out of the wall.  Some of them were very old and she discarded them.  Our hive had an unusually high proportion of comb containing drones, so she did not preserve all of that.  There were a lot of queen cups, or cells where queen bees had developed; this indicates that many populations have left the barn over the years to make new hives.  The combs she took were put into frames and the frames were placed into a box that holds them upright.  If a section of comb is turned upside down, the larvae in it will die.
The removal process took about three hours.  The bees settled down after their first fury, and I came back and took some more pictures.  Tammy estimated that there were 55,000 to 60,000 of them, and they totally filled up her bee vac.

The wall will be left opened for a while.  Tammy said that neighborhood bees will come and clean out the remnants of wax and honey, but they will not try to make another hive because the space is open.   She also said any bees that escaped the round-up will find homes in other hives.  It appears, though, that more bees than she anticipated were out and about while she was collecting, so now we are trying to find a beekeeper closer to us to come and take the orphans.  Fingers crossed.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Writing Exhibits

By John Marks, Curator of Collections and Exhibits

May and June are our traditional months to put up new exhibits in time for increased summer visitation. This year’s exhibits are Scientific Investigation: A History of the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station and Geneva A-G (part one of a larger A-Z project).

I titled this “Writing Exhibits” rather than fabricating, creating, or designing exhibits. People come to museums for artifacts and photos, and for computers and electronic wizardry at larger museums, but they still learn primarily through reading. We think in panels, or posters; the main idea at the top of each panel should be short and clear, followed by images and slightly more complex (but still short) captions. The mantra I learned in graduate school was, “No one wants to read a book on the wall.” Main ideas should be kept to about 50 to 100 words at a time.

“Piece of cake!” I hear you say. However, “short writing” has its challenges. One hundred words require as much research as 10,000. Then that research is distilled and filtered into the “best stories” – what are the things upon which I should focus? In the case of the Experiment Station, it spans 131 years of scientific history that is unknown to people outside of agriculture. Do I cover all 131 years, or even do it by decade? Do I focus on some notable scientists and offend the families of those I didn’t think were notable? Do I explain all the science, or none of it?

View of the original Denton house and barns at the Experiment Station, around 1900.

Like any writing, there are steps in the process. Write anything, regardless of how bad it may be, to get the ball rolling. Step away and sleep on it. Rewrite, then hand over to co-workers for editing. (Any writer who says s/he has never been edited is probably lying.) Answer co-workers’ questions and in the process discover the really important ideas that you haven’t conveyed. Rewrite, and continue the process until the deadline looms.

Our main goal is to offer new information to our visitors in an easy-to-experience format. Our audience has varying levels of education, interest in Geneva, and time to spend in the museum. We try to present the “best stories” about a topic and hope it inspires people to learn more. As always, the staff is happy to talk with visitors and provide more information.

Scientific Investigation: A History of the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station will be on display until April 2014. Geneva A-G will be on display until January 2014, followed by Geneva H-N.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Museum Volunteers

By Karen Osburn, Archivist and Geneva City Historian 

I have a real soft spot for museum volunteers.  Once upon a time I was one and it led to a career in museum work that I still love.  I didn’t know when I made that first phone call and was offered a choice of volunteer duties that by choosing to work in the museum library I was going to one day become an archivist with 20 years of museum training under my belt.  That day all I knew was that I loved museums and libraries and it seemed like a great volunteer combination.

Our Geneva Historical Society volunteers come from all walks of life.  Some are retired and some are still working.  Some come for social contact and interaction, some for history, some because they want to contribute to their community and some because they love museums and research.  A couple of people who volunteered for me have gone on to become archivists and I would like to think that their exposure to archive work at our museum helped them make that decision.

With museums, as with many other non-profit organizations, volunteers are a tremendous help with day to day operations or with special events.  When a historical society owns several properties with numerous out buildings, has a limited budget and also a limited number of staff, the volunteers are extra hands, and brains.  They do all sorts of tasks from helping with artifact cataloging to taking photographs, baking cookies, working on fundraisers, working on landscaping, fixing things in buildings, painting, cleaning, greeting visitors, giving tours, running gift shops, helping researchers, washing and ironing table linens and gloves, and indexing records.  Some volunteers take on a long term project that may occupy them for years; others take a short term, one time only projects like helping with a workshop.  Some help once a year with a special event; others contribute their time weekly. 

The some volunteers assume responsibilities like finances, opening and closing of buildings and supervising other volunteers.  Why do they accept these large responsibilities for no pay?  Volunteers are special people.   Whatever their reason for helping an organization they are enjoying themselves or they would not give their time.  And of course, (in volunteering for a museum) there is the added bonus of seeing and handling various artifacts, whether historic, natural science or otherwise, every day.  Where else might you see a 150 year old chamber pot, a taxidermy passenger pigeon, or a tintype photo?  Depending on the museum you could even see Mastodon skeletons, whale bones, fossils of trilobites or flowers, suits of armor, or an Egyptian Mummy!   The different types of specialty museums are too numerous to mention here, but there is one for every interest.

Most museums rely on volunteers to some degree.  Some small museums are run entirely by volunteers.  Some museums add up volunteer hours and record them each year.  These hours are often cited in grant applications, sometimes for matching grants.

Volunteers add so much to the organization where they donate their time that it is hard to thank them enough.  We acknowledge our volunteers’ generosity with a luncheon in the autumn.  I invite you to consider becoming a volunteer somewhere.  The rewards are incredible.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

My Geneva

By Kerry Lippincott, Executive Director

Last week the first installment of our exhibit, Geneva A to Z, opened.  Geneva A to Z is basically an alphabetical catalog of Geneva.  Every six months we will tackle a different set of letters.  The first set of letters is A to G.  Of course, this got me thinking what represents Geneva to me.

Doctors – Both my brother and I were born in Geneva General Hospital.  Before it moved to Lewis Street, our pediatrician’s office was located on North Street.    As someone who has worn glasses since the age of eight, annual visits to Mason Street Optical was the highlight of my year. 

Restaurants – Growing up my family had a tradition of going out dinner on the Fridays nights.  This often meant Alice’s, Pronti’s, Perkins or Pizza Hut.  Before my junior prom my friends and I had dinner at Mario’s, and the following year we celebrated my 18th birthday at Nonna’s.   My first “grown-up” dinner (no parents and I used my own money) was at Cobblestone.  And I can’t forget Friendly’s.  For five years I lived in Kansas and there are NO Friendly’s in the entire state of Kansas.  A visit home was not complete without at least one visit to Friendly’s.

Smith Opera House – From the ages of 5 to 11, I danced my way across the stage for an annual dance recital.  I also think my love of the theater can be connected to a production of The Nutcracker.

Elizabeths (or the three Elizabeths) – An interest of mine is women’s history and the first Elizabeth is Elizabeth Blackwell.  In recent months, however, I’ve discovered two other Elizabeths – painter Elizabeth Carson and Elizabeth Ricord.

Stores - Lots of stores come to mind.  Browsing in Guard Cards or the Village Store.  Trips with Dad to purchase concerts tickets at Area Records.  I’ve forgotten the name of the store but it was on Seneca Street and it was one of the few places that sold Anne of Green Gables products.   Buying candy for my grandmothers at Fanny Farmers.    Many pairs of shoes were purchased at the DiDuro’s.

History – My own family history is deeply connected to Geneva.  My great-grandparents lived on Pulteney StreetCal was a volunteer fireman and Ada worked as a cleaning lady at the colleges.  Both of my grandmothers graduated from Geneva High.  Grandma Updyke worked her entire career at the  American Can and Grandpa Lippincott was the maintenance man at an apartment complex.  During her college years, Mom student taught in the Geneva City School District.  My parents met at Mario’s and during their first few years of marriage they lived in various apartments around the city.

Routes 5 and 20 – During the summer of 2003 I had an internship at the Women’s Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls.  Twice a day for three months I drove through Geneva on Routes 5 and 20.

Home – Happy to call Geneva home.

What’s your Geneva?  Come see Geneva A to Z and share your own stories.