City Bees

I like how some people argue against gay marriage, saying that it’ll invariably lead to people marrying animals, puppets, household appliances and the like. I enjoy conversations about slippery slopes. Right now, here in Ypsi, it’s the slippery slope of animal husbandry that seems to have some individuals concerned. Now that City Council has voted to OK the keeping of chickens in the City, some are wondering if perhaps hog slaughtering on the banks of the river might be in our future. Today, though, the battle is over bees. (Presently, there’s an ordinance that outlaws honeybees in Ypsi, and the local food army is mobilizing to overturn it.) City Council will begin contemplating the issue this evening (Aug 18, 7PM at City Hall). So, if you keep honeybees, would like to, know a beekeeper, or just enjoy eating food that requires pollination, please consider attending. Or, at the very least, send a note to your City Council representative today, and make your views known. Following, for those who are interested in knowing more, is some pro-bee propaganda prepared by my friend, local beekeeper and food activist, Lisa Bashert.

Honeybees are of value and benefit to everyone, not just the beekeeper. More than just the honey, pollination is of value to all humans. You may have heard the statistic that honeybee pollination is responsible for one out of every three bites of food on your plate. This means that, without honeybee pollination, many common vegetables, fruits and nuts would not produce food. Squash, onions, herbs, asparagus, apples, almonds, peaches, plums, tomatoes, watermelons, garlic and many other foods are all pollinated by honeybees. If you grow tomatoes in your yard, honeybees pollinate them and make that fruit possible.

We need to have many more healthy populations of honeybees today. Why? Because there have been mounting losses of honeybee hives in recent years. Roger Sutherland, President of SEMBA (SE Michigan Beekeepers Association), says that his first 20 years of beekeeping in the 1960s and 70s were smooth sailing, but that in the mid 80s, first came varroa mites (a serious honeybee parasite), then tracheal mites, then other diseases. These problems have mounted, leading to devastating honeybee collapses in the past three years—it is thought that more than one-third of ALL honeybee colonies have died since 2006. Feral bee populations are drastically reduced. This newest problem for honeybees is called “Colony Collapse Disorder” or CCD.

Here is a link to a 10 minute video about Colony Collapse Disorder and urban beekeeping: Every Third Bite (note that many of the beekeepers in the film don’t wear protective gear because honeybees are so gentle). People keep honeybees in Detroit, New York, Paris, Chicago, Washington DC and many other cities. Even President Obama recently added a hive of honeybees to his garden at the White House. Keeping honeybees in the city is an important contribution to healthier bee populations. Honeybees thrive in the city because of the diversity of flowering plants found there. (In farming areas, corn may be the only crop for miles, and it is wind-pollinated, so those areas are a desert for honeybees.) Also, honeybees in the city are exposed to fewer agricultural chemicals and pesticides. Many small holdings of honeybees are more resilient than just a few large apiaries, where one disease can wipe out many colonies at once. And large beekeeping operations often move their hives from place to place for crop pollination—a practice that is thought to contribute to CCD. A beekeeper with just one or two hives can pay more attention to them, resulting in healthier honeybees.

So keeping honeybees in the city is good for the bees, but is it good for the neighborhood? Below are some of the concerns I’ve heard brought up about honeybees.

Bee Stings / Aggressive Bees Will Be A Problem— Wasps are MUCH more aggressive than honeybees. The insect in your pop can or at your picnic is a wasp, probably a yellow jacket. Honeybees only eat pollen and nectar, found in flowers only. I have personally never been stung at all except when opening the hive, despite having 2 colonies of honeybees in my yard. When gardening in my yard, weeding in front of the hive, hanging laundry, gathering herbs, sitting in the yard, I have never been stung once. Only one visitor to my yard has ever been stung in four years, while standing right in front of the hive (which one is not advised to do). I believe many more neighbors have been stung by wasps in that four years than by honeybees. Almost the only time that people commonly get stung by a honeybee is when stepping on one with bare feet.

All we are saying is… Give Bees A Chance!

Even large numbers of hives are safe for neighbors. At Schoolcraft College from 1967 to 1992, SEMBA maintained 53 hives of honeybees on campus, close to a parking lot through which hundred of students walked every day. Never was there a problem of any kind with the honeybees in 25 years. The Bee School I attended was conducted in suburban Livonia, where the teacher maintained 45 hives.

Bee Sting Allergies— .05 percent of the population has a bee sting allergy serious enough to result in anaphylactic shock. Over-reporting of bee sting “allergies” is common. If stung by a honeybee, you may get redness and itching, even pronounced swelling of the area around the sting, but that is not an “allergy,” that’s a “local reaction.” People who are actually allergic and endangered by stings are very rare. Nevertheless, just in case someone should get stung and find out they are severely allergic, I learned in Bee School to keep epi-pens at my house at all times.

Honeybees will Swarm— the evidence is that a swarm is the most placid state that honeybees will ever be in. When honeybees swarm, they have no hive to defend, they have gorged on honey, they are sluggish and slow, and are preparing to fly a long way. Roger Sutherland will give scientific proof that a swarm is the least aggressive state of the honeybee. Roger has removed 13 swarms in SE Michigan this year — they are so tame, he could put his bare hand right into the swarm. In 42 years of beekeeping, he has never encountered an aggressive swarm of honeybees. He estimates that 85% of swarms come from feral colonies (in abandoned buildings or trees) not managed by a beekeeper. The only time a swarm of honeybees might become aggressive is if they can’t find a new home and have begun to build comb where they have come to rest, but Roger has never seen that happen. While swarms LOOK scary, they really are not dangerous.

Honeybees are Attracted to Swimming Pools— Honeybees must have fresh water. The first place honeybees visit for water, they generally will return to. Thus, in Bee School, I was taught to provide water for my hives at the time I set them up. I have maintained three birdbaths in my yard for that reason for four years. Honeybees bothering the swimming pool at Recreation Park is unlikely—bees tend to drown in pools because they can’t cling to the side. Rutherford Pool is much farther away than my neighbor’s swimming pool (across the back fence). The honeybees have not been a problem at the Roach’s pool and they have written in support of my hives.

The Presence of Honeybees will Lower Property Values— Is anyone able to provide evidence that honeybees are a nuisance, thus lowering property values? My neighbors would say that honeybees increase the value of property. The beekeeper is providing a tremendous service at no cost to the city by providing pollination, educating neighbors, offering local honey, diagnosing problem infestations, and removing swarms at NO COST to city. These things all increase property values. There will always be swarms, sometimes from city-owned trees and abandoned buildings. Under the current ordinance, must the city undertake the expense of removing all wild colonies of bees? There are at least 4 wild colonies that I know of within the city limits. City beekeepers would be glad to remove them for free.

Who will ensure that city hives are safe and well managed?- A new GAAMPs Committee for honeybee management is being formed. “GAAMP” means Generally Accepted Agricultural Management Practices. Tim Fisher from the Michigan Environmental Council is a beekeeper. Together with SEMBA’s Roger Sutherland, Tim is creating an inspection committee to evaluate honeybee hives, especially in cities. They will examine the placement of the hive, provision of water source, management practices, swarm control measures, etc. If the beekeeper passes their checklist, they would be approved. This group would work with city councils at their invitation to inspect honeybee hives, with trained people, and do it for free. September trainings in Lansing are planned for the GAAMP committee. The goal of this group is to give cities assurance that good management practices are in place for beekeepers.

Please remove honeybees from section 14-7 of the city ordinance restricting nuisance animals. Please make beekeeping legal in Ypsilanti.

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  1. Mark H.
    Posted August 18, 2009 at 6:42 am | Permalink

    Yes, absolutely, Ypsi City Coouncil should allow Ypsi residents to raise bees. Common sense and evidence refute all the arguments in favor of retaining the law against beekeeping. Thanks for the post!

  2. Brackinald Achery
    Posted August 18, 2009 at 7:05 am | Permalink

    Doesn’t it seem like the slippery slope argument shouldn’t be a logical fallacy, since it’s so often true? I suppose they can’t do that because that would lead to making all the other logical fallacies valid.

    In conclusion, the only logical thing to do is allow urban beekeeping in Ypsi.

  3. Suzie
    Posted August 18, 2009 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    >or just enjoy eating food that requires pollination


  4. Steph's Dad
    Posted August 18, 2009 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    See also this important documentary footage from Gilligan’s Island:

  5. Posted August 18, 2009 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    Thank you for this Mark & Lisa. I was on the fence about bee keeping (live in A2 though, don’t mean to be an interloper) because I honestly was afraid about the stinging and swarming thing. I hope that things turn out well in City Council tonight :)

    PS: The line about people marrying puppets is awesome. I can honestly see people doing something like that, but not because of rights to gay marriage.

  6. The Exterminator
    Posted August 18, 2009 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    1) Urban honeybees and swarms don’t care if it’s illegal. They happen anyway. Like in your wall.

    2) Honeybees are pansies. Yellowjackets, hornets, and paperwasps are the ones you have to worry about, regarding stinging you, I mean. They do not ask permission to build nests in Ypsi, either.

    3) This is an aside, but honeybee populations, like the populations of all the pest species I get called out for, fluctuate yearly. Sometimes there are tons, sometimes there aren’t any. Honeybees are tough little buggers. I can tell you, a nest is hard to DELIBERATELY kill while pumping insecticides directly into it; I wouldn’t worry too much about all the honeybees disappearing accidentally. Natural fluctuations happen and have been happening for years.

    I support legalizing beekeeping in Ypsilanti.

  7. Mr Nobody
    Posted August 18, 2009 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    As long as they’re willing to pay exorbitant hive fees to the city, which can subsidize park maintenance, I say go for it.

  8. Mike want longr name
    Posted August 18, 2009 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    Sounds great. I have no problem allowing this. My only concern is the last section. Do we really need to set up a political bureaucracy to decide who can keep bees? Lisa, it sounds like you’re our resident expert, so can you give your thoughts on this? Under what circumstances might these possibly be dangerous, if not from swarming, swimming pools, or in general? What are possible consequences of a hive not being “safe and well managed”? Would this cause any extra cost to city government due to enforcement, and would it be preferable just to allow without enforcement? Thanks!

  9. Lisele
    Posted August 18, 2009 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    About that political bureaucracy — it’s an oversight committee of SEMBA, the SE Michigan Beekeepers Association. So no, we Ypsilantians don’t have to set up another bureaucracy. I can’t think of any situation in which beekeeping might possibly be dangerous, outside of entering the beekeeper’s back yard and kicking the hive over. But, you might endanger yourself if you entered a yard where a dog is owned, too.

    I think many fewer persons would adopt beekeeping and then not care for them, especially in the city. In other words, poor animal care I think is probably much more likely among dog or cat owners just because they are and always will be so much more numerous and easy to get. And because keeping honeybees is expensive and difficult, requiring a big investment of money for equipment, etc. No one has a box full of cute honeybees at the farmer’s market, just giving them away. I arranged to get my honeybees thru SEMBA, trucked up from Georgia. Planned “parenthood”, in other words, not an impulse buy. And, especially because honeybees are under threat, there is no shortage of beekeepers who want to care for your honeybees if you decide you can’t care for them.

    Please do come out to tonight’s meeting at City Hall. Thanks for posting this, Mark.

  10. Karen
    Posted August 18, 2009 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    Speaking of local food, does anyone know the story behind Ann Arbor’s upcoming Homegrown Festival ( I see that the co-op has put up $3,500 and that they’ve raised over $12,000 for it, but I’m not sure what it actually is.

  11. stella
    Posted August 18, 2009 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    My sister has been an on and off beekeeper in A2. She’s currently on, as she captured a wild hive that was in an inappropriate location too close to human habitation (I can’t recall if it was in a garage or a house wall). So, the folks involved were helped, the bees were saved and they are now producing food. Like chickens, my experience has been that this is a completely innocuous, barely noticeable activity even by close neighbors.
    Let there be bees. We need every healthy honey bee we can get.
    Honey. Who could argue against honey?

  12. Posted August 18, 2009 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

    With the beginning of summer comes the blooming of trees, gardens and flowers, which in turn attracts bees and wasps of all kinds. But that is not the end of the worry of a sting. Many stings take place during the fall months. Reason being, bees and wasps are cold blooded insects and they linger around people in order to absorb the body heat of humans, therefore increasing the chances of getting stung.

    Last week, I witnessed a 4 year old girl with her hand and forearm swollen to her elbow, from a wasp sting that she received to her fingertip the day before. The sight of her hand and arm brought tears to my eyes because I knew that if she had, had Baker’s Venom Cleanser Bee Sting Cure available at, when see was stung, none of her discomfort would have elevated to that extreme point of swelling and discomfort.

    Our web site has under gone some new additions worth taking a look at. 1988 investigative news video footage by George Ciccarone of Cincinnati’s WKRC-TV interviews founder Ray Baker, a pharmacist and others about the effectiveness of Baker’s Venom Cleanser on stings in people as the stings occur. This is a must see amazing video about how to cure bee stings with Baker’s Venom Cleanser.

  13. nammeroo
    Posted August 18, 2009 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

    This would’ve been good to have dealt with at the same time as the chicken thing. I would hate to see beekeeping go down solely on the basis of “we’re tired of arguing this stuff.”

  14. Posted August 18, 2009 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

    I think that qualifies as spam, but I allowed it, as it was on topic. And, frankly, is just nice to see spam that doesn’t involve “throbbing teen pussy”. At any rate, I don’t let much spam get through, but I’d like to reward the folks who do it respectfully.

  15. Peri
    Posted August 18, 2009 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

    This seems like a no brainer. Shouldn’t folks have the right to have bees and make sweet, sweet honey? I agree: Let there be bees!

    If we’re going to outlaw something, let’s outlaw wasps. Just had to take care of a little infestation in my walls. Most of them were lazy when they got into the house — but they were swarming and one stung me. And that freaking hurt.

  16. Posted August 18, 2009 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

    My cousins in Chicago have been keeping bees for several years now and I have been happy to reap the fruits of their labor in the form of tasty Roscoe Village-flavored honey — interesting compared to the clover stuff.

    In any case, they live in a densely populated family oriented sort of neighborhood — with a new young’n of their own — and have suffered neither complaints nor concerns.

    If I had a yard and the money I’d be interested in getting some bees of my own. That whole CCD thing is kinda scary… reminds me of the white-nose syndrome with the bats. What’s up with all our flying critters these days?!

  17. the injector
    Posted August 18, 2009 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

    the pro-bee contingent was out in full force tonight and city council, and it was a diverse and different mix of folks. It was awesome when all of the seniors from the Senior Town Center apartments who were really there to talk about a problem with an aggressive and f’d up towing company started standing up and speaking in support of bee keeping in ypsi. One woman almost brought tears to my eyes when she spelled out how growing hope has started building gardens in the town center’s backyard to help low income folks grow food for themselves and the more pollinators in the city the bigger the vegetable yields and the more self-sufficient the low-income people.
    yes to bees. unless of course you are the one women who spoke in opposition to bees stating something like honeybees will bring down her property value and bees do defecate–don’t you know–and they shit all over her car and who is going to clean that bee shit off her car. Yes, seriously…

  18. Oliva
    Posted August 18, 2009 at 9:35 pm | Permalink

    Such a sweet and sensible line, Stella–your line “Honey. Who could argue against honey?”

  19. Lisele
    Posted August 19, 2009 at 8:08 am | Permalink

    I thought it went great at council. 16 people spoke for and just 1 against. I know that for at least my ward, the email and calls were running 10 to 1 in favor, according to my council reps. Fingers crossed. Please do write your council reps and ask for a change in the law.

    But the notion above of honeybees lingering around people for their warmth and potentially stinging is ridiculous. Honeybees ball up together in their hive to survive cold times and keep it a balmy 93 degrees inside — that’s how they survive the depths of winter. Honeybees are only interested in pollen and nectar, not stinging humans. Even my new neighbor renting next door, who is terrified of flying insects, recently commented that she’s come to realize that “they’re not interested in me, they’re just going about their business.” Another near neighbor professes to “hate bees,” but she spoke in support because of their importance for home gardens and their utter inoffensiveness.

    Best of all were the ladies from 401 West Michigan, the senior complex. They might come up on a field trip and visit my hives. I’m so glad they’re so excited about their new Growing Hope foursquare gardens!!!

  20. nammeroo
    Posted August 19, 2009 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    Forgive me for injecting election year politics into this, but I would like to point out that it was our former Mayor Farmer and her supporters on Council (most of whom did not survive the 2008 election cycle) who were vociferously against the idea of allowing chickens in the city. One can easily infer that this same crowd would have been against beekeeping too.

    The “urban chicken” ordinance would not have taken place if Mayor Farmer and Councilmember Gawlas in particular were still in office. Even Mayor Schreiber campaigned against the idea in 2006, but he came around to the notion this year….

    I would encourage those that support Growing Hope and local food sourcing to keep that in mind in 2010 as they are deciding who to support in the Mayor/City Council elections….

  21. Posted August 19, 2009 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

    I have my issues with the Mayor, but not over this. You seem to think that it’s a bad thing that he changed his mind on the issue. I, however, see it as a good trait. I want a Mayor that listens to the people and knows when he’s wrong. At any rate, I don’t see this as being a reason not to vote for him. If anything, it’s a reason to suggest that he run again.

    But maybe I’m missing something. I didn’t think it was a big deal when Bush called Kerry a “flip flopper” either.

  22. Lisele
    Posted August 20, 2009 at 8:25 am | Permalink

    This is an opportunity for our small city to do a big, big thing: contribute healthy honeybee populations to a nation that has lost 1/3 of her honeybee colonies in the past three years. ONE THIRD. Gone. But Ypsilanti can help correct that by allowing honeybees to reside in a place where they naturally thrive — in the city. Here, honeybees contact many fewer agricultural pesticides, they contribute mightily to our growing sector of urban agriculture and they give us honey and beeswax. Anyone can see the sense in that.

  23. Michael Bodary
    Posted August 21, 2009 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    Only the request for legislation has happened so far (the wheels of Govt turn slow) The turnout for the Aug 18 public input on beekeeping was very much the same as the pile of e-mails I’ve received so far: more than 10-1 for allowing it. We will be looking at guidelines to replace the prohibition language and votes will follow a workable draft. For those who would like more info, I’ve copied this from a local horticulturist friend that also is concerned with honeybee populations.
    Hello Mike, I don’t know if a decision was made at the Aug. 18th meeting, or if you are still collecting opinions about beekeeping, but I wanted to let you know my thoughts.

    As a scientist, I think it is very important to have urban beekeepers. The honey bee is a non-native bee from Europe. Ecologically, it replaced most of the native pollinators decades ago. Thus, we rely on the honey bee for a vast majority of all pollination in our country. (Every seed, nut, fruit, and vegetable is the result of a honey bee pollinating a flower.) As we are currently experiencing CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder) nationwide, it is important to have many different beekeepers. Urban Beekeepers are often hobbyists, gardeners, and ecologists that treat their bees in a much healthier way than large scale profit based agricultural beekeepers. (CCD is actually thought to be linked to the stresses that profit based agricultural beekeepers place on their bees- shipping the bees across the country, improper nutrition from pollinating monocultures or plants that don’t provide enough or the correct pollen to make the bee’s food, and high exposure to
    pesticides.) From the literature I have read, the urban and rural hobbyist beekeepers are not experiencing CCD nearly at the rate as profit based beekeeping. Considering CCD is such an alarming issue for the food production of our country, I think it is so important to have as many conscientious, legal beekeepers as possible. The lack in the number of honeybees I have seen this summer is pretty alarming. The fact that I have seen some honey bees, is probably because there is a beekeeper in Normal Park. (I have talked with some of my ecologist friends that have not seen any honey bees the entire summer!) I think it is important to support beekeepers and appreciate the benefit they are giving to our community (and nation). I think it is important that they can do it legally.

    I have been around a number of urban hives and I can not see any down sides or dangers that urban beekeeping might create. I would be so happy to have a neighbor that had bees, and I think it would be so neat for my daughter.

    I truly appreciate all that you do- it must be so interesting (and exhausting:) ) to hear everyone’s views!!!!

    Thanks for listening!!
    Yours truly,

  24. Posted September 7, 2009 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

    American honeybees pollinate some 90 different crops that bring in more than $15 billion annually. We need to find out what is making the hives collapse and do something about it now.

  25. Posted September 23, 2009 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

    Penn, Teller and bees.

  26. jjblueyes
    Posted July 17, 2010 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

    We can’t use our hottub because of our neighbors bees. We were given a large above ground pool from grandparents and I’m scared to put it up. I don’t want my kids scared all the time and it’s just no fun to try and enjoy the water while tons of bees are all over you. I don’t know about all of you but I guess my neighbors don’t know how to water the hive because we can’t even put water out for the dog without a huge issue. I don’t like it and I would like to see the hives gone which is a shame because I get the good of bees, I just don’t enjoy my summers anymore.

2 Trackbacks

  1. By Giving thanks to our robotic bee saviors on August 31, 2009 at 11:04 pm

    […] we were recently talking about honeybees, the epidemic known as colony collapse, and the need for more local beekeepers, I thought that you might be interested in this recent Indian study showing that cell phones could […]

  2. By Festival of the Honey Bee on July 14, 2015 at 10:05 pm

    […] Normal Park Beekeeper Lisa Bashert was cited with a violation for keeping bees in her yard, and she mounted a campaign to overturn the classification of honeybees as nuisance animals. I supported her campaign with public comment at City Hall, and, in November of 2009, a beekeeping […]

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