Urban beekeeping is on the rise in Minneapolis

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July 11, 2013
By: Meleah Maynard
Meleah Maynard

If you’ve ever thought about doing a little beekeeping, now is a great time to start planning for next spring when it will be time to get new colonies going. Beekeeping has been legal in Minneapolis since 2009, but it really took off this year in May when the Minneapolis City Council approved an ordinance making it easier for urban beekeepers to get permits.

Ever since then, more and more bee boxes have been buzzing on rooftops across the city, including some at high-profile locales such as Minneapolis City Hall, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and Weisman Art Museum.

Under the new ordinance, would-be beekeepers still need to get permission from the city to keep bees. But hives can now be installed on rooftops taller than one story without approval from neighboring property owners. This is a significant change from the previous ordinance that required beekeepers to get permission from 80 percent of the neighbors within 250 feet. (To put that in perspective, in densely packed downtown, that could mean having to collect over 100 signatures.)

Honeybees are not aggressive, and backyard hives can be managed safely by trained homeowners. But rooftops are an attractive option for urban bees and their keepers because bees tend to fly up and out when exiting their boxes, lessening interaction with people down below, says Becky Masterman, who co-coordinates the Bee Squad with fellow beekeeper Jody Gerdts. Started by University of Minnesota bee expert Marla Spivak in 2010, the Bee Squad (http://beelab.umn.edu/BeeSquad/) aims to help foster healthy bee communities in the Twin Cities through education, training and data collection on the health of urban colonies. 

 Citizen beekeepers to the rescue

The Bee Squad’s most high-profile program is called Hive to Bottle, which allows homeowners and organizations to keep bees without having to install and manage the hives themselves if they would prefer not to. Hives at City Hall, the Weisman and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts are all taken care of by the Bee Squad. Those who want to manage their own hives can receive at-home training from a Bee Squad mentor through the Home Apiary Help program. Or, for a lesser fee, homeowners can attend training sessions at the Mentoring Apiary on the University’s St. Paul campus. (Additional information on both programs can be found here:  (http://beelab.umn.edu/BeeSquad/beekeepers/index.htm.)

If you’re asking yourself whether you really need training to keep bees, the answer is yes. Masterman explains: “Keeping bees is really hard. It is both an art and a science, and there is no way to learn to do it right from a book or a weekend class. It really helps to have somebody next to you watching and guiding you as you learn.” So, for the sake of the bees, and yourself and your neighbors, please take the time to understand what you’re doing before rushing into beekeeping.

Bee populations have been declining at alarming rates for years due to things like pesticide use, disease, parasites and an inability to get the nutrients they need from available plants. In addition to being a tragedy for the bees themselves, the loss of so many pollinators also threatens the world’s food supply as many crops depend on bees for pollination. By making beekeeping easier, Minneapolis joins other cities around the world that are answering the call to help bees before it’s too late.

Sure, city life is by no means care free. But urban bees generally do benefit from having access to a wider variety of flowering plants and less exposure to harmful pesticides than bees trying to survive in outlying areas crowded with conventional farms. Of course, as gardeners, we benefit too because foraging bees pollinate plants as far as two and a half to three miles from their hives. Having noticed the absence of bees in my garden over the last few years, I would sure welcome their help. 

Get more gardening tips at Meleah’s blog: www.everydaygardener.com