bees in the news

MBeeA bees schedule honey production

An article about a new apiary at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport is popping up everywhere, so I finally decided to read it. It contains a cool concept—the placement of bees on otherwise unused land, tended by a force of especially selected ex-cons. The twenty-three hives on 2,400 square feet of airport “wasteland” have been in operation since spring.

But like many similar articles in the popular press, it is particularly interesting for what it doesn’t say. The first thing that came to mind is noise. I’ve read several scientific papers which concluded that loud and sustained noise is extremely stressful to bees, and I’m wondering if the Chicago Department of Aviation did any research into the noise issue before jumping into this. The article omits any mention of noise and I’m curious about it.

The article does, however, link to another article about how the Germans are using honey bees to detect air pollution levels at airports. This article assures the reader that German airport honey is so pure it meets “food quality standards.” Interesting, but how did they control the foraging areas for these bees?

Let’s assume a bee will forage about 5 km in times of plenty up to 10 km in times of dearth. That means that the bees are covering an area of roughly 78.5 km2 (7,850 hectares) in times of plenty and up to 314 km2 (31,400 hectares) in times of dearth. That’s somewhere between 19,398 and 77,591 acres—somewhat larger than your typical international jetport.

The referenced article doesn’t say how the Germans did their experiments, but in order to get a honey crop the bees had to be foraging a much larger area. Any jet fuel collected under the planes would be greatly diluted by nectar from further afield. The article just doesn’t say how the testing was done and, again, I’m curious.

And here’s the most interesting unexplained tidbit: The article states that the O’Hare apiary is “scheduled to yield 575 pounds of honey” this year. Now that’s real tricky. I wish I could do that. I imagine the bees have meetings with their keepers where they discuss performance objectives, strategic directions, goal plans, production schedules, work circles, time and motion analyses, and feedback loops. And don’t forget stress management . . . after all, the noise is horrific. But, hey, how else could you schedule a yield of 575 pounds of honey? Smart bees. MBA bees.

My only point here is that for an article that has been tweeted and re-tweeted to death, it sure doesn’t tell you much of anything.



  • That’s funny about the 575 lbs of honey. I thought the exact same thing when I read the article: “Scheduled to yield…” Really? Really? Did anyone tell the bees that?

  • Rusty (sigh) Always something. You can move this to a “Neighbors” thread if you like, but I searched under “loud noise.”

    The farm next to me (property line about 200 yards across the valley from the hillside where my 7 hives are) sold last year. The house is rented now, the tenants are quiet people, and the buyer, whom I’ve met once, plans to move in when he retires, in 3 years.

    But starting in November, the buyer, wife, son and friends have been coming out on weekends and shooting for 2 or 3 hours at a time, on the stretch of land immediately adjacent to mine. Not just “bang… bang… bang…” I mean “powpowpowpowpowpowpowpowpowpowpowpowpow” in bursts of dozens at a time. (To Rusty’s readers: yeah, I know.) And with the valley between us, it’s really loud from here.

    At first I just worried that the horses and goats were put off their grazing. They think it’s thunder, they huddle in the barnyard and stare across the valley to see where the rain is coming from. BTW 7 does are bred to kid in Feb, so they need the green browse to build milk, plus hay is $4 a bale. Then I thought of the bees.

    This always happens on a nice day, of course, and we have had several this Fall and early Winter when the bees were out – finding pollen, if you can imagine. But I bet it will be worse in warm weather. NB – there’s a bunch of locust trees over in their valley, too.

    I have asked the tenants, and left a message with the real estate agent to have them contact me, but they haven’t. Next is the Sheriff of our county, to find out what the limits are on this.

    But first I am marshaling my arguments. It’s bad enough about the goats, but the bees have done so well here their first year, and this is a totally new stress for them.

    As much as I hate even the thought of a “private shooting range” next door, I am prepared to accept reasonable limits – one day a month, one hour max, single-shot weapons only. I would like to know if you think that 2 or 3 hours of sustained explosions, even for one day every few weeks, could cause a colony to abscond?

    Thank you so much for everything. Do your readers know they can donate beehives to a village in a disadvantaged country thru Mercy Corps or Heifer International. This makes a great “whole family” gift not to have to dust, store or donate.

    Merry Christmas!
    Shady Grove Farm
    Corinth, KY

    • Nan,

      I live next door to the property owned by a large and active gun club. Not only do they shoot everyday, but they have meets every Sunday and Thursday and grand expositions, or whatever, on holidays, some lasting three or four days. We’re talking hundreds of members. After living here for eighteen years they can shoot themselves silly and I don’t hear a thing. When visitors come and ask about the noise I have to concentrate on it to even notice. I have never thought about it in terms of my animals . . . I don’t think they notice either.

      I consider the shooters to be good neighbors. They keep to themselves, are extremely polite, clean up before they leave, are good stewards of the woods surrounding their site, and have never caused an iota of trouble. I don’t know how many acres they own, but it’s a bunch. My greatest fear is that they will someday sell out to a developer.

      Before you complain, remember that you are the one with the bees. One good complaint usually begets another . . . and they are sure to become “allergic” to bees after a visit from the sheriff.

      • Rusty, thank you. I am relieved to know it won’t bother the bees, but I can’t have it putting the goats off their feed. That is business! My land produces food, and they bought 50 acres for nothing but to play around on. I am still going to talk to them and suggest a limit to the shooting. The goats are not going to fly over and sting them, so that won’t be an issue.

        And I guess it’s good that you have adjusted to the noise, but dammit, we were here first – 24 years – and it’s been quiet. I hate the idea that people think because it’s the country they can make as much noise as they want, when a lot of us live here because it IS quiet. Your gun club sound like decent neighbors. These people have already been out playing amplified music till 11 pm.

        BTW their house is half a mile from here, so it’s not like they’d really have a gripe about the bees.

        • They will probably get bored of shooting after a few months . . . most people do. The novelty will wear off and ammo is expensive.

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