Follow Maryland’s laws for raising honey bees (Ag Law)
(Editor’s note: Nicole Cook is with the Environmental and Agricultural Faculty Legal Specialist at University of Maryland-Eastern Shore.)
It’s chilly, which means we are all thinking about the joys of spring: warm breezes, flowers blooming, and — if you’re thinking about raising honey bees — shopping for your “nuc!”
Honey bees are vital to the health of Maryland’s agricultural industry, and raising honeybees for harvesting honey and beeswax as well as for pollinating crops is an additional source of income for many farmers.
But beware. Because of their importance to agriculture, most states, including Maryland, have comprehensive laws aimed at maintaining honey bee health, which the state takes very seriously.
In fact, violation of Maryland’s laws is a misdemeanor crime.
So, before you buy your brood, make sure you understand what’s required under the law to keep honey bees in Maryland.
The Maryland Department of Agriculture is the agency responsible for approving the movement of honey bee colonies into Maryland.
A person may not ship or transport into the state any colony or used bee equipment that is not accompanied by a valid inspection certificate issued by an authorized apiary inspector of the state of origin of the colony or equipment.
Any colony or bee that is transported into the state without the required documentation will be restricted to an area that the MDA designates, and could be destroyed by MDA at the owner’s expense if not removed from the state within 24 hours after being notified by the department.
Everyone who keeps honey bees must provide access for MDA to inspect each colony, and must register each colony with MDA within 30 days of receiving the colony, and then on or before Jan. 1 every year thereafter.
There is no fee to inspect or register a hive, but the registration certificate is not transferable.
For a registration form, go to http://mda.maryland.gov/plants-pests/Pages/apiary_inspection.aspx.
During inspections, among other things, MDA will make sure that the honey house is clean and sanitary, the rooms are well ventilated, and there is sufficient lighting with protection over exposed food zones to protect from product adulteration.
They will also look to make sure that there is an easily-accessible and adequate water supply for the honey processing room, and that when honey is extracted, the honey house is used only for the extracting, processing, packing, or handling of honey.
In addition, openings to the outside in the extracting and packing rooms must be screened and kept in good repair.
And, in each colony, a beekeeper must provide moveable frames, each of which can be removed from the colony without causing damage to the combs in the colony, and honey can only be extracted from capped combs with no bee brood or larva from a wax moth or small hive beetle.
If you’re going to be transporting a bee colony through Maryland, each colony must be screened or covered at all times and the operator of the motor vehicle transporting the bees must operate the vehicle’s motor at all times unless refueling in order to keep the bees from being agitated or unless the bees are enclosed in a refrigerated section of the vehicle that’s kept at 45 degrees F.
A motor vehicle containing bees may not be operated more than one mile from any interstate highway.
In addition to the state laws for beekeeping, you will also want to check with your county and city about what restrictions they may have for beekeeping.
For example, Frederick County’s zoning ordinance requires that the apiary not be less than 10 feet from any lot line, a water supply must be provided to minimize honeybees from seeking water off-site, and the apiary must be located behind a solid fence, hedge or other barrier that’s at least six feet tall, runs parallel to the property line and extends 10 feet beyond the apiary in each direction.
And, if you are going to employ one or more persons in the beekeeping, you must file with MDA a Certificate of Compliance with the State Workmen’s Compensation Laws or provide MDA a workmen’s compensation policy number or binder number as evidence of insurance.
For more information about Maryland’s laws for raising honey bees, and also for information about the change in Maryland law to include beekeeping as one of the agricultural use activities that may qualify a parcel of land for the reduced property tax assessment that’s applied to farmland under the state’s Tax-Property Article, go to https://www.agrisk.umd.edu and search for “bee.”