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.