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Detroit Hives Uses Bees to Combat Blight in the City's Hardest Hit Neighborhoods

A little bit of honey goes a long way.

Lauren Jeziorski

Did you know without bees, within the next four or five years our civilization – along with plants and animals – would cease to exist?

According to Detroit Hives co-founder Timothy Paule, this is because bees perform the crucial task of pollinating our global food supply. To put it plainly, bees keep our plants and crops alive. No bees + no pollination = dead crops and no food, which ultimately means we would starve to death.

These are the kind of un-bee-lievable facts Paule and co-founder Nicole Lindsey are dropping on the community – along with addressing melissophobia, which is the fear of honeybees. "These honeybees that we have in our community, they aren't harmful, they just want to pollinate vegetation," Paule says. "Once we educate people in the community, the less likely they are to be afraid of them and (instead) embrace them." Simultaneously, Paule and Lindsey – who've also been dating since 2015 – are revitalizing vacant lots in the city of Detroit, turning what some deem eyesores into bumbling bee hives since 2017.

A buzz in the community

Their first lot, which sits on East Warren, is 3,500 square feet and was purchased under a "community partnership" with Detroit Land Bank for $340. "There are some abandoned homes behind the vacant land that we would like to get demolished," says Paule. "The city is saying that there's tax liens on those homes and it's $35,000 for each home. These homes are dilapidated and they pose as a breeding ground for injury and crime. We would love to have those homes removed, but we are just looking for grants and funding to take our project to the next level."

Last year, they also purchased a second lot at State Fair and Hoover streets spanning a whopping 32,800 square feet. Paule says they've already secured 10 hives that will be brought to the property through local beekeepers and members of the Southeastern Michigan Beekeepers Association. The plan is to expand the East Warren site to host a lavender garden, wildflower meadow, sunflower garden and shipping container facility where honey is stored and classes are offered to teach the community about these precious and delicate creatures.

This vision first arose from a two-month cold Paule just couldn't shake. He says he tried every over-the-counter medication and nothing seemed to work – until he visited a local market in Ferndale and the store owner recommended he try a daily dose of local raw honey. After consuming the alternative medicine for some time, he noticed his symptoms improving. "I began to research to figure out why local honey – and why it has to be raw," says Paule. "I learned with local honey … a lot of times what triggers your allergies during that hay fever season is that pollen. What bees do is take that pollen and that nectar and put it into the honey. By consuming it on a daily basis, it makes your body more immune to the flowers, the spores and the pollen that's within that environment."

'Cleaning up our area'

Lindsey says that discovery and subsequent research triggered the idea to bring the power of local honey to vacant lots in the city of Detroit. "It's a win-win for everyone," Paule says. "It's winning for the bees, it's winning for the community, and it's also great for medicinal (use). We use a lot of our local honey to partner with organizations."

So far, Detroit Hives has teamed up with local businesses like Cream Blends in Royal Oak, where a percentage of their beeswax is being used to create lip moisturizer; Slows Bar BQ, where a percentage of the honey produced from the hives goes towards the production of a local honey barbecue sauce; and Detroit's Juice & Fuel, where their honey is being used to make smoothies.

In addition, Greening of Detroit volunteers assist with revitalizing the vacant lots – which are usually piled with all kinds of trash and debris. "By cleaning this out it's not only cleaning up our area, but it's also revitalizing it by planting flowers, by planting urban gardens and all types of fruit trees in this area," Paule says. "We are also installing beehives and the bees not only visit our plants and flowers, but nearby plants and flowers."

Because vacant lots have been abandoned for years, they're often great breeding grounds for honeybees. The lack of pesticides and herbicides often found on commercial crops – which contribute to the declining bee population – aren't present on these plots of land. There are goldenrods, dandelions and various species of Michigan wildflowers many deem weeds. These "weeds," however, help keep our black and bright yellow pollinators flourishing.

Queen bee

As a beekeeper, Lindsey says her job is essentially to manage the hives while the bees do all the work. "We are making sure the queen is laying eggs, that the bees are making nectar, and then we check to see how much honey they are making," she says. "We also make sure they aren't outgrowing that space."

If they do outgrow it, Lindsey says they'll add more "frames" to what they call a "nuc" or a nucleus. A nucleus colony is a makeshift beehive built with the purpose of transferring small bee colonies, which are often created from larger ones. These nucs can often be purchased from beekeepers for $160-$180 and contain frames with combs, a queen that has already started laying eggs, and 10,000 bees.

"What makes a colony up is a queen – one queen," says Paule. "You have worker bees, which are all female, and then you have some drones which are the males. Females do all of the work. The queen does nothing at all besides lay eggs. Her job is to just lay eggs. She can lay up to 2,000 eggs a day. The drones' job is to mate with the queen and, once they mate with the queen, they instantly die."

So far, 20 to 30 groups have seen this phenomenon through the tours Detroit Hives offers on weekends. "We want people to actually come and experience what it's like to see a beehive," Paule says – "how the honeybees work inside the hive, and actually be able to taste the honey that's within them. We wanted to bring that experience and tour to the city because once we found out how it works, we wanted to share it with everybody else."

 

STICKERS + HONEY

Get Detroit Hives' Bee Moji Stickers for $1.99 in the Apple App Store to spread your love of honeybees and learn about beekeeping. Its next honey harvest is in August; visit their website then to buy an 8-ounce container for $20.

DETROIT HIVES TOURS

Get a glimpse of the Detroit's hard-working honeybees for yourself. They're available 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
Saturdays and Sundays, or you can schedule one. Tours are also arranged as an Airbnb experience for $25. Current tours run through Oct. 27, depending on weather. While basic tours are free, co-founders Timothy Paule and Nicole Lindsey do welcome donations.

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