Monday, June 18, 2012

June 16, 2012 Corpse Flower

Here's a photo of the inflorescence at its peak of beauty around 7:00 PM on Saturday. It didn't have very much of an odor at the time, but the smell intensified later at night. The bloom has deteriorated more slowly than past blooms from the other plant, and it still looks pretty decent two days later. I wonder if there are genetic differences; the current plant (#3) has so far produced smaller inflorescences with a redder spathe that opens more widely and stays more open after the first night.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Corpse Flower Time Again

There will be another Amorphophallus titanum (Corpse Flower/Titan Arum) flowering event here at the University of Connecticut. This one caught us a bit more by surprise than usual, since it's coming from our tuber #3, which flowered once back in June 2007, but has done nothing but produce foliage since then.

The inflorescence doesn't seem like it will be especially gigantic, even after that long wait (it's at 4 feet tall and slowing down its growth now). Plant #3 produced a more colorful, more widely flared spathe than our other mature Titan Arum the last time it bloomed, though. I'll predict that it will open for the summer solstice, June 20, but keep a close eye on the UConn greenhouse webpage if you're hoping to smell it in person.

Edited to add: It looks like tonight is the big night: June 16,  just like the Corpse Flower last year. The greenhouse will be open at least until 11 PM, if anyone wants to come see it. I'll be there earlier in the evening. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

There's a Little Black Spot on the Sun Today

The weather in Connecticut wasn't ideal for viewing the transit of Venus, and for most of the day clouds hid the sun completely. But around 7:00 PM, when the transit was in progress but the sun hadn't set yet, the clouds broke for a bit, and I scrambled to get set up with binoculars to project an image onto a sheet of paper. The sun was just about to disappear behind the trees, and the clouds kept drifting into the way, but I did get a few minutes of good transit viewing.

I took some photos, and if anything is visible I'll add them later. Unfortunately, in the rush to get outside I forgot my good camera.

Edited to add: OK, here's my photos of the evening of the transit in Storrs, Ct, and the sun as projected through binoculars. You can see Venus in the left image of the sun, in the upper left portion of the sun's face, but half behind the clouds and in the form of a shaky picture from a camera that was obsolete at the time of the previous transit in 2004.
Viewing conditions were suboptimal.
Look closely at the upper left part of the projected sun for a small dark disc.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Beginning Beekeeping

Honeybees visiting snow crocus in March. 

For a while, I've been interested in trying beekeeping. Recently, various factors including moving to a house in a fairly rural area and my girlfriend's sister getting some hives, have provided an impetus towards actually starting a hobby apiary. So, I took the Eastern Connecticut Beekeeper's Association bee school this winter, and ordered the basic equipment.

Here's the unassembled hive, which arrived back in February and took weeks of on-and-off labor to put together and prepare. A Langstroth hive is more complex than you might imagine from looking at one from the outside, and there is a lot of internal structure. It's sort of like building a very large, very repetitive model kit.   

 The smoker test was successful. A little smoke makes bees easier to work with: they respond by loading up on honey, which makes them docile and unlikely to sting (possibly in an ancient adaptation to forest fire danger). Smoke also disrupts alarm pheromone responses.

My girlfriend bought a package of bees from a local beekeeper back in early April; here they are ready to install in the completed hive. These are ordinary Italian bees from a breeder in the South somewhere. We got two additional packages of fancy northern-adapted bees from Sam Comfort in New York just a couple of weeks ago. It will interesting to compare their comb-building, honey production, temperament and overwintering ability, though three hives is probably not a great basis for judging.  

The bees, 10 days after installing in the hive, with the covers off.

20 days after installation, the bees are drawing new comb well. I'm experimenting with using foundationless frames (without the usual wax or plastic base to guide comb building). While it is interesting to see what the bees do naturally in the absence of all but very minimal comb guides, I'm getting the impression that it might have been easier to start with foundation. During inspections, there's usually a fair amount of work to do squishing combs back into place and cutting out bits spanning the frames. 

26 days after installation, the queen is laying eggs, brood is being raised, and the first new workers are hatching out. The bees are currently, seven weeks after installation, building up their population fairly well and may be ready for a second hive body later this month. With luck, I may get some goldenrod/aster honey in August or September.