Guerilla Beekeeping

The next lunacy project is beekeeping; hopefully. I say hopefully because after purchasing a miter saw and stuffing my Corolla unreasonably full with lumber, I have come to find out that beekeeping is illegal in San Diego County. Ok, not illegal exactly, just very, very restrictive.

Let me first clear up a few points about bees. Many people are afraid of bees, and there is a real dearth of info about them. They are not out to get you.

1) A single bee will not sting you unless provoked. A bee is out looking for nectar and pollen, not someone to sting. When the bee does sting you, she dies; everyone knows this. What incentive does the bee have to kill herself on you?

2) Africanized honey bees are in San Diego, and by all accounts, have mixed with our honey bees. But it turns out it’s mostly OK. How many people have you known or heard of that have been killed by the AHB? None? I think I’ll just give bees a pass and keep watching out for those sharks and lightning bolts.

3) A swarm is not dangerous. Swarming happens when the hive becomes overcrowded. The bees leave the hive looking for a new place to live. They know they might not have any food for awhile so they gorge on honey. Bees gorged with honey are like your fat uncle after turkey on thanksgiving; nearly comatose. Combine that with the fact that almost all the bees desperately want to hang right around the exposed queen to protect her. Swarming bees are some of the safest you can find.

4) Bees will fly up and over any obstacle in their way and then fly horizontally to their destinations. This means an apiary surrounded by a flimsy wooden fence will keep bees flying 6 of more feet in the air and over most people’s heads. Thus provisions can be made to keep a hive safe in relatively close quarters. Add to that the fact that a flying honey bee really, really doesn’t want to sting you, and hives can be made perfectly safe beyond about 10 feet.

The issues of legality lie with with stand-off; a required distance between an apiary and residential dwelling or road. Many cities including New York, Seattle, Portland, Denver, Chicago, San Francisco, and Atlanta all have a stand-off requirement of 25 ft. Seems reasonable given a wise person just told me beyond 10 feet an apiary is very safe.

By contrast, the City of San Diego has a stand-off requirement of 100 feet. That’s starting to seem like a lot right? I think most properties within City of San Diego don’t even have 100 ft of clearance around them. It’s almost like they don’t want bees in City of San Diego.

Well, what about County of San Diego? That’s rural right? That includes remote places like Julian, Ramona, El Cajon, etc. Those guys have agriculture. Surely they must let bees in? Turns out no. The County of San Diego requires a 600 foot standoff!

County of San Diego requires 600 feet of stand-off between your beehive and any other houses. Let’s do the math on that one. The most efficient use of space where you need a stand-off radius is a circle. A circle with radius 600 ft has an area of 1.1 million square feet; or 26 acres.

OK, no problem. If you want to keep bees in San Diego, make your own honey, help a threatened species, improve the pollination of your (and your neighbors’) garden, all you need is a 26 acre plot.

The next step is unclear. I am thinking about petitioning City of El Cajon to create relaxed bee-keeping regulations. I have begun a correspondence with the County of San Diego Entomology Lab and I’m hoping to learn more and find an ally or ammunition for legalizing beekeeping.

Short of all that, I have a bunch of lumber in my garage…Maybe one day it accidentally gets turned into an apiary. Maybe that apiary accidentally gets moved into my yard. Beyond that, I can’t say. Maybe a passing swarm finds this magically built up box and decides to move in. Hard to say what could happen.


3 thoughts on “Guerilla Beekeeping”

  1. Hello, I’m a London beekeeper coming to San Diego on holiday this August. I was hoping to maybe visit some San Diego beekeepers and see how you do things in such a different climate, but it sounds like there won’t be any beekeepers to visit! Does San Diego have a beekeeping association do you know?

    I liked your analogy about a bee swarm being like an uncle stuffed with turkey!

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