From left, Sarah Bluher '13, Eric Penalver '13 and Rachelle Simon listen to White House beekeeper Charlie Brandts. View more photos in the slide show below. (Photo: Lauren Zumbach '13)
Most D.C. tourists come to the White House hoping for a glimpse of the president. But for Princeton students who visited 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. April 13, bees were the main attraction.
The BEE Team, a group of student beekeepers who look after two beehives at the West Windsor Fields, was invited on a private tour of the hives and the White House Kitchen Garden with White House beekeeper Charlie Brandts and executive pastry chef Bill Yosses.
âMy favorite part was listening to Charlie speak to us as one beekeeper to another,â said Eric Penalver â13. âHe was really informative, fun to listen to, and passionate about what he does.â
BEE Team sponsor Rocky Semmes â79 organized the trip after hearing that First Lady Michelle Obama â85 included a beehive in the White House Kitchen Garden. âSince sheâs an alum, I thought it might work and would be a great opportunity for the club,â Semmes said.
Students were particularly eager to pick Brandtsâ brain after learning the White House bees produced 225 pounds of honey last year â more than four times the amount the BEE Team typically extracts from its two hives. Thatâs partly because the White House gardens have some bee-friendly vegetation not found near the Princeton hives, and partly because the BEE Team students, most of whom had never tried beekeeping before joining, are conservative about how often they harvest.
[caption id="attachment_11310" align="aligncenter" width="620"] (Photo: Lauren Zumbach â13)[/caption]
âOnce we get more experienced, weâll know exactly how much we can take while still leaving [the bees] enough for the winter,â Sarah Bluher â13 explained.
Even though the art of beekeeping is much the same on campus and at the White House, looking after the presidential hives does bring a few added challenges, Penalver noted. The BEE Team members donât have to worry about getting permission from the Secret Service when they light the smoker, a device that generates smoke to calm the bees. And they donât need to convince the president heâs unlikely to get stung while playing basketball on the White House grounds.
âI told him the bees are more interested in nectar than politics,â Brandts told the students.
The White House also got a taste of Princetonâs honey. Students brought jars of honey and lip balm from the Princeton hives for everyone they met on the tour â and left some for Michelle Obama as well.