Hitting the roof to help honey bees and the planet
January 5, 2011 | by Leslie Maysak
Photo by Stephen BuchmanUntil recently, my family and I had no idea what Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is. Then we learned about the disappearance of honey bees from large areas of the country, leaving trees and plants unpollinated and barren of fruit. It's a problem that affects all of us. Honey bees are responsible for pollinating approximately one-third of the foods we eat -- their decreasing population has gotten media coverage on 60 Minutes and attention from companies such as Häagen-Dasz.
Georgetown resident Jeff Miller decided to do something about it. "I have recently become an avid gardener, even with our postage-stamp back patio. I was surprised by how few bees were visiting my tomatoes, and my pepper plant, though flowering, never developed fruit.” Through Google he learned about Colony Collapse Disorder and the importance of these pollinators. Miller bought a hive out of curiosity with the plan to get the kids involved, and after some fun with his new hobby, he decided to see if there were others who might be equally daring in helping this important bug (while harvesting a bit of honey).
Miller started with a few hives on his roof and went on to found DC Honeybees, an organization dedicated to increasing awareness of the importance of the honey bee to our food supply as well as educating the public about beekeeping in an urban environment. DC Honeybees works with boutique bee breeders (who knew?) around the country in the hope that they can propagate hardy honey bee colonies using natural methods.
Otherwise known as beekeeping, apiculture (from the latin apis for "bee") has generally been considered the province of farmers and country squires until now, but Miller is an urban apiarist.
Washingtonians can help to support the local honey bee population in a number of ways including starting their own hives, sponsoring a hive or donating rooftop space for hives. The website adds this interesting fact: Given the natural dearth of competition for resources and the floral diversity of the city, the urban honey bee tends to be more productive and active than her rural counterpart.
Honey bees should not be confused with wasps or hornets, which are far more aggressive and attracted to human food. While Jeff acknowledged that his new avocation is not necessarily something he "advertises to the neighbors" it's important to remember that while honey bees do sting, it is generally only when they are provoked and for most adults, not nearly as painful as they may remember from that first sting in childhood.
Relating an incident from his own experience Jeff told me about the first time he moved his bee colony into a larger hive -- in shorts and a t-shirt: "I guess I thought I was the Bee Whisperer. I had to go on steroids for a week to take down the swelling from all the bee stings...I now have a veil and smoker for major hive invasions."
DC Honeybees is currently working on an initiative to enlist business owners to donate their unused rooftop space for hives. For more information (and video) on DC Honeybees and CCD go to www.dchoneybees.com and www.helpthehoneybees.com.