At least the White House honey bees are sticking with the president. Set in some of Washington's lushest gardens and tree groves, and right next to first lady Michelle Obama's veggie patch, the single South Lawn hive has produced a record 225 and a half pounds of honey this year, nearly double its first year production.
"It's just craziness," says White House carpenter and bee keeper Charlie Brandts. "They did really well this year." [See photos of the Obamas behind the scenes.]
While it's common for most hobby hives to produce about 60 pounds, or five gallons of honey, the White House hive has always been an over-producer, giving up 134 pounds the first year and 183 pounds the second.
The reason is simple: there's tons of blooms offering the little bugs tasty nectar to bring back to the hive.
"Urban colonies in a long season location, near lots of water and lots of ornamental plantings, with little competition and almost no pest pressure seem to do quite well," says Kim Flottum, editor of Bee Culture , the industry's magazine. The White House hive, he adds, "Is in honey bee heaven as far as location is concerned." [See political cartoons about President Obama.]
Flottum says that having a bee hive on the South Lawn and a good spokesman for the hobby in Brandts has helped the hobby industry grow. When I told him that the White House considers Brandts a "hero" for his work with the bees, Flottum says, "You can add that U.S. beekeepers think he is too. His enthusiasm and dedication have help the image of beekeeping more than anyone can imagine."
Brandts says that the bees made so much honey, that he had to take heavy honey-bound frames off the hive four times this summer. Typically, hobby bee keepers take honey frames off once or twice. He finally finished extracting all the liquid sugar last week.
He said that the flavor is similar to past years, though there's less hint of basswood. [See photos of Michelle Obama.]
At the White House, honey is bottled for gifts and used to make cookies, salad dressing, and beer. Pastry chef Bill Yosses has even jumped in to help Brandts tend to the bees.
"They've really embraced honey," the bee keeper says of the first family and East Wing staff.