Sunday, March 29, 2009

An Excellent White House Bee Adventure

yes, there they are on the White House LawnOK folks, I'm not the White House beekeeper, but I got a front row seat at the creation, and am so grateful for the experience that I have to share.

And for those of you who just can't wait, I have some additional photos on one of the supporting pages here.

On Tuesday, March 24, the first known hive of bees at the White House arrived at their location on the South Lawn. You don't have to count on my crummy photo to see them: just stop by the fence on the Ellipse (south) side: two deeps and a medium of Maryland mixed breed bees, with known Russian and Caucasian genetics.

The White House beekeeper is Charlie Brandts, someone who has been a quiet beekeeper in this area for three years now. His reserve is probably why he asked me to do some of the talking about his idea to include bees in the White House Victory Garden project.

During the 2008 campaign, Michelle Obama emphasized healthy, local food, and since arriving here has tasked her family's personal chef, Sam Kass, with putting a garden in to supply fresh produce for the Executive Mansion and educational events for the community. Charlie realized that this was a chance to include bees, and to show their important role in putting one of every three bites on your plate. Charlie allocated (free of charge, people!) one of his own hives for the White House Victory Garden, and it will both provide hive products and an teaching opportunities.

Why are you hearing this from me? Even though I am supposed to be a secret beekeeper, I am actually the noisiest hive-minder in Washington. I was invited to meet with the staff, and to tell folks how we get it done in DC! The folks who run the place had some questions about urban beekeeping, but I have spoken to garden clubs who were more resistant to pollination. I think they were just looking for a reason to say "Yes!"

It takes more than ideas, excitement and a presentation to make things happen at such a special place, however. It took a few weeks and approvals from everyone from the First Family to, of course, the lawyers. We've been wanting to tell everyone, and finally, a little while ago, the news broke.

Needless to say, many beekeepers are very excited, and some of them think that Charlie has the responsibility to be some kind of spokesperson for beekeeping in THEIR area. I disagree: he has done his part, it is time for us to do ours.

Now that you know some of the details, it would be great if we would all calm down and use the fact that bees are at the White House to advocate and educate about beekeeping in the wide range of communities and contexts that make up our country.

Don't let this news fade: use this moment to make bees shine in the spotlight, and to tie them to the place where your families live. It is hard for me to imagine a location with more special requirements and available excuses for not including honeybees.

If they can make it there, we can take them anywhere.

Oh yes we can!

Monday, March 02, 2009

Snow Day, Spring, and City Hives on the Rise

bees in the snow, with deck and neighborsIf October marks the end of one yearly cycle of beekeeping in this city, late February and the beginning of March are when we anxiously watch our hives to see if life will return after the trials and tribulations of winter.
Last week, temperatures hit 70 degrees F (21 degrees Celsius). Today at noon it is 23 degrees F (-5 degrees Celsius). This kind of variation is brutal for the bees.
When it is warmer, they form a rather large, loose cluster over the bottom edge of their honey supply. As it gets colder, that cluster contracts smaller and tighter over a diminishing amount of supplies. They can starve to death if the cold spate lasts a while, because too many bees (who cannot shift) are concentrated too far from where the top edge of the cluster (and the fresh honey supply) used to be. This sort of challenge is what keeps beekeepers biting their nails as our increasingly shifty winters begin to fade.

Local Update

As for my girls, the henbit (Lamium amplexicaule) is out, the willow and maple pollen has started to come in, and the short courses around here will soon be opening their doors, despite all the snow you see above.
To recap, six hives and a nuc (nuclear colony) started the winter, and there are still still six hives today. I tried to winter the nuc as an experiment, one many beekeepers around here are doing, and have found it to be a fine way to provide cold-weather homes to white-footed deer mice.
As a last part of my personal report, I wanted to apologize for the quiet on this blog: I've been out with the bees and the beekeepers, and a little ashamed of some of my mistakes.

Spring Brings Newbees

There's a video (from Meerkat Media) embedded below as a flagrant attempt to reach out to newbees, because interest in beekeeping in my city is growing, with at least 8 hives going up on hotels, offices, roofs and back yards. I'll have new neighbors at the monastery, and new beeks to mentor.
Just for you curious ones who are wondering if it is possible too have bees on the streets where you live, I know beekeepers in Atlanta and Philadelphia and Baltimore and San Francisco and London who are all on their trajectories toward Spring. The video shows happy beekeepers working in Chicago and New York, as well as more traditional places.
Some renegade beekeepers in Manhattan, The Gotham City Beekeepers, have also asked me for a shout-out and you for your support as they attempt to come out of the shadows and contribute in the sunshine (like the bees).

title screen of film