Environment

New proposal could regulate Boston beekeeping

Boston could be abuzz with city-regulated hives as local interest in beekeeping grows.

Bees in Scituate in August 2019. Stan Grossfeld/Globe Staff

The Boston City Council will hear a proposal Wednesday to amend the city zoning code to formally authorize and control the keeping of honeybees.

The amendment, filed by City Councilor Ruthzee Louijeune, outlines several regulations for Boston beekeepers. These include setting a maximum distance between hives and public sidewalks, standardizing hive sizes, and outlining steps beekeepers would have to take to keep bees from flying into windows or doors of nearby buildings.

Other changes include banning hives in residential front yards, and setting a maximum number of hives on a given property.

Animal Control would police any violations, beginning with a written warning and followed by fines.

Beekeeping in Boston

While this proposal helps regulate apiculture in Boston, beekeeping is certainly not illegal. In fact, it’s a growing trend among hobbyists and local businesses alike. Some attribute the rise in beekeeping to the COVID-19 pandemic — WBZ dubbed the pollinators “nature’s essential workers” last year, estimating that there are close to 700 honey bee colonies in Boston as of June 2021.

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“Residents and businesses in Boston are already hosting bee hives on their rooftops and backyards as local interest in beekeeping has only increased during the pandemic,” Louijeune wrote in the proposal.

Clubs such as the Boston Area Beekeepers Association act as a local hub for self-proclaimed “beeks” (for the uninitiated, bee geeks). Their Facebook group has close to 800 members and offers beekeeping lessons, presentations, and workshops.

Beekeeping is also popular with students, with both Boston University and Tufts offering beekeeping opportunities on campus.

Commercially, companies like The Best Bees Company, a Boston-based beekeeping service started by a Tufts graduate, contribute to the rise in urban farming. The company installs hives, cares for bees, and harvests honey for budding home beekeepers. Since 2009, Best Bees has expanded to 20 other metro locations across the country. 

Why beekeeping?

Several Boston hotels, such as the InterContinental Boston and the Lenox Hotel, have rooftop apiaries. It’s great for corporate environmental initiatives, and for global agriculture as a whole — bee pollination affects about $15 billion worth of crops in the United States alone. 

Honey bees provide the pollination for over 85 different crops and contribute to 35% of global food production. In urban cities, bees contribute to biodiversity by supporting and strengthening plant and tree growth through pollination. Bees are considered an indicator species, meaning that they are vital for gauging the health of ecosystems.

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Some metropolitan beekeepers believe bees actually fare better in cities than in the countryside — urban beekeeping maintains the species’ survival among threats of colony collapse, and provides bees with less competitive access to nutrition.

Beyond environmental benefits, local beekeepers get the perk of fresh honey.

What’s next

As for the City Council’s proposal, beekeepers shouldn’t make changes just yet.

For the changes to go into effect, they must pass a council committee, a public hearing, and a full council decision. The City Council meets every Wednesday at 12 p.m.

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