UVM Wins Grant to Establish Vermont Natural History Museum

This is pretty awesome. UVM announced today that they’ve won a $470,000 grant to establish a Vermont Natural History Museum from the National Science Foundation. According to their release, it’ll allow the university to consolidate three major collections which they currently house: plants in the Pringle Herbarium and invertebrate / vertebrate collections from the Thompson Zoological Collections.

The award will be used to improve specimen storage conditions for each of the collections, reducing the chance of damage from fire, water and pests. It will also enable the university to significantly expand digital imaging efforts currently under way of both the animal and plant collections and of data retrieved from the specimen labels and collection archives.

The museum, a joint project of the Department of Plant Biology and the Department of Biology, will be located in Torrey Hall, where the collections currently reside.

Read the full release here.

Vermont isn’t hurting for scientific museums: the Fairbanks Museum of St. Johnsbury is a fine Natural History museum, although it isn’t state-specific, and the Montshire Museum of Science of Norwich is a great introductory location. It’ll be cool to see what comes of this, and hopefully, it’ll be open to the public.

Settlement Farm Apiary Does the Time Warp Again

Bee inspection. Photo by Brennan.

Bee inspection. Photo by Brennan.

Settlement Farm Apiary’s blog has a swirl of activity bringing us up to date on doings in the home and satellite bee yards last summer. Of particular interest, you can catch a glimpse of what seem to be bees in the process of extruding wax to build honeycomb, and the threat of invading mites.

Vermont Edition – Herpetology Today: What Our Amphibians And Reptiles Are Up To

Today on VPR’s Vermont Edition, the topic is Amphibians:

Snakes, salamanders, toads, turtles and frogs are either on the move or about to venture out from their winter hiding places. Choruses of critters will soon be in full voice, and we’ll all be reveling in the songs of peepers.

Jim Andrews, Coordinator of the Vermont Reptile and Amphibian Atlas, brings into focus what’s going on around us.

Post comments to their page here and listen at 12 and 7pm on VPR.

A Whale In Vermont? The Story Behind The State’s Most Famous Fossil


Credit Angela Evanice / VPR

VPR has a great segment on the Vermont whale, and what it’s discovery meant for geology here in the state of Vermont.

My dad is a geologist, and I remember him telling me about the skeleton when I was little, especially as we drove across the flat, western parts of Vermont. He would point out geological features. Later, when I worked in North Hero, I spend hundreds of hours searching the beaches for Trilobites.

In 1849, railroad workers in Charlotte found a skeleton that helped piece together Vermont’s geological history.

The unlikely discovery of what’s come to be known as the Charlotte whale, and the scientific boon it lead to, is chronicled in a new book by Jeff L. Howe called How Do You Get a Whale in Vermont? The Unlikely Story of Vermont’s State Fossil. Howe is the former curator of the Perkins Museum of Geology at the University of Vermont, and he spoke with VPR’s Mitch Wertlieb.

Howe said the bones were found while workers were digging the first railroad across Vermont. Interestingly, they were found the summer after a mammoth fossil was discovered as part of the same dig in Mount Holly. The whale was found in a farmer’s field, about 200 miles and two mountain ranges away from the nearest ocean.

“At first it was a huge bafflement, because the two biggest questions in geology at that time where, one: how old is the earth, and two: how did the earth get to look the way that it does?” Howe explained. “It turned out to be something that was really one of the most important paleontological finds in New England of the 19th century.”

Not long after the discovery, Darwin published his theory of evolution. At the time, there was a lot of discussion about the origins of the world. Lewis Agazzie was the most famous scientist at the time, and he was located in Boston. He’d seen evidence of glacial activity while growing up in the Alps. Agazzie claimed the same thing was going on here in New England.

Listen to the entire interview over on VPR.

Last month, Seven Days also featured an article on the book, How Do You Get a Whale in Vermont? The Unlikely Story of Vermont’s State Fossil:

Thousands of years ago, when the geological features of the Earth were much different than they are now, a small whale expired unceremoniously in the muck at the bottom of a northern sea. It was the kind of unremarkable death that has happened trillions of times in the history of the planet. And yet the very existence of that creature has caused multiple ripples in contemporary Vermont.

Yes, whales — probably quite a lot of them — passed their lives in what was once the Champlain Sea. Roughly 13,000 to 10,000 years ago, the brackish body of water covered parts of present-day Québec, Ontario, New York and Vermont. When the land rose at the end of the last ice age, the waters slowly receded to now-familiar boundaries and left countless creatures to their fossil fates. Many remain buried deep inside the Green Mountains, but in 1849, an unlikely series of events unearthed the remains of that one little whale in Charlotte. With the discovery came a host of historical and scientific questions.

Read the full article, A New Book Explores a Very Old Subject: Vermont’s Whale Fossil on Seven Days.

Buy the book here.

Settlement Farm Apiary Makes a Break For Freedom

Photo by Brennan.

Photo by Brennan.

In the most recent update from Settlement Farm, Brennan recounts being on hand to see the Red hive swarm:

I was just in time to see Red issue a swarm!  Fortunately the swarm settled on an easy to reach branch and I was able to capture it.  My process was to spritz the cluster with water (with a little Honey-B-Healthy for good measure).  Then to scoop and brush the bees into a deep in which I had the few deep frames I had to spare and which had a queen excluder on its bottom.

Will Brennan’s swarm-capture technique succeed? Click through to find out. And check out the videos he posted of the swarming action.

Settlement Farm Apiary’s Whirlwind of Activity

Honeycomb at Settlement Farm. Photo by Brennan.

Honeycomb at Settlement Farm. Photo by Brennan.

May was abuzz with activity at Settlement Farm for Brennan. He reversed hive boxes to counteract the bees’ upward movement during the winter, further tweaked the arrangement, developed the annex bee yard and missed catching the bees as they swarmed at the end of the month: “Interestingly, my mother checked her notes and we had a swarm just a few days earlier the previous year.  I need to keep this in mind next year.”

Brennan goes on to comment about swarming and how to prevent it, including his own process in adding supers to each of the hives:

Bees generally swarm when they feel crowded.  They can feel crowded for various reasons, but one obvious one is that they have filled up too much of their brood next with honey and the queen doesn’t have enough space to lay.  The solution for this is to get supers (boxes with frames intended predominantly or entirely for honey production or to swarm frames full of honey in the brood next with new empty frames (either empty drawn comb or undrawn foundation, the former I believe is preferred if you think they may decide to swarm before they can draw out foundation).

Settlement Farm Apiary Takes Stock

Honeycomb. Photo by Brennan.

Honeycomb. Photo by Brennan.

Settlement Farm Apiary has a pair of updates this week. The first week in May, Brennan took stock of the hives and reversed the stacking order of the hives “to counteract the fact that bees had likely worked their way to the top of the hives during the winter and might feel crowded up there even though they have plenty of room below.” Click through to check out more close-ups of open boxes and details on how the hives are doing.

The bee yard annex in development. Photo by Brennan.

The bee yard annex in development. Photo by Brennan.

The next week, Brennan tweaked the bottom slat board to give the bees more space and help keep the hive cooler in the summer. He also visited the bee yard annex, adding some improving touches to the fencing.

Settlement Farm Field Trip

Nucs on site. Photo by Brennan.

Nucs on site. Photo by Brennan.

Settlement Farm Apiary went mobile last month, taking nucs off-site to an organic farm. Brennan hopes “that the bees will flourish there, produce substantially more honey than at the beeyard at my parents (to warrant the extra effort of a second site), and that they will not be attacked by a bear.”

Bold, audacious goals for an apiarist. Click through to read how the transportation went.

Settlement Farm Apiary Wakes from Winter

Our friend Brennan isn’t just a painter of miniatures. No, his geekeries go deeper. Since 2010, he’s been blogging about keeping bees at his parents’ farm over at Settlement Farm Apiary. The archives document his journey as a apiarist, which often seems to be a puzzling one. Why does one hive thrive, while another doesn’t make it through the winter?

As a case in point, in the most recent post, logging notes from the end of this March, it seems that one hive’s occupants died off over the winter, despite frames of honey being available to them within the box.

Also, check out this video of the bees in cleansing flights that day in March:

Call for Makers at the Champlain Mini Maker Faire

Maker Faire Bay Area 2012. Photo by SparkFunElectronics.

Maker Faire Bay Area 2012. Photo by SparkFunElectronics.

The Champlain Mini Maker Faire is looking for makers. On September 29th at Shelburne Farms, creators and crafters from around Vermont will gather for what has been called “the Greatest Show (and Tell) on Earth.”

So what is a Maker Faire? Well, it “brings together families and individuals to celebrate the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) mindset and showcase all kinds of incredible projects. At Maker Faire, you’ll find arts and crafts, science and engineering, food and music, fire and water but what makes this event special is that all these interesting projects and smart, creative people belong together. They are actively and openly creating a maker culture.”

And to make it happen, the Champlain Mini Maker Faire seeks makers and their goods. “Fancy yourself a Maker? If you like to tinker, sculpt, experiment, make tools, make toys, make art, make music, make anything – please respond to this Call For Makers!