by Christy Hemenway, Gold Star Honeybees
October was a banner month for us here at Gold Star Honeybees! As soon as we got home from the Common Ground Country Fair in September, we started preparing for The Green Festival in Washington, DC. Since we were recently certified by Green America Today as a “Green Business,” we were excited to hit the road with the Gold Star Top Bar Hive kit. And hit the road we did.
We left Maine on a Thursday to make the ten hour drive to Washington, DC. Friday was set up day—the show was Saturday and Sunday, October 10th and 11th, in the Washington Convention Center. We arrived with the already assembled Gold Star Top Bar Hive kit, brochures, sales and order forms, the battery-powered credit card terminal and a huge box of delicious honey candy, and set up shop in our “home away from home.” We had such a great booth location—we could be seen from the Organic Food Court, and from far away straight down two aisles! We bring top bars with natural beeswax with us to such events and just love seeing people’s eyes light up when they see how beautiful, and what a feat of engineering naturally drawn honey- comb is.
Being a vendor, we had twenty complimentary passes to the Festival—so before we went, we contacted as many local beekeep- ing associations in the DC area as we could find, and offered those passes to interested beekeepers. Several groups turned out — there were beekeepers from Maryland and Virginia, and from DC itself—even though technically there is an ordinance against beekeeping in the District of Columbia. Keith Fletcher of Prince William County in Virginia, a very active group with a lovely brochure to attract new members, came by and stayed for quite awhile—he was even able to answer some folks’ questions about beekeeping ordinances in their locale. We threatened to make him come and work on our side of the hive! He gifted us with a jar of Black Locust honey, and it is superb. It is still adding a touch of special flavor to my yogurt and granola breakfasts.
We talked with hundreds of people over the weekend—some of them beekeepers, some of them not, many of them wanna- bee beekeepers! Interest in bees and bee- keeping is very high nowadays in these United States—even in such an urban area as Washington, DC. People came, and looked, and listened, and asked questions, they went home with honey candy and Gold Star Honeybees pens, and Gold Star brochures on natural beekeeping methods. When Sunday came I was more than a little hoarse—my voice had gotten a serious workout!
And speaking of these United States—the Green Festival trade show was great fun, and it was a terrific sales event for the Gold Star Top Bar Hive kit… But the peak moment of the trip to Washington actually came on Monday morning at about 10am. That was when Gold Star Honeybees had an appointment at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue—yes, that’s the White House— to meet with the First Beekeeper, Charlie Brandts. Charlie replied to an email that was posted to the on-line group of the beekeeping association he is a part of, and said that he would like to know more about top bar hives. We were happy to oblige! We arrived at the security entrance just exactly at 10am, and were passed through some pretty serious security, sniffing dogs and all, with little fanfare. Jimmy Fowler, who works for Gold Star Honeybees when we do Live Bee Relocations, and at special events like Common Ground and the DC show, was there too — and we were both excited!
We were treated to a private tour of the White House by Charlie, met some chefs-in-training, took loads of pictures of wonderful and historic stuff, and then went to peruse the organic kitchen garden on the White House Lawn, and have a look at the famous First Bees. In Maine, we have our own peculiar issues to contend with—long, seriously cold winters and short foraging seasons, and even the occasional bear raid, but Charlie’s bees have to contend with the “prop wash” from the helipad nearby their apiary. To withstand the intense wind generated by the blades of a helicopter, Charlie’s conventional Langstroth beehive is strapped down quite snugly to its tall stand. It stands high up on the stand to be above the family dog’s level, and has plexiglass guards in front of the vent holes in the ventilation “shim” that Charlie uses— to keep the sprinklers from drenching the inside of the hive.
As the Gold Star Top Bar Hive stands at counter height with its legs, as well as having a glass observation window down the entire length of one side, it doesn’t seem that unusual to me to be able to look at the inner workings of a hive… I’ve even been known to lay under a Gold Star hive looking up for an afternoon and call that entertainment of the finest kind—but it was grand when we looked up at Charlie’s bees, as we did, and the sight of that good- sized cluster viewed from below its screened bottom board was heart-warming on that just-a-little-chilly October day.
Little did I realize that with Monday be- ing Columbus Day, there were no public tours of the White House being given that day. In fact, Charlie wasn’t even working that day—he had made a special trip in to work just to meet us and to talk bees. Geez, Louize! So next we went out to the Gold Star van, and pulled out the Gold Star Top Bar Hive, and set it up. We showed off all its bells & whistles, and bragged (just a little bit!) about it’s being made in Maine. We fondled the one-piece, beveled top bars and hefted the fifteen pound lid—the heaviest thing about the Gold Star hive you ever have to lift once you set the hive into place. Charlie and I talked about varroa mite control methods and the importance of natural beeswax. We swapped a few “bee stories.” Then all too soon it was time to pack up and start the trip back to Maine… but Jimmy and I sure had plenty to talk about on the way!
It’s so nice to know that the White House has got honeybees and that Charlie is in charge of them, and that he is a believer that survivor bees, kept naturally, are our best chance at keeping healthy, self-supporting bees in the future. So here’s to Charlie and “Charlie’s Angels,” to the current residents of the White House, to the organic garden and its gardeners, and to the whole rest of the USA—and her beekeepers.