Bethesda beekeeper observes life of indoor hive
Phil Frank has more than 4,000 honeybees in an observational hive in his Bethesda home.
Inside Phil Frank’s home in Bethesda’s Bannockburn neighborhood, a colony of more than 4,000 honeybees buzzes next to the refrigerator in the kitchen. A self-taught beekeeper, Frank wanted to study the lives of bees, so he built a glass observational hive and installed it in the space between some cabinets and a countertop. Now Frank and his wife, Vivian, watch the bees buzzing around in constant production atop their honeycombs.
“They can sound like some kind of yard appliance,” Frank says of the bees, which travel into and out of the house through a plastic tube. “That’s how loud they can get, especially in the summer.”
A documentary filmmaker who specializes in technology and science, Frank found a passion for beekeeping through his media work. “In 2013, I did a show for National Geographic about mass animal die-offs. One of the animals I featured was honeybees,” he recalls. “I traveled around the country doing the show, but I learned a lot about honeybees right here in our backyard.”
Inspired to help, Frank spent a year researching all things honeybee. He became the webmaster of the Montgomery County Beekeepers Association and built his first hive on his backyard deck. Now tending 300,000 bees inhabiting six hives, he taps into the public’s fascination with them to spread his bee evangelism. “Bees are important to our well-being. They pollinate a third of our food, and it’s the third we like the most: fruits, nuts, vegetables, herbs,” says Frank, who posted a video of his kitchen hive on his website, FrankTV.net.
Keeping bees in the kitchen can be tricky. When Frank initially positioned the indoor hive, he accidentally loosened the passageway tube, releasing hundreds of confused bees into the kitchen. It took days to gather them, he says.
Frank gives most of the honey produced by his bees to family and friends. Along the way, he sold two hives to a beekeeper at the Bethesda Marriott on Pooks Hill Road. This spring, the hotel plans to use the bees’ honey in specialty bar drinks.