How hard or easy something feels is simply a matter of where you choose to aim your focus.
~ Shari Becht, FitFeat.com
Urban beekeepers are a nefarious lot. For the greater good, and our own pleasure, many have scoffed the laws for decades, simply by keeping bees. Beeks (a loving term for us bee geeks) have persevered under cover of hedges, fences and balconies and many lug their equipment up fire escapes to reach their secreted roof top apiaries. Some have faced stiff fines and/or jail time. But over time their tenacity has been to their benefit…and yours. Many have spent those decadent years petitioning their governing agencies for the right to bring beekeeping back into legal standing. The good news is not all hives are being forced out to pasture anymore. Every year municipalities are beginning to heed the cry of beeks all over the US to re-evaluate misguided bans on city beekeeping.
It used to be every Pennsylvanian one room schoolhouse had curriculum that included beekeeping because every house had a hive to provide wax for their candles and honey for their table. Those days are long gone, but the urban household hive is making a comeback because of focused beeks who would not be defeated.
For 10 years New York City beeks have illegally kept bees despite the possibility of a $2000 fine if caught looming over their heads. But with determination, beekeepers spent 2 years gathering signatures to petition their Department of Health to lift the ban on city beekeeping which became law in 2000. Until this year, bees were forbidden and classified as dangerous in that city along with tigers, panthers, tarantulas, cobras, alligators and Komodo dragons to name a few. As of 2010 NYC beeks and their bees are now lawfully communing.
In 2008 one Denver beekeeper was fined nearly $1000 and a year in jail if she didn’t get rid of her hives. She successfully challenged her penalty, which resulted in the city council re-evaluating and lifting their ban. Now Denver beeks can proudly and publicly promote the Denver Beekeepers Association. One Santa Monica beekeeper is currently in negations for legalization with that city council and reports support for his proposal.
Last year Minneapolis beeks successfully got a ban lifted that had been in effect for over 30 years. Yay!!
Today studies report that city bees have an easier time finding a continuous supply of nectar and pollen that isn’t found in many rural areas. And the wider range of flower types over a longer growing season in the urban landscape provide more variety of pollens and nectars which benefits hive health. Also urban areas appear to be less exposed to pesticides and fewer chemical traces are found in urban honey. Streets and rooftops absorb heat making it a warmer environment than rural areas and urban beeks can devote more time and can monitor hives more closely.
As more and more people learn about the importance of honeybees in our existence, I have seen fear recede into the background. In the years I’ve been attending our 3 nearest bee clubs, last year alone we saw membership double at each club. DOUBLE! Not just a handful of interest walked through the door but 30-50 people per club joined and took classes with serious intent to add beekeeping to their life experience. Clubs that numbered 20+ members now number 60-100. One club had to start another club because our meeting room was bursting at the seams.
With this kind of strength, municipalities that continue to ban bees will have a strong force to contend with when petitions and ordinances get drawn up by beeks and proposed for review. Not all ordinances are the same, each city has its own specifications. Some municipality requirements include registration of hives with the city or state, an annual permit fee and/or restrictions on the number of hives per acre. Some require a specific fence height and distance from property lines. Some regulate hive management and transportation of hives. Some have very few regulations.
They will also have many bee-friendly examples of urban success around the country with which they cannot argue. Managed hives have reportedly been thriving on the rooftops of London’s Royal Festival Hall, Paris’s Opera, Toronto’s Royal York Hotel, Academy of Science in San Francisco, Chicago’s City Hall, The White House grounds and hives were recently installed on Google’s Mountain View, CA campus after the company’s executive chef dreamed of a plan to cook with and serve the honey in the corporate cafés under his charge.
And more good news…in April this year West Virginia was the first US city to pass an ordinance that protects beekeepers (page 6 in pdf file) providing they follow ‘good neighbor’ practices. In exchange for following 14 rules, beekeepers are protected from lawsuits. No doubt more and more cities will be looking into this and protecting their beekeepers as well. This law received strong support from both our national House and Senate.
Are you an outlaw beek? Do you know one? I promise I won’t tattle.
The time is ripe to find a favorable environment to petition for the legalization of beekeeping in your city if it is currently banned. For a list of US cities still banning beekeeping check out this post from The Daily Green .
In Bloom In My Garden Today: Geum, Primrose, Gladiolus callianthus Abyssinian Glad, Cyclamen hederifolium, Gaura, Fushia, Alyssum, Nepeta, Schizostylus, Alyssum, Veronica, Salvia, Lavender, kirengeshoma palmata, Daphne caucasica ‘Eternal Fragrance’ and ‘Summer Ice’