You know it’s not good when the neighbors have to scoop honey bees out of their hot tub, or when you talk to another who casually mentions that he felt bad for all the bees that died in his pets’ water bowl. How’s that for a little hint?
Bringing tens of thousands of stinging insects into a neighborhood isn’t always welcomed with open arms. As beekeepers, we were fortunate when we moved to our home outside of town to have one neighbor who also kept a hive, so we had a bit of solidarity. When anyone said anything, we could blame it on his bees! I’m just kidding, of course, but it was helpful that you really couldn’t tell whether it was our bees or our neighbors that swarmed all over the front of the house one time or which ones were landing on the laundry hanging on the clothesline.
Neighbor relations is a big part of keeping bees—or frankly, any other type of livestock. If you don’t have a lot of space between you, you have to be proactive to bring your neighbors, if they’re willing, into the process. The thing about bees is people are either fascinated by them or absolutely terrified. Fortunately, I’d say more people want to learn more about them, making it easier to win allies.
In our situation, the best option was to educate those around us on the patterns of the hive—which is usually an easy task for a beekeeping, as we tend to ramble on about their intricacies—as well as offer a jar or two of honey. The fruits of your farming labor are always a good bridge between your farm and the skeptics who surround you.
The other thing that really helped was to have neighbors come over when we were spinning honey. Unveiling the activities you do on your farm will go a long way in helping your neighbors understand and appreciate what you do. Even though there are bees all around during the process, it’s mesmerizing to watch and it’s easy to ignore the extra winged guests. Once they saw that lots of bees can be out and about without anyone being stung, they weren’t quite as concerned if they had more of them in their yard and garden.
Another point that is important is to be considerate when doing your farming chores. My husband Grant would try to work with the bees when the neighbors were gone or at work, and if he recently was in the hives and the bees were worked up, he would let people know. This was especially important with our neighbor nearest the hives.
My biggest concern was when our beekeeping friend had an anaphylactic reaction while working with his own hive one day. I was ready to pull ours out and end the hobby, but he kept his hive and didn’t want us to do that. I do believe that’s the big game changer. If you have someone nearby that has a potentially deadly reaction to a bee sting or some other element you have on your place, you have to be willing to eliminate the risk.
When our neighbor moved, we talked to the new owner, who didn’t have any issues with the bees. We explained their behavior and to not be surprised if the bees found their way to the hot tub if it was left uncovered. I’m not sure if they ever were a problem for him, as he never said anything. And now we move the bees to alfalfa fields in the spring to take advantage of the abundant flowers because we learned the prairie can be a rough way to make a living for a bee.
The strength in neighbor relations is communication. Keep them in the loop in what you’re doing, and listen to their concerns. While you might not be able to mitigate every issue, when you understand problems and do your best to correct them, it will make it a lot easier.