Tag Archives: museum-practice

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.


pandemic – beekeeping – Living History Farm – practical experience – beekeeping tools

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

What can law do for bees? A touch of history


We have evidence for honey-gathering from rock art dating back to the Mesolithic, but there is also information about beekeeping in the context of laws (and literature) in early Ireland – what do you do when a neighbour’s bees invade your property? Worse still, what happens if one stings you? Even worse, what happens when a bee stings a king in the eye and he can no longer reign as unblemished sovereign? Today, our customs and our laws – read pesticides, among other subjects – can deeply affect the existence of honeybees and the other bees so essential to production of agriculture, horticulture and even your flower garden.

Wir haben Hinweise auf das Sammeln von Honig welche bis in das Mesolithikum zurückreichen aber es gibt auch Informationen zum Thema Imkerei im Kontext von Gesetzen (und Literatur) im frühmittelalterlichen Irland – was passiert, wenn die Bienen eines Nachbarn auf das eigene Besitzgrundstück eindringen? Schlimmer: was passiert wenn man von einer Biene gestochen wird? Und sogar noch schwerwiegender: was passiert wenn ein König von einer Biene ins Auge gestochen wird und nicht weiter als makelloser Herrscher weiterregieren kann? Heute beeinflussen unsere Gewohnheiten und Gesetze – Pestizide und andere Dinge – die Existenz der Honigbienen und anderer Bienen so tiefgreifend, dass diese sogar Einfluss auf unsere Landwirtschaft, den Gemüseanbau und sogar unseren Blumengarten entfalten.

Nous avons des preuves de la collecte de miel de l’art rupestre datant du Mésolithique, mais il existe également des informations sur l’apiculture dans le contexte des lois (et de la littérature) en Irlande médiévale – que faites-vous lorsque les abeilles d’un voisin envahissent votre propriété? Pire encore, que se passe-t-il si la petite bête vous pique? Pire encore, que se passe-t-il lorsqu’une abeille pique un roi à l’oeil et qu’il ne peut plus régner en souverain sans tare? Aujourd’hui, nos coutumes et nos lois – voir la question des pesticides, par exemple – peuvent profondément affecter l’existence des abeilles, bourdons et les autres espèces si essentielles à l’agriculture, à l’horticulture et même à votre jardin à fleurs.

bee-keeping – bees – Old Irish law – legal texts – museum practice

People all over the world are concerned about bees of every sort that ensure pollination and produce the honey that has been prized by humans for millennia, attested by the many examples of rock art paintings of honey-gathering, such as the well-known Mesolithic scene from the Cuevas de la Araña near Valencia in Spain (caves). That was long before any written legal documents, but among the earliest laws that have come down to us in Europe are in Old Irish, which had a special treatise on bee-keeping called the “Bee-Judgments” (Bechbretha).i

Mesolithic rock painting of a honey hunter harvesting honey and wax from a bees nest in a tree at Cuevas de la Araña (dated around 8000 to 6000 BCE). By Achillea – Drawn from a painting from the caves of Cueva de la Araña by fr:Utilisateur:Achillea converted to svg by User:Amada44, GPL, Source

Although there is much debate about whether the honeybee in the British Isles is a native or was introduced by its human admirers, there is a tradition in Irish literature that it was brought to the island by a saint, and the 6th-century lady Saint Gobnait was patron of beekeepers. Saints in early traditions are often credited with introducing highly valued objects and practices. It may well be that monasteries practiced bee-keeping on an impressively large scale due to their need for large amounts of beeswax for candle-making.

Stained glass by Harry Clarke (1889-1931) of Saint Gobnait of Ballyvourney, 1914, Collection of the Rakow Research Library, The Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, New York, in the public domain in the United States (published before 1925). Wikipedia “Beekeeping in Ireland”

In any case, bees are exciting for lawyers. They fly away from you, even trespass on your neighbour’s land, hence the inclusion of bees in laws about good (or not) relations among neighbours. They can also be stolen from you, and bee-rustling figured among the penalties to be paid, which applied to swarms, just as did legal sanctions against making off with cattle, pigs, horses, sheep, goats, chickens and geese. Linguistic analysis of terms in Old Irish relating to bees and bee-keeping indicates that the honeybee was present in Ireland well before the arrival of Christianity. Keeping track of one’s bees was deemed so important that it was not included in the activities forbidden on Sundays.

Old Irish lawyers were sticklers for detail and the bee-keeping laws are unique in containing a mention of the bees themselves as villains, in that they could wander off and indulge in “grazing-trespass” on other peoples’ property, just like a cow thinking the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. This involved bees “stealing” from a neighbour who had an especially fine stand of nectar-bearing flowers and the culprits might have been identified by sprinkling flour on them. This “offense” could seriously reduce a farmer’s honey-production.ii

Since bees and their honey were so highly valued, it is no wonder that a bee sting counted in legal proceedings. If a person was moving, robbing or even watching the hives during swarming, s/he was not compensated for resultant injury. However, if bees sting anyone not interfering with them, the beekeeper is obliged to provide the victim with a meal of honey. An extreme case is also cited: if a bee sting caused the loss of an eye. That was an incident said to have happened to a king, who consequently had to relinquish his kingship because of this blemish. He sued the bee-keeper, and the legal judgment was to cast a lot on all the hives in the apiary. The lot fell on one hive and the king confiscated that. Hence, all the bees in the hive were held to be guilty for the offense of one bee. The human eye-closing reflex is so rapid that a bee sting would be unlikely to penetrate to the cornea, so there are good chances the story is simply a fine tale. Later commentary on the law, however, mentions payment of one hive for blinding and two hives for killing a person by bee sting.iii

Honey was the main sweetening product until sugar-cane was imported to Europe, perhaps in the 12th century, and honey was valuable as a source of carbohydrate energy. It was especially prized in the winter months, and honey figures in literature as well as law, baked into bread, as an ingredient in fine cuisine (honey salmon or rubbed into meat before roasting) and in making mead or combined with malt to make bragget, between mead and beer in strength. Although honey was not considered appropriate for anyone suffering from diarrhea, it was highly recommended in restoring general health and could be demanded from a beekeeper for an invalid, even during the first three years of a hive’s “life”, when it otherwise had immunity to all obligations to neighbhours. As to bees’ legal home, there is some indication that hives were made from hollowed logs and later, wickerwork, with woven straw not coming in before the 17th century.iv

How does the law protect bees in your area? What are your traditions of honey in cuisine and in making beehives? Are bees associated with particular figures in your traditions? Above all, are there beehives in your collections?

Art in the beehive panels at the SEM Slovene Ethnographic Museum, Ljubljana

Illustrations of beehives and all the materials appurtenant to beekeeping, even the human beings, are buzzing in to our files. So, mark this blog in your agenda and send us illustrations from your own collections.

Cozette Griffin-Kremer (FR) and Hanna Ignatowicz (PO), at the Slovene Ethnographic Museum, Photo Kerry-Leigh Burchill


i Among several texts, the only complete copy is in the oldest surviving Irish legal manuscript (H.2.15A pp.20a19-26a7) in D.A. Binchy Corpus Iuris Hibernici pp. 444-57 (vol. II) and the language is dated to the mid-7th century CE. See Thomas Charles-Edwards and Fergus Kelly (eds.) Bechbretha, An Old Irish Law Tract on Bee-keeping, Dublin Insitute for Advanced Studies, 1983, pp. 1, 13.

ii See discussion in Bechbretha p. 40-43, 190.

iii Fergus Kelly Early Irish Farming, Dublin Institute, 1998, pp. 156-157.

iv EIF, 113, 191, 335, 338, 348, 350.