Woodbury teen beekeeper can’t get city to catch his buzzHe got the hive, tools, smoker, the veil, everything he needed to keep what he calls his “babees” safe and thriving. Except for one thing: the city’s OK.
By: Riham Feshir, Woodbury Bulletin
Sam Gruber knows a lot about bees.
In fact, the 14-year-old was so interested in bees that the Minnesota Hobby Beekeepers Association awarded him with a scholarship to get his own hive started.
He got the hive, tools, smoker, the veil, everything he needed to keep what he calls his “babees” safe and thriving.
Except for one thing: the city’s OK.
The Woodbury teen wasn’t able to keep his hobby close enough to home where he can check on the bees daily because a city ordinance considers beekeeping an agricultural use.
Placing a beehive in his backyard wasn’t permitted so he had to find a suitable home to keep his bees.
“Where we have it, it’s kind of a desert,” Sam’s mom, Alice Gruber said. “They haven’t made much honey so it’s kind of sad that they (may not) survive through winter.”
Sam put his hive on a relative’s corn farm on Bailey Road. Although the bees are still living within the city limits, their current home is zoned for agricultural use.
When he asked City Hall for permission to move his hive to his backyard, he was shot down.
“People get things wrong between beekeeper bees, natural bees and wasps and hornets,” he said, adding that they add this “fear factor” if they were allowed within city limits.
Honeybees don’t sting, Sam explained, unless you mess with them.
“If I grab them and squeeze them, then they sting,” he said.
If the beehives were in his backyard, the bees would actually benefit the garden, which is filled with broccoli, pumpkin, squash and apples at this time of year.
“My guess is the tree would make better quality apples,” Sam said.
Wearing a “Keeper of the Bees” T-shirt, the Math and Science Academy ninth grader explained the benefits his bees would have on his own, as well as neighboring plants.
Their nectar-gathering range allows them to fly outside the yard and pollinate an extended area, he said.
They put all their energy into pollination as they gather nectar, and they can’t do that where they are now, he added.
Janelle Schmitz, planning and economic development manager for the city of Woodbury, said even in agricultural zones the city requires any building that houses animals is at least 125 feet away from the home on the farm. The rule also applies to beehives.
She added that beehives are not something usually seen in metropolitan areas.
“People move to an urban setting not expecting those kinds of uses next to them,” she said.
Sam wondered, though, if Minneapolis and Stillwater allow beehives in residents’ backyards, why can’t Woodbury?
“Some cities are allowing that and that’s their prerogative,” Schmitz said.
Through its zoning ordinance, Woodbury is able to regulate agricultural as well as residential uses not too far from each other, she added.
Although it’s not quite an apples-to-apples comparison, Schmitz said beekeeping isn’t something people buying homes in Woodbury expect to have in their backyards.
“We want to make sure we respect the rights of our neighbors if they bought into an urban setting not expecting beehives,” she said. “It’s just something we’d like to reserve for a more agricultural area.”
If everyone appreciated them and the benefits honeybees bring to the environment, Sam said maybe people would be OK with a beehive nearby.
And his hive would be able to survive, too.
“My hive would do better because there is so much flowers,” he said.
For now, Sam will have to continue visiting his beehive once a week, collecting little pieces of wax as he goes, appreciating their honey and what they bring to the environment.
“The way bees would make their perfect-shaped hexagon. I think that’s awesome.”