Backyard beekeeping — municipal codes can be a buzz kill 6-12-14

Heather Hacking
Several weeks ago I was at a potluck/musical jam at the home of a friend. While all the strummers and singers were happily absorbed, I became mesmerized by the homeward journey of tens of thousands of pollinators.

The day was nearly done and the bees appeared from somewhere past the fence line, drifting in half a dozen at a time. As each wave of insects glided toward their shelter, they followed the same path, at almost exactly the same 45 degree angle, expertly landing on painted wood near the entrance to the hive.

I watched the peaceful order of the daily return, thinking of nothing as the muffled music continued inside.

The trance was broken only when our host joined me at the corner of his yard.

“You look just like a British beekeeper,” he said. “Every night at this time they ‘tell the news’ to the bees.”

Dusk does seem like the right time to quietly reflect upon the day, perhaps even to talk out loud — to the bees, to yourself or to God.

I looked it up later and folklore has it that when a beekeeper dies, the family goes to “tell the bees,” hoping that the bees will stay. Other news was shared with bees as well, such as births or marriages.

My host was quite proud of the hive, which sits in a corner of the yard. Perhaps the plants would have been vibrant either way, but they looked brighter now that I knew they had 60,000 pollinating helpers.

Bees have been on my mind since then, mostly because I’ve noticed only a few in my own yard.

I blame the drought for slow start to my tomatoes. The tomato blossoms are ready to be poked and massaged, but the insects responsible for pollinating 30 percent of the crops in the world have left my yard off their flight path.

Once a week I put together a drought tip (, and due to the advice I’ve gathered, I’ve cut back on buying new plants. This makes my yard fairly unattractive, to me and to bees.

Now the most frequent buzzing insects I see are wasps — the kind that sting and the smaller version that gnaw crescent-shaped bites from leaves.

Perhaps I would get a bee hive, I mused, thinking of my own parties, with musicians tucked away inside and my quiet time watching the bees return home.

I called a bee expert

Richard Jones is one of those guys you call when an unwanted swarm of bees shows up at a coffee shop or in your neighbor’s mimosa tree.

He said I shouldn’t fret too much. Other insects are also useful in pollination, just not as diligent. Butterflies, moths, birds and flies, even crawling insects will do the job, Richard said, even earwigs and beetles. Wasps, however, are not on his list.

(For a boat-load of interesting information about polliantors, here’s a pamphlet by the Natural Resources Conservation Service:

We talked for a long time, Richard and I, waxing about bees and their collective impact on flowers and crops. I told him about the mutterings of Englishmen at dusk.

By the end of the conversation I was so jazzed I was ready to find a box and invite 60,000 new friends to my yard. As far as Richard knew, it’s permissible for residential homeowners to have one hive tucked away.

We also discussed checking with neighbors to make sure none are terribly allergic.

The next phone call was a buzz kill

Just to be sure, I called the city code inspector, and went to the city website to look at bee codes ( -City Municipal Code).

Richard was right, one bee hive is allowed, but under such restrictions that they aren’t really allowed for most people, including my gracious musician-host.

Because I was hoping an exception existed for garden columnists or blondes who traveled with rubber chickens, I talked at length with Renee Schreindle, a code enforcement person.

To legally keep that one, flower and vegetable-enhancing hive you need to have a plot of land of at least 10,000 square-feet. Also, the hive needs to be at least 100 feet from the right-of-way of your neighbors’ home. Other rules apply, including registering the hive with the Agricultural Commissioner.

Enforcement of city codes is based upon complaints.

Back to the drawing board for now. Maybe I can do some research on keeping pollinating insects like flies and beetles.

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