Foodies and environmentalists are adding hives.
More bees are moving to the ’burbs.
As buzz builds over the popular hobby and the dramatic worldwide die-off of bees, more than two dozen metro-area cities, including Minnetonka, Bloomington and Stillwater, are allowing back-yard beekeeping.
On Tuesday, Eden Prairie is expected to be the latest city to approve it. And in Chanhassen, beekeeping classes are filling up, like one next month that’s sold out to nearly 200 people interested in starting the hobby.
“The number of people doing it now is surprising,” said Gary Reuter, who helps teach classes at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum and run the University of Minnesota’s Bee Lab. “People want to do their part to help [bees], and some of it is the back-to-nature thinking.”
Scientists say a worldwide phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder is affecting bees, which are dying at a rate of 35 percent a year. That news, along with the movement to produce food locally, has increased interest in beekeeping.
Minneapolis and St. Paul were among the first cities here to allow it. Now rooftops from Minneapolis City Hall to downtown hotels host hives.
The trend has spread to suburbs, but demand so far has been moderate. Stillwater has issued six permits for residential beekeeping since allowing it about a year ago; no complaints have come up. In the north metro, Circle Pines started allowing residential beekeeping last July, but has had no applications yet. And St. Paul Park has issued one permit since passing a beekeeping ordinance almost a year ago.
Other suburbs either don’t have a specific ordinance on beekeeping, outwardly prohibit it or restrict hives to rural properties.
Carrying on a tradition
That’s the case in Eden Prairie, which currently limits beekeeping to rural areas. Resident Chris Endres lobbied for an ordinance change.
His grandfather and father passed on the beekeeping hobby to him, and now he’s sharing it with his 17-year-old daughter, both entering homemade honey in State Fair contests. But since he hasn’t been allowed to keep the hives in his neighborhood, he’s housed them at his cabin and at a friend’s house in neighboring Minnetonka.
“It’s kind of like being a wine connoisseur,” said Endres, who has tasting parties to show off his Minnetonka-made honey.
The proposed city ordinance to be discussed Tuesday has specific limitations, such as the colony size, and beekeepers have to register with police so neighbors can be notified. Jim Schedin, the city’s zoning administrator, estimates a half-dozen residents will end up registering with the city.
“I’ve seen an uptick in interest,” he said. “We have bees to our east and bees to our north. … They’re really everywhere.”
Not everyone is supportive, though.
The sticking point for most people: bee swarms bothering neighbors or affecting residents with allergies. Some cities, including Edina, prohibit beekeeping. In Eden Prairie, Council Member Kathy Nelson was the lone opponent, saying that the hobby shouldn’t negatively impact residents who have bee allergies, such as her daughter.
“I don’t see the overwhelming need to have a change, and it could have an extreme consequence for some families in town,” she said. “It doesn’t seem like something your next-door neighbor in a suburb would do. I would never have purchased a home if I knew bees were next door.”
Proponents like Endres say they understand concerns, but said that honeybees are often mistaken for hornets, wasps and yellow jackets, which are more likely to sting. He said he hopes allowing beekeeping will increase knowledge about honeybees and help show their benefits.
“It really brings a lot of public awareness and sensitivity,” he said. “I just don’t think it’s a problem.”
Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141 Twitter: @kellystrib