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First-ever White House beekeeper retires

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Politics,Paul Bedard,Washington Secrets

 

The keeper of the first-ever White House beehive officially retired from the government this week, but his 70,000 bees won’t be buzzing June Carter Cash’s “Will you miss me when I’m gone?”

That’s because Charlie Brandts, who was a White House carpenter when the first family’s chef Sam Kass tapped him to establish a hive near the Michelle Obama’s veggie garden in March 2009, plans to devote his retirement to beekeeping and will continue to oversee the multi-colored hive on the South Lawn.

While honey bees don’t need daily attention, the White House reveals that they have established a backup team to help Brandts or take care of any emergency: pastry chefs Susie Morrison and Bill Yosses. “The hive doesn’t really need day-to-day care, so Charlie will still be doing the primary work on it with Susie and Bill helping,” says a White House aide.

Kim Flottum, the editor of the industry publication Bee Culture, said that the new beekeeping arrangement should work just fine. “They work close together,” he tells Secrets. Brandts agrees. “We’re like in a partnership,” he says. Brandts, 55, worked at the White House for 28 years, starting during the Reagan years, and is a 35-year federal employee.

Spring and summer are the most intensive time to tend bees during which the hives expand after winter and begin making babies and honey.

Over the three years, Brandts says the White House hive has been an all-star honey producer, giving up 340 pounds, easily twice what a typical hobby hive makes. The reason, he explains, is the country-like setting around the White House which is populated with trees, annuals and ponds. “It’s like a Shangri La for bees.”

When the Obamas arrived at the White House and began talk about establishing a garden, Brandts was approached by Kass and the idea took off fast. Brandts, who tends bees in neighboring Maryland, brought an established hive to the South Lawn where it has thrived ever since.

The honey has been used as gifts, to make beer and in daily meals for the first family as well as fancier formal dinners.

Surprisingly, there hasn’t ever been a major problem with having so many bees in such a public place. Just consider events like the Easter Egg Roll, when thousands of people swarm the South Lawn. On days like that, the hive is closed up and the bees kept cool with occasional squirts of water, a typical beekeeping practice.