National Geographic Bees Make D.C. a Little Sweeter

The National Geographic Society picked up several hundred new employees this past week. They will work 24 hours a day, rain or shine, and be given room and board on the roof of our headquarters in Washington, D.C. In turn, they will produce one of the most amazing substances known in the universe–it is honey; they are bees.

There are two other great benefits to their arrival. One is that their role as pollinators will help lead to more robust and beautiful flowers and fruits on the streets and yards of the U.S. capital. The other is that their presence (and a plaque) will honor another NG employee, Everett C. Brown, who worked here for nearly 50 years, moving up from the mail room in 1923 to a vice president’s office in the 1960s. Everett’s grandson, Dan Price is the man behind this sweet plan.

Dan Price (right), owner of Sweet Virginia, and Ian Aranza (left), his lead beekeeper. Photo by Andrew Howley/NGS.

Dan runs Sweet Virginia, a foundation that uses gifts of jars of honey from its many beehives across the region to entice people to donate to several Northern Virginia charities dedicated to “serving the needs of those most vulnerable in our local community.” He also wanted to use the deliciously life-giving produce of his hives to honor his grandfather’s legacy, and the NG Green Committee was more than happy to help him, especially given the environmental boons that come with keeping bees.

 

Ben Franklin of the Bee World

When the day came to moveĀ  a hive of bees from Dan’s farm to the top of our 100-year-old building down the street from the White House and Washington Monument, Dan was helped by the true bee-master of his operation, Ian Aranza. Ian (pronounced EYE-an) was working for a cable company, perched on a neighbor’s rooftop when he saw Dan’s beehives and knew it was time to pick up a new job.

The NG bees are common Apis mellifera. Photo by Andrew Howley/NGS.

Ian grew up in the Philippines, and as a child had decided he wanted to try the honey of the local bees. The only problem was the local bees were Apis dorsata–the giant honeybee. At almost an inch long, disturbing a hive of these creatures could have dire consequences. Luckily, he had a plan. Tying a long string to a rock, he aimed his slingshot and shot a hive high in a tree, well out of reach of immediate retaliation. The rock damaged the hive, causing the precious honey to slowly drip out of the broken cells. Patiently he watched as the golden drops then made their way along the string to his soon-to-be-licked fingertips.

From there, he was hooked. He started catching other species of wild bees, Apis serena, to be kept in homemade hives, and eventually mail-ordered a colony of standard honeybees, Apis mellifera. As an adult in the Philippines, Ian kept some 800 hives. When he and his family moved to the U.S. he left the bees behind, and it wasn’t until he found Dan’s farm that he got back into it. Watching his endless smile as he worked, it was clear that he is a man who’s found his calling.

 

What’s Next for the Bees

The bees are now safely installed on the roof, ready to be productive, and to serve to educate people about the vital role bees and other pollinators play in a healthy ecosystem. Watch for further updates about the bees and their keeping as the hive matures, goes back to the farm for the winter, and then returns in full force next spring, 390 years after the first honeybees arrived in the Americas (yes, there will be a blog about that).

 

Surrounded by a softly buzzing visible cloud of honeybees straight out of a Winnie-the-Pooh cartoon, Ian Aranza lashes the hive to its stand, and prepares it for additional weights that will keep it well anchored in all weather. Photo by Andrew Howley/NGS.

Wildlife

Meet the Author
Andrew Howley is a longtime contributor to the National Geographic blog, with a particular focus on archaeology and paleoanthropology generally, and ancient rock art in particular. In 2018 he became Communications Director at Adventure Scientists, founded by Nat Geo Explorer Gregg Treinish. Over 11 years at the National Geographic Society, Andrew worked in various ways to share the stories of NG explorers and grantees online. He also produced the Home Page of nationalgeographic.com for several years, and helped manage the Society's Facebook page during its breakout year of 2010. He studied Anthropology with a focus on Archaeology from the College of William & Mary in Virginia. He has covered expeditions with NG Explorers-in-Residence Mike Fay, Enric Sala, and Lee Berger. His personal interests include painting, running, and reading about history. You can follow him on Twitter @anderhowl and on Instagram @andrewjhowley.