166 days after receiving the letter from the City Attorney.
Countless meetings, phone calls, emails, conversations, sleepless nights…
And here it is.
We are finally, finally legal.
166 days after receiving the letter from the City Attorney.
Countless meetings, phone calls, emails, conversations, sleepless nights…
And here it is.
We are finally, finally legal.
I have 8 more hours of waiting until I find out if we received out beekeeping license. I though a good diversion from the churning ball of nerves in my stomach would be another blog post. 🙂
You know, when you meet people as they ask what you do, it never crossed my mind until recently to state that I am a beekeeper, probably because it was “just one hive” and that it was a hobby. Someone who knits doesn’t respond to the questions by stating that they are a knitter. I hate that question anyway. Maybe it is because I do not have a 9-5 job in which I am compensated for the time I spend that is all added up at the end of the year and reported in your taxes. Maybe it is because I typically state “whatever I want” when someone asks me what I do. Or “Queen of the Universe,” “Master & Commander,” or if in a setting where none of these are appropriate, I answer “Full-time Volunteer.” Recently the position that I used to be paid for is one that I do for free. A lot of tasks that I did in past lives (fundraising, grant-writing, etc.) I still DO, just not for any monetary compensation. My children are both in school all day (4th grade and 2nd grade), so I don’t think “stay-at-home Mom” applies any longer. And I sure as heck do not “make my home”, so homemaker does not apply.
When we got our first hive (our “hobby hive”) I was expecting a lot, but I never realized how addicting, exhilarating, and enjoyable it would be. We got it as a living teaching tool (not only for the kids but for everyone), for pollination and as a hobby. I never realized that it would turn into a passion, something that I would stand up and fight for and educate people about for 5 and a half months. I never realized that it would be something to get me out of my shell and over my fear of public speaking. I never realized that it would make friends and allies out of the most unlikely people, and bind together people of a community, of sorts. As hokey as it sounds, that ONE decision has changed our lives completely.
With this, we are creating “Bethel’s Seven Hills Honey,” Seven Hills being a nod to our area, as the City of Port Washington is widely known as having seven hills. Thanks to two trips out to Lapp’s Bee Supply Store, we have just about everything we need to get started… minus the new tenants. 🙂
Everywhere I go, I am asked if we have honey for sale. Our BeePod is great as a “hobby hive” for observation and pollination. It does produce a small amount of excess honey for us beekeepers, not nearly enough as my husband Mike would like to consume. So, yes, it will be nice to have a little side money coming in to help support our new-found bee addiction. Also, my children, myself and my husband suffer from horrible seasonal allergies. I would much rather feed them honey than some prescription or over-the-counter drug to combat it. With the increase of GMO crops (coming soon to your sugar beets!), I am going to get my family off of as much sugar as possible. What better way to sweeten your coffee with than honey– much better than sugar with a side of pesticides.
So my question is this: have I now entered the realm of, when asked “What do you do?”, can I finally add “beekeeper” to that list? Given the time, resources and energy that I have put into my ability to keep bees, I would like to think so.
This past Wednesday, we were finally able to crack open the top-bar hive for the first time this season. Given all of our (well-documented) stressing about wintering the hive, we were very unsure of what we were going to find.
The weather was gorgeous, in the low 60’s, light breeze and full sun. The bees were happy, curious and friendly. We were thrilled by the volume of fondant that was left in the hive. Since our hive got a late start (we got our bees in mid-July), they did not have what we felt was a sufficient amount of honey to get them through a typical Wisconsin winter. We added fondant in the end of November and again in mid-January. Seeing as there was an abundance of it remaining, we helped supplement them through this warm, unseasonable winter.
The only thing that was unexpected was the absence of eggs or larvae. We looked as best we could, but given the volume of bees surrounding the queen, it is entirely possible that we did not see some tiny fresh eggs. It could also point to the fact that winter may not be finished yet and the Queen isn’t quite ready to start building up the hive. We will do another inspection here in the next week or so and we should be seeing some eggs by then.
All in all, given the statistics, the wonky winter, and the horror stories (and pictures) of completely dead hives, we are ecstatic at the survival of our hive. The ladies have been out gathering pollen and water like crazy here the last week or two, so they are eager to get a jump start this year.
Back to the story at hand.
The last part of the saga was the unanimous passing of Ordinance 2012-1 Licensing and Regulating Beekeeping in the City of Port Washington. This was the collaborative efforts of area beekeeping experts (including Charlie Koenen from BeePods), the City Planner, the City Administrator, the City Attorney and others. They referred to other urban beekeeping ordinances, tweaked it to meet the needs of Port and the liking of the Aldermen, Mayor and City Attorney. We thought it was as good as it could have been.
A part of the ordinance is the Neighborhood Notification Form (NNF-1). The City maps out a 200 foot radius from the center of the property where the applicant resides. The applicant is then required to contact the homeowners of the properties within this radius, showing them a hand-drawn map of the property (including where the hive is, flyaway barriers, water, property lines, etc.), and have them sign the form, checking that they either approve or that they oppose. There is also a third box stating that one (or more) people residing at the address has a demonstrable medical condition caused by bee stings. According to the ordinance, if more than 30% of homeowners within the radius oppose, or is 1 who has the medical condition opposes, the applicant will then be required to have a hearing in front of the City Council, who will then decide the fate of the applicant. Follow all of that? 🙂
The first day of the NNF canvassing, I step outside on a chilly afternoon in my jeans, layered shirts, mittens and casual coat and my favorite pink Adidas sneakers. My husband then informs me (in one way, shape or form) that I may want to put more consideration into my outfit choice. So I put on a nice pair of black pants, sweater, dress shoes and my wool peacoat. As I am wandering, knocking and ringing doorbells unsuccessfully, it occurs to me that no one knows who I am because I look nothing like I usually do when they see me chasing my kids, out for a walk or bike ride, or up to my elbows in my garden. Aside from meeting with the Priest to sign off for the neighboring Church/school/nursing home, I came up pretty empty.
We live in an eclectic mix of a neighborhood– residents who have been here 50+ years, young families new to the area, renters, part-time residents, and vacant properties. Seeing as the Ordinance calls for “homeowners,” this made it difficult to reach some of the non-resident homeowners. All in all, I figure that out of the 25 or so properties in the radius, I was able to be in contact with over 15 of the property owners; the remaining 10 either do not live at the residence or after 4-6 attempts, I stopped trying. All but one person was aware of what was going on, and in fact, the biggest response I got was, “We were wondering when you were going to come around!” It was a wonderful opportunity to exchange information and answer questions, but for the most part it was a lot of preaching to the choir. But I am never one to shy away from an opportunity to talk bees and beekeeping, so it was a good experience.
After turning in the application and NNF-1, the City sent all of the homeowners in the 200 foot radius a Notification of Beekeeping Application along with the map we had to make with the NNF-1 form. The letter states that homeowners have 14 days to submit a written objection to the application. 14 days.
We will deal with whatever hand we are dealt, as we always have. So again, cautiously optimistic.
… so little time.
Here with the end of the constant emails, meetings, phone calls, etc. I thought I would have more time on my hands. Nope. Not one bit. So there is so much stuff to catch up on blogging about, where do I even start?
Wintering, or lack thereof. I guess I will start there. So much of this has been devoted to the struggles and trials of getting urban beekeeping on the books here in Port Washington, but I will go back to a technical beekeeping aspect that I posted about a while back and we have been continuing to stress about and deal with: wintering our bee hive, or in our case, over-wintering.
Being in Wisconsin, we planned for a typical winter– cold and snowy. Usually we have daytime highs around 15 or 20 degrees, somewhat windy, and snow a good portion of the time. But nothing could have been further than the truth this year. We have had maybe 3 snowfalls (over an inch or two) and at least 75% of the days have been sunny and warmer than freezing temps. This has been great for the heating bill and great for outdoor activities, but horrible for the bees and the winter food stores.
We got a late start on our hive this summer as it was, thereby reducing the amount of honey they were able to make for themselves for winter. We supplemented by making fondant and spreading it onto empty comb. We also had made a winter box, just a box out of plywood that fit over the BeePod top bar hive to absorb the sun (warming the hive) and to protect the hive from the brisk winds we tend to get. This has all made for a winter for these bees as if they all flew to St. Pete’s for the winter with the rest of the snowbirds.
I posted pics on here from he beginning of January of the bees out for their cleansing flights, a.k.a. potty breaks. On nice days, bees leave the hive, stretch their wings, and go to the bathroom. Not an unusual phenomenon. Unless it’s January in Wisconsin. What it did give me was a nice 50 degree day to crack the hive open, check an end over and look at where they were for remaining food supplies. I made 3 or 4 more bars of fondant, and we were also able to supplement with popping the feeder board with the sugar-water mix during the day for a while. I popped the shutter cover off a few days ago, and it was cold enough for them to be clustered, but it is obvious that the hive has gotten warm enough for them to be moving the fondant closer to the cluster.
So here we sit on March 5th just hoping for Spring to hurry up and come before their food supplies run out. Today it got to about 35 degrees and there was a lot of corpse removal and a few ladies out for a short flight. We have heard a lot of horror stories of hives that have dies off or that are completely diminished– so far we look to be fortunate enough to be very close to having our hive make it to Spring, if only the food holds out. Then it is on to another guessing game of wintering versus over-wintering.
Here it is, in all it’s glory.. Ordinance 2012-1, the City of Port Washington, WI Beekeeping Ordinance.
As soon as the Neighborhood Notification Form (NNF-1) is completed, I will post it.
As I said, we are pleased with it, find it very workable, and are extremely grateful for the time, energy and consideration that went into researching and drafting the ordinance.
This is what a bee-friendly ordinance looks like. We are hoping that communities across the U.S. will take advantage of the work that was done and look to this particular ordinance when they are adopting urban beekeeping regulations.
3+ months, hundreds of emails and phone calls, umpteen meetings and 1 beesentation later, and Port Washington, Wisconsin is the latest city to adopt an urban beekeeping ordinance!!
It was passed approximately 17 hours ago and I am still having a hard time wrapping my mind around it. I keep waiting to wake up and I will still be stuck in local government purgatory, but it is official… Port is now bee-friendly! 🙂
My mind is completely jumbled, full of emotion and excitement, and we are eager to start the individual licensing process.
Thank you all for your kind words and support during this long process. As I have said many times, it is only with the help and support of others that we have been able to carry on, so thank you!
3.5 months later and here it is… tomorrow is the final reading of Port Washington’s urban beekeeping ordinance, complete with a vote.
At the last meeting, there were a few clarifications that the Aldermen had asked for, some minor changes, and I believe there have even been some last-minute changes as well just in the last few days. The Aldermen requested a draft of what is called the Neighborhood Notification Form (NNF), which a beekeeping applicant will be required to have neighbors within a set radius of their property (it appears to be 200 feet) sign off and turn in to the City. I have not seen the NNF nor the latest version of the ordinance– there is a fine line between wanting to be involved and becoming a pain in the rear end. I am trying to find a good balance.
While I am looking forward to the vote tomorrow night, I am not nearly as relieved yet as I thought I would be. Besides having to get this ordinance to pass, we will have to go into the individual licensing process. With the NNF, if more than 30% of the neighbors object, it triggers a hearing in front of the City Council. In addition, if 1 person in that area with a “demonstrable medical condition” caused by a bee sting objects, automatic hearing. There will be fees, inspections, drawings, and meetings. And even then, when we get our license (assuming we can and DO), we have to reapply annually, and if any property in that NNF radius changes hands, we have to go through the form with them as well.
Nevertheless, I have to focus on the bigger picture. Beekeeping is not a solitary hobby; it is one where a community is built rapidly and relied on frequently. In that aspect, tomorrow’s vote should be a complete victory, enabling citizens in Port Washington to be able to responsibly keep beehives on their property, helping the honeybee population, and pollination, but also helping us build a “hive” of fellow beekeepers right here in our back yard. We are excited about the possibilities that this opens up for our community!
So for now it’s one foot in front of the other, plodding along. Tomorrow night is the vote, and then we are on to the next step of this saga. Time to get our little ladies to go from felonious to law-abiding! 🙂
To continue this saga where I last left off—>
At the December 20th Port Washington Common Council Meeting, the City Planner and the City Administrator introduced their draft of Port’s urban beekeeping policy. Charlie from BeePods and the Urban Ecology Center was there to give his thoughts and ideas on the document, and he was able to address the Council and clarify things. It was met with rave reviews from the Council members and a fair amount of questions asked by the City Attorney. It was understood that the document was very organic, that it would continue to be tweaked and changed, not only from feedback from City officials, but also based on input from Charlie. We walked out of there with positive attitudes, feeling nothing but good vibes from everyone involved. And I am pleased to say that’s still the case. 🙂
There were a couple of gray areas that needed to be dealt with and some modifications/clarifications, and from the last draft I have seen, it is ready to rock and roll! As I have stated in previous blog posts, with all of the research I have done since October, I have read literally dozens of ordinances varying from restrictive to bee-tolerant to bee- (and beekeeper-) friendly. This last version is the closest to bee-friendly I have seen. Period. I knew that Port was looking to other communities’ ordinances as a rough model, a starting point, and my fear was that it was going to be a very restrictive starting point. If I were asked to characterize the last draft I saw, the words I would use would be responsible and educated. It is readily apparent the amount of time that these two gentlemen spent on this topic, and for that we are grateful.
I was accused by a Council member of not wanting any regulations on beekeeping, which couldn’t be further from the truth. I told him that the last thing I want is a neighbor who has taken checked out “Beekeeping for Dummies” from the local library, thumbed through it, and goes out and gets 5 stacks of Langstroths and a nuc for each, installs the bees in Spring, shoves them under a tree on his 40’x60′ lot next to a neighbor’s swimming pool, and doesn’t do a thing with them until he’s ready to harvest (steal) ALL of the honey in Fall. 1.) It’s irresponsible. 2.) It doesn’t do anything to help the honeybee population. 3.) It gives beekeepers a bad image… and that doesn’t even touch on the obvious safety issues.
The thing with regulations (like a lot of things) is that it is a slippery slope. Once you get started imposing the terms and conditions, it is easy to go too far. Not the case here. This particular draft allows for a beekeeper to proceed with their hobby in an urban setting in a way that not only keeps the neighboring residents happy, but allows for the bees to be kept in the locations and the manner in which best suits the bees. When looking at hive placement, some ordinances look solely at having the hive be in the dead center of the lot/yard, furthest from the public right-of-way and neighboring properties; this does not leave any room for the beekeeper to look at optimal locations, taking into account sunlight, residents’ living/play space, flight pattern, etc. Some ordinances fail to write it in a way that allows for a hive to be placed on a porch, a deck or even a rooftop. We are thankful that our (hopefully!) soon-to-be ordinance takes all of these things into consideration, is very forward-thinking, and is community-oriented– it allows for conversations with neighbors (rather than postal notification), it allows for neighbors to sign-off on closer hive placement, and it encourages joining a local beekeeping organization/community. This may very well become the new “Go-To” ordinance for beekeepers to introduce to their communities. It is that well written.
On to tonight~ at 7:30 PM is the Common Council Meeting where they will have the official 1st Reading of the proposed beekeeping ordinance for the City of Port Washington. This is a big day… one of many big days, with a few more yet to come. If all goes well tonight, at the next Meeting in two weeks, they will have the 2nd Reading, followed by the vote. (My stomach just did an ever-so-slight somersault. Or seven.)
We are going into the meeting tonight cautiously optimistic.
Ooohhhh, to hell with it!! We are going into the meeting tonight
cautiously completely, uncharacteristically optimistic.
My husband Mike has spent months concerned about how to winter our hive. Everyone seems to have their opinion. Wrap or don’t wrap? Wind-guard or none? Do they have enough honey to survive? If not, fondant or sugar tray? And given that we live a few blocks from Lake Michigan here in Wisconsin, winters are kind of unpredictable.
So Mike did what any good beekeeper does: talk to a lot of people and find out what they do or what they recommend for our climate, read up about it and make a decision. What he didn’t count on was this:
These pictures were taken the 3rd week of December when it was unseasonably warm, as in high 40’s, low 50’s (Fahrenheit). The past 2 years, we have had huge snowfalls on December 1st. Mike definitely did NOT take a prolonged heat wave into account when planning how to winter our bees.
The day before Thanksgiving, I took 3 bars of empty comb, made fondant, and filled the comb with it. It was my first foray into fondant-making, and it was a lot less difficult than I expected it to be. Given that we are situated at one of the highest points in Port Washington, wind is always a factor for us; because of this, we opted to move the hive to a more sheltered location on our property, about 15-20 feet away from the hive’s regular location. In addition, Charlie from BeePods (the manufacturer of out top bar hive) recommends putting nylons (pantyhose) full of sawdust under the cover on top of the bars to help prevent moisture in the hive, so we also did that. Also, as you can see in the top picture, Mike took the whole wind break thought a step further and made a box (minus the bottom) around the entire hive. He painted the top black to absorb the heat of the sun, and stained the sides (also to absorb the heat but to add a bit of aesthetics to it, since the brick on our home is almost the same color). He cut 3 holes in the side to line up with the openings, and viola~ with all of his research, planning and hard work, our ladies would hopefully, prayerfully, make it through the harsh Wisconsin winter.
Harsh! HA! Not this year– at least not as of yet.
We have had a lot of sunny days in the 40’s which means some fairly active bees. The month of December, which traditionally has brought large, steady snowfalls, has brought days of bees venturing out to do what bees do– corpse removal, drinking water, and of course going to the bathroom. Our driveway, vehicles and even our sweatshirts have been spotted with bees and bee-droppings, and a lot of dead bees in a 5 foot radius of the hive. Nothing says “Happy Thanksgiving” and “Merry Christmas” like spray paint patterns of orange bee-poo! But what it has done is enabled us to do on these warmer days is to crack the top off the box, remove the lid, and put the feeder jar of 2:1 sugar syrup back in to hopefully give the girls something else to eat besides their winter stores and the fondant.
But with the New Year came a change in weather. This past weekend we got a trace of snow, and last night we were down to about 7 degrees. Reality should soon be setting in and they will be hunkering down for their long winter’s nap. Then we will be back to nervously awaiting Spring, the thaw, and hopefully the return of our hive. We have done all that we can do, and now it is up to them.