For all those who think that laws and covenants restricting beekeeping were only a problem in urban and suburban areas, I have a cautionary tale for you:

For the record, where I live has a 3.8 acre lot with a hayfield on one side, and a pasture (complete with cows) partially on the other side.   I have five neighbors who all live on similar size lots.  As you can see, we are pretty much in a rural area.

When Mary and I were looking for property, we specifically said that we wanted to keep bees on the land, and we were told there were no issues with keeping bees on this site.   We specifically asked about covenants and we were told there were none.  I even went further:  I asked the neighbors – the neighbors all said it was OK to keep bees here.  As a final step, after I got my hives assembled but before I got my bees, I set up the hives (without bees) and asked my neighbors again if they had any objections.  Hearing no objections, I loaded the bee packages into the hives.

That was 7 years ago.  You can imagine my surprise when I got a letter from an attorney claiming that one of my neighbors was now taking exception to my beehives, finding them garishly painted (they use yellow hive bodies with green covers and bottom boards), cover the neighborhood with stinging insects to the point where people are afraid to leave their homes, lower property values, and in general a nuisance.   Moreover, the hives violated a covenant forbidding farm animals.  I was expected to remove the hives promptly.

By the way, the letter came completely out of the blue; my neighbor had not spoken to me about the bees before authorizing the letter from his attorney.

So for seven years the bees were welcome, and now out of the blue I am being threatened with a “cease and desist” court order.  At the very least I will have to pay legal fees to fight this.  I am also frantically looking for new apiary sites in case I have to move my bees in a hurry.

One good thing – all the other neighbors see nothing wrong with my beekeeping at my house, and have offered letters of support for my keeping bees.

Lessons learned:

  • If you are buying a piece of property with the intention of keeping bees on it, make the fact that keeping bees on the property is permissible part of the contract.  If you are told there are no covenants on the property, get your attorney to certify that fact in writing.
  • Don’t assume your neighbors will honor verbal agreements about keeping bees next to their property – get it in writing.
  • And lastly, use good bee management practices to keep your bees from becoming a nuisance, but be aware that some people simply cannot be pleased no matter what you do.

In more cheerful news, I caught what I hope was my last swarm of the season this evening.  Interestingly, it came from a colony I started from a swarm at the end of March.  While you folks are just starting your swarm season, around here early May is the end of the normal swarm season.  The swarm is destined for a new beekeeper, and I’ll be around to help him with the TLC required to get a new swarm to succeed.