Thursday, November 18, 2010

Criminal Beekeeping

How hard or easy something feels is simply a matter of where you choose to aim your focus.
~ Shari Becht,

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 caf├ęs 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’

Author’s photos


Anonymous said...

I wanna be a BEEK.

I read hubs your article. VERY informative and happy to know urban beekeeping is gettng more attention and laws are being changed!

YOU are a big part of that ya know!

information is power!



Cindy said...


JJ is helping me leave comments..Anon is ME


Joan said...

Hi Cindy!
You can be a beek, just as soon as you get your bees...or maybe you already are a beek just cuz you're so into bees! Welcome to the beek club! And thanks for the encouragement...I think I really am helping to get info out there in my own little way.

Shari B. (FitFeat) said...

I feel so special that I was the lead-in quote on this post! Thanks so much!!!

How fun to know that there are some BEEKS in Denver, fighting for their rights and winning!

One of my classmates and I had a brief discussion the other day about honey and beekeeping. He is a vegan and therefore, no honey, because his feeling is that it's taking honey away from the bees and therefore harming them in some way, not to mention that taking away their food supply could be something leading to their overall reduction in numbers lately. I, on the other hand, do consume honey (I'm not a vegan) but I do it in small amounts because (1) I appreciate all the work that the bees must go through in order to create such a wonderful healthful treat for us humans and (2) was kind of under the impression that by supporting beekeepers within my state, I'd be helping them grow so that in turn the number of bees can grow.

I thought our difference in views was very interesting and wondered what your thoughts are on the topic, as a beekeeper. Am I being supportive of bee growth by consuming honey - OR - do you think that they are dwindling because of their food supply (honey) being 'stolen' from them?

Happy early Thanksgiving! :)

Joan said...

Hi Shari,
Sorry for the delay in responding…I wanted to give my reply careful consideration as there are important aspects here. I think its wonderful Shari that you got to have that discussion with a vegan friend. In my opinion he is partly right. My opinion is based on my beliefs. His opinion is based on his beliefs, and I do think we must each reach our own conclusions, based on our beliefs, emotions and research.

I believe animals were created for our use, but not our abuse. Today’s typical livestock practices are inhumane and abusive, but that’s another discussion. I believe cows were created for us to enjoy their milk and milk products. They make enough naturally to support their offspring and supply humanity. They will produce milk whether we use it or not. Chickens will lay eggs and bees will make honey whether we use them or not. Removing eggs from a chicken coop does not harm the chicken, nor does removing honey from the hive harm the bees.

The critical factor here is the farmer and beekeeper must know how much or little to use for our own consumption and leave plenty for the animals own needs. If too much honey is taken, the beekeeper must feed sugar syrup which is a poor diet for bees. As you know poor diet means poor health, so in that regard if bees don’t have their own natural honey diet they will not be as healthy and could die or be in a weakened state…in that your vegan friend is right.

But that alone does not address the whole issue regarding the decline of bees. Partly, yes we humans have abused the bee population, just as we abuse the livestock population. I know for a fact that 40 years ago Canadian commercial honey practice was to kill off the bee colonies in the fall and harvest ALL the honey for sale. That is no longer done but today bees do get chemical antibiotics and viral meds unless you are an organic beekeeper like me. When people get too much of that stuff it creates new problems for us just as it does for bees and livestock. Chemical overload is also part of the problem.

Thirdly, we are global. There are naturally occurring viruses and predatory mites in foreign countries that those native bees can tolerate and easily coexist with. But when you mix bees from one continent with bees of another continent where that virus does not exist the later bees have no immunity to fight off the virus. Bees hitch rides on shipping containers just like rats, so they bring with them foreign diseases and parasites which when introduced to a different country and different bee population that has never had that virus before, you will have problems. They lack that particular immunity. Feed them cane sugar syrup or HFCS after you take away ALL their honey and pollen and douse the crops they are foraging in with chemicals you compound that problem and further weaken them.

The reason for bee decline is:
Poor beekeeping practices
Chemical overload
Commercial stress factors
Introduction of foreign diseases and parasites
Diminished gene pool

As you say, there is a wealth of healthful nutrition in what healthy animals produce, just as there is in organic plant material. My idea of a healthy farm is one that gets unfertilized eggs from free range chickens which will die of old age not slaughter, honey from natural beekeeping practices and organic produce grown just outside your back door. Before the 1940’s that is how much of America lived.

My colony is more than 3 years old now. Many of my fellow beeks have lost their colonies and start over every year. I am organic and they are not. This year is the first I have taken any honey off, as this is the first year I felt there was some to spare. And you are right, by buying honey from reputable honey producers you are supporting reputable practices which helps to increase bee populations. By buying locally you are helping your local economy and by having this discussion with friends you are truly helping bees by increasing awareness even in disagreement.

Shari B. (FitFeat) said...

Wow Joan, what a thoughtful and thorough answer. I really appreciate you taking the time to write so much on this topic.

We have multiple instructors at school, and the one who grades all of our homework keeps making notes on my recipes that I should be using raw honey whenever I have Sucanat listed. (And I won't change it, so if I see next time that I get marked points off, I'll say something.) The reason I won't change it has to do with what I mentioned in my first comment to this post - that I feel honey is something special and should be used in small amounts. I can't imagine using it in cooking or in recipes where I'd have to use a lot, especially when there are perfectly good sweeteners like Sucanat that may not be as "good" for me as honey, but that I feel have less impact on a living being.

I had no idea that commercial beekeeping gives bees antibiotics and chemicals similar to the issue in animals. That really bums me out! And to know that they are fed sugar that's bad for them, instead of their own honey! Thank you so much for educating me on this topic - I always learn so much from you!

I have plenty more to say - but my client will be here in about 30 seconds so I have to get this posted!!

Shari :)

Joan said...

Hi Shari,
I could go on and on re: this subject too...I had to limit myself on the reply above believe it or not! :)

I agree with you about cooking with honey. I don't do it either as it uses so much. I can't imagine using a cup of honey in a recipe. I like to use fruit sweeteners in place of all sugars, at least for baking. Did your class ever use them? I agree, honey is best savoured and cooking/baking loses the nuance of the flavor. I can't believe your instructor marks you down for not doing things his/her way. What ever happened to individuality and creativity of the student. Does he/she just want to graduate creative chefs or just replicas of him/herself? Definitely you should say something!