Of the many precious resources Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant captures, orphaned honeybees probably aren’t top of mind. Yet tucked behind behind the Bloom blending pit, a row of brightly painted hives serve as home to recovered bee colonies that produce a few hundreds of pounds of award-winning honey per year. The hives were installed five years ago under the auspices of the DC Beekeepers Alliance, with the help of registered beekeeper Chris Peot, DC Water’s Director of Resource Recovery.

As Peot explains of the photo at left, “It is swarm season, as the hives transition out of the winter. In the fall the bees breed siblings that can live 5 months – the rest of the year they live an average of only 42 days. A healthy hive will begin breeding short-life workers as the weather warms, and sometimes they get overcrowded.

The queen will lay eggs, and the workers will squirt ‘royal jelly’ on a few of the eggs, which then fertilize into new queens. The hive will choose a new queen and the old queen will take off with about half the hive bees in search of a new home. She hasn’t flown in a very long time, so she only gets a few hundred meters from the original hive and she will need a rest, like she took on this elevated switch box. The bees cover her for protection and send out scouts. Usually within 24 hours they find a spot and bolt.

We had two swarms yesterday and missed one, but caught this one and gave them an empty hive box as a new home. It’s risky for the queen to move — they like to get about a half mile away from the original hive — and she can die or be eaten along the journey. So, it’s good that we were able to recapture this new colony. We then looked at the rest of our 15 hives and split those that looked crowded.”