To bee or not to bee?

It's looking like the former, with a proposal to legalize beekeeping in Minneapolis advancing unanimously at City Hall on Wednesday.

City gardeners and hobbyists with cases of hives already showed up at a City Council committee to argue for a proposal by Council Member Diane Hofstede that would set the requirements for keeping bees in the city after a 34-year ban.

St. Paul has allowed beekeeping for decades, and the League of Minnesota Cities reports more cities are getting inquiries from residents.

"They're extremely important little creatures," University of Minnesota entomology Prof. Marla Spivak, whose research specialty is honey bees, told the council. Advocates listed benefits ranging from better pollination of gardens and fruit trees to the sweet reward of honey.

She and other supporters had to deal with a few common misconceptions to reassure the council's regulatory committee.

"They truly are docile -- beyond gentle," Nicollet Island resident Peat Willcutt said. Even swarms that occur when a colony of bees divides are relatively calm, Spivak said.

But the proposed ordinance includes a few safeguards designed to keep the neighbors calm, too. Consent from all abutting property owners would be required, plus 80 percent of owners within 100 feet of the keeper's lot. The bee area would have to be fenced, with flyways devised with barriers to get bees to altitude quickly when the hive is near a property line. Keepers would be required to get some schooling and a city permit of $100 initially and $50 annually.

Bees a balm to keepers

Most owners of a typical 40-foot-wide city lot would be limited to one or two hives. But isolated undeveloped lots could be approved for several times that many.

The council was lobbied by several city residents who admitted they're stealth beekeepers. Powderhorn resident and gardener Elise Kyllo keeps a couple of colonies, gets requests from friends for hives and asked the council to legalize her habit. "I'm fascinated by the creatures," she said.

Jacquelynn Goessling of the Kingfield neighborhood said keeping bees fits the city's initiative to encourage the consumption of fresh, locally grown foods. She's hoping pollination will buttress yields from her back yard pear tree and a nearby community garden.

Kathleen Connelly, a longtime city resident who's temporarily living just over the border of Golden Valley, said she's waiting to see whether the proposal passes before deciding where to buy a house. She now keeps her colonies in Zumbrota.

She called bee prohibitions a relic of efforts by developing suburbs to shed their agrarian pasts. With hiving season at hand, the city hopes to accept applications by June 1 if the measure passes as expected on April 25.

"This is very intriguing," Chairman Don Samuels told the crowd before the unanimous vote. "You made a believer of me. I'm kind of envisioning my beehive."

Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438