Being part of the Nuclear Security Enterprise takes skill, smarts, and determination. From research scientists developing innovative new technologies to administrative professionals organizing day-to-day operations, it’s no surprise that our workforce is filled with impressive people. What some members of the NNSA family accomplish in their spare time, however, is truly unexpected.
Randy Weidman, has worn several hats at NNSA. As a general engineer by trade, he serves as the post detonation device assessment program manager in NNSA’s Office of Nuclear Forensics. Currently, Randy is detailed in NNSA’s Office of Engineering and Technology Maturation where he works on various Congressional reports.
Outside of NNSA, Randy wears a protective suit complete with a hat of a different kind—one with netting to protect his face from bees that he tends to in his backyard and elsewhere in his suburban Northern Virginia neighborhood.
Tell us about your hidden talent?
I keep bees. Most of the fresh produce we purchase and eat requires pollinators such as honeybees, yet most pollinators (especially bees) are dying off. I try and help bees by managing a colony where they can thrive. My primary apiary—the place where beehives are kept—is my backyard, and I also manage hives in neighbors’ yards. There are probably many more beekeepers and beehives in our neighborhoods than commonly known!
How did you get interested in beekeeping?
My grandfather was a beekeeper and I looked up to him and admired his passion. In addition, after learning more about gardening and planting many flowering trees, shrubs, vines, and vegetables, I knew that adding thousands of pollinators would help them bloom, not to mention the added benefit of the bee’s instinctive honey production. I will admit that when I first began tending to bees, I was a little reluctant because of bee stings. I should mention that although honeybee stings are generally twice as potent as those of hornets, wasps, yellowjackets, and other similar insects, honeybees die when they sting, so their stings are relatively uncommon.
Can you describe how you got started as a beekeeper?
First, I took a basic beekeeping course from a local beekeeping club. After buying hive boxes the following spring and obtaining bees from a nearby beekeeper, I created two nucleus, or “nuc” colonies, each made up of five frames filled with honeycomb and a queen, workers (all female), a few drones (males), honey, pollen, and brood (eggs and larvae). I inspected both hives regularly, typically every two weeks.
What do you do with the honey that is produced?
So far I have given away all of the honey produced. However, I formed a business so I can sell honey at local fairs and events and recoup some of the costs of the bees, hives, and equipment. There are many benefits from honey. Local, unpasteurized honey offers many health benefits, especially for those who experience allergies. Plus it tastes great!
How does your talent in beekeeping relate to your job?
The breed of bees I first purchased were imported from Russia decades ago, so the common term for this combination is “Russian nuc.” “Russians” are believed to survive cold winters better than other breeds, which helps solve one of the challenges for beekeepers in most of the United States. Much of my career has focused on nuclear counterterrorism, so a few eyebrows were raised by co-workers who heard I’d purchased a couple Russian nucs.
What advice would you give to others who may be interested in beekeeping?
Find a local beekeeping club and take whatever training they offer. It will likely be in the winter, won’t cost much, and will be worth every minute. If a mentor isn’t assigned, find one. Invasive parasites known as varroa mites are the greatest challenge to the health of your bees. Honeybees must be treated for mites or the parasites will weaken the hives and lead to their collapse. I neglected to treat for mites my first year, which resulted in two lost colonies. Also, organic treatment options work. Finally, inspect your hives every two weeks, especially in the spring, and take precautions to avoid a swarm. Honeybees instinctively look for a new home—which we refer to as a bee swarm—after becoming established. Don’t fret, as I’ve learned these lessons the hard way, as do most beekeepers.
How can the general public help bees?
Please think twice before using insecticides in your yard—especially for mosquitos—as most of these chemicals also kill bees and other pollinators and there are better alternatives. Thousands of native bees have recently become extinct. Also, plant pollinating flowers and vegetation in your yard if possible; the pollen provides food for developing bees and the nectar from flowers promotes honey. It can beautify your lawn and help the bees!