As bee populations decline around the world, beekeeping is becoming the environmentally "in" thing to do, even in urban settings.  VOA takes us to the grounds of the Franciscan monastery in Washington, D.C. for a crash course on the life of bees and their importance to the environment.  Then, we visit the rooftop of D.C.'s posh Fairmont hotel, where chefs are keeping hives and harvesting the honey to use in everything from cheese plates to the French delicacy, foie gras.    

Joe Bozik has been keeping bees on the grounds of the Franciscan Monastery in Washington D.C. for about four years.

Recently, honey bee populations in the U.S. and Europe have fallen victim to something called "Colony Collapse Disorder," where bees leave the hive but, for unknown reasons, never return.   

"It is happening most with the commercial beekeepers, and one of the theories is that they stress the bees by moving them long distances to get them to pollinate certain fields," Bozik said.

Bees play an integral part in pollinating fruits and vegetables.  There is concern that declining populations could affect food production.  Joe would like to see more people take up beekeeping as a hobby to increase their numbers.

"By having people more involved with hobbyist kinds of beekeepers, there may be some people who will actually raise queens and then offer those queens to beekeepers that are losing bees," he said.

Each hive contains about 45,000 bees.  There are three types of bees in a hive.  Female honey bees which collect the pollen and nectar.  The queen.  And male drone bees which fertilize the queen.  The queen is the most important bee.  There is only one in each hive.

The queen lives for three to four years. Her only job is to lay eggs.  Female worker bees live for about 45 days, which means the queen must lay over 1,000 eggs a day for the hive to survive.  

Today, Joe and his friend Toni Burnham are inspecting the hive to make sure the queen is laying enough eggs.

"The queen begins laying in the middle and she lays in a spiral out toward the edges so you can see that the last eggs laid in that frame are only now capped," he explains.

In three days, the eggs hatch as larvae. Worker bees feed the larvae until adulthood.  Joe says he gets a lot of personal satisfaction out of working with bees.

"You have got thousands of bees that you are handling, bare hands, and you are helping them," he said. "And there is a satisfaction that they are producing honey."

Joe's passion for bees is spreading.  Across town at Washington's Fairmont hotel, pastry chef Aron Weber and executive chef Ian Bens have started a bee colony on the hotel roof.

With the full support of the hotel, they started their hives about three months ago.  Aron says they wanted to do their part for the environment. "The honey bees are so important for the environment.  For pollinating all the plants and vegetables, pretty much everything we eat," he said.

Executive chef Ian Bens says each hive should produce 100 pounds of honey a year. "I am interested in what Erin is going to be able to do with the pastries.  We are working on some comb honey as well to go with cheese plates," Bens said.

According to experts, urban bee keeping is on the rise.  The White House recently added some beehives in the vegetable garden.  The jury is still out as to why bee populations are declining.  But demand is still high for honey, and more urban dwellers are keeping hives and harvesting their own.