bzzzzzzz i'm your local bee charmer
October 25, 2010 5:40 PM   Subscribe

How do I convince my neighbors to give me permission to keep bees?

I live in Minneapolis where a law was recently changed to allow urban beekeeping. I desperately want to take part and turn a small part of my back yard (about 100 square feet) into an apiary.

I took the course required by this law a week ago to ensure I have the proper bee knowledge. I am confidant that I can keep a safe hive and make it so my bees (20,000-40,000 my first year) will not swarm.

The downside is that I have to get the consent of 8 households adjacent to my property (single family home) and 80% consent of the neighbors within 100 feet of my property (15 homes). My neighbors are young people, people aged 30-60 and children.

If I was your neighbor, and I had to convince you, what could I say to convince you to give me permission to keep my docile honeybees?
posted by wocka wocka wocka to Human Relations (41 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Do they garden? Raise flowers? A nearby beehive will do wonders for the ouput of a flower/vegetable garden. Try to craft the request as a boon to all involved (which it is, if you think about it), not just a special favor to you.
posted by eclectist at 5:43 PM on October 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

If I was your neighbor, and I had to convince you, what could I say to convince you to give me permission to keep my docile honeybees?

"Hi, I am a scientist magician and I have come to miraculously rid you and/or your child of your terrible, life-threatening bee allergy."


"I'll totally bring you guys fresh honey."

(Feel free to choose whichever line you're more comfortable with.)
posted by phunniemee at 5:44 PM on October 25, 2010 [4 favorites]

Offer them honey!
posted by mareli at 5:44 PM on October 25, 2010 [3 favorites]

Speaking personally, I really don't think you could convince me. I just really don't want a hive of stinging insects living next door to me and my kid.

We get occasional, random bees, but living next door to a hive would, I'd imagine, increase the number of bees in our yard tremendously, and thus also increase the sting risk, yes? I don't know if my kid is allergic to bee stings or not, and frankly I'd rather not find out.
posted by sotonohito at 5:46 PM on October 25, 2010

I live in Minneapolis and if I were your neighbor I'd not only be excited about your hive project, I'd help you with it :)

But to answer your question, I think your best approach is to have as solid information as you can about the safety and general wonderfulness of having an urban bee hive. Not propaganda, but objective information. If there's objective information about the downsides of bees in the neighborhood, present that as well.

In my experience, you are always better off having people make decisions based on information than fear, so whatever you can do to push the balance towards rational choices, the better.

Also, give them honey.
posted by mcstayinskool at 5:46 PM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Give me all the facts, honestly, and that's about it. If it's dangerous for some reason tell me, tell me how much and why, and if it's not dangerous, of course that's great. More than likely I'd be cool with it anyways, but just being open and straightforward would do a lot to convince me if I wasn't at first.

The problem you're facing is that people are irrational and no amount of persuasion will convince some of them. Giving it your best shot in a straightforward fashion is about all you can do.
posted by dubitable at 5:47 PM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Promise to give them some of the resulting honey. And of course reassure them about the behaviour of honey bees. My perspective comes as a neighbor of beekeepers; they have one of their hives on our property and we love watching all the bees on the flowers and fruit trees in the summer, and knowing that all that activity will result in wonderful honey (never tasted any so good) at the end of the season.
posted by Emanuel at 5:47 PM on October 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

Oh yeah, and I totally forgot about the allergy thing that some people have. That's going to be a big hurdle (and there's nothing irrational about that).
posted by dubitable at 5:48 PM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Fresh honey, yes indeed.

This is probably harder if neighbors don't already know the taste difference between the fresh-from-the-comb stuff and supermarket variety.
posted by Drastic at 5:48 PM on October 25, 2010

Best answer: If anyone in my family was allergic to bees, there's nothing you could say to me to convince me. I don't know what percentage of the population is allergic, but that might sink you right there.

Also, if any of your neighbors are selling or considering selling their house, they might say no as well since it could impact their sale.

Good luck to you, though, as I've always been fascinated by beekeeping.
posted by thatone at 5:50 PM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Do you have any reason to believe that they won't consent? Most people don't give a damn about what you do with your backyard.

Here's how I'd react: if you were to come to my front door and made a big deal of it, promising honey and lots of benefits for my trees/flowers/etc. (in a way, bribing me to do something that would, by implication, come across as illicit or dangerous), I'd grow suspicious. On the other hand, if you rang my bell and said, "Hey, I'm starting a beehive in my backyard, it isn't going to affect you, but the city requires that I get your consent", I'd probably sign and be happy to be rid of you so I can go about my day.
posted by halogen at 5:51 PM on October 25, 2010 [5 favorites]

Oh, allergies. Never mind then.
posted by halogen at 5:51 PM on October 25, 2010

If I were your neighbor, the immediate questions I would ask would be:

1. Why exactly are you confident that you can safely keep bees? What (if any) actual experience do you have?

2. What is your action plan if your bees *do* swarm? There must be factors out of your control that could cause this (stray dog attacks hive, whatever).

3. What kind of bees would you be keeping and what is the data on their stinging potential, are they known to cause allergic reactions, etc.

I think it's an awesome idea, and if you could give me good answers to these questions I would totally be on board. But I don't have kids, and I'm thinking that would change the equation a lot. Even relatively few stings can be life threatening for a toddler.
posted by charmcityblues at 5:51 PM on October 25, 2010 [3 favorites]

Be sure to SMILE when you talk to them! No big thing. Just a few bees. And honey galore!
posted by schrodycat at 5:56 PM on October 25, 2010

Also, if any of your neighbors are selling or considering selling their house, they might say no as well since it could impact their sale.

Yes, this is a good point. My two biggest concerns as your neighbor would be the bees being an annoyance (such as if I couldn't sit on my deck with a glass of lemonade in the summer without having to shoo away bees constantly) and your hive making it difficult to sell the house eventually.
posted by burnmp3s at 5:59 PM on October 25, 2010

How well do you know your neighbors? How well do you know neighborhood politics? You need to figure out whose support you need to just make this happen like magic. Think of it like a political campaign and make a list of your key players. Convince them first. And write down all any objections they raise and any other issues that unexpectedly come up and prepare good answers.

Who's the biggest gossip? Who's the master gardener? Who's the neighborhood worrywart? Who do people admire? Who's the coolest? Who's the oldest? Who's the unofficial mayor?

Network with your fellow urban beekeepers in the Twin Cities. Find out how they soothed their neighbors.

Obviously it will be hard to convince anyone who's allergic. Hope that none of them are in the closest ring of houses, and come prepared with some knowledge of how much their chance of intersecting with a bee will really increase if you have a hive.

And don't handwave the bee sting concern if people aren't allergic. For a parallel, imagine that you were keeping a hive of mosquitos. I know, TOTALLY UNFAIR comparison. But if you don't have any known interest in the benefit of bees, they are just "flying stinging insect."

Me, I'm terribly phobic. If I mistake the buzz of another insect near my ear for a bee, I will squawk in fear. If a bee or wasp starts buzzing around me and doesn't leave, I will wind up hyperventilating. I know that this is not rational.

That said, I'd sign your petition in a heartbeat, because I garden and value honeybees.
posted by desuetude at 6:08 PM on October 25, 2010

I'm allergic to bee stings, so there's no way you could convince me short of "I plan to build a steel dome with no openings over my entire property, keep the bees inside, and care for them using remote control robots."
posted by decathecting at 6:10 PM on October 25, 2010 [3 favorites]

I am confidant that I can keep a safe hive and make it so my bees (20,000-40,000 my first year) will not swarm.

Oh, and don't make promises you can't keep. Bees swarm sometimes, even with experienced beekeepers.

Nthing to chill out with the promises of free honey. Bribery is suspicious.
posted by desuetude at 6:10 PM on October 25, 2010

I'm sure some people don't know that they're allergic. While of course you want to downplay the risk, you may want to let everyone know that you'll be keeping a few epipens (not cheap, like $160 or so each) around, and certainly offer to provide them to anyone who says they are allergic- even if they don't give you the consent.
posted by holterbarbour at 6:14 PM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have a life-threatening bee allergy and this is what I would need if I were your neighbor (for the record, I am well-educated about my allergy and have happily hiked and gardened and enjoyed places where bees are forever, so IRL I would probably be friendly to this request, but there is a lot of understandable and rational fear):

*Professionalism. Have a short spiel prepared that is two friendly sentences long, and then leave me with a very well-done flier that has contact information for you where I can email or call and ask questions. If written permission is required, have the form ready with the flier and a SASE. On the flier, explain the city program FIRST. Reveal that you have taken the course SECOND. And provide city contacts for the program THIRD. This makes you part of a CIVIC effort. Then, provide a few, pertinent facts about urban beekeeping and its impact on neighborhoods.

*Research. I would want to know you understand this undertaking. Cite your urban beekeeping facts on the flier (and do the research, include a fact about the realities of an increased bee census in the nieghborhood). Indicate in the area by your contact email that emails about allergy and other concerns are welcome, send prompt and factual emails back with citations (preferably from the city).

*Communication. Make it clear that there is a permanent line of communication open (perhaps with the email) for ongoing concerns in the future, and be responsive to those concerns. Make a contact in the city program you can call if you need help addressing neighbors' concerns in the future.

Please do not make promises--of honey, of "you'll never notice!", of "there will never be a problem." You may not be able to keep them, and then you'll have a failed apiary and grumpy neighbors. Understand that once you gain permission, every bee in the entire neighborhood will be assumed to belong to you, and you may have to deal with folks who are frustrated by a sting, etc. so practice your active listening and positive attitude.

This is an awesome undertaking, and good luck!
posted by rumposinc at 6:15 PM on October 25, 2010 [13 favorites]

The fact you need to sell them on is that it is pretty likely that there are ALREADY wild hives in the neighborhood, your activities are unlikely to be significant.
posted by HuronBob at 6:15 PM on October 25, 2010

Yeah, my mom is allergic and would sign in a second. There are already tons of stinging insects in any environment, most of them (yellow jackets, wasps) way, way more aggressive than honeybees.

Be friendly, provide your qualifications, ask if they have any questions you can answer, say you can come back later if they need to think about it so that they don't feel pressured. (and, yes, you can offer them honey, but do so in a joking way - that's never gonna change a hater's, or even a waffler's mind).
posted by ldthomps at 6:20 PM on October 25, 2010

If you have allergic people around, maybe get keep an epi-pen for emergencies.

When you go talk to the neighbors be sure to explain that swarming isn't inherently dangerous and it doesn't mean that the bees are angry or responding to an attack (or planning one!). A lot of people don't understand that when honey bees swarm it means they're splitting the hive and looking for a new home.
posted by elsietheeel at 6:23 PM on October 25, 2010

The epi-pen suggestions are good ones but consider that in the event of a sting to an allergic person they need to be administered pretty quickly. Neighbors may not be in a position to run to your house and hope that you're home. Maybe provide people who want one with their own epi-pen? (Not cheap, I know!)
posted by corey flood at 6:33 PM on October 25, 2010

Response by poster: I am thrilled with the amount of responses to this post, and please keep them coming!

I completely understand those with allergies or those who are fearful of allergies. Quite frankly, I am too (since I assume the risk of being stung on a semi-regular basis when I reach into the bees' home to inspect the hive). I went to my allergist last week who gave me a prescription, to which I filled, for two epi-pens. These can of course be used on myself or another ADULT.

Thank you for your honest answers and your support. Again, please keep it coming!
posted by wocka wocka wocka at 6:35 PM on October 25, 2010

Is there a legitimate argument that your mild domestic bees will out-compete aggressive africanized bees and reduce forage for wasps, thus having a pest-control aspect?

Another thing to offer might be a beehive tour day some summer day so neighbourhood kids can see where honey really comes from firsthand and learn about bees. But if you're in one of those paranoid neighbourhoods, you might not want to start with that one. :)
posted by -harlequin- at 7:10 PM on October 25, 2010

I've been stung upwards of twenty times by wasps, hornets, and yellow jackets. There are tons of bees here. I've accidentally stepped on bees barefoot and have never been stung by one.

Point out that bees go for flowers and not people food, like all these other stinging bugs do.
posted by wayland at 7:15 PM on October 25, 2010

I think offering some sort of trial period may help you win approval. After all, most people won't know what it's like to live near a hive until the hive is present. If my only chance to objection is at the very beginning, I might feel like I have no choice but to exercise that right. Better safe than sorry, right?

But if you promised to remove your hive upon my objection... say in the first 180 days, I'd be more likely to say yes.
posted by centerweight at 7:54 PM on October 25, 2010 [3 favorites]

Is there any way you can be truthful and upfront about your plans without mentioning the actual numbers of bees in a typical hive? I don't know much about beekeeping, although I would I would totally support you in this effort, were I your neighbor. But I felt an involuntary chill go up my spine just seeing the numbers "20,000-40,000". I had no idea so many bees were in a hive!

For someone who may be borderline on their enthusiasm for such a project, that might kill the deal.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 8:02 PM on October 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'd sign your form, no problem. But I think beekeeping is awesome so I'm already on your side.

I urge you to pursue further study before starting this, though. Network with the local apiarist community, get out there and see some established hives, and do some serious studying. I don't know much about bees myself, but I know some people who do, and my impression is that it takes much more than a few hours of instruction to actually pull this off.

Good luck!
posted by kprincehouse at 8:09 PM on October 25, 2010

I am afraid of bees so my main suggestion is not mentioning the number of bees! 20 000-40 000 bees may be a tiny flock, but to me it sounds like a shitload! Maybe mention the number of boxes, or combs or whatever.

You could also offer to let some of the more supportive and curious neighbours come and help you tend to the bees. It's a rare opportunity.
posted by cranberrymonger at 8:32 PM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My neighbors do have bees and I only found out because I noticed that I had a lot of dead bees in my windows and asked around. I don't care but I do have more bees than normal in the city, though it's only noticeable for two months or so. Free honey would go a LONG way towards making me even more OK with it but so far has not been forthcoming! I will say that my dog loves to eat bees, most of the dogs around here enthusiastically chase and eat the bees and being stung does not deter them at all, so be careful loose dogs can't get into your hives. That could be ugly.

I think the key is education. My mother has never met a bee she didn't want to squash with a shoe but when they had a wild swarm show up in their yard this year the exterminator she called told her about the problems with bees and within an hour she was 100% OK with just leaving them to hang out. He spent some time outside with her watching the bees and talking to her (she's not afriad, she'd been outside poking them with sticks and saying shoo!) and educated her a bit on bee behavior and how to tell wasps, hornets etc apart. Eventually a local bee keeper came and took them away and everyone was happy. If my Mom can be convinced not to napalm the bees then they must have some good educational materials out there.
posted by fshgrl at 8:33 PM on October 25, 2010

Two big things:

-Bring an expert. Is there someone you clicked with during your class? An experienced, non-threatening, laid-back person who has successfully raised bees (ideally in urban settings) for decades? The more they look like your favorite grandparent (but capable), the better. Have them on hand for friendly smiles, glad-handing, and expert questions. This also makes it clear that you're part of a community and will have help, when you have newbie questions (as you are still new as a beekeeper)

-Bring honey. Don't promise honey, hand it out. Buy a dozen smallish jars (nothing big enough to be "too much", just a smallish jar - certainly less than 8 oz, probably smaller than 4 oz, ideally in a jar that looks cool. Purchase the honey from a local beekeeper, and tell them that it is local honey, which is pretty cool in and of itself. Don't promise more honey in the future, but people should be able to guess more honey will be forthcoming.

Also, as other have suggested, bring some handouts with good information, have a brief spiel readied, and be friendly and smile. You should have no problems. I would be signing the sheet before you finished talking, then would be angling for a tour and an intro to you bees, myself.
posted by arnicae at 8:41 PM on October 25, 2010

I was totally on board about bees cause they are just so good for the garden but then read 20,000 to 40,000 and that FREAKED me right out. I was thinking 200 bees max for a backyard hobby. All I could think about was 20000 bees filling my yard. I do not know how you get over that sticker shock. Good luck though. Bees are very important to even the worst gardener.
posted by saradarlin at 9:03 PM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Remember that some people's concerns will be with the noise rather than with the stinging aspect. I'd want to be convinced that there wasn't going to be a constant background hum whenever I was trying to relax in my garden.
posted by Jabberwocky at 1:22 AM on October 26, 2010

Another benefit you could tout is that if your neighbors have seasonal allergies, eating local honey may reduce those allergies.
posted by IndigoRain at 1:41 AM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: A lot of people have no idea there's a difference among honeybees, wasps, hornets... all of them are just "bees." Domestic honeybees are docile and just go about their business, and swarming bees are too gorged to sting. Not sure people who are phobic of "bees" are going to be receptive to education, but these might be key points.

Absolutely find and get involved with your local beekeeper's organization. The level of knowledge and support they provide is awesome. The investment in a hive is pretty high, so I don't think you want to promise you'll remove it if there are problems. But if one of your neighbors objects, and you have an experienced keeper in your group who'd be willing place a hive on your property for a year, the worried neighbor might agree to this test-drive of sorts.

If you're so inclined you can turn some of that fear and doubt around to work FOR you... local honey is not only tastier, but also more wholesome than commercial honey. (See tainted honey).

And good for you for wanting to do this! It's a very rewarding hobby.
posted by evilmomlady at 7:51 AM on October 26, 2010

a prescription, to which I filled, for two epi-pens. These can of course be used on myself or another ADULT.

Pro tip: the first aid class I took advised that you (that's the generic "you") will quite possibly get into Trouble if you poke someone with an Epi-Pen, even if they're clearly about to kick the bucket from anaphylactic shock. Only doctors get to give someone else injections.

However, there's nothing wrong with assisting someone, so uncap that sucker, slap it in their hand, and if they need a bit of help jabbing it in--by all means wrap your hand around theirs and give it a good push.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 10:02 AM on October 26, 2010

Oh my, nthing to not toss out that 20,000-bee number. Eek.
posted by desuetude at 10:40 AM on October 26, 2010

You might try approaching it as though it were a survey instead (and really listen to the answers). For instance: I'd really like to put my apiary knowledge to local use by putting a honeybee hive in my yard. Here's why. Also, here's a concise and informative pamphlet on urban honeybee keeping. It would be a big favor to me if you'd email me after you've read it and tell me in what ways this might be good or bad for the neighborhood.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:58 AM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the help everyone. I wrote up s pamphlet explaining some of the thins that you thought my neighbors might be wary of as well as introduced myself via a letter and door knocking.

Surprisingly, everyone was really cool about and signed on!

Thanks for your help.
posted by wocka wocka wocka at 1:25 PM on November 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

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