First Person Singular: Jeff Miller, 44, Washington, beekeeper


Jeff Miller, 44, of Washington wanted to throw himself into something that demanded intense focus: He became a beekeeper. (Matt McClain/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)
October 6, 2011

If you had told me five years ago that I’d be known as the bee guy of Georgetown, I would have thought you were nuts. I am your typical Type A business guy in D.C. whose sole focus was real estate. And work really came before everything most of the time. When the market went to pot, I had plenty of time to try new things. And I needed something to throw myself into that demanded intense focus. It started as a cooking thing. I went from cooking into gardening in small urban spaces. And that made me realize the importance of pollinators — and the lack thereof in urban areas — so they got me into bees. But really, I needed a distraction. A couple hundred thousand bees buzzing in the back of your Explorer as you drive home with your new hobby is a distraction.

I didn’t tell my family. They were at our place in Rhode Island when I bought my first hives. They found out from an in-law. My wife was not happy. She was worried about how the bees would impact our kids and our neighbors. But she’s come around. That first taste of honey hasn’t hurt. Watching your kids become comfortable with something that strikes fear in so many — that’s a cool thing. Hanging out on the roof with my 13-year-old, 10-year-old and 7-year-old is not something I think I had time for before.

When I first started a couple years ago, I thought I was the bee whisperer. One time, when I was thinking I was especially attuned to the bees, I went out in shorts and a T-shirt and [got] stung in places I don’t even want to mention. I got pinged about 35 to 40 times. I had to get steroids. Thing is, you’re never completely attuned to the bees — there’s no whispering to or charming them. They have their own way of living; the best beekeepers know this and leave the hive alone. If you keep messing with it, pulling out the frames and checking in on what nature already has down to a science, all you do is risk killing the queen. I’ve never been much of a micromanager — and the less micromanaging in this, the less chance I’ll get a face full of stings.

People want to idealize the colony — with the queen in control and in the hive her whole life, the worker bees knowing what their roles are and the drones just mating and dying — as some kind of perfect way to live. That’s a bit too socialist. To me, they’re livestock — that’s it. I’m a dude. I needed a new addiction. I don’t romanticize it. At the end of the day, if they didn’t produce any honey, they’re just another stinging bug.

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