Detroit Hives Sweetens Life in Detroit

Detroit Hives co-founder Nicole Lindsey. Photo by Timothy Paule

Detroit Hives co-founders Nicole Lindsey and Timothy “Paule” Jackson have made it their mission to help Detroit thrive through bee hives.

Tim Jackson is a Detroit native, born and raised. He studied advertising and commercial photography at Wayne State University. Nicole Lindsay attended Oakland University and received a degree in psychology. Together, they founded Detroit Hives, a non-profit devoted to cultivating bee hives in Detroit.

MN: What is the origin story of Detroit Hives?

DH: There is a really long story about the creation of Detroit Hives and I will try to make it brief. It basically stemmed from a call to action. The city of Detroit put out a call to action looking for non-profits or community organizations to buy back many of the vacant lots that we had in the city. At this time, around summer 2016, Our city had well over 90,000 vacant lots. These vacant lots were causing issues within our community, and lowering the value of our neighborhoods. The city of Detroit at the time did not have the budget to tend to these vacant lots. They were looking for residents to buy them back for as low as a hundred dollars, but most residents didn’t want to because of the upkeep. They would need to pay tax, tend to the lawn, and constantly keep an eye out to make sure no one is dumping on them. Nicole and I found this as an opportunity to change the narrative about our city. Detroit wasn’t always painted as the place to be or as a place you would want to go to. People talked about the crime, unemployment rate, vacant lots, and violence. We wanted to figure out how we can change the narrative about vacant lots and about our city? But also, how do we change the narrative about what people think about people who reside in underserved communities? We set out a mission to transform these vacant lots into something innovative, game changing, and that would change the narrative. So in order to do that, we had tons of ideas, ideas from a Peacock farm, Urban glamping studios, outdoor photography studios and urban gardens. We had different ideas that were very unique that would captivate and galvanize people to see change. All these are ideas that were great when we talked about them, but we just didn’t act on them until December of 2016, where I had a really bad cough and cold that I was trying to get rid of. It led me to learn about local raw honey from Ferndale, Michigan. From there I began to learn more about this product, and how bees create it. My partner, Nicole, began to see my interest in just learning a little bit more about bees and honey. Then we connected the dots to transforming vacant lots to a bee farm. We figured this idea was new and innovative. We had never heard of a non-profit transform vacant lots into bee farms to provide local raw honey, so we went right into that mission to transform vacant lots and help underserved communities support people and pollinators, and that’s how we gave birth to and pollinated Detroit Hives.

MN: Where do your bees come from?

DH: We try to purchase a lot of our bees locally. That way it is climatized. A lot of our local raised bees are raised from places like Turtle Bee Farms, where they have different types of mite resistant stocks. If we can’t get our hands on mite resistant stocks we still try to support local beekeepers by buying packaged bees as local as possible.

MN: Please share how bees make honey and when is the best time to harvest the honey.

DH: It depends on your region of where and when you are harvesting. Forger bees are the oldest working bees inside their hives. Their job is to go look for groceries. In this case for honey they are looking for nectar. They have a very long tongue called a proboscis, it is like a straw. With the proboscis they are able to go deep inside a flower blossom. They use their honey stomachs to slurp out the nectar and process enzymes. They fly back to the beehive where they are met with another worker bee and begin to find a way to transfer the nectar to another worker bee. They regurgitate that nectar into another worker bee, that worker bee collects it and stomachs the enzymes, this process is then repeated several times. They then deposit the nectar inside a honeycomb cell. Once the nectar is deposited it is still not quite honey, the bees have to use their wings to evaporate up to 85% of the water content in the nectar. They then use their lower abdomen to secrete wax. They begin to form a top with some type of layer on top of this honeycomb. This is a way they can preserve the honey for later dates. Just like we put tops on our jars and lids, they also seal off their honeycomb so they can save for a later date. Honey is their stored food for when there aren’t any flowers around. The best time to harvest honey is around the fall time, but every hive is different, especially in Detroit. Typically the best time to harvest honey is August- September. September is national honey month, and that’s where most beekeepers harvest their honey. Then there’s a second time you can harvest honey which is typically around the springtime. This is because we offer the conservation of pollinators, and we reserve at least 100 pounds of honey. We collect because bees do not like to eat stored honey in the spring, they prefer fresh nectar. It is important to note rain can slow down honey flow, so it truly depends on location and hive.

MN: How much honey can one hive generate?

DH: Again, it depends. The average is around 80-100 pounds in your first beginning year. It can generate upwards, so about 300 pounds of honey if you have good honey flow, and it varies.

MN: How much honey does Detroit Hives harvest in a season? Where does the honey go?

DH: Here at Detroit Hives we have 54 honey bee colonies. We typically harvest 600 lbs. Og honey annually. We reserve at least 80-100 lbs. pounds of any honey that is not harvested. We sell to local vendors, local farmers markets, and we also give away to the community.

MN: What is the mission of Detroit Hives?

DH: Detroit Hives is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, whereby we work to improve underserved communities for both people and pollinators by transferring vacant lots to educational apiaries. We also work for the conservation of polymers by creating green spaces.

MN: What are some of the programs that Detroit Hives offers?

DH: We offer a “Bee The Change” program where we have educated over 8,000 students on the importance of pollinator conservation. We also have a program called, “Mini Murals,” which works with local artists. We go through a social curriculum to paint mini murals on all of our beehives.

MN: What can visitors to Detroit Hives expect?

DH: I think the opportunity to really get a basic understanding of pollinators and how to conserve these pollinators, free spaces for both people and pollinators, and how we both shared a symbiotic relationship. Also a unique experience within city limits. People get a unique experience in the city where they learn the history of beekeeping and the inner workings of the hive. Detroit Hives is a real call to change the narrative. This is not a project done by someone outside of our own community. It is a call to action to change the way we see and value our community. Detroit is now a bee city. The city now recognizes the importance of our native bees. Not our honey bees, but the 465 different species of native bees we have here in the city. Everyone is now working together to support the initiative, with the city behind us.

MN: What advice do you have for people who are afraid of bees?

DH: Most people aren’t afraid of bees, most are afraid of wasps and yellow jackets. Bees are mostly misunderstood. My advice would be that they will only visit you if you look or smell like a flower. Nine times out of 10 once the bee senses you are not a flower, they will fly away.

MN: What does it take to be a beekeeper?

DH: Dedication, passion, perseverance. You have to love what you do and have a why. There are a lot of trends, and we embrace trends. A lot of people say beekeeping or urban beekeeping is trendy, and that’s fine.

MN: What kinds of flowers do bees use to make their honey?

DH: They don’t use flowers to bait their honey. They are attracted to the flowers because of their color and scent. Once they sense the color and scent, they go for the nectar. They are attracted to anything on the ultraviolet light spectrum, anything that’s on the purple bluish, yellowish color. This could be anything from a red clover to a white clover to dandelions, purple cornflowers, echinaceas, or wild bergamot. They are attracted to flowers that have a sweet smell because it is their food. They are looking for flowers that have tons of nectar and pollen.

MN: How do the bees in the city get what they need for their hives and honey?

DH: It varies, but here in Detroit, we are a little bit different because we have an abundance of green space. When we started this organization, we had 24 square miles of vacant land that had yet to return to productive use, and most of the land was left unattended, free of pesticides, so we had tons of native wildflowers growing, sprouting as far as thistles, goldenrod, clovers, perennials and fruit trees from past neighbors. In fact, there’s been some studies conducted with Detroit vacant lots as relates to native bees or pollinators, and they’ve discovered that global bee populations are much higher in urbanized cities because of the vacant lots, and that Detroit is boosting native bee populations because of its vacant lots and vacant land. That’s how the landscape of Detroit has had a huge impact on native bees and other divisions of pollinators, not only native bees, but all wildlife. As the vacant lots had been left unattended for many years, a sort of urban jungle had been created unintentionally. We see different types of wildlife flourish in these jungles. We see wildlife such as, hummingbirds, blue jays, hawks, wild turkeys, vultures, deer, gophers, rabbits, different types of bees, native and non-native. Detroit has an otter that came back that hadn’t been seen in 100 years. Our entire ecosystem in Detroit has been attracting and helping wildlife. We need to keep it green.

MN: What are some benefits of local honey?

DH: Local honey goes hand in hand with raw honey. When your honey is local and raw it has traces of pollen from your local region. This helps to create immunotherapy, meaning restore your immune system. We aren’t just talking about flowers that have pollen, we’re talking about pollen from things like herbs that are medicinal. If you are dealing with allergies, raw honey is perfect because it creates immunity within your system. You can also use honey for asthma or to heal wounds. Honey is like a nice, sweet medicine that is all around good for your body.

MN: What is unique about beekeeping in Detroit?

DH: Everyone has their own niche. There are people who beekeep on rooftops, backyards, but what makes us unique is that our mission is to beekeep on vacant lots. This helps to create a positive financial, social, and environmental impact on the city.

MN: Detroit has many abandoned and vacant lots. What role has Detroit Hives had in addressing vacant land in Detroit?

DH: Beautifying our city. At first people could not connect the dots between beekeeping and vacant lots. They couldn’t see how it could be beneficial. We really helped the people of Detroit reimagine what can be done with vacant land. Often when you think about pollinators, insects, native bees or honey bees, you only think about supporting environmental conservation. You don’t think about how we can link this to meaningful community engagement or civic engagement opportunities. And, I think that one thing we contributed to the city trade is not just supporting pollinators, but also people and pollinators. Having educational programming and ways people can come get together and thrive together to support one another. You start to see a lot of similar missions happening in the city or similar goals to help others revitalize land, but also pairing these revitalization projects together with community programming, that’s something that did not happen prior to 2016. Visitors to Detroit are able to see what’s going on, not just downtown, but in the communities as well. We exist within the community, so when people visit they get the opportunity to engage with the residents in Detroit.

MN: What are some of the threats to bees?

DH: The number one threat to bees, wildlife, pollinators, and indigenous people is lack of habitat. Over time, we’ve done away with our natural environments by introducing roads, freeways, highways, commercial developments and sky rises. The result is displacement of wildlife.The biggest threat is deforestation. One way we can help support our wildlife and native bees is restoring their natural habitats. Another way we can support is not using chemicals like pesticides, insecticides and herbicides. These help keep their food and shelters clean and healthy. Another Another threat to our native bees and pollinators is monocultures. The environment needs biodiversity and inclusion so there’s a balance. We need environments that support plant diversity. Detroit has been supporting this cause by not using pesticides; the vacant lots allow for native flowers to grow and thrive. We have seen an increase in native species in the area because of this support.

MN: What are some of the future goals of Detroit Hives?

DH: One of our newest initiatives is certifying Detroit as a designated “bee city” U.S.A. affiliate. In addition to that, it’s restoring more habitats throughout the city of Detroit. We no longer have 90,000 vacant lots; we have somewhere around 50,000. As the city grows more popular to visitors, we want to continue beautifying our city and continue managing our green spaces to support pollinators. We want to expand our Bee to Change program and educate over 10,000 students on the importance of pollinator conservation. We want to make sure developers are including insects, native bees and wildlife in their plans. Overall, our goal is to continue with a green initiative.

Information on Detroit Hives is available at