Monday, September 27, 2010

Spiders do the dew (wop)!

Recently, on one very humid morning, these mini 'pearl drops' were captured on a web of a grass orb weaver.

Apparently dew can not adhere to human hair but can on dry spider silk. A study published earlier this year in Nature (Zheng, Y. et al. Nature 463, 640-643 (2010) of the hackled orb weaver spider Uloborus walckenaerius web concluded the following:

“Dry spider silk forms a necklace-like structure. Two main fibres support a series of separate rounded 'puffs', each made up of tiny, randomly intertwined nanofibrils. When water vapour condenses onto these puffs, they shrink into densely packed knots, shaped like spindles (or two cones with their bases stuck together). Thinner connecting stretches of nanofibrils, separating the knots, become more apparent; these areas are called 'joints'. As water condenses on the web, droplets move towards the nearest spindle-knot, where they coalesce to form larger drops. The spindle-knots have a rough surface, because the fibrils within them are randomly interweaved. But the joints between the knots have a smooth texture, because their constituent fibrils run parallel to each other. It is this difference in roughness that helps water drops to slide towards the spindle-knots, sticking when they arrive.”

The researchers then created their own spider silk using nylon fibers dipped in polymer solution and found when dry formed a similar structure. Their findings could lead to new materials for collecting water from the air.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Autumn delight!

Throughout the day, deer come to browse the fallen fruit from our mature crabapple (Malus) tree. The tree is at least 20 years old, has rough gray bark, has a round habit and blooms beautiful deep pink flowers in the spring. It produces literally tons of 1” diameter glossy reddish yellow fruit which I finally sampled and found to taste quite good. It is an excellent food source high in sugar for our local deer who keep our yard spotless of apples year round and it provides nectar for our bees and local pollinators in the spring. With 35 species of crabapples with 700 varieties, it is no wonder I can not quite identify it even after perusing Michael Dirr’s amazing: Manual of Woody Landscape Plants for awhile.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Herbst kommt an!

Today is a day worth celebrating! Not only is it Equinox and the beginning of the fall season, officially but also tonight we can enjoy an amazing extra special large Harvest Moon. Apparently the equinox began actually at 11:09 p.m. last night. With the sun setting and moon rising, together they create a special 360 degree twilight glow- only rarely seen. This is not to happen again until 2029. Also, according to Science News from NASA (, it is called the Harvest moon because farmers actually harvested during the bright night to prepare crops for the last markets of the year.
Be sure to keep an eye out for Jupiter in the east as well. Happy Viewing!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Spiders Everywhere!

There are spiders everywhere I look - especially orb weavers and funnel web spiders. A funnel web caught my eye - I gently tapped on the web and out pounced the spider ready for some prey only to find me. We exchanged some looks, I shot a few photos and left him to his business. Spiders live in abundance here and we have had our share of nasty bites this year including several bites on John's head and on my stomach and still after 3 months, I have necrosis of tissue on my knee. They are important predators though and an integral part of the ecosystem.
I found an excellent ID chart on the web:

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


(This is not a current map)

We have experienced an excessively dry summer this year in Bucks County PA and I was curious if it is an official drought yet. I found excellent drought monitoring sites: and According to the sites it is excessively dry and we have a drought warning for our region. With temperatures this week back in the 90s and no to little rain in the forecast, this designation might become more severe. Be sure to water plantings less that 1 year old – for trees 1-2 gallons per inch of trunk caliper – 2-3 times per week and for shrubs 3-5 gallons twice a week or use gator bags or a slow dripping hose – it is a balancing act when having a well – so use your best judgment.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Goldenrod is all the buzz!

The golden rod is blooming and the nectar is flowing, despite the 4+ weeks of drought we have been experiencing. The hive we gathered over 100 lbs of honey from is weakening with the queen laying irregularly and several frames are empty. We rotated the emptier hive box to the top. There was concern of disease with a few brownish larvae but thanks to Brian Marcy he determined the hive is fine and just needs to be re-queened. We continue to administer Tetra-Bee Mix from Dadant to be safe. Both hives are creating honey at a good pace in preparation for the winter.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Shedding Time!

I was out removing Apiguard trays used to treat mites from the beehives yesterday and on my way I discovered a snake in the midst of shedding. I believe it was either a garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis) or an eastern ribbon snake (Thamnophis sauritus)with light stripes down its dark brown checkered body which was about 2 feet long. Apparently the eastern ribbon snake is thinner and has a longer tail and has pure white lips and a white mark in front of its eyes, all of which I was not aware of until now. Both snakes are non-venomous and abundant in PA, feed on worms, small frogs and toads and fish and are viviparous, sometimes having as many as 50 live babies at once. I saved the skin and even the eye impressions are visible – it is a perfect specimen.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Sugar Woes!

In between nectar flows bees are fed sugar water, heavy or light, depending on the time of year. For our 2 hives we use 5 lbs a week. When purchasing sugar recently I noticed that the bag seemed lighter – and IT WAS! Not 5 lbs but 4 lbs and for the same price!! That is a 20% price increase for a beekeeper and also something to take note of when preparing the sugar water mixtures. It takes 10 cups of water to 5 lbs and only 8 cups to 4 lbs when making a light sugar water used during the warm months! Most shoppers might not notice this but this is something for beekeepers to buzz about.