Jamie and Cathy Slafkosky raise 20,000 honeybees — about two hives’ worth — at their house in the suburbs of unincorporated Cobb.
A disgruntled neighbor blew the whistle on the couple on Feb. 19, citing the county’s livestock ordinance.
“They were saying the lot was too small,” county Director of Community Development Rob Hosack said about the tipster. “In order to maintain livestock, you have to have 2 acres. It was only a half-acre lot.”
There “wasn’t a whole lot of information,” he said about the tip, which reported the offending creatures were “too close to the property line” but left out details — like their species.
The next day, Cobb County code enforcement officer Tanesha Bates carried a written notice of violation to the house and spoke to a surprised Jamie Slafkosky.
“The owner said, ‘It’s not livestock. It’s a hobby. We keep bees to make honey for me and my wife,’” Hosack said. “The officer came back and verified it wasn’t considered livestock. We dismissed it the following day.”
Bureaucratic tangles aside, there isn’t any local law on the books to keep the bees from being kept, according to Hosack.
“I don’t really think there’s anything that relates to bees,” Hosack said of county zoning laws. “They don’t require a pen. I think our ordinance is silent on that.”
Brian Higgins of Hometown Honey in Kennesaw, a member of the Georgia Beekeepers Association, said Gwinnett County has the only ordinance addressing bees.
“You have to have 5 or 10 acres. All the other counties, there are no laws against backyard beekeeping,” he said.
County Extension agent Neil Tarver confirmed that Cobb is included in those ranks.
“The only requirement I know of is that if it’s being done commercially, if you want to raise honey, you’re going to have to get a business license and comply with all the standards for selling food,” he said. “If someone wants to raise bees for a hobby, I don’t know of any restrictions. The county doesn’t have any.”
Tarver asks aspiring apiarists to check with local homeowners’ associations before going live with a hive.
“We advise people to check with their neighbors to see if someone doesn’t have an objection, but otherwise, they’re free to do it,” he said.
Jerry Edwards, president of the Georgia Beekeepers Association, said the honeybee — incidentally, the state insect — may be cultivated but not tamed.
“You’re not going to stop them. They’re going to go where they want to go,” he said. “You can’t tag them, you can’t name them and you can’t keep up with them because they’re going to go where they want to go.”
Therein may lie the danger for someone allergic to bee stings.
Booger Hill Bee Co. owner Dan Harris, who teaches beekeeping at the Smith-Gilbert Gardens in Kennesaw, said it is unlikely a kept bee will cause trouble.
“We keep European bees, which are the bees that beekeepers have kept for hundreds of years in North America,” he said. “They are not aggressive.”
Cobb Master Gardener Marcie Radakovich, a backyard beekeeper, said her Russian bees can be “testier” than others from the continent.
“They can be meaner at times. They’re usually busy foraging, but if you go into their hive, you’re going into their home. That’s when they’ll attack you,” she said.
There are more attacks from wasps, Radakovich said.
“They’re like stealth bombers. They’ll go for you. But honeybees are relatively gentle,” she said. “There are some people who don’t wear equipment when they work their bees.”
There’s no place like comb
Radakovich suits up with a veil and gloves because she is “really sensitive to bee stings,” and has to protect herself from her busy honey makers.
“I’ve had bees for five or six years. I did it because it was good for the environment. Most of our food is pollinated by bees and other insects,” she said.
A member of the Metro Atlanta Beekeepers Association, Radakovich said ancient Egyptians shared her fascination.
“I heard when they opened the pyramids, there was honey in the jars and it was still viable,” she said.
She harvests about 5 gallons of honey a year, which she gives away, and finds other reasons to admire the workers.
“It’s fun to watch them fly in and out. You can have 30 hives in a row and each bee knows which one he lives in. They never sleep,” she said. “They’re really amazing creatures. All the good they do for humans, it’s really amazing.”