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Above USDA Headquarters: Bees Are Abuzzing

The People's Garden Apiary located on the roof of the Jamie L. Whitten Building at USDA Headquarters in Washington, DC is home to approximately 40,000 Italian honey bees. You can #USDABeeWatch any day of the week by tuning into our live bee cam.

This time of year our hive is bursting with activity! The worker bees that you see are all female and are busy collecting nectar and pollen to convert into honey. Spring time in the Nation's Capital is a major time for honey production by honey bee colonies.

The activities of a colony vary with the seasons. Join the conversation about bees and other pollinators by using hashtag #USDABeeWatch.


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About The People's Garden Apiary

The first beehive was installed on Earth Day in 2010 and a second hive was later added in 2011. USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Bee Research Lab in Beltsville, Maryland helps keep these colonies of bees strong and healthy so they can pollinate crops growing in the Headquarters People's Garden and neighboring landscapes. An added bonus is the delicious honey, approximately 18 gallons worth, extracted from the hive since 2010.

The beehives consist of wooden box-like sections stacked on top of each other. Each box (or super) holds 8-10 wooden frames, each containing a thin sheet of wax foundation. The bees build their combs on these foundations.

Honey is stored in the combs in the upper parts of the hive. When the bees have filled the combs in the upper section with honey and covered them with wax caps, the beekeeper takes them away to extract the honey. You can take a virtual tour of the People's Garden ApiaryThis is an external link or third-party site outside of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) website. for a look inside the hive and the fascinating world of beekeeping.


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Honey Bees

Bee Hive.Honey bees are not native to the United States. The scientific name for honey bee is Apis mellifera. Since humans first began keeping honey bees, their principal aim has been the harvest of honey. Beekeepers select the appropriate type of honey bee based on temperament, physical characteristics, disease resistance, and productivity.

Italian honey bees were selected for the People's Garden Apiary because they are most often used in commercial beekeeping in the United States. These bees have a relatively gentle disposition and are good honey producers. They are not the most resistant to disease, but they excel in most other areas.

There have been some queen survivorship issues in both of the People's Garden colonies, which actually mirrors what's going on in the rest of the country. Queen health is an issue for everyone who buys queens, commercial or hobbyist. The exact underlying reasons for poor queen survivorship is unknown, but the ARS lab is actively researching this problem.


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Why Care About Pollinators?

Pollinators need us and we need pollinators. Honey bees are responsible for pollinating more than 100 crops and one out of every three bites of food Americans eat. These foods give our diet diversity, flavor, and nutrition. Sadly, the number of native bees and domesticated bee populations are declining due to disease, adverse weather and other conditions.

The People's Garden Initiative encourages everyone to take an active role in saving the honey bee and other pollinators by adopting pollinator-friendly land management practices at home and within your local community. Remember: no bees, no honey.


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How to Garden for Pollinators

A bee on a group of wildflowers.Increase the number of pollinators in your area by choosing plants that provide essential habitat and food sources for birds, bats, butterflies, moths, flies, beetles, wasps, small mammals, and most importantly, bees. Supporting pollinators is not hard to do. Start by following these simple steps to create a pollinator-friendly garden:

  • Go Native - plant native plant species
  • Bee Showy - flowers should bloom in your garden throughout the growing season
  • Bee Bountiful - plant big patches of each plant species
  • Bee Diverse - plant a diversity of flowering species that supply an abundance of pollen and nectar
  • Bee Chemical Free - limit or eliminate use of pesticides

Watch this webinar on Pollinators for Your GardenThis is an external link or third-party site outside of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) website. for expert advice on how to create a successful pollinator garden.

How can you find pollinator-friendly native plants for your garden?

The Pollinator Partnership offers 32 different planting guides to improve pollinator habitat, each one tailored to a specific ecoregion in the United States. Each guide is filled with an abundance of native plant and pollinator information. Enter your zip codeThis is an external link or third-party site outside of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) website. to find your ecoregion planting guide and download it for free.