After slow start, beekeeping permits jump in Minneapolis

Beekeeping in Minnesota
Terry McDaniel, president of the Minnesota Hobby Beekeepers Association, tends to one of her five hives Monday, April 23, 2012 in her Inver Grove Heights backyard. McDaniel was checking each hive for a queen bee, which she knew was present when she spotted larvae.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

The number of requests for beekeeping permits is spiking in Minneapolis, nearly two years after it was legalized.

It's still a relatively small number-fewer than four dozen--but it represents a four-fold increase over last year. Thirteen permits have already won approval and another 28 are pending for a total of 41.

The increase is a sign of the resurgence in the popularity of beekeeping, especially in urban areas, and also the willingness to go through the permit process, local beekeepers said.

This is Chris Kulhanek's second year keeping bees in Minneapolis. Every few days, she bikes over to her friend's house to check in on her ladies.

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Beekeeping in Minnesota
Beekeeper Terry McDaniel looks in one of her bee hives for larvae, which will indicate the hive has a queen, Monday, April 23, 2012 in her Inver Grove Heights backyard.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

"Oh, they built the frames a bit," she noted as she looked over her hive during a recent visit. "Kind of awesome!"

It's a fitting term, given most bees in a hive are female.

"Yeah, it looks good," Kulhanek said. "It means I'm going to get a lot of honey this year. Which is not the most important thing, but it's a thing."

When she got her permit last year, she was just the eighth person to do so in the city.

"Yeah, but that doesn't mean there were eight beekeepers," she said.

Beekeeping was prohibited in Minneapolis until 2009. In the months leading up to the city council's move to change the law, a handful of people 'outed' themselves in the press as illegal beekeepers to help press the case for legalizing it.

They argued beekeepers should be supported -- not criminalized -- for the benefits their bees bring to urban landscapes through pollination. They also wondered if more beekeepers might help scientists better understand diseases like colony collapse disorder. For good measure they added the argument that it was silly that beekeeping was legal in St. Paul but not Minneapolis.

Beekeeping in Minnesota
Terry McDaniel, president of the Minnesota Hobby Beekeepers Association, lifts a container of sugar water from a bee hive Monday, April 23, 2012 in her Inver Grove Heights backyard. McDaniels was checking each of her five hives for queen bees.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

The city council agreed to allow beekeeping, but only with a permit, something that's also required in St. Paul. That change didn't create a stampede for permits. In 2010, the first full year beekeeping was legal in Minneapolis, the city's Animal Care and Control division issued just five permits. Last year, there were 10.

Dan Niziolek, the animal control manager in Minneapolis, credits the spike with better bee awareness.

"People are realizing bees do provide a lot for a community, in terms of pollination, but also the honey they provide," he said.

Still, Niziolek said it's very likely there are still some rogue beekeepers out there.

"Like any activity, there are always people out there without permits," he said. "So, I would expect there are other honeybees being kept in the city of Minneapolis. If we do get complaints, we'll follow up with those individuals and either ensure they do get permits, or remove their hives."

Beekeeping in Minnesota
Inside one of beekeeper Terry McDaniel's hives is a pollen patty for early spring feeding Monday, April 23, 2012.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

The permits help ensure beekeepers both know what they're doing and have done everything possible to reduce risk, given you're in a densely-populated urban area and there is a small percentage of people who are allergic to bee stings, Niziolek said. Permit seekers must take a beekeeping class, have a fence around the hives and get consent from neighbors within 100 feet.

For Kulhanek, the rules proved too stringent for her to keep bees where she lives. She lives in an apartment building in Uptown and would have needed consent from every renter in her building. But her friend's house is across the street from Powderhorn Park, which reduces the number of neighbors needed to sign off and increases the foliage for the bees to pollinate.

Kulhanek said she has mixed feelings about the rules.

"I think it's just another hoop, in general," she said. "I don't really like hoops - to have to jump through. But it's good. I feel that it's good, also, because you make sure you're not putting anyone in harm's way."

Kulhanek said Minneapolis did right by at least legalizing beekeeping. Others cities have also acted in recent years, said Gary Reuter, who works for the University of Minnesota's entomology department.

Beekeeping in Minnesota
Terry McDaniel, president of the Minnesota Hobby Beekeepers Association
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

"Used to be you went in and asked someone and they just said 'no.,'" he said. "Now, they're at least talking about it, so that we've been successful getting different cities to make it legal, you know, with some restrictions."

There's been enough interest, in fact, that a group called the Minnesota Hobby Beekeepers Association developed a model ordinance for city councils to consider as a template. The city of Lindstrom north of the Twin Cities metro is currently considering such an ordinance.

In Stillwater, residents can only keep bees if the hive is 500 feet from your property line.

Bob Sitko, a member of the beekeepers association, recently told officials their rules were too restrictive.

"I calculated that out and you would have to have 20 acres to comply with that," he said. "How many people in the city of Stillwater have 20 acres to put a beehive in the geometric center of that square where their house was?"

Beekeeping laws in the state vary. Some cities, like Edina and South St. Paul, expressly ban it. Brooklyn Park and Eagan classify bees as farm animals, so beekeeping can only happen in specifically-zoned areas that do not include traditional residential subdivisions.

Terry McDaniel, president of the Hobby Beekeepers Association, said the laws in Inver Grove Heights are the best: The city doesn't address beekeeping at all. McDaniel lives there in a geodesic-domed house with a huge garden that abuts a wooded area not far from the Mississippi River.

Her home is remote enough that she said her neighbors didn't realize she had bees for three years. She also raises chickens on her property.

Maplewood and St. Paul Park are similar: Beekeeping is essentially legal without the need for a permit.

McDaniel said she understands the need for some regulation, especially in more densely-populated areas. Without any limits on her beekeeping, McDaniel is keeping five hives this year.

"I just think they're the coolest creatures on the planet," she said. "They work together - they're like one big community and they feed the babies, they bring in food, they pollinate our food, our trees, our flowers. I always think that if we as a planet could live like the bees live in their hive, this would be a wonderful place to live."