Mike McGurk has been keeping honey bees at his residence in Cape May Court House for the past seven years, but his neighbors never complain about his hobby.
McGurk, 56, is fortunate to have the space for them, with eight acres of property, but he does things to keep them from being a nuisance.
“There are good neighbor practices you should follow. ... We need to be providing sufficient water, so they do not go to people’s pools, plus keeping the hives away from walkways and keeping the hives a certain distance from property lines,” McGurk said. “The thing is, honey bees by nature are not aggressive. They only sting in defense of their hive and or if they are stepped on, caught in clothing etc. They do not go out and search for people to sting.”
For beekeepers just starting out or who are not as careful, the Jersey State Beekeepers Association is working on an ordinance that can be adopted by all the municipalities in the state to make the rules and regulations on beekeeping uniform.
Most municipalities do not have beekeeping regulations.
There are communities trying to ban beekeeping because of misinformation, said Bill Eisele, president of the Jersey Cape Beekeepers Association.
“We were looking to develop a model ordinance, so if a municipality wanted to have an ordinance ... there would be a standard set of rules. Right now, there is not,” said Eisele, a Petersburg resident. “I think there are at least two (local governments in the state) that have banned beekeeping. New York City had banned beekeeping, but it reversed itself a couple of years ago.”
There are no bans on beekeeping in southern New Jersey, but Lower Township limits the number of hives by lot size, said Seth Belson, past president of the New Jersey Beekeepers Association.
In July, Lower Township adopted a beekeeping guideline ordinance that allows for beekeeping on small lots.
Lower officials worked with the Jersey Cape Beekeepers Association. Lower decided a lot that is a half acre or less in size should not have more than two hives. The Department of Agriculture’s Best Management Practices for beekeepers in this state suggests no more than three hives of honeybees per lot size of one-quarter acre or less.
“There are best management practices, which establish guidelines for suburban and urban beekeeping. These practices are the best for both beekeeping and neighbors,” Belson said.
Best management practices include keeping hives at least 25 feet from a public sidewalk, alley, street or roads and erecting a substantial barrier or fence to prevent animals and children from coming into close contact with the hives, but these are guidelines and not laws.
The New Jersey Beekeepers Association needs to approve a final version of the proposed model ordinance. “After that, we will start looking for a sponsor from the legislative branch to propose and support our proposed legislation,” Belson said.
Belson said he has heard from a few beekeepers that their neighbors complained to them.
“Mostly, they are afraid, and after seeing the hive up close with the beekeeper, usually they realize their fears are unwarranted. Understanding the biology of a bee removes most fear issues. Honeybees do not want to sting. They live to work,” Belson said.
Eisele said he has never had problems with his neighbors either, even though he has 14 hives at his Petersburg property. Each hive can have as many as 30,000 bees in it, but he lives on a 10-acre farm.
“None of them (the hives) are close to a road or to a sidewalk, which might be annoying to somebody. We supply a source of water, so they don’t need to go to swimming pools, and actually, we have a swimming pool located within 100 feet of the hives,” Eisele said.
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