The newest buzz in the Capital City is exactly what it sounds like: urban beekeeping. An army of amateur, boutique bee breeders have now breached even the White House with their hives, dedicated to protecting and populating threatened honeybees.
Perhaps the originator of the capitol swarm, Georgetown resident Jeff Miller is the owner of the nonprofit D.C. Honeybees and star of the documentary The Capital Buzz. Born as a hobby of convenience, Miller’s start to beekeeping quickly developed into a full-fledged addiction, spreading his passion from his own rooftop colony to nearly fifty other beekeepers in the District.
While local honey would seem to be the obvious incentive, the semi-secret society of beekeepers agree it’s more of a pleasant byproduct of the cause. Urban beekeepers, tending to their private rooftop hives in full, masked regalia, are dedicated to engendering bee strains resistant to Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), a combination of disease and environmental factors killing off honeybee populations worldwide.
Why D.C.? The long and varied growing season in the District is conducive to honeybee populations, who survive off their own honey in the winter. Beekeepers harvest the surplus of this nectar in the spring, which yields anywhere from 60 to 100 pounds of honey per hive. These strains of urban honeybees are even more fertile than rural colonies, benefiting from D.C.’s lush tree canopies and a lack of competitive pollinators.
As passionate as urban beekeepers are about sustaining honeybee colonies, they don’t wax sentimental about the bees themselves, who have a lifespan of five to six weeks. Miller even equates his bees to urban livestock, the closest thing to farming possible in a Washington townhouse. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that getting stung is a daily expectation.