Mixing with the neighbors
Many hobbies can be enjoyed alone or with participation of a few other like-minded folk. In situations like this, it's not particularly difficult to simply enjoy in isolation or with supportive other, with no impact on anyone else.
Beekeeping is a little different.
You will have no direct control over where your bees fly or what interesting places they visit. Generally this creates no problem. Bees just get on with their business and, even when there are many of them out foraging, they often go unnoticed by anyone other than you.
However, in some situations things are not quite so straightforward and there is the possibility of disgruntled or aggressive neighbors, opposed to your beekeeping. There are two general categories that can lead to issues like this:
- Genuine issues related to where and what your bees do
- Neighbors with a negative or aggressive attitude to beekeeping, without any particular reason other than fear of bees
Of course, the former can be a reason for the latter! But although everyone has different circumstances, there are approaches the beekeeper can take to proactively minimize or mitigate these two factors.
Important note: For many, this article will be a false alarm! Not everyone has issues with neighbors - in fact, the majority of beekeepers operate in peace and all is good in the world. For those beekeepers, this article may seem overkill. This article is intended, though, for those beekeepers with the potential for neighborly problems.
Let's face it, not everyone has a positive view of bees. Awareness of the amazing benefits of bees is on the rise and that's a good thing. More people today at least listen when it comes to the idea of beekeeping and that can help enormously with the discussion.
But for some, the primary thought when it comes to bees is often that of the venom-filled sac the girls carry around! The other main idea is the thought of bees swarming and the mistaken idea that they are specifically out to find victims, rather than the more peaceful - and normal - intent - of simply finding a new home!
These are the more negative impressions of bees and beekeeping. As a general rule, they are misplaced and misguided. Bees only sting when they feel threatened and swarms are docile bees, full of honey and on their way to a new home.
Yet things can occasionally take an unfortunate turn and it is a mistake to assume these things cannot happen. So a respect for these concerns is in order and we look below at how to discuss with neighbors.
Perhaps the most valid concern is when someone nearby is known to be allergic to bee stings. Put yourself in the position of someone who is indeed allergic to bee stings (it's around 2% of the population), only to find their neighbor wants to install one or more homes for these stinging, flying threats!
Regardless of how your neighbors feel, you should be aware of legal regulations for the keeping of bees. Generally, authorities are more aware of the value of beekeeping than in the past and in most places you won't face an issue. There may sometimes be a need to register your beehives, though.
Water is as essential to bees as it is to us, with the difference that we wouldn't want to walk into the neighbor's yard and start drinking uninvited! If the neighbor has easy access to water like, oh, a swimming pool then there are situations when your bees might be tempted. This needs to be considered.
The factors above are mainly about the problems, perceived or otherwise, that your bees can cause your neighbors. But the reverse is also at play, when your neighbors freely use pesticides dangerous to your bees. This also needs some thought, particularly since this is less within your control.
Opening the dialog...maybe
Initiate the dialog
When you decide you would like to keep bees you have a decision to make about how transparent you will be with the neighbors. To some extent this is dependent on the proximity to neighbors. In many cases, a beehive can be positioned to be out of sight of the neighbors, which is a good move anyway, regardless of your relationship with neighbors. However, given the mobility of our bees there is often still an obligation to bring this up with the neighbors.
Generally, PerfectBee suggests that an open discussion with your neighbors is the way to go. If you go down the "open and transparent" path, the first course of action is to educate your neighbors.
- Have a positive discussion about the benefits of bees, including how it will help the local environment - especially your neighbor's garden!
- Listen well and address any concerns they might have
- Bring up the idea that the neighbor might be interested in watching, even if from afar. Most folks are curious and will be interested to see the bees as you install them or undertake an inspection.
Some beekeepers have even been known to create pamphlets to hand out to the neighbors when questions are asked. This is rarely necessary and, quite frankly, has the potential to make the question of bees seem a lot more of an issue than it might be otherwise.
Keep it quiet
Another approach is to install a beehive first and answer questions second. This somewhat more cavalier is based on the idea that if the hive is going to be out of sight, there's a good chance neighbors may not even be aware of the bees. If that is the case, why not say nothing and answer any questions after the fact?
The success of this philosophy depends on various factors, including the ability to place a hive in a less-than-obvious location. In many circumstances it works just fine and the first sign the neighbors have is either the extra color in their garden over the warmer months - or you knocking on the door with a jar of honey. As a general rule, it's difficult for a neighbor to pick a fight if s/he's been unaware of the beehive in the year since it was installed and you come offering gifts!
That said, PerfectBee recommends an open discussion with you neighbors, to answer their questions and put their mind at rest. But we also agree that the "just do it" approach can be viable in some situations too, providing it's legal and has no impact on your neighbors.
Check and make sure you understand whether you have the legal green light, including registration where necessary (which is more likely in an urban environment). Initiating a discussion with a potentially difficult neighbor is likely to be an exercise in futility if s/he has the law on his or her side. Before you set down the path of becoming a beekeeper do a little homework. It doesn't take long and can potentially save a lot of wasted time, effort and angst.
A quick note - if local regulations do not allow beekeeping that's a tough break but please respect the law. Inconsiderate and law-breaking beekeepers help no-one. You are also a bee sting away from inviting a legal discussion you really don't want to have!
You might love the idea of beautiful beehives decorating your yard in their own way, but don't flaunt it! Even if you have the neighbors on your side, there's always the chance of a new, less accommodation neighbor, moving in.
Additionally, passersby don't really need to see your beehives. Therefore, consider placing your hives in a quiet space, away from the glare of the public.
This can be a difficult discussion. First, you really have no control ever where your bees travel. Even if you have an accommodating neighbor who is willing to switch to a more bee-friendly pesticide, the next house down the road may be the issue. All you can realistically do here is to discuss with those within your immediate scope of influence and hope your bees find plenty of foraging resource within a close area.
Of course, the other potential problem is a sensitive or aggressive neighbor who doesn't take too kindly to be being told to change the pesticide he's been using for years, just to suit your bees! Quite honestly. at this point this become more of a human relations challenge than anything else and that's a little beyond the scope of this article!
Realistically, the only way to potentially "win" this discussion is through calm, reasoned discussion in the hope that you can relay the benefits of bees and perhaps encourage your neighbor to take an interest. If the neighbor is still taking a contrary view then he holds the "weapons" (the pesticide) and you've likely lost the discussion if it is turned into an argument.
It is a beekeeping best practice to make sure your bees have easy access to water. Generally it's very easy to do this in your own yard. Do just that.
Without an obvious water supply, bees are skilled at finding water nearby, such as around neighbors swimming pool (the one with all the small kids enjoying the sun)! Just do what all beekeepers should do anyway, namely make it really easy for your bees to find water.
Enjoying the bees together
If things are looking good and you have managed to gain the support of your neighbors, reluctantly or otherwise, take advantage of this when you install your beehive and install your bees.
Bring up the bees proactively with your neighbors and invite them to play a role. When you are installing that package of bees, it's great of you have a couple of neighbors 15 feet away and absolutely fascinated with the idea. In fact, ask them to take photos or a video. That often seals the deal! You might eventually get the knock on the door from a neighbor, telling you about the switch to a more bee-friendly treatment of his plants!
And then there is the payoff.
To be fair, we are asking our neighbors to trust us and to accept these stinging insects into the neighborhood. So if they are responsive and understanding, then what better way to say thanks than a jar of glorious, sweet, "home-made" honey.