Out of sight, out of mind
My recent post about a beekeeper with neighbor problems generated a lot of mail about beehive placement in urban and suburban areas. With few exceptions, the mail was in favor of keeping bees out of sight and out of mind.
As I see it, there are two ways to handle the beehive/neighbor problem. Either you inform neighbors in advance of getting your hive and hope for their blessing, or you acquire bees on the quiet, say nothing, and hope for the best. Both methods have their advantages and disadvantages. Your choice of a method will depend on your individual situation.
However, I feel strongly that no matter which approach you take, out of sight and out of mind is the best practice. In-your-face beekeeping is bad form and a first step to getting beekeeping banned in the future. If you have a choice, I believe beehives should be kept as far as possible from property lines, sidewalks, playgrounds, bikeways, trails, and crosswalksor any place where a person could be startled into sustaining an injury. And yes, I think startling is the real risk, not stinging.
If someone is startled by a bee they could crash their bicycle, step into a dangerous road, fall off a ladder, or trip over a rock. Even traffic accidents have been caused when bees have entered vehicles and startled the driver. The fact that these are often wasps or hornets is irrelevant because the victim doesn’t know the difference. To those afraid of stinging insects, they are all bees and all bad—and if you have a visible hive, it is your fault.
You have a psychological advantageas well as a mathematical oneif you can tuck your bees behind your house or behind a hedge or fence. Psychologically, people tend not to worry about what they can’t see. Mathematically, the further the bees get from the hive, the more spread out they become. Even when I had fourteen hives within 200 feet of my house, I hardly ever saw bees in the yard. They fan out, they go up, they disappear into the environment. But when you stand right next to the hives, it can be intimidating.
One person wrote that, “Hiding bees in the backyard only reinforces the notion they are dangerous.” I don’t really believe that. I think seeing others acting fearful is apt to instill fear. As beekeepers we can’t expect to retrain everyone. We have to make prudent choices based on the way most people react to bees. If we don’t bend a little, make some concessions, beekeeping will be forced out of urban and suburban areas once again.
Remember, too, that by tucking your bees away you are also protecting them from the neighbors. I once had three hives poisonedas far as I can tellby a neighbor of an out apiary. The hives were in view of the neighboring house and the neighbor’s dogs got stung repeatedly. The fact that the dogs were trespassing and pestering the hives when they got stung didn’t matter to the neighbor. When next I checked the bees, they were all dead in massive piles around the hives. It was heartbreaking.
Now, even though I live in a rural area with plenty of space around my hives, I still keep them out of view. They are surrounded by trees, they are painted dark green, they are away from easements, property lines, and public lands. I strive to keep bees without controversy because the other routecourts, lawyers, lawsuits, depositions, citations, appearances, mediationsis no fun at all.