Wilmington is a long way from the farms of Indiana, but Grand Opera House Executive Director Mark Fields makes up for the physical distance from his birthplace by maintaining an emotional connection to his agricultural roots through a most curious hobby: beekeeping. Perhaps, what’s even more curious is that this hobbyist’s hives—which house more than 10,000 bees—are located on the rooftop of downtown’s Grand Opera House. Though you may have seen these hard-working honey producers buzzing about town—they can travel up to 5 miles away from the hives in search of food—you may have had a sweeter run-in with them at local restaurant La Fia. Well, not literally but if you’ve ever had one of chef/owner Bryan Sikora’s cheeseboards, you’ve likely tasted the fruit of Fields’ (and his bees’) labor.

And laborious it is.

La Fia Cheeseboard Grand Bees

There really is no such thing as a casual beekeeper. It is labor- and time-intensive and can be costly. Beekeeping classes, memberships to local beekeeping clubs and groups, the equipment, and of course, the bees themselves require anyone thinking about getting into the apiary game to truly consider that, in many ways, bees will occupy a great deal of one's time. Mark Fields, though, seems perfectly content with his attention-hogging friends as he deftly climbs down the shingled-roof of the opera house. (I’m a considerable distance behind and second-guessing my life choices at this point.) He’s an excellent guide, though—careful to point out how not to impale myself on a low-positioned pipe and offering solid advice on how to navigate the sloped roof (sideways at an angle, thank you very much).

When we finally come upon his hives, his excitement is palpable. He repositions a makeshift birdbath that holds drinking water for the bees as he cautions against my natural urge to swat. I’m a tad disappointed that neither of us is wearing one of those comical beekeeper’s veils but Mark assures me it’s unnecessary since we won’t be extracting honey or disturbing the hives in any way. In other words, don’t swat and they won’t sting. He’s right and the bees go about their business, oblivious to our presence. The hives, tall and slender tiered wooden boxes, look simple enough but there’s a world of activity going on inside and it’s fascinating to think about all of nature’s intricacies that must take place to produce a single pint of honey. If it’s bee facts you want, consider Mark Fields your guru. He shares the following:

Bees on top of Grand



  • Honeybees’ only reason for existence is to protect the queen, ensuring the colony’s survival.
  • A queen bee can lay between 1,000 – 1,500 eggs a day.
  • The lifespan of a honeybee during peak production season is approximately 6 weeks (6 months during the dormant, cooler months).
  • A honeybee must gather nectar and pollen from approximately 2 million flowers to produce 1 pint of honey.
  • Raw, unfiltered honey (as it produced by Mark Fields’ hives) is often used for medical treatment in the homeopathic wellness community.
  • During the dormant, cooler season, bees will cluster together and surround the queen to keep her alive and warm; the average hive temperature will stabilize at around 95 degrees.
  • Bees are intuitive and can sense unwellness in the queen. If she falls ill and becomes unable to produce, the remaining bees will “elect” a new queen and kill the old one. (How very Shakespearean.)


After descending the roof, he explains the life of a honeybee and I’m intrigued. Sure, the queen may get all the glory but it’s her hive mates that really have the star power. Consider this: In the 6 short weeks of a bee’s lifespan, she (the majority of hive-dwelling bees are female with the exception of the drones) will take a turn performing all of the jobs necessary to keep the hive functioning. Imagine working one’s way up from the mailroom to the boardroom of the company by doing every single job in the company! The bees go from worker to nurse to guard all in service of the queen because protecting her is necessary for the hive’s survival.

“It really is astonishing,” Mark concedes as he offers me a bite of honeycomb from last year’s harvest. The honey that seeps out is straw-colored and a bit runny, the result of being produced in the summer months, with strong floral notes (the bees like to feast on the rosebushes behind the Delaware College of Art & Design).Mark and Bees on Grand Roof

He jokes that one of his beekeeping friends likes to say that no one is really a keeper of bees so much as he is a stealer of their food and Mark is a pretty adept “thief”. Last year, his hives yielded 60 pounds of honey and he expects at least that much by the end of this year’s harvest. He notes that by the end of the season, his bee population will likely increase to about 100,000 thanks to the 1,000 – 1,500 eggs a day laid by the queen. That’s a lot of honey and, according to Andrea Loconti, co-owner of La Fia, it is a welcomed addition to the restaurant’s menu.

A modern-day Renaissance man, Fields has grown his hobby into quite the enterprise. He sells the honey produced by his rooftop bees locally and, though at the moment La Fia is the only restaurant with his honey on the menu, expect to see his Sarah Bee Honey products popping up in more places. Making full use of his practically no-waste endeavor, Fields has been experimenting with candle-making by using beeswax extracted from his hives’ honeycombs and, in the true spirit of charity, he donates 50% of his bee product profits to the Grand Opera House. It’s truly a win-win for the city and for the industrious beekeeper.

It's true that Market Street is all abuzz with activity, but the next time you’re strolling along the busy row, don’t forget to take a peek behind the Delaware College of Art & Design to see Wilmington’s newest residents feasting on a row of rosebushes or pop in to La Fia to taste their sweet busywork.