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Special Section — Fall Home Garden & Car Care — The Altamont Enterprise, October 5, 2006

From Explorer to Yaris
Trading down measures up

By Tyler Schuling

ALTAMONT — Before setting out on my journey from central Iowa to Albany County to start my new life as a reporter, I was confronted with a lot of choices. The biggest of my concerns was transportation.

I’d had an SUV, a 2004 Ford Explorer Sport Trac. It was a reliable company vehicle, but, knowing what kind of gas mileage it got, and knowing that I was going to, most often, be the only one in its cockpit, I didn’t think it all that practical or economical to purchase the vehicle from my father’s company.

The job I was taking as a reporter covering towns in the hills would send me winding around curves, facing the obstacles of the road, encountering numerous blind spots, and making many wrong turns.

Before I made my decision to purchase a new car, I had many things to consider. At the top of my list was gas economy.

Having owned SUVs and light-duty pickup trucks, I can safely say there’s nothing more disappointing than paying $55 every four or five days, comparing that with the miles it gets you, and praying for long trips so that you will finally feel as though you’re actually getting your money’s worth.

So, after surfing car manufacturers’ websites, perusing magazines and newspapers, and making numerous trips to car dealerships, I bought a 2007 Toyota Yaris. When I bought it, I was told by a salesperson that it had been selling over in Europe for years and was quite popular.

The Yaris is a small, four-cylinder vehicle, which boasts about 40 highway miles to the gallon. In town, it gets roughly 34 miles to the gallon. Though it only has an 11.2 gallon tank, I’ve discovered I can get pretty far without filling up. I made the trip from Iowa to New York, and spent a little under $100. And throughout the past month, I’ve realized I’m not at the pump nearly as often as I was when I drove an SUV.

Though it doesn’t have power door locks and windows, I’ve gotten pretty used to not having the feature. I roll down the window only when I’m getting fast food, and it’s not all that often that I have a passenger, so three of the four doors remain locked most of the time. It was an option, but the car that I bought was on the lot and ready to go.

"American ideals"

I didn’t have any qualms about buying a "foreign" vehicle. In this day of globalization and an attitude of every man and woman for himself, I didn’t feel as though I was compromising any of my American ideals.

It would be nice to say that American vehicles are more efficient, better-built, and the way of the future. Having once been in the automotive business (I was in the trailer hitch business and was under vehicles daily), I’m not all that convinced that American-made vehicles of today can stake that claim.

Once I made the transition from the SUV to the car, I haven’t had to get my oil changed as often. Every 5,000 miles now, instead of every 3,000. When I went to get my oil changed and tires rotated at Lia Toyota, I noticed there was a big poster on the wall in the waiting area. It read "10 Ways Toyota Helps the American Economy." My interest was piqued right away. Clearly, someone within the company knew there was skepticism in some American minds, and wanted to try and do something about it.

The poster was wrinkled, nearly falling off the wall, and outdated. (it was published in 1993)

I read about the ways in which Toyota has "helped the American economy." First of all, the poster said, Toyota has invested more than $5.2 billion in the U.S. Toyota, the poster, said, also employs nearly 16,000 Americans, contributed $14.1 million to U.S. charities in 1992, and produces nearly half of the passenger cars it sells in the U.S. in North America.

According to a more recent study, which was conducted by the Center for Automotive Research, and financed by Toyota, the car manufacturer is employing more people in the U.S. than it ever has.

The study says Toyota, which has five manufacturing plants in the States, employed approximately 29,000 people in the U.S. in 2003 for its manufacturer-related activities, and about 74,000 in sales and service.

Measuring up

The Yaris has front-wheel drive, so I’m not too concerned about the coming snow. I’ve been told the winters here can be treacherous, and that I am going to have to get some snow tires. I’m confident the vehicle and my conscientious driving will ge –me through in one piece. However, never having experienced a New York winter, I may have a lesson in store.

Buying the car wasn’t easy. I was a bit hesitant for many reasons. For one, I’ve never bought a new car. Since I was 16, I’ve been the recipient of second-hand vehicles and company-owned trucks and SUVs. Entering the showroom, throwing around figures, and playing psychological games while making the second-largest investment possible, was a bit intimidating. I survived.

Speaking of survival, I’ve learned a bit about feeling susceptible. I’ve never before felt the vulnerability that goes with being close to the ground, continuously being passed by trucks and SUVs twice my size; as they rush by, I sometimes imagine the drivers laughing at my miniscule size. Until I drove the Yaris, I’ve always felt I measured up.

Now, measuring up has taken on new meaning. I think to myself when the full-size trucks and SUVs blow by how uneconomical they truly are, how their owners possibly feel quite helpless and defeated when they see the numbers winding up as they pump more and more gas into their tanks and at a much higher frequency than I. I wouldn’t say that I am smug about it, but there is a certain amount of satisfaction, a feeling of being a more practical, thoughtful consumer.

Honey in the Hilltowns
A beekeeper’s guide

By Tyler Schuling

BERNE — Richard Ronconi has been a beekeeper for over 40 years, and his bees have been keeping him busy.

While he described his hives and provided details about the daily habits, seasonal survival, and intrinsic workings of the bees, it became clear that Ronconi held within his own backyard a fascinating species, a community with members that help one another survive through sharing, sacrifice, and hard work.

The buildings at the Partridge Run Farm and Apiary, as well as the trunk of his car, are filled with jars of honey; the floors and shelves are covered with buckets of beeswax. The beeswax, Ronconi said, will be melted down and used to create candles.

On a day such as Saturday, with the sky overcast and a threat of rain, the bees aren’t as productive. "They’re more aggressive when it’s overcast," Ronconi said. Days before, he added, when the sun was shining and temperatures were higher, the hives were a hub of activity.

"Two days ago, this place was just buzzing. There were hundreds, probably thousands, of bees going in and out of the hive."

During the warmer weather months, Ronconi sells the honey and candles at the farmers’ markets in Knox and Rensselaerville. He also sells his honey at the Honest Weight Food Coop in Albany and the Hilltown Farm and Garden Center in Dormansville.

On September 23, Ronconi took his demonstration hive to Honest Weight for its celebration of Rash Hashanah. They were giving away honey and apples.

Ronconi’s enthusiasm for bees led to a desire to teach; he teaches a beginning beekeeper course at the Cornell University Cooperative Extension in Cairo (Greene County).

Ronconi is no stranger to the teaching profession. Before he became an instructor at the extension, he taught Spanish and was a guidance counselor at the Greenville School District. He retired in 2000, but said he still volunteers at the school.

"I’m enjoying doing the things now that I used to get paid to do," he said.

A fascinating species

Ronconi, using a demonstration hive, a hive contained within clear glass or plastic, which enables an observer to see bees at work, pointed to the bees and their hive.

"It takes about 17 days for a bee to hatch, and when they hatch," he said, "they hatch full-size. Bees don’t grow."

Ronconi perused the demonstration hive, and searched for the bee that is much different and essential to the hive — the queen bee.

"She’s in there somewhere," he said. Upon finding her, he said excitedly, "See her" Do you see how she has a little bit longer of a body" See how she’s a got a longer end" She lays over a thousand eggs a day. She’s a little bit longer, because she has to dip her body to place the eggs into the cells."

He then pointed to each of the cells, the round and hexagonal shaped caverns, where bees store honey, enzymes, and eggs.

Field bees, he said, are the workers who leave the hive to collect nectar from nearby plants and flowers. "They live about three to four weeks," he said.

"They die," Ronconi said, "because their wings wear out."

The queen, he said, has a much longer life and lives four to five years.

"When it’s chilly, the hive clusters together. That way they’ll be warmer," he said.

Survivors in untouched land

Ronconi looked over the land surrounding his home. He has two barns, one recently built, and another that was restored. A state forest lies just to the north. Throughout the winter, he said, he cross-country skies in his backyard and the surrounding area. While he is outside combating the cold, so, too, are his bees.

Bees don’t migrate or die once winter comes.

"Bees," he said, "don’t hibernate in the winter. Honey keeps them warm. And they form a cluster, with the queen in the middle, and they flex their wings to give off heat."

The bees, he said, keep warm throughout the winter and take turns moving from the exterior of the cluster to its interior, where temperatures reach between 70 and 80 degrees.

The bees, occupied with their task of surviving the cold winter temperatures, do not take well to visitors during this time.

"If you open up a beehive in the winter, you’re going to get stung," he said.

The Northeast, he said, is great for beekeeping, because of the vast amount of plantation. "There’s a big variety of flowers here," he said.

During early summer months, he said, the bees get nectar from dandelions, black locusts, and spring flowers.

During mid-summer months, he said, the bees get it from basswood, milkweed, and sumac; in late summer and early fall, the bees get nectar from asters and goldenrod.

Ronconi labels the jars of honey he sells and stores according to the time he collected honey from the hive.

He explained that the source of the nectar greatly influences the taste and color of honey.

The land surrounding his farm and apiary, he said, is a great place for beekeeping because it hasn’t been farmed and treated. In the early 1900’s, he said, the land was bare.

"In the ’30’s, trees were planted," he said.

Problems with bears

Though he hasn’t seen bears in awhile, Ronconi knows they are out there; bears, he said, hibernate in the state forest surrounding his home.

A couple of years ago, in the month of November, his hives were destroyed by bears.

"They trashed the place," he said. "They took big bites out of the hives. There were pieces of beehive everywhere."

Since the destruction of his hives, Ronconi has taken measures to insure the bears stay out.

The following spring, he said, he put up an electric fence.

He wipes and ties pieces of bacon on the electrical fence, so that, when the bears approach it, they will be shocked.

"I don’t want to shoot them," Ronconi said. "I don’t care if they’re out in the woods, as long as they stay out of my hives."

Beginning beekeepers

To have a beehive, Ronconi said, a lot of space isn’t needed.

But there could be a problem, he said, with neighbors if someone starts a hive in the suburbs.

To start a hive, he said, a beekeeper only needs two to three pounds of bees, a queen bee, boxes, frames, foundations for the frames, a smoker, and a protective suit.

A hive consists of at least two wooden boxes. The bottom box (called a super) is where the queen stays. This is a deeper box than the boxes which set atop it, called hive bodies.

The bees can be ordered from a bee supply company, usually located in the South. Bees, Ronconi said, need to be ordered early, before bee suppliers run out.

"Order about two to three pounds of bees and a queen. You need to order them early — December or January — and they come in April."

The total cost, he said, for purchasing the bees and all necessary equipment, is about $250.

Ronconi also said someone looking to start beekeeping doesn’t need to buy an extractor, a large machine used to process the honey, or a wax melter to process the beeswax, because both can be borrowed or rented for a weekend.

Bees do not need to be observed at all times, as household pets do. Every two weeks, Ronconi said, he checks the hives. He enjoys the convenience of being able to leave them to their own devices, and said he can leave for weeks before checking the progression of his bees.

Each box, he said, can provide between 30 and 35 pounds of honey. "It takes a couple of weeks for the boxes to fill up," he explained.

Communicating with other beekeepers and attending beekeeping tours, Ronconi said, has been a great help. The Catskill Mountain Beekeepers Club, he said, has about 65 members, and meets in Acra (Greene County) on the second Tuesday at 7 p.m. each month.

Ronconi said the club has been a good source of information and encourages anyone interested in beekeeping to attend the meetings. The meetings, he said, serve as a place to get ideas. Members, he said, discuss all aspects of beekeeping — the tools and supplies they use, what they store their honey in, where they sell their honey and candles, and the failures and successes they have experienced.

"I probably don’t have a lot in common with some of these people," he said, "but we just talk about bees."

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