Urban Beekeeping by Michael Kiefer

In addition to urban beekeeping, Michael, also runs GreenDCRealty, an occasional PoP advertiser. All photos by Fritz Hubig

So what’s all the buzz about urban beekeeping these days you might be wondering and what causes someone to raise some 150,000 bees in the backyard of their DC home. Well its a tough question to answer but as most beekeepers myself included will tell you, we simply find the ability and act of being a hobby apiculturist as a way to reconnect with nature in a way that doesn’t always present itself via our daily lives in an urban setting. That being said opening a conversation at a Saturday evening house party in Columbia Heights with, “so as I was extracting honey today” tends to raise a few eyebrows and a pause in conversation as the first reply tends to be, “so what’s happening to all the bees?”

Honey bees are not an entirely new comer to my life as it has pretty much been an on and off again relationship over the past 17 years. Having spent 4 years of undergraduate studies within farming and beekeeping tends to leave one with only a few job prospects out there and even fewer in a city like DC. So somewhere around 4 years ago with my backyard garden at my home in the Woodridge neighborhood of NE DC not looking so hot I decided it was time for some divine intervention from Mother Nature and that I would set up my urban bee plot once again. I had been on the down-low all these years as it was a bit confusing as to what DC’s bee keeping policy really was. That all changed though when bees made their way to the White House, then the Fairmont Hotel got in the action and in March of this year DC Parks and Rec through Kelly Melstead and Tony Burnham the Districts resident beekeeper offered up an introductory course in beekeeping which has led to a whole new buzz so to speak as more trained hobbyists begin tending to bees across the District.

Continues after the jump.

Photo by Fritz Hubig

I know many people might find it intimidating thinking of the prospect of having some 150,000 bees as they walk out their backdoor but it is quite calming ( I am not allergic by the way ) to watch the bees as they fly to and from the hive allowing me to work with them, inspecting the hives for robbing ants and other types of bees. I have also set up my entire yard as an expirement in urban permaculture as I try to grow as much of my Spring / Summer / Fall produce which would be an even greater challenge without the bees. So the honey, how much do I get each year and where does it all come from many people ask me, well somewhere about 50 pounds a hive and with 3 hives that works out to quite a bit of sweet reward each year. Being that I am surrounded by forests and the National Arboretum only a stones throw away I see the bees flying directly to the Arboretum to find a different nectar each week, as it might be their heaven on earth, with hundreds of varieties of flowering plants and trees all around.

Photo by Fritz Hubig

My neighbors have come to refer to me as the farmer as I tend to ply them with equal amounts of honey and fresh produce since my bees do wander every now and again through their kitchen window. With a smile they often ask me what’s next on my farming agenda and I just nod with hmmm fresh eggs sure would be nice but we will have to work on some District policy before that happens!

Nearby Bee Farms

Photo by Fritz Hubig

19 Comment

  • Most people, especially us urban folk, know little and taken for granted the vital and important work done in our apiaries by our mostly volunteer beekeepers.

    It is hard work, very time consuming, and the rewards are not monetary.

    God bless you, Michael Kiefer, and best wishes in your avocation which benefits all of us.

    “Ulee is the best character I’ve ever read. It’s the kind of role you pay money to do — a complex character full of possibilities and the script was full of moments that were very deep, very pure and very simple.
    I also found a lot of Ulee in my father (Henry Fonda). He kept a couple of hives and I can see him hop-footing it across the lawn, thinking he had a bee up his pant leg. As I began to develop Ulee, I used a lot of the way my father was to us as kids, the way he was to us as a family, and the way he was to himself.”

    -Actor Peter Fonda on his role in the 1997 film, Ulee’s Gold, and on his father, Henry Fonda.

  • PoP, thanks for posting this. Can either you or Michael provide some details on what resources are available in the area for amateur beekeepers to get started? I am referring to things like the workshops mentioned in the article, classes, good local supply stores, active hobby groups etc. Thanks.

  • I love this uptick in interest in bee keeping. Not sure I’d have the diligence to do the hard work myself, but I support it (and the local honey at the farmers’ market) whole-heartedly!

    Too few people understand the importance of critters like bees, butterflies and even bats as pollinators to provide us the food we eat. If we lose them, we die. Simple as that.

  • Ok sorry for the delay in response here, I was out extracting some honey this morning and one of the hives began their mating flight after the Queen Bee, so I had to stop and watch. I have an extensive amount of resources on local beekeeping that I can either have PoP upload to the site or I can be contacted via email [email protected] either or is fine with me.

    The District through Parks and Recreation each year with a February registration offers a 4 week class on beekeeping. The District now has 6 or 7 hives in different community rec centers that volunteers can come and learn about the art and practice of working with honey bees, Kelly Melsted at the center in Columbia Heights can provide more details on the classes.

    I am more than happy to share and discuss any of my experiences with beekeeping over the years.

    Toni Burnham has a blog up on bees here in DC http://citybees.blogspot.com/

    There are multiple bee farmers in the region that supply equipment, bees and offer training for the buzzing apiculturist out there.

    Let’s create a wave of buzzz!


  • “With a smile they often ask me what’s next on my farming agenda and I just nod with hmmm fresh eggs sure would be nice but we will have to work on some District policy before that happens!”

    Isn’t it legal to keep (at least 1) chicken in DC?

    • Ohhhh the chicken and the egg issue.

      I have run into some on the downlow backyard chicken houses in DC and I think it is simply great that some DC residents see the value in fresh and backyard living so to speak.

      Having raised chickens back home in PA, fresh eggs are a world of difference from what we buy in the stores!

      As of now NO CHICKENS are allowed in DC but it sure beats a noisy barking 24 / 7 dog.

  • Thanks for the post! I’ve been wanting to look into this given the concerns over CCD, it would be great to volunteer to support more hives in the city. If you are going to post more info on local resources let us know to not bombard you with personal emails.

  • I have a blog I can upload the local bee info to, let me get the file up so everyone can download it from there.

    • Prince Of Petworth

      Info has been uploaded at bottom of this post (above last photo) titled Nearby Bee Farms. It is a hyperlink so just click on it and it’ll download a pdf file with all the info.

  • I’d be interested in some information on habitat providing for bees. I don’t have the inclination or time to bee farm but I’m as concerned as anybody by the apparent shortage of bees in the world lately.

    Someone wrote up an instructable on a possible bee habitat which I love the idea of but am skeptical about the design. I also question whether it would be any more helpful to bees than any other semi-enclosed space and therefor why they would be inclined to use it.

    If your education has provided any sort of insight into that subject I’d be very interested in hearing it. I imagine you probably have some idea of how you’d encourage bees to nest in a particular location.

    • Bee habitat is an interesting question which not many people consider. The main thing bees need lots of local flowering trees, herbs, grasses and or flowers. Adequate flight path to and from a hive, dry place and your traditional hive boxes are great. There are literally dozens of styles and every place around the world raises them a bit different depending upon local available materials, climate and tradition. Honey bees are not native to the Americas so we have just about 400 years of use here as they came over from EU with the settlers and hive construction is different even there.

      Bees like as one might expect bee balm (low growing herb ) and other fragrant flowering plants. In DC we are lucky because of the sheer diversity of trees as compared to the suburbs which tend to harbor monocultures the one thing bees do not thrive on. The point being different plants flower at different times providing for a continuous nectar flow for the bees all through April – June and again the early fall.

      Just about anywhere in DC bees will do exceptionally well due to the diversity.

  • Good work, Mike. Worldwide hive collapse is one of those possibilities that makes me hyperventilate a little.

  • Good post. This is a very interesting topic.

    I hope we hear from Michael Kiefer again.

  • Excellent story. Other than for food consumption local honey has the medical properties of relieving allergies and as an anti-bacterial agent (for wounds and burns).

  • I’m trying to open forum but sometimes there are no images on it 🙁

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