The hives are in Salem Township northeast of Ann Arbor, a short drive from the family’s home near Packard Street and Stone School Road. In white jumpsuits with screened hoods over their faces, Piette and Kimata resemble astronauts as they check a hive looking for a queen bee—or eggs, which would indicate that a queen lives there. No sign. They drive a short distance to another site to get a queen being held on reserve. “It’s like having queen bee insurance,” explains Kimata. “If something goes wrong, we have a queen available.” Piette describes her as “a lady in waiting.”
The hives stand about five feet high and look like stacks of pastel-colored wooden drawers. This time of year, the top three “supers” are full of honey—about thirty-five pounds in each one. This is what the couple will collect and sell. The lower part of the hive, called the brood chamber, holds honey the bees will need to survive the winter.
Each super contains ten flat frames. Kimata pulls one out, revealing hundreds of bees crawling over the honeycomb. She pumps the handle on a tin can filled with burning wood chips, pushing smoke over the frame and calming the bees. Kimata points out the queen, which is longer than the others. Every day the queen can lay her weight in eggs—up to 3,000 of them. Queen breeding is a huge deal, Piette says—the best ones are artificially inseminated and sell for about $700. Piette and Kimata buy naturally inseminated queens, which are much less expensive, though not as reliable for good genes.