Urban beekeeping isn’t unusual in Washington, but Capitol Hill’s Congressional Cemetery is producing a special brand of honey: Rest in Bees, harvested from hives built atop the tombs.
The burial ground’s apiary began five years ago, when beekeeper and Hill resident Toni Burnham lobbied Congressional’s board to let her build a hive on the land; they allowed for a hive atop the office garage. Burnham says the cemetery is an ideal spot for the honeybees, rich with flowering plants and native trees from which they can collect food, and in turn spread pollen, naturally maintaing the lush landscape. The program has grown in recent years, and now ten recreational beekeepers oversee 17 hives atop “mausoleum row”—a perfectly secluded home away from Congressional’s many visitors and their dogs.
“The bees just party in the trees,” says Burnham.
About 20 local volunteers join the festivities when it’s time to harvest the honey in early fall, what Burnham describes as a “bee-first” activity; a sustainable portion is extracted, while enough is left to supply the colonies through winter. Beekeepers and volunteers claim a few bottles, and give the rest to the cemetery gift shop. For such tiny producers, the yield is large. Congressional President Paul Williams says honey sales will be around $3,000 this year. Anyone dying for a taste should get to Congressional quickly—or order by phone—as only a few dozen jars are left from the original 350.
As for the clever name, Burnham says she can’t take credit.
“My first suggestion was ‘Life is Sweet,'” she says.