Friday, August 13, 2010

My Letter to the City Council

I just sent this to city council members.

In general, I agree with the basics of the ordinance but think a few areas need to be changed or rethought. The council should recognize that this ordinance is based originally on a Florida ordinance which was addressing a different set of issues than Winona faces. (I recognize that Minneapolis uses much of this ordinance as well)
Florida is different in at least three ways:
1. Florida is dealing with the invasion of  highly defensive Africanized bees.  Africanized bees cannot survive winter in Minnesota so they are not a threat to us. The farthest north they are found is Oklahoma.
2. Florida has a large commercial beekeeping industry. While Minnesota has many large beekeeping firms as well, they are located in the western part of our state.
3. Florida has state bee inspectors who inspect all hives in the state for bee diseases every year. A few requirements in this ordinance were created to make the bee inspectors work easier. Minnesota no longer inspect hives.
A few of the requirements of our ordinance were created with these factors in mind. For example, in the Standard of Practices section (c, 8), the ordinance requires that beekeepers not leave "bait" hives around in order to catch swarms. This was added in Florida in order to protect people from feral Africanized bee swarms that might take up residence in the equipment. The beekeeping industry was also worried about beekeepers catching feral European bees that carried American Foul brood disease (research seems to indicate now that feral bees are no more likely to carry bee diseases than managed hives). I would argue that we might want to encourage just the opposite. If one of the concerns for this ordinance is limiting swarms traveling through our neighborhoods and scaring citizens, we might want to encourage beekeepers to leave such bait boxes around. Bee swarms prefer to take up residence in places once used by other honey bees as homes.
I would also recommend more stringent guidelines concerning the water source each beekeeper is required to provide. The source of water must be some type of "balanced pond-like" source or else we will have other problems. A beekeeper can't just leave a bucket of water out in her bee yard. It will drown most of the bees and be an open invitation for the breeding of another insect (mosquitos). In my apiary I have what is essentially a small fish pond in the yard. It contains floating plants that the bees can land on (no drowning) and a small solar-powered water pump - both of which keep the water from stagnating - and fish that eat the mosquito larvae that appear in the pond.
Will there be a grandfathering in of current beekeepers who have more hives than the ordinance allows or a reconsideration of the minimum number of hives allowed (if the apiaries met all other requirements of the ordinance)? Most lots in Winona are small and the ordinance as it stands would not allow more than two hives. Due to our severe winters it is very common to lose multiple hives each year - once I lost all of my hives when we had a prolonged bitterly cold snap in February. A beekeeper with multiple hives could split any surviving hives to replace the ones that do not survive our Minnesota winters. This splitting has an added benefit of reducing swarming.
I would again ask the council to consider what exactly they are trying to accomplish with this ordinance and whether what is being required will actually accomplish it.  There are a number of beekeepers and other scientific resources in Winona that are here to help "tweak" this ordinance. Please feel free to call on us! I would be willing to come to your council meeting on Monday to discuss beekeeping and answer any questions you might have.


Deamiter said...

Well said! Now if only you can convince council members who often are more interested in preventing problems than understanding problems to listen to reason.

The Barefoot Beekeeper said...

Good work, Wes! Haven't seen you at for a while!

Abelisto said...


You are correct. I need to do that. My life has become hectic but not too hectic that I shouldn't be visiting This website set me in the right direction! BTW, I haven't told you how much I've enjoyed the latest edition of The Barefoot Beekeeper!