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Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, October 5, 2006

R’ville residents want to stay rural

By Tyler Schuling

RENSSELAERVILLE — Residents here want to protect the town’s open spaces and support its farmers, according to the results of a recent survey.

Seventy-four percent supported the town providing special support for agricultural uses, and 70 percent supported zoning to protect the town’s open spaces.

Survey results also showed that nearly half (48 percent) of the town’s residents would sell land only after a developer agreed to restriction.

Well over a third of the households in town answered a survey composed by a committee charged with developing a new comprehensive land-use plan. A moratorium on large development is in place while the committee drafts its plan.

On Saturday, the results of the survey were presented at a public meeting by Nan Stolzenburg, the project manager of Community Planning and Environmental Associates, a consulting group that concentrates on small communities in rural areas. Stolzenburg has also helped with planning in nearby Berne and New Scotland.

The Laberge Group, an engineering, architecture, surveying, and planning firm based in Albany, has also been working with the committee.

Saturday, they updated residents and officials about their progress.

A comprehensive plan is a roadmap for future decision making; it is a document which defines a community’s goals and objectives toward land use, economic development, agriculture, open spaces, recreation, transportation, natural resources, housing, community resources, and infrastructure.

Vernon Husek, who chairs the land-use committee, told The Enterprise this week that the state recommends towns wait no longer than 10 years before revising their comprehensive plans.

"We’ve waited 16 years," Husek said.

"Saturday’s meeting was the third stage of a much longer process," Supervisor Jost Nickelsberg said.

Prior to Saturday’s meeting, surveys were mailed to all homeowners within the town, and visioning workshops were held on Aug. 17 at the three firehouses, where residents identified and discussed positive and negative aspects of the town.

Husek said the biggest surprise with the surveys was the substantial response. Sixteen years ago, 12 percent of the surveys were returned.

"This one, we had about 37 percent," he said.

"People are giving us direction to keep the community the same," he said. Husek added that the townspeople would like to see its population increase at a slow rate.

Throughout the process of creating the comprehensive plan, Husek said, he’s been communicating with Stolzenburg.

"Meetings aren’t necessary," he said. Husek explained that he has been communicating with Stolzenburg, and the 13 members of the land-use committee via e-mail and telephone.

Saturday, Stolzenburg gave a PowerPoint presentation, which revealed and analyzed the data from the surveys and workshops.

According to the data collected, Rensselaerville residents are concerned with the loss of farmland; they value the town’s farmers and want the town to support them. Also, residents are concerned with current development patterns, road conditions, and speed enforcement; townspeople value open space, want to protect the land, and provide incentives for keeping it open.

The draft plan says that residents value their community’s rural character, quality of life, natural areas, open spaces, scenic views, water and wildlife resources, recreation opportunities, safety, and historical and cultural assets.

The data also revealed that the town wants to see more local small businesses and health-care services.

Husek told The Enterprise that on April 27, 2007, the moratorium will be lifted. By that time, the committee will have a revised comprehensive plan, subdivision regulations, zoning laws, and a site-plan review process.

The land-use committee, formed five months ago, meets each Tuesday night at the town hall.

Nickelsberg told The Enterprise that members of the committee are all exceptional people, and added, "They’re doing a hell of a job."

Treasures in Knox
Flower opens consignment shop

By Tyler Schuling

KNOX — The hall which had once been the meeting place of the Plank Roaders, and holds the memories of wedding parties, anniversary celebrations, and dances, is now Vicki’s Consignments and Treasures.

The store opened the third week in August, and has a large selection of new and slightly-used items and gifts — men and women’s clothing, candles, dishware, toys, dolls, compact discs, videocassettes, National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing collectibles, shoes, home and holiday decorations, and collectibles.

Vicki Flower, the store’s owner, said she has received a lot of positive feedback since opening her consignment store.

"People have told me that this is a needed commodity for the community," she said.

Flower, who has sold items on eBay for the past two-and-a-half years, said that a large number of the items in her store are things she has collected over the years.

Eighty-five percent of the items are from clients and consignors, she said.

Some of the clothing was brought to her from neighbors; some was obtained after her grandmother died. Area residents, she said, have brought a lot to her store.

"People in the Hilltowns," she said, "they have some interesting stuff."

"I would like to see people stop in and see what I have before going to the city, where prices are much higher," she said.

Along with running the store, Flower continues to sell items on eBay, an on-line auction site. Clients request her to sell their items, and she places them on eBay for a seven-day auction. If the item is not sold within that time, she said, she removes the client’s item from the auction. Often, she places the item in a second seven-day auction. If it doesn’t sell the second time around, she places it in her store.

"I keep a large selection of new stuff and old stuff," she said. "And I’ll keep a steady flow of new and different items."

Vicki’s Consignments and Treasures is located at 1436 Township Road, where she and her husband, Bob Flower, enjoy the flexibility of having the business close to their home.

The couple has two girls, who both attend Berne-Knox-Westerlo schools. While attending to the store, the Flowers are also able to enjoy their family life.


This weekend, the Flowers will host a grand opening. The store will be open from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.

Regular store hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Wednesday and Friday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday. The store is closed on Monday.

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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