How to do bee business despite Covid-19? Some practical and personal experience from Firestone Farm, Dearborn, Michigan


While the global pandemic disrupts our routines, those who care for livestock, including domesticated honey bees, must continue care without disruption. Patrice Fisher, the beekeeper at Firestone Farm, reports that bees are thriving at the living history farm within Greenfield Village, The Henry Ford, in Dearborn, Michigan, as of 4 June and 6 July 2020.

Während die globale Pandemie unsere täglichen Routinen durcheinanderbringt, müssen diejenigen, die sich um Nutztiere kümmern – und hierzu zählt auch die domestizierte Honigbiene – die Versorgung der Tiere ungehindert sicherstellen. Patrice Fisher, die Imkerin von Firestone Farms, berichtet, wie die Bienen sich in der Living History Farm innherhalb Greenfield Village, The Henry Ford, in Dearborn Michigan im Zeitraum vom 4. Juni bis 6. Juli 2020 entwickeln.


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Pollinator and common comfrey [Symphytum officinale] in Greenfield Village, The Henry Ford, Dearborn, Mighican. July 2017. Photograph by Lee Cagle.

Livestock need care daily despite the disruptions of a global pandemic. This includes domesticated honey bees. Beekeepers inspect their hives, monitor the food supply, harvest honey, and treat what may ail members of the colony. Patrice Fisher, the beekeeper at Firestone Farm, shares this report on the condition of hives at the living history farm within Greenfield Village, The Henry Ford, in Dearborn, Michigan, on 4 June and with a 6 July 2020 update.

Beekeepers inspect historically appropriate Langstroth-type hives in the orchard at Firestone Farm, Greenfield Village, The Henry Ford, Dearborn, Michigan, August 2017. Photograph by Lee Cagle.

Beekeepers at Firestone Farm use a Langstroth-type hive to house pollinators at the living history farm that interprets the birthplace of Harvey Firestone and farm life during the mid-1880s. The structures were originally located in Columbiana County, Ohio, but were relocated and reconstructed in Greenfield Village, and opened to the public in 1985. The project included an orchard with historic apple varieties. The bees pollinate the apples and other crops, shrubs, and flowering plants throughout Greenfield Village.

The Langstroth-type hives in the orchard at Firestone Farm, with weights to stabilize the hive covers. Beekeepers installed the support timbers for the hives to elevate them above the ground on 25 March 2020. Photograph by Patrice Fisher on 4 June 2020.

Lorenzo Langstroth observed bee behavior and patented a hive in 1852 that mimicked the spaces that bees created as they built their comb within hives. Langstroth designed a structure that consisted of stackable “supers” into which frames of a standard dimension were inserted, each located a “bee space” from the other. Within this structure, bees constructed their hives to nurture the bee larvae and store their honey food supply.

Tools of the beekeepers’ trade, a smoker and soft-bristle brush, 4 June 2020. The smoker, of a design in use since the late 1800s, disrupts bees’ ability to sense the fight pheromone. Photograph by Patrice Fisher.

Firestone beekeepers had three objectives to accomplish during their 4 June hive inspection:

1) to replace the solid bottom boards with screened boards for better ventilation.

2) to apply a formic acid treatment for varroa mites. At the last hive inspection on 25 April, beekeepers did a mite count test and determined that #1 hive (closest to barn) had 8 mites per 300 bees, #2 had 0 mites, and #3 had 4 mites per 300 bees. That’s not terrible but definitely needed to be addressed before the numbers started increasing exponentially.

3) to add an additional super with empty frames to each hive to give bees in each hive more room.

Beekeepers practice state-of-the-art bee care within the historic setting. They installed this screen base to increase air circulation on 4 June 2020. Photograph by Patrice Fisher.

This photograph shows the pads treated with formic acid to treat for varroa mites nailed into the sides of a hive frame, 4 June 2020. Photograph by Patrice Fisher.

Inspection determined that the bees are doing fabulously. All three hives have a lot of bees and all have surplus honey already during springtime in Dearborn, Michigan. Patrice indicated that “This is the best I’ve seen for this time of the year in the five years I’ve been minding these bees. We were wondering if they were somehow benefiting from the lack of people in the vicinity and perhaps reduced landscaping, resulting in a lot more forage in their territory. Just supposition. We didn’t really look too deeply into the hives; it was obvious that they are all thriving.”

Photograph of notebook documenting 4 June 2020 inspection. Photograph by Patrice Fisher.

Beekeepers saw capped supercedure cells in every hive (photographs below). These cells were simultaneously attached to the bottom of one super and the top of the one below it. Maintaining the hive requires removing supers, even as this also can destroy some of these cells because the supers must be separated to get to the bottom layer.

The Master Farmer of Greenfield Village, Steve Opp, reported a swarm of bees just before the 4 June inspection. Beekeepers tried to figure out which hive they came from, but it seemed as though they could have come from any hive. They added an additional empty super to each hive to give the bees more room, hoping that increasing the hive capacity will quell the bees’ natural inclination to swarm. Yet, Patrice reported that she is “happy to see swarms even if we can’t catch them – it just means more native bees are being introduced into the environment.”

The Firestone Farm beekeepers returned to the hives on 6 July 2020, with two goals:

  • to remove the medicated formic acid pads attached 4 June
  • remove the entrance reducer and take out the solid bottoms from each hive, to improve ventilation.
  • document the visit and actions taken in writing

They found the hives buzzing with activity, and bee “making honey like crazy. The empty supers added last month are already full, so the keepers added another empty super to each hive, right above the level where the bulk of the brood was residing” (see notes taken, and location of new super documented below).

The documentation of the 6 July 2020 Firestone beekeepers’ visit, actions taken, and location of empty supers added to hives.

At the end of July the beekeepers will do another sugar roll test to monitor the mites and see if treatments continue having the desired effect. Toward the end of summer, after honey production slows late in July and before golden rod starts to bloom in the early fall, they will harvest some of the honey, probably 3 supers full. Then the bees can rebuild their food supply with pollen from the fall flowers before frost ends the growing season. Beekeepers will winterize the hives late in the fall to help sustain them through the winter season.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

 Submitted by Patrice Fisher, The Henry Ford, Dearborn, Michigan


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