What’s coming next to an in-town neighborhood near you?
Beekeeping is beginning to be the new buzz in grow-your-own-food circles in the Columbia area.
“Bees are the new chickens,” said Jennifer Tsuruda, an apiculture specialist with Clemson University Extension Service.
People are interested in having a few hives at home for reasons rooted in nutrition, education and a nostalgia for simpler, country living, aficionados say. It’s what’s next as urban farming moves beyond the traditional raising of fruits and vegetables. And after bees? Goats, say some.
“It’s country coming to the city,” said Kate Cassidy of West Columbia, who is waiting excitedly for officials there to set guidelines on beekeeping.
A push for backyard chickens to produce eggs in communities as diverse as Columbia, Cayce, Lexington and West Columbia was the first turn toward in-town animal farming in the Midlands. The city of Columbia last fall even had a Tour de Coops event so residents could show off their urban chickens.
Bees might be a tad easier to manage for the do-it-yourself crowd.
And there’s more to bees than the sweet payoff of free honey.
Bees improve gardens, since they fertilize flowers and vegetables by feeding on nectar in plants, Tsuruda said.
Clemson officials estimate there are 3,500 beekeepers with 33,000 hives across South Carolina, levels some bee-lovers predict will increase.
Some communities are considering rules so colonies with an average of 30,000 flying, stinging insects each don’t become nuisances.
West Columbia is looking at standards after Cassidy inquired if beekeeping is allowed.
Beekeeping isn’t banned specifically in the Lexington County community. But city standards bar keeping livestock other than chickens at homes, so officials decided to set some rules for handling hives.
As she waits, Cassidy is developing a wardrobe featuring a hat with netting and lots of long-sleeve clothing.
She decided she wanted to bring a hive home after taking classes and learning that the pollen in honey can alleviate allergies in her family.
“I’m looking forward to it,” she said. “I find it really relaxing.”
The plan taking shape would allow up to five hives depending on yard size and require water sources and floral barriers to attract bees should a swarm escape, city Planning Director Wayne Shuler said.
Those guidelines reflect what beekeepers should do as good neighbors, beekeepers say.
“If it’s done right, it’s really not an issue at all,” said Tom Ballou, president of the 150-member Mid-State Beekeepers Association. “I look on bees as kind of an exotic pet.”
Marli Drum, superintendent of Columbia animal services, agrees that beekeeping can be fascinating. “It’s a great hobby, done right,” she said.
Columbia has no guidelines on beekeeping. It would address any problems through nuisance ordinances, Drum said.
“Right now, if we don’t have a problem, we never know they are there,” she said.
Beekeeper Ballou says bees are so tame that he keeps two hives on the front porch of his home near Irmo without problem.
Start-up costs to establish a hive average $500, association officials say.
Bees are easier to tend and less of a challenge than the handful of chickens allowed at homes, association leaders say.
A typical hive in the Midlands produces 40 pounds of honey a year, an amount the group says is low because of smoldering, dry summers.
“We have a really tough climate to produce a lot,” Mid-State Beekeepers’ vice president Danny Cannon of Oak Grove said.
But that doesn’t deter Cannon, who has 200 hives in 20 sites around the area.
“They can be all over and nobody will notice if they’re well-kept,” Cannon said. “If set up right, they’re out of sight, out of mind.”
The spread of beekeeping isn’t a surprise to Geoffrey Zehnder, head of sustainable agriculture at Clemson Extension. “We’re seeing more and more interest in urban farming,” he said.
He said people are paying attention to the quality and nourishment in their meals and snacks. And they’re interested in lowering their supermarket bill. Others are using animals as science lessons for their home-schooled youngsters.
Nostalgia is a big factor, too, he said.
But allowing animals beyond chickens and bees could create conflict over noise, odor and sanitation, he said.
Still, that doesn’t keep some Midlands residents from dreaming of more livestock in their yards.
“Goats are so loving and sweet, it’d be a wonderful experience for our kids,” said Karen Kuse, head of the Montessori School in Columbia’s Rosewood neighborhood.
Goats right now are not permitted in Columbia. Just ask some USC students who had one tied up in their yard in Hollywood-Rose Hill before he hopped the backyard fence and got away in September. The roommates told Dalebert the goat goodbye after finally cornering him in USC’s athletics village. Dalebert now lives as a pet on a Lugoff farm.
Kuse said the Montessori School’s 2-acre campus is too small to include horses and cows as a way to teach students how animals benefit people.
But goats could work, she said.
She also envisions an aviary displaying birds.
“When it comes to animals,” she said, “my wish list is long.”
Tim Flach: 803-771-8483
What: The West Columbia Planning Commission will consider guidelines for beekeeping in the city
When: 6 p.m. Monday
Where: Town Hall, 200 N. 12th St.