urban beekeeping

Mean neighbors using your site against me

I was just about to shut down my computer last Thursday evening when this startling subject line appeared in my e-mail. Suddenly I was in no mood to cook dinner. In part, the message said:

I came across your site when I pulled a public information request from my town after receiving a citation from the town about my bees. My neighbor . . . referenced your site to show that honey bees are aggressive . . . I’m contacting you in hopes that you can help me in some way. What should I tell the town about that post? There are 130-plus comments about aggressive bees.

After a few minutes of rapid-fire e-mail, the whole thing became clear. It turns out the beekeeper was being cited for a violation of her town’s animal control ordinance as a result of this neighbor. The neighbor was using the “What makes honey bees aggressive?” post to prove that children waiting at the school bus stop were in grave danger from the small hive.

The state in question is forward-thinking and pretty much treats honey bees as a protected class. Their law says:

No county, municipality, consolidated government, or other political subdivision of this state shall adopt or continue in effect any ordinance or resolution prohibiting the establishment or maintenance of honeybees in hives, provided that such establishment or maintenance is in compliance with this chapter. This section shall not be construed to restrict or otherwise limit the zoning authority of county or municipal governments; provided, however, that a honeybee hive being maintained at a location in compliance with applicable zoning requirements on June 10, 2011, shall not be adversely affected and may be maintained at the same location notwithstanding any subsequent zoning changes.

But the local animal control ordinance says:

Housing of any type of animal in the front yard of residences is prohibited, including animal cages with or without the animals in them. Front yards are defined as the portion of the yard from the forward most front part of the residential structure to the street. This does not apply to small bird houses.

Aside from the legal ambiguities, I was totally miffed that someone was actually trying to use my website against bees and beekeepers. If you want to get me riled, just try it.

So I sent the following letter which was read aloud at the council meeting. Although the issue is a long way from being resolved, the beekeeper has told me that, “The Town Council has decided to proceed with looking at language to amend the ordinance to accept bees in front yards.” Wow! Great news.

But here’s the kicker: The beekeeper sent me photos of her front yard: small neat beehive, three mediums, painted. She also sent me a photo of her neighbor’s front yard. At the moment, it is decorated for Halloween with a lynching scene. A life-sized dummy dressed like a rancher is swinging by the neck beneath a large tree surrounded by ghosts and tombstones. How politically correct is that? If I were searching for aggressors in the neighborhood, I certainly wouldn’t start at the hive.

███████Town Council
█████████[a town in a southeastern state]

October 20, 2012

Dear Council Members,

It has come to my attention that a resident of your jurisdiction, ████████, is citing a post on my website, www.HoneyBeeSuite.com, as “proof” that honey bees are aggressive. The specific post, called “What makes honey bees aggressive?” is a discussion by beekeepers—for beekeepers—about behavior differences seen at different times of year. Once you take the discussion out of context, it makes no sense.

For example, most beekeepers use a minimum amount of protective clothing to care for their bees. Many use none at all because honey bees are extremely docile animals. However, at certain times of the year, the bees may seem more agitated than others, and the beekeeper may see fit to wear protective clothing when opening the hive. It is this opening of the hive that bees may object to—just as you may object to an unwanted visitor entering your home.

For lack of a better word, we beekeepers refer to these short periods of agitation as “aggression.” As I just pointed out, it is a relative term: if you can open the hive without protective clothing we say the bees are docile, if the beekeeper feels the need to wear protective clothing we say they are aggressive.

Bear in mind that I’m talking about opening and disturbing the hive—something ████████ [the neighbor] is never going to do. The bees kept in a family hive do not attack like wasps or hornets, nor do they attack in groups. Honey bees go out into the environment looking for flowers from which they collect pollen and nectar. Honey bees, unlike wasps or hornets, are vegetarians that have no interest in meat—human or otherwise.

When a honey bee stings a human or another animal, it is nearly always because that animal attempted to enter the home of the bee. An animal that is unwise enough to attempt entry—and that includes the beekeeper—runs the risk of getting stung on occasion. But, to draw a picture of honey bees as marauding, stinging, threatening pillagers is naïve.

Many of my readers joined in the discussion of aggression not because their bees are frequently aggressive, and not because they have had problems in the past, but because they want to prevent problems in the future. This is a good thing. Over twelve hundred beekeepers per day visit my site and most of them are deeply responsible people who wish to pursue their hobby as good citizens. My post was designed as a tool to make beekeepers aware of potential problems so they can avoid them.

████████ [the beekeeper] sent me pictures of her beehive and her lovely neighborhood. If ████████ [the neighbor] gave it some thought, she would realize that most of the lush trees, the brimming flower beds, and the healthy shrubs in her community are the direct result of bee pollination. We often hear that bees are responsible for pollinating one-third of all the foods we eat, but we sometimes forget they also provide us with fibers, oils, animal feed, and the sheer beauty that we have come to expect in our communities. How can we complain about any animal that gives us so much and asks for so little in return?

I will let you know what happens.


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  • I am appalled at that situation Rusty, but not surprised. I find there are many more people out there now who make it their business to infringe on the rights of others, usually co-opting some media-worthy bully pulpit position to do so. The hostile neighbour in this situation is co-opting defending children (who in this case need no defending) to make herself into some kind of saintly community watchdog. It is sad, and broken, but very common. My own neighbours are very unhappy about my beehive, although neither of them were stung nor harrassed by the bees. One insisted he had them in his house and was killing them with a zapper…turned out he was killing large houseflies. The general and common prejudice against insects in general, and stinging insects in particular is one reason I chose to put my hive in my back yard rather than the front. I will seclude it even more next year on the theory that out of sight is out of mind.

    • Janet,

      Yes, I agree with everything you say. In fact, my first suggestion to this beekeeper was to put her hive out of view. But she is extremely reluctant because the back is deeply shaded and she wants her hive in the sun. Having myself been a party to a protracted lawsuit with a neighbor (having to do with easements, not bees) my feeling is that it is better to bend a little than end up paying a bunch of lawyers a bunch of money. By bend I mean cut down a tree and put the hive in the backyard where no one can see it. But it’s her call and I have to respect her feeling on that.

      Even though I live on acreage, my hives are in the woods, painted green, and as inconspicuous as possible. I figure, why invite trouble? Most people are pretty oblivious to their surroundings and don’t notice hives tucked away from roads and walkways, even if they are fairly close by.

  • Rusty … Great response! Education is the answer … Beekeepers need to educate the public when they get the opportunity … Dressing up in their clean bee suits and going to kindergartens … Teaching the importance of bees in our environment … Take a model hive … Have pictures to show and small bottles of honey in 2-oz plastic bear bottles to give each child. An oz of prevention is worth a lot … It does not take much effort for a beekeeper to share his love for the honeybee with anyone … The program coordinator of many schools would allow you time to share with the kids. Starting with the little kids will also help educate the parents.

  • Rusty –

    Wow! As I remember that “aggressive” thread, one young lady asking for your advice seemed to be describing what must almost certainly have been yellowjackets. One more reason it annoys me when people call them “bees.” Sloppy language = giving honey bees a bad name. Hope this beekeeper will keep you updated. People are a trip.


    Your description of the Halloween display was a hoot.

  • If you know your neighbours aren’t exactly enlightened, then you have to hide the bees. I had to move my bees from my property to keep the peace with some non-bee-friendly neighbours. Had my bees been out of sight from day one, I think they’d still be on my property. Out of sight, out of mind is a sad fact of life sometimes.

    I’ve seen my bees get a little in-your-face at certain times of the year, but none of my neighbours were ever stung by the bees. That being said, I don’t think I would keep bees close to any neighbour’s back door or back deck again (or front door), within say 50 feet. Even if the bees are bothersome only one or two days of the year, a bee persistently buzzing your face is no picnic, and I wouldn’t want to see any of my neighbours, even if they are jerks, pestered by my bees.

  • What Jim said!
    I find myself looking forward to your blogs; they are very informative and straight forward.

  • I’ve had bees in my backyard and also in a suburb of a major city. Having them visible is just bad. You’ll be accused of every wasp and hornet sting in the neighborhood. Hide them well with a solid fence in front to get the bees up in the air. Even smart beekeepers standing immediately in front of a hive might get nailed, especially in your shades and dark clothing. I’d actually enclose the hive with a fence and a locked gate. It’s fun and cool to have them in you backyard, and I don’t think they s/b banned but be political and play it safe.

  • Hear hear Rusty! and many thanks for taking the time to help this beekeeper out and in so doing, help all the bees.

  • Congratulations to you on taking such a responsible attitude in taking the time to write such a detailed and persuasive letter.

    • Okay, I’m listening. What do you think they are? Plants? Bacteria? Fungi? Don’t keep me in suspense.

  • Nice response Rusty. I’ve found that most people think I’m nuts for “keeping bees” because they immediately imagine yellow jackets. When you think about it, most people see the wasps in their immediate vicinity more than honey bees as the wasps are attracted to foods.

    I now have a custom-made beekeeper decal on the my car and I LOVE seeing the reactions on people’s faces behind me; I hope after the initial reaction, it spurs them to read something about honey bees and even think about beekeeping.

    • Hi Anna, could I ask you what a beekeeper decal is? It sounds interesting from the reactions you describe, but I think there may be a lingo barrier here – I’m a newly initiated beekeeper in Cornwall, U.K. Thank you for your time 🙂


  • Bees are, indeed, animals. There are two kindoms: plant and animal. They are definitely not plants!
    So, they are ‘animals’ in the class of ‘insects.’

    And they are great gentle little creatures that are infinitely more fascinating every time I work with them….

    • Oak Dale,

      In the United States we claim there are six kingdoms: Animalia, Plantae, Fungi, Protista, Archaea, and Bacteria. In most other places, they stick with five: Animalia, Plantae, Fungi, Protoctista, and Prokaryota (or Monera). To the best of my limited knowledge, all but the first three (animals, plants, and fungi) contain nothing but single-celled organisms.

      I find it curious that someone would not recognize an insect as an animal. You know what they say, “If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, swims like a duck . . . it’s probably what?

  • Perhaps I meant to say two ‘pertinent’ kingdoms….

    Whatever, them bugs is animals we count as insects.

    More importantly, the bees are the point! You do a wonderful job with your web site. I really appreciate receiving it in my email. I’ve been keeping bees for the past 5 years. My grand father kept bees when I was a boy, but that was more than a half-century ago. Wish I had rediscovered beekeeping long ago. Keep up the good work!

    • Oak Dale,

      Thank you! I first learned about bees as a kid, too, and then spent way too many years not beekeeping. At least we are doing it now. As I’ve said many times, they never cease to amaze me.

  • I live in town (57 thousand or so pop) and have bees. Just got them this summer. So I discretely mentioned it to my neighbors, and got pretty much good responses. One neighbor, however was a little unhappy, uneasy because he is allergic to the sting. He told me I had the right to get them anyway. (I had already gotten them, oops!). 🙂 His girlfriend, though, has fond memories about honey bees because she used to live next to a ‘bee farm’. That helped!

    But the reason for my comment is to say that he doesn’t even have to think about them. Out of sight out of mind, and they are in plain view, only away from HIS yard. I painted the supers green so they are really not that noticeable. The other neighbors, yes they have little kids and two dogs who share the ‘bee’ side of the chain link fence, have been observed by my wife leaning over the fence watching the ‘girls’ come and go, commenting on how fascinating they are. (These neighbors are the closest to us and the hive.)

    I plan on getting a second colony. Already have one super painted blue. When the honey harvest comes around next year, the neighbors will get some. All of us look forward to that. So, sometimes discrete can be hive color. Something a little less obvious.

    By the way, just today, while driving on my rural garbage route, I saw a very attractive top bar hive right out in the open. I have been doing this route for over five years and only noticed it today because I was told that the resident was an employee at a local commercial honey producer in town. And to think I have been picking up his trash all this time and never noticed it.

    Ken Rhodes
    Willow Creek Honey Producers

    • Ken,

      Good work. Sometimes just letting the neighbor know you care goes a long way toward keeping peace.

  • Honey Bee Suite is the most educational and informative place on the internet to learn about Honey Bees!
    Just good plain language, that makes it a pleasure to read and learn!
    I had a lot of questions and I think most were answered here already!

    I’m not a beekeeper, I just needed to learn about honey bees due to an angry neighbor telling me she was calling the city to remove the natural honey bee hive in a tree near my sidewalk- which I am not sure if it is technically a city tree or our tree. (we just moved here) It looks like it is in our yard.
    The neighbor lives across the street.

    They said an adult family member has a bee sting allergy.
    I don’t want to endanger the neighbor, yet I don’t want the bee hive removed either if it is not a true threat, but only a fear, of an uninformed person.

    I am unsure if they can remove it against my wishes.
    But if it is my decision I want to make sure I am making the most responsible and thoughtful decision.

    I contacted Burgh Bees a non profit organization, who was already familiar with the hive at our address, as the former homeowner, who liked bees had contacted them.
    He recalled that the hive was there for at least 3 years and that a neighbor had allegedly sprayed Raid on the hive and left the can on the sidewalk near the tree.
    I was sickened to learn of this story that happened before I moved here.

    I don’t want to endanger the bees or the neighbor.

    It’s only a guess but I think the neighbor may not have the right to remove the hive or they would have done it when the other owner lived here.

    I left the conversation a bit shook up and teary eyed by her bully-like approach to the subject.
    I think she expected me to fight back with her, but I was too sad to. Her stance changed slightly to say “IF the bees bother the family member with the allergy they are going to have the hive removed.”
    So maybe my explanation of how they were non aggressive and not like a wasp or yellow jacket got through to her a little bit.

    If you have any insight or thoughts on this subject that I may not have considered, please share them with me.

    • Sue,

      That is so, so sad. The worst part is that there is practically no way someone across the street will be stung by those bees unless they try to mess with their nest. Of course, spraying it with Raid would get them riled up. Morons.

      You should contact your city or town and find out what the rules for bees are and also find out if the tree is on your property, just so you know your legal rights. But she can’t control everyone around her. If someone in her household has a genuine bee sting allergy (which isn’t all that common) that person should carry an epipen. It is their responsibility to take care of themselves, not the responsibility of everyone else.

      One of the problems with ignorant and/or angry people is that if anything flies by and bothers them, they will blame your bees simply because they can’t tell one species from another. If it stings it must be a “bee,” even though most of the time it is a hornet or wasp or yellowjacket–things that aren’t even bees.

      If she comes on your property again with a can of Raid tell her you will sue her for trespass–or just call the police. She can’t go on anyone’s property and destroy things. That is just plain illegal, not to mention stupid.

      Also, be sure to read this post if you haven’t: Allergy or just scary looking? I can’t say if the person is allergic or not, but you always have to wonder.

      Keep me posted.

  • Thanks for your reassurance that my decision to allow the hive to stay is not a danger to the neighbor unless they disturb the hive. I have a relative and a friend who are allergic and they are educated to know this is not a problem when they visit.

    We will have the property surveyed soon, but the tree can be approached by just standing on the sidewalk, they don’t have to be on my property to touch it.

    Again, thanks for all the great info and this fabulous website you have created! I am looking forward to reading more here, and exploring all your posts and info!


  • First: there are lots of honeybees all over the place, and even if this hive is removed, her yard will still be visited by honeybees. You could ask her very sweetly if she also plans to remove all the flowering plants…aka bee magnets…from her yard…

    Second, every truly bee allergic person carries an epipen.

    Third, I would (as a beekeeper and bee fan) have a local apiarist come out and remove this wonderful survivor hive from the tree, in the hope its very tough and resilient genes will spread throughout the land! You win, because the bees are safe, the neighbour wins because she feels “heard”, and the bees win because they get to live and reproduce.

  • It took me most of the morning to locate the Tennessee Zoning codes in for residential beekeepers. Some of which really took me by surprise & in our case, even though our Apiary is registered with the State of Tennessee there is a compliance issue that I will resolve this evening. I cannot stress enough that ANY beekeeper in this state needs to be aware of this.

    • Rusty,

      Saw this article due to the recent update. I live in Tennessee so I was interested in this link. I’m sure it was valid when The Backyard Beekeeper posted it, but unfortunately, it isn’t anymore. That is, it sends me to a page-not-found in Castle Rock CO (not even TN). I’m rural, not residential, so the details were unlikely to apply to me, but I have an untidy mind. . .
      Bing also couldn’t find anything relevant when searching for
      “17.52.240 ‘Access Uses: Domestic Non-Commercial Beekeeping’ TN”
      Finally, I can’t find a unique Backyard Beekeeper, nor one who appears to be in my area, so I can’t even let him/her know about it. Perhaps you can followup, or un-link the URL?

      The paragraph your article quotes appears to be from the TN Apiary Act of 1995:
      which significantly pre-dates my residence in the state, but I thank you for your kind words about the state. I note this Act specifically outlaws poisoning one’s neighbors’ hives.
      For another good link, the TN Dept of agriculture has a page dedicated to bees:

      My friends and co-workers can all tell you that I am eager to offer unsolicited, “helpful” advice on many topics. Feel free to prune!

      • Gap,

        I deleted the link provided by Backyard Beekeeper since it is no longer valid. Thanks for letting me know.

  • I have read stories much like this. When I moved to a new location (rural) 4 acres. We found we had about 2 acres of henbit & Chinese privet covered with wild bees already they pretty much covered the entire 2 acres,we could walk out among them and they were so busy gathering they didn’t pay any attention to us.
    I was very excited. Set out our first hive in this new location the next year. Only have one neighbor who after we placed our hive said one time “boy there are lot of bees here now” not in a good way. I told them they were already here we saw thousands. Then I asked him what they looked like, ours are large and the wild ones are smaller and very dark brown. He described the wild ones. I gave them some honey and they are happy now.
    One thing, I never ever use the word “aggressive” when talking about my bees. I use defensive or protective. I swear people go nuts with the word aggressive.