Mixing with the Neighbors
Many hobbies can be enjoyed alone or with the participation of a few other like-minded folk. In situations like this, it’s not particularly difficult to simply enjoy in your passion in isolation or with a 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 the interesting places they visit. Generally this creates no problems. Bees just get on with their business and, even when many from the colony are 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 scenarios that can lead to issues like this:
- Real and valid concerns related to where and what your bees do, perhaps based on a recent experience
- Neighbors with a negative or aggressive attitude to beekeeping, without any particular reason other than a fear of bees
Of course, the former can be a reason for the latter! 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 can all 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, the situations described below may seem overkill. It is intended, though, for those beekeepers with the potential for neighborly problems.
Let’s face it, not everyone has a positive view of bees. Thankfully, awareness of the amazing benefits of bees is on the rise and that’s a good thing. Today, more people understand when it comes to the value and enjoyment of beekeeping. This can help enormously with neighborly discussions.
But, for some, the first thought that of the venom-filled sac our worker bees carry around! The other fear is of bees swarming and the mistaken idea that these bees are 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 new pastures.
Yet interactions with neighbors can occasionally take an unfortunate turn and it is a mistake to assume these things cannot happen. A respect for these concerns is in order. We look below at how to discuss them with concerned neighbors.
Perhaps the most valid of concerns is when someone nearby is known to be allergic to bee stings. Put yourself in the position of someone who is indeed allergic to 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 these days of the value of beekeeping 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! Bees have no such inhibitions!
If the neighbor’s garden provides easy access to water such as, oh, a swimming pool, then your bees may be tempted. This needs to be considered.
The factors above are mainly about the problems, perceived or otherwise, 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.
In this situation, an awareness of pesticides that cause problems and a gentle, thoughtful discussion with – hopefully – an understanding neighbor can work wonders.
Opening the Dialog…Maybe
Initiate the Dialog
When you decide 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 out of sight of the neighbors, which is a good move anyway, regardless of your relationship with said neighbors. However, given the mobility of our bees, there is often an obligation to bring this up with the neighbors.
Generally, PerfectBee suggests that an open and proactive 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 – including your neighbor’s garden!
- Listen well and address any concerns raised.
- Suggest that the neighbor might be interested in watching and even participating, perhaps 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 much more of an issue than it might be otherwise.
Keep It Quiet
Another approach we have heard is to install a beehive first and answer questions second. This somewhat more cavalier approach is based on the idea that if the hive is 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 an extra splash of 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 strongly 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 ensure you understand you have the legal green light, including registration where necessary (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, law-breaking beekeepers help no-one and are a very easy target for that disgruntled neigbour. You are also a bee sting away from a legal discussion you really don’t want!
You might love the idea of beautiful beehives decorating your yard in their own special way, but don’t flaunt it! Even if you have friendly, supportive neighbors on your side, there’s always the chance of a new, less accommodating neighbor moving in.
Additionally, passersby don’t 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 willing to switch to a more bee-friendly pesticide, the next house down the road may be the real problem. All you can realistically do here is to discuss pesticides with those within your immediate scope of influence and hope your bees find plenty of foraging resources 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 s/he’s been using for years, just to suit your bees! Quite honestly, at this point this becomes more of a human relations challenge 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, perhaps encouraging your neighbor to take an interest. If the neighbor is still taking a contrary view, then s/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)! Do what all beekeepers should be doing anyway, namely make it really easy for your bees to find water.
Enjoying the Bees Together
If things are looking good and you have gained the support of your neighbors, reluctantly or otherwise, take advantage of this when you install your beehive and 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 if 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 or her plants!
And then there is the payoff.
To be fair, we are asking our neighbors to trust us and accept what they may consider to be “small stinging machines” 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.