Will be keeping be legalized in Minneapolis?
With fall in the air, winter
just around the corner, and many animals looking toward hibernation, it seems odd to write about bees. Bees are the denizens of spring and summer, busily visiting flowers and gardens everywhere. This year though, while bees take the winter off, a group of people will be busy trying to legalize
beekeeping in Minneapolis.
Beekeeping in the city!? Why would anyone want to do that? Actually, many city-dwellers enjoy this hobby. Beekeeping is allowed and encouraged in many cities, such as Boston, Chicago, Dallas, San Francisco, Seattle, and even St. Paul. Other cities, including Minneapolis, do not allow beekeeping. But that doesn’t stop people from keeping secret beehives in back yards and rooftops, or in attics and garages. Even the University of Minnesota has bees on top of the Bell Museum.
There are a lot of reasons to keep bees in the city says Elise Kyllo, an urban beekeeper. “They are needed for pollination. Bees are also more susceptible to diseases in the country and to sharing diseases among entire bee populations. Bees can forage on a wider variety of flowers in the city.” Kyllo likes to keep bees for self-sufficiency and because it’s local food. “I’m part farmer and I live in the city,” Kyllo explains. “I’m striving for self-sufficiency in the city. I can’t tap maple trees, but I can keep bees and make my own sugar.”
Peat Willcutt, assistant market manager of the Mill City Farmer’s Market, is part of a group working to change Minneapolis ordinances and permits regarding bees (as well as hoofed animals). Willcutt also sees a lot of reasons to keep bees: “Bees are the most economical animal to have. You buy the bees and the house; the bees find their own food.” Also, a hive doesn’t take up much space so you can produce food from a very small footprint.
Willcutt also believes in keeping animals that benefit his house and garden. He has cats to catch mice and chickens to take care of compost and lay eggs.
Water from the fish tank goes to the garden. Bees would improve pollination for his garden and increase the yield of his plants. Bees are also very quiet.
But a lot of people think bees are dangerous because of the potential for getting stung. “Actually, bees are quite docile,” says Willcutt. “You can be as close as 4 or 5 feet from a beehive and not get stung.” When Willcutt works with bees he wears a veil, but not the rest of the beekeepers suit. The trick is to be calm: If you panic, the bees will panic.
Kyllo says a lot of people confuse yellow jackets, hornets and honey bees. Yellow jackets and hornets are more aggressive and their stings are worse. Honeybees are much gentler. If you are stung by a bee, Kyllo explains, you will have a reaction to the venom, which includes swelling and some pain. But that doesn’t mean you are allergic to bees. Watching her bees buzz around, Kyllo has noticed they have a definite traffic pattern, a bee highway. “They are on a mission,” she says. “And it’s not to sting you.”
The mission of a bee, of course, is to gather nectar and bring it back to the hive to make honey. It takes nectar from about two million flowers to make one pound of honey. Every hive has one queen who lays all the eggs (up to 1,000 eggs a day), about 100 male drones, and a lot of worker bees. A full hive has as many as 60,000 bees. The most important thing bees do is to pollinate flowers. Without pollination, one-third of what we eat would disappear.
“Beekeeping is a really wonderful meditative practice,” says Kyllo. While it can be stressful at times and a lot of work, she loves it; she finds it relaxing when she’s working with the bees and they swarm and buzz around her.
Kyllo got interested in beekeeping after reading “The Secret Life of Bees.” She took a class at the University of Minnesota, but says, “You don’t really learn until you do it yourself.” Willcutt says if you want to keep bees, you can’t just order a bee kit and read a how-to book. Most people who keep bees learn how to do it from other beekeepers. Kyllo agrees that it would be ideal to have a mentor, but many beekeepers aren’t in the city.
Willcutt and the group working to change animal ordinances in Minneapolis note that St. Paul allows bees (as well as goats and other hoofed animals) and there is no reason Minneapolis ordinances should be different. In St. Paul, beekeepers are required to keep their hives behind locked fences and to have signs announcing that there is a beehive on the property. Having a fence or hedge by the beehive is one precaution you can take to reduce the possibility of bees and humans running into each other. With a fence or hedge by the beehive, bees will fly up instead of straight out of their hive.
Once bees are allowed in Minneapolis, there are a lot of resources to get started. You can take a class. You can find information and support through the Minnesota Hobby Beekeepers Association (www.mnbeekeepers.com). You can also take a look at books such as “The Backyard Beekeeper: An Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Keeping Bees in Your Yard and Garden,” by Kim Flottum.
If you support a change to Minneapolis laws allowing bees and hoofed animals, contact Peat Willcutt at firstname.lastname@example.org.