The planning commission is abuzz drafting new rules to allow and regulate backyard beekeeping in Traverse City. Now city leaders are being pressured by honeybee enthusiasts and locavores to allow them to harvest honey at home.
Terry Street’s been tending bees for 30 years. He’s a retired principal and biology teacher. Street’s fascination with bees started long ago.
Bees Are Fascinating
“I always liked them,” Street says. “Because they have such a social structure, and they communicate probably better than we do.”
Now he has hives on his wooded property outside of Kingsley.
Street suits up in his bee suit, basically white coveralls and hat with mesh netting. The netting is to protect him from stings and so he can see while working with the bees.
The hives are dispersed in a couple areas on his land. Several white boxes – or hives – are lined up a few feet apart from one another. Before Street approaches the hives, he fills the smoker with dry leaves and pine needles.
“What we’re going to do is we’re going to smoke them a bit.” Street explains, “It has a tendency to kinda calm ‘em.”
Beekeeping As An Educational Tool
Street takes off the lid of one of his hives and looks inside. As he checks out the hive, he says a friend of his got him into beekeeping about 30 years ago. The next thing he knew is he was keeping bees at his high school.
“And I actually put a beehive inside, drilled a hole through the cement wall with a pipe that connected to the beehive.” Street continues, “The bees had free access in and out of the building. And so we kept them all year. Not a single student in the six years I had the indoor hive, I never had a student stung.”
Street testified in favor of backyard beekeeping in Traverse City last month. He thinks there should be limits on the number of hives and where they could be placed on the property. For instance, he thinks hives shouldn’t be next to a sidewalk or areas where kids might be playing.
Kima Kraimer is a beekeeper who lives in Traverse City. She’s been pushing the planning commission to change the rules so she can keep her bees in town. These days she keeps watch over her bees in Benzonia.
Honeybees Get Bad Rap
She says honeybees get a bad rap, “Because they get lumped into the class of yellow jackets, hornets, wasps. Those bees are aggressive.” Kraimer continues, “They’re nasty and their venom is much more potent.”
Still honeybees do sting. And Traverse City Planning Director Russ Soyring says people feel strongly on both sides. There are people who are concerned about hives nearby because they’re allergic to bee stings.
He says many municipalities do have rules for beekeepers, and they seem to be similar across the country.
Key To Successful Beekeeping Is Education
Soyring says the key is education.
The planning department is busily drafting a new ordinance – after pouring over beekeeping policies of other urban Midwestern cities. We’ll see just how much buzz there is when it’s back before the planning commission on November 6.