Manchester, MI

Manchester, Michigan Couple Work To Save the Honey Bees

Tracy Stengel
Photo courtesy of Nancy Hieber.

Today, there are approximately 115,000–125,000 beekeepers in the United States. Most are hobbyists, and two of them are Don and Nancy Hieber in Manchester, Michigan. They are doing important work to save the honey bees right in their own backyard.

Honey bees are vital to humans because they pollinate at least a third of the food we eat and 75% of our most popular and nutritious crops. Yet for some reason, the honey bee population is in jeopardy.

In 2018, the Wall Street Journal reported on their decline:

It started mysteriously in 2006, when hives began failing en masse across North America, and next spread to Europe. Healthy-seeming bees would simply fly away and never come back, leaving behind combs full of honey and a dying untended queen.

Not only do Don and Nancy Hieber have several hives at their Manchester residence, they also educate people on the importance of these amazing insects. Pre-Covid, Don and Nancy would visit area schools and get kids excited about the environment by sharing fun facts about bees and beekeeping.
Don and Nancy tending their hives. Photo courtesy of Nancy Hieber.

Don and Nancy explained to me there are three types of bees in each hive, or colony:

Queen — There is only one queen per colony and she runs the whole hive. Her main job is to lay eggs. During her busiest time, spring and summer, she can lay up to 2,500 eggs a day! Every queen does a “mating flight” where she mates with up to 45 drones. She collects their sperm and stores it in her spermatheca, a circular sack that is part of her reproductive system and is only fully developed in a queen. With that one trip, she has a lifetime supply of sperm!

Workers — Worker bees are a very busy all-female staff. They forage for food, protect the hive, and tend to the queen. They are the bees you see flying around a hive. Their lifespan is about four weeks. The main cause of death of a worker bee is burnout. After around 500 miles of flight, their wings wear out.

Drones — All of the drones are male. They only comprise about 5% of a hive’s population, which is a good thing, because they don’t do any work. Their main function is to mate with the queen in the spring and summer. If a drone is chosen to mate with the queen, his abdomen explodes and he dies. The remaining drones in the hive that didn’t mate with the queen may feel like they dodged a bullet, but come winter, when the hive goes into survival mode, the worker bees kick the drones out!
Don tending the hives. Photo courtesy of Nancy Hieber.

Don plucked a drone out of his observation hive, held it gently between his thumb and forefinger, and brought it up to me so I could get a closer look

I jumped back. “I’m allergic!” I said.

“The males don’t have stingers,” Don explained.

I remained leery. How could he tell a worker from a drone? They looked the same to me.

“Drones have much bigger eyes than the worker bees. See?” He said, holding the bee out to me.

I took his word for it.

Their numerous hives are kept on two sides of Nancy’s large garden. “They communicate with each other by doing a dance called a waggle. Their bodies vibrate and they fly in a figure-eight pattern. That’s how they tell the others where the best food source is located. Then, they fly to and from the hive while gathering pollen. When I’m working in the garden, I try to stay out of their flight pattern.”

Nancy is a smart and brave lady!
A swarm of bees. Photo courtesy of Nancy Hieber.

Sometimes in the spring, Don will get a call about a local swarm of bees in Manchester. Swarming happens when a hive gets too crowded. Some of the bees will split off to form a new colony. To prepare for the swarm, a few eggs are laid in larger than normal cells. The larva is fed “royal jelly,” a special food that will create a queen. There can be multiple swarms from one hive and each must have a queen.

Don will go to the site of the swarm and carefully sever a branch off the tree where the bees are swarming. He places it in a nuc box or empty beehive and leaves it on the ground. Then, he waits. Mind you, there may be thousands of bees still flying around, but if the queen is in the box, the rest of the bees will go into the box before dark.


Lucky for Don, bees are rather docile while swarming. They don’t have a nest or food supply to protect. They don’t want to waste their stinger in a non-threatening situation, otherwise they will die. Only a queen can sting and still survive.

Don and Nancy welcome visitors to check out their hives and talk about the birds (namely, purple martins) and the bees. Their yard is a home to bats as well!

If you’d like to protect the honey bee population, but aren’t as daring as Don and Nancy, consider planting nectar and pollen-rich flowers such as lilacs, roses, coneflowers and lilies. Not only will you be helping the environment, but your yard will be BEE-utiful!


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Tracy explores the world with a positive eye, an open heart, and a sprinkling of humor. Without laughter, she would be lost.

Onsted, MI

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