Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

July 23, 2013

To bee, or not to bee?

Miami County man under fire from neighbors

By Scott Smith Kokomo Tribune
Kokomo Tribune

---- — MACY — From his perspective, George Ruble made a huge change for the better when he left Chicago Heights and moved to this bucolic little northern Miami County town.

Home to basketball star Ruth Riley, there’s not much to the town of about 206, 2 miles off U.S. 31.

Ruble has 3 acres, on which he tends a very tidy orchard/garden operation, growing produce for the farmer’s market in Wabash, and generally enjoying country life.

Back in Chicagoland, Ruble recalls a rival gang opening up with heavy weaponry on a house across the street. In Macy, he found neighbors willing to help him clear trees and brush off his property. He’s found a home he loves.

Even so, there’s been trouble in paradise. His beehives, the source of the pollen that keeps his farm bearing plentifully, are causing consternation among his nearest neighbors.

The neighbors’ complaints are being aided by a Miami County ordinance, which requires a setback of 500 feet between any beehive and a neighboring residence. It’s an ordinance that appears to be somewhat unique in the area; a small sample survey of zoning ordinances in six different counties — Marion, Tipton, Howard, Cass, White and Fulton — failed to locate any ordinances that address bees and beehives.

“I’m sure it’s because back in the day, [someone] put 100 hives right up next to someone’s residence,” Ruble said of the Miami County ordinance.

Miami County Building Commissioner Brian Engel had no choice but to cite Ruble, once a complaint was made. So to comply, Ruble has moved all but two of his hives (he has about 20) to the southern portion of his property. Once he has queens well-established in the two hives, he’ll move those as well.

But the new hive location poses problems, Ruble said. He has the hives alongside his small apple orchard, meaning he can’t spray the apple trees. It’s extremely difficult to grow apples for market that haven’t been sprayed for bugs, he said. He also can’t access the hives easily.

So he’s gone to the Miami County commissioners, in hopes of shortening the setback requirements. Last week, the commissioners asked county attorney Pat Roberts to look into the matter, to see if anything could be done.

Ruble said he doesn’t want to get rid of the rule entirely, but a 300-foot setback would allow him to put the hives where he had them formerly.

“I believe we should have restrictions, like within a city, or around school districts, or soccer fields ... most of it is just common sense,” Ruble said.

Mike Seib, a Mooresville beekeeper who is active in the Central Indiana Beekeepers Association, noted the group has members who keep bees in urban areas of Indianapolis.

“It’s a little bit of an overkill,” Seib said of the Miami County ordinance. “I think 500 feet is a lot more than what’s necessary.”

Seib said that usually when there is a dispute over bees, it’s a case of neighbors not getting along in general.

That may be the case with Ruble and some of his neighbors. Ruble said he’s filed a lawsuit in the past, over a claim that chemical spraying had harmed his bees. And one of the neighbors is allergic to bees, he said.

Still, Ruble said he needs the bees healthy and happy to keep his small farm bountiful. He grows a wide variety of crops, from lettuce, beets and eggplant to blueberries, asparagus and peaches. His bees produced enough honey last year for Ruble to sell 600 pounds of it.

He said he sold all of his honey in 10 days. And he’s hoping to make enough money selling his produce to have a self-sustaining business, if he can get everything sorted out with the county and his neighbors.

“There’s such a demand for local produce these days. Especially up in Rochester, there are so many people who are eating organic food,” Ruble said.

Scott Smith can be reached at 765-454-8569 or at scott.smith@kokomotribune.com.