Whenever I hear about beehive vandalism, I think of teenage boys. Vandalism is what happens when a pea-sized brain is soaked in a jug of testosterone. The destruction is usually accomplished by toppling the hive with a powerful push or pelting the hive with rocks or snowballs—whatever is easily to hand. It is opportunistic. They do it because they can.
But there is also a more sinister type of vandalism. It arises not from an excess of hormones but from intractable fear or hatred. When the bee yard is strewn with empty cans of bug spray, uprooted trees, tire irons, or chunks of concrete, you are seeing a planned attack—one performed by so-called adults.
Random acts of treachery
These acts of treachery occur most often to hives that are on public lands or close to public thoroughfares. In recent years, community gardens in many urban areas have lost hives to vandals. San Francisco has been hard hit, as well as cities in Virginia, Florida, and Colorado.
Last year a group of “concerned mothers” outside of Seattle petitioned to have two beehives removed from a community garden where families were growing vegetables on small plots. Two weeks after the petition was rejected, the hives were mysteriously vandalized. Spray cans of insecticide littered the site and the hives were left in splinters.
I’ve been told that no official connection was made between the two incidents: the random act of violence had nothing to do with the mothers who were trying to protect their families from the ravages of dangerous insects. But I don’t believe that for a second. I think the real danger here is not bees but ignorance and vigilante justice.
The site is everything
So how can you protect your hives? The first thing to remember is that hives in public places do not do well unless they are secured by fences, gates, and locks. So sad. Oddly, hives in remote places also fare poorly. If the perpetrator has time and privacy, he can do a lot of damage and it may be weeks before anyone discovers it. All in all, your hive will do best on private property where you can see it and the public can’t.
I believe that “out of sight, out of mind” is also the best policy for reducing neighbor complaints. If neighbors or passersby know you have hives, they will imagine all sorts of transgressions. Every sting will be from your bees. Every wasp at every picnic table will be your fault. The swarm that stops traffic will be your doing.
Although it is hard to stop everyone, here are some things that may help:
- Paint your hives a muted color. Although I long to paint my hives a rainbow of colors, I have stayed with dark green simply because they are harder to see from a distance. Depending on your surroundings, brown may be a good choice. Or, if your hives are against a structure like a house or shed, paint the hives to match.
- Put the hives behind a hedge or tall fence. This has two benefits: it hides the hives and it forces the bees to fly high. Bees that are overhead do not attract attention like those close to the ground.
- Keep hives away from roads, crosswalks, parks, and sidewalks. The less the public is aware of your bees, the safer from vandals they will be.
- Don’t parade around in your bee suit. Your bee suit not only announces you have bees, it proves how dangerous they are. If you need a hazmat suit to get near them, they must be too dangerous for residential use.
- Keep quiet. Even after all these years, I never mention bees to my neighbors—even to the ones who know about them. Talk, gossip, and scuttlebutt bring attention, and attention is something you don’t want. Even if your friends are okay with your bees, their kids—or their kids’ friends—may not be. I know, I know, like a new parent you want to talk about your charges all the time. But don’t. Save it for a bee club meeting.
We get so into our bees that we forget bee haters are everywhere, even in surprising places. Yesterday in a gardening forum someone mentioned they put a hive in their garden. Another reader answered, “Oh my god! Why would you want bees in your garden???” Wow. It’s a beephobic world.
If you have a vandalism story or know of other ways to protect your hives, please let me know. I would love to post them here and help others safeguard their honey bees.