Elgin looking into backyard honeybees

  • Elgin resident Rizwan Arastu has petitioned the city to allow beekeeping. He researched the topic at Gail Borden Public Library, he said.

      Elgin resident Rizwan Arastu has petitioned the city to allow beekeeping. He researched the topic at Gail Borden Public Library, he said. Elena Ferrarin | Staff Photographer


The Elgin City Council is expected to discuss whether to allow residents to have backyard honeybees in the near future, after a resident petitioned the city.

Rizwan Arastu said he kept a beehive as part of his research as a junior at Princeton University and wants to resume the hobby with his family, which also has a coop with four chickens in their backyard.

The family is trying to live "a more natural life," he said. He and his five kids, ages 3 to 14, took a one-day beekeeping class in West Chicago, where the children learned how easy it is, he said.

People have unfounded fears about honeybees, Arastu said.

"Bees are always the scapegoat for any insect sting they got," he said. "Bees are really mild-tempered, they don't bother you. You can be right next to the beehive and they don't do anything. They just care about their flowers."

Beekeeping is not permitted in Elgin under an ordinance that bans farm animals, which covers bees and apiaries because they need to be registered with the state's department of agriculture, city communications specialist Molly Center said. However, the city council can amend the ordinance -- like it did for chickens -- to allow residents to keep bees with a special permit.

Arastu gave a presentation to the sustainability commission, which will continue to discuss the topic Tuesday night, Center said. Commissioners support allowing beekeeping in Elgin and are ironing out details such as setback requirements, fencing heights and lot sizes before making their recommendation to the city council, she said.

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Evanston and Naperville are among communities with beekeeping ordinances, Center said.

Larry Krengel, a beekeeping instructor at McHenry County College and College of Lake County, said he endorses ordinances "that take a very positive approach and have very logical limits."

For example, it's a good idea to require fencing if beehives are within 10 feet from property lines so that bees are forced to fly at higher altitudes, over people's heads, as soon as they take flight. It's also good to have a water source nearby, such as a birdbath, "so that your neighbor's pool won't have 100 bees lined up drinking from it."

Bees are very docile creatures that use their sting only as a defense, said Krengel, who has kept bees more than 30 years in his Marengo backyard.

"If you brush them aside and you say, 'Excuse me I'd like the flower,' they just move away," he said. "Bees get a bad rep from other insects, particularly hornets and yellow jackets, which in our area are the most aggressive."

Some people are severely allergic to bee stings -- so much that they can go into anaphylactic shock -- but that's a "very, very" small percentage of the population, Krengel said.

Besides providing delicious honey, bees improve the environment by pollinating flowers and a variety of fruits and vegetables including squash, blueberries, apples and pumpkins, Krengel said.

"These are not 100 percent pollinated by honeybees, but a large enough percentage so that if honey bees were not present, the cost of all vegetables would be much higher."


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