Like many cities throughout the world, Detroit is currently experiencing something of a beekeeping resurgence. Longtime metro-Detroit beekeeper Rich Wieskie estimates that there are between 500 and 600 honeybee hives in the city limits, with an average hive being home to about 30,000 bees. Many beehives are located on urban farms or gardens, many in backyards or vacant lots.
More precise numbers are difficult to come by, both because the state stopped requiring beekeepers to register in 1993 and because beekeeping is currently extralegal (not explicitly legal or illegal) in Detroit. As a result, many beekeepers keep a low profile.
According to Roger Sutherland of the Southeast Michigan Beekeepers Association, there were at least 2,000 hives in Detroit in 1935. Beekeeping at the time was more popular because of widespread migration into the city from rural regions; people brought their agricultural practices with them.
Many beehives were kept on the roofs of Detroit buildings in the mid 20th century. A particularly noteworthy example of this was the roof of Prairie View Beekeeping Supplies on Rosa Parks Blvd, whose owner kept as many as 22 hives at a time on the roof.
By the early 1970s, the popularity of beekeeping in Detroit was in significant decline. This resulted in part from community objections to the perceived danger of keeping honeybees in urban areas. Legal questions of the day hinged on bees as a "public nuisance," and many urban beekeepers began hiding their hives.
In 1971, a Detroiter named Hector McGregor was convicted of creating a nuisance by keeping bees in his backyard. Five years later, the Michigan Court of Appeals overturned that conviction and ruled that keeping bees does not constitute a public nuisance, an important milestone in regional beekeeping history.
Just starting to consider keeping bees in Detroit? Feeling ready to get get started? Have experience but want to learn more/become part of a beekeeping community? There are a number of local/regional organizations and resources available to help you, including:
- Membership open to anyone interested in beekeeping
- Beginner and advanced classes, mentor program, annual conference, and equipment rental
- Online archive of monthly newsletters dating back to 2002
- Calendar of related events
- Michigan beekeeping FAQ
- Online marketplace
- Downloadable plans for DIY equipment
- Annual conference
- Assistance for beginner beekeepers, including answering questions and hosting a 20-hour beginner beekeeping course in the Spring. Target community is Detroit urban gardeners and farmers.
- Contact Kido Pielack at (313) 757-2635 or here.
- Annual event that features beginner beekeeping workshops/presentations by experts
- Next event is March 1-8, 2014