Zoning verses Gardeners and Beekeepers
Posted: July 31, 2012
By Charles Breinig, Montgomery County Beekeeper
Beekeepers need your help. Most people already know that Honey bees are in decline and are critical to both local and national pollination. Native pollinators are also important, but since so many of the fruits and vegetables we have in our gardens are not native to the US; it falls on the Honey Bee to maintain the abundance we are so blessed to enjoy. A local paper recently had a front page article about a Beekeeper’s neighbor who was allergic to bees and was on a crusade to change the zoning laws in her township to severely restrict backyard beekeepers. This is causing many townships to investigate if they should have similar ordinances.
Most gardeners, school children, and people who are environmentally conscious know about the plight of the Honey Bee. Their populations have been affected by CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder), from mites (the bee equivalent of a tick), and from pesticide use from farmers and suburban homeowners. Their populations are roughly 50% of what they were in the early 1980s. But thanks to news stories, there has been a resurgence in the interest of Backyard Beekeeping and protecting honey bees at a local level. Local backyard beekeepers are rare, but growing, and should be encouraged by local municipalities.
The problem is that there are many people who are scared of bees. I myself never liked bees, because as a kid I cut grass in the summer and often hit ground nests of bees. I did not care what kind of bee they were, to me all bees had stingers and I hated them.
I have since learned that Honey Bees are gentle bees that are not like yellow Jackets and Wasps. They die when they sting, so they are genetically predisposed to only sting when they are crushed or their hive is disturbed. They are vegetarians and they are not the insects that pester people at their picnics. They live in trees or managed hives and do not live in the ground. Few people know the difference between a Honey bee and a yellow jacket or wasp. Likewise, many people don’t know the importance of removing the stinger of a honey bee as soon as possible, if you are stung. Otherwise it continues to pump venom into your body for 2 minutes. The reaction, swelling, is often thought to be an allergic reaction, but it is not. If you can’t find a stinger, then it was not a honey bee.
Honey Bees will only protect their hive within a 1 foot from the entrance, but if handled correctly, they will not sting the beekeeper when he opens the hive. My wife and I commonly open up our hives in the spring, dressed in T-shirts and shorts without a veil. We know that Honey Bees are sweet, gentle, and rarely sting. If you poke them with your finger while they are on a plant, they will move or fly off, not sting you.
If you see a swarm of bees, your first reaction is fright, to see all those bees clustered on a branch. But they have no hive to protect and are very docile, hanging there while their scout bees are out looking for a new home. Call a local beekeeper and they will often arrive with a box and no protective clothing to gather up the hive; and take them to a new home at their apiary. See a swarm removal in Upper Dublin Lutheran Church. As you can see the school children are only 20’ away from the swarm removal, and are quite safe. A nature lesson the kids will never forget.
How many backyard beekeepers are there? There are thousands in PA. Every time I see a honey bee, I know there is a backyard beekeeper somewhere nearby. Beekeepers are adapt at making their hives inconspicuous because they understand that the public fears bees. For more information on whether the Honey Bee is a pest or a beneficial insect.
Beginner and experienced beekeepers and those thinking about taking up backyard beekeeping can get the information they need to be successful from Beekeeping 101, a new online beekeeping course offered by Penn State Extension.
An interactive approach to online learning that can be taken anywhere and anytime, the course was created by Penn State Public Broadcasting's media professionals in collaboration with Tom Butzler, Penn State Extension horticulture educator, and Maryann Frazier, senior extension associate in entomology.
''The Beekeeping 101 online format opens up Penn State Extension's ability to broaden the access to the course internationally,'' said Dennis Calvin, director of Penn State Extension and associate dean in the College of Agricultural Sciences.