In early May, Eagle Scout candidate Sasha Thilmany (Troop 35 Darien) embarked on another phase of his Eagle project involving honey bees. With the help of Backyard Beekeepers Association of Connecticut member Peet Foster, Sasha and fellow Scout Sam Giorgio, he successfully colonized a beehive in the east field at the Darien Land Trust Property called Mather Meadows.
According to Land Trust Stewardship Committee member Ron D'Andrea, this colony of healthy bees "will support the pollination needed to ensure the success of the reintroduction of native plants and flowers returning key tracts of land back to their natural state."
More than 10,000 Italian honey bees arrived at the post office from Pennsylvania on May 8. That evening, the novices suited up ahead of introducing the Queen ("Latifah") and her colony to their new home, a tradional Langsroth bee box donated by Dave Skelton of the Backyard Beekeepers. Bees are usually docile at this stage, officials said. The hive stands in an area of the meadow where the bees receive early morning sun, late afternoon shade and are protected from northerly winds by an old stone wall.
The Scouts meet regularly with their mentor, Foster, to check the progress of the colony. In the past weeks, a comb has been built, eggs laid, nectar and pollen gathered and honey stored and capped. At five weeks, comb covered nearly every frame. Young bees actively emerge from cells, increasing the population. The colony is ready to expand to a second box to be placed on top.
One of Sasha's goals is to encourage youth in the community to take an interest in their environment and in beekeeping.
"The average age of a hobbyist beekeeper is 60. Sasha hopes to inspire a new generation of beekeeping enthusiasts by allowing them access to this working hive while providing them with the protective gear and supplies to work alongside him and his mentor," said Dave Blocher, master beekeeper and another of Sasha's Backyard Beekeepers Association mentors.
This is a goal shared by the Backyard Beekeepers. Members have donated supplies to outfit three potential beekeepers.
Sasha's Eagle Scout was inspired by media coverage of a devastating syndrome affecting the bee population since 2007, Colony Collapse Disorder. CCD is when seemingly healthy colonies abandon the hive, leaving the queen and only the very young. In one year, more than one-third of hives in the Untied States were lost. Scientists believe they have discovered the cause of the mysterious disappearance. Some blame the overuse of neonicotinoid pesticides used on crops.
In early 2011, Sasha embarked on his Eagle/Bee Project. After mentioning bees to his then Scoutmaster Tavo Reynoso, Sasha was introduced to Dave Skelton, a beekeeper in Guilford. Skelton, a member of the board of directors of Backyard Beekeepers, put Sasha in touch with committee members who were looking for ways to connect with Scouts. As Sasha was contacting local environmental groups about establishing a hive, The Darien Land Trust was looking for someone to place and manage a hive in Mather Meadow. Sasha learned NASA is actively recruiting hobbyist beekeepers to weigh their hives and send them this data to aid in a study on the changing climate, and Sasha wanted to help.
His first task before the arrival of spring and his bees was to learn what it takes to keep bees. The Backyard Beekeepers Association conducts beekeeping workshops every March. His next step was to complete hive scales for beekeepers members before the onset of the spring nectar flow. Under the direction of Dave Blocher, Scouts from Troop 35 were able to build 16 scales to be used for the NASA study using materials donated by Rings End. Almost all the scales have now been distributed.
Scoutmaster Rob Cohen and Troop 35 have been supportive of Sasha's efforts to inform the Darien community. Meetings were organized with guest speakers and Scouts eagerly participated in every phase.
"It's incredible how much I have learned about bees and beekeeping," Cohen said. "Suddenly, people I have known for years are telling me that they keep bees and what it means to them. If it weren't for this project, I would never have known. This is a great project."
Sasha is compiling a list of volunteers who will continue to monitor the hive throughout the summer. By summer's end, his project moves into its final phase, the written report.
Sasha can be contacted at email@example.com.