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Illinois hunting and fishing

Tim Moore keeps a hive of bees in the backyard of his Springfield home. A new ordinance would make it legal for hobby beekeepers to have a limited number of hives. Chris Young/The State Journal-Register.

City of Springfield to spell out beekeeping requirements

June 11, 2012 at 11:21 AM

The State Journal-Register

The Springfield City Council will consider an ordinance this week to legalize hobby beekeeping.

The draft ordinance sets up a framework of requirements that limit the number of hives an individual can maintain at once and requires them to be placed a sufficient distance from neighbors and sidewalks.

Sangamon County Board member Tim Moore, also a beekeeper, worked with the city to create the ordinance.

“The business of beekeeping – or apiculture – is a form of agriculture just like raising cows, pigs and horses,” Moore said. “It’s not real clear whether or not hobby beekeeping is legal (in Springfield) or not.”

Hobby beekeepers raise bees that produce honey for the beekeepers, their families and friends, not for profit.

“So with this ordinance, (hobby beekeepers) don’t have to worry about being fined or shut down.”

Rich Ramsey of Rochester, vice-president of the Illinois State Beekeeping Association, said allowing hobbyists to maintain a few hives helps promote good relations between beekeepers and the community.

After all, it’s a local beekeeper who gets the call when a swarm of bees takes up temporary residence in a public place and needs to be removed.

Beekeepers can put their names on a list to be called if the Sangamon County sheriff’s office is alerted to the presence of a swarm.

For their trouble, beekeepers get free bees and queens for their hives, and the public gets a free service.

Moore maintains hives on his farm near Loami and one hive in his backyard in Springfield.

“It’s tucked back in a corner of my yard, and my neighbors don’t generally see it or go back there,” he said.

Most beehives are like Moore’s – out of sight and out of mind - but an ordinance spells out rules for everyone’s protection.

For example, the ordinance requires hives to be at least five feet from the property line, a street or a sidewalk, unless a proper fence keeps the hive separate.

“Only a fool would put his bees near a sidewalk,” Ramsey said.

Moore said to be in compliance, he would move his bees a few feet in from the property line and plant a hedge along the fence separating his yard from the alley.

Before he opens up his hives, Moore smokes the hives to calm the bees.

He shows where honey is produced and where his “bee babies” mature in

He wears a net over his head, face and arms, but says he isn’t worried about being stung.

“They’re just doing their thing,” Moore said. “They aren’t paying a whole lot of attention to us, even when we are holding up the frame to look at them.”

Moore estimates there are about dozen beekeepers in Springfield.

New people have inquired about becoming involved, but are unsure about the legality.

“The (present) ordinance was pretty vague, and it was keeping people from keeping bees,” he said.

The ordinance will go before the full city council June 19, Moore said.

***

Bee swarms

Getting along with honeybees is fairly simple.

“If you leave them alone, they will leave you alone,” said Rich Ramsey, vice-president of the Illinois State Beekeepers Association.

Even large swarms of bees that temporarily possess tree cavities, sign posts, door jams, or other public places are not dangerous if treated with respect.

“Right now the city is full of bees,” Ramsey said. “There are hollow trees all over town.”

Bee swarms normally are not aggressive, he said.

“We probably got 20 calls for swarms this spring, and there were no stinging incidents to my knowledge,” Ramsey said. “They are not going to attack a person like you see in the movies.”

Bees swarm when the older queen leaves the hive to a new queen.

The older queen usually takes about half of the colony with her to start over in a new location.

“People who have a bee swarm call 911, but that’s not really a 911 emergency,” Ramsey said. “Call the non-emergency number of the Sheriff’s Dept. at 753-6666, and they will get a hold of a beekeeper.”

***

Draft ordinance on hobby beekeeping

*Requires hives to be registered with the Illinois Department of Agriculture.

*Colonies must be maintained in movable-frame hives.

*Proper bee handling techniques must be used to avoid possibility of “unprovoked stinging” 10 or more feet away.

*No more than four hives on lots of less than 10,000 square feet.

*Hives must not be located within five feet of a property line, street, sidewalk or alley unless protected by a solid or slat-filled chain link fence or hedge four feet in height. The fence must extend at least four feet beyond the hive in both directions or completely enclose the hives.

*Colonies of honeybees – or any other stinging insects – not maintained in compliance with the ordinance may be deemed a public nuisance. Wild occurring bees, such as those residing in hollow trees whose honey is not harvested are not considered to be in violation.

Chris Young can be reached at 788-1528.

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