Airport Honey

Looking for a noisy place to keep some bees? Urban beekeepers struggle to find spots to set landing boards for their hives. Most towns and cities have limits on the number of hives that can be kept in the backyard. Three? OK. Thirty? Probably not. But there are a few areas tucked within some city boundaries where as many as 75 colonies are comfortably kept. Big city airports.

I had not thought of this before, but apparently the idea has been around for at least 15 years. Airports want to be noticed as the eco-friendly green patches that they think they are, so inviting bees on the property gets some positive attention. Sometimes the honey is sold at the airports’ gift shops, boosting the airports’ meagre profits.

Bee hives next to busy airports has probably been happening ever since the Kitty Hawk Apiaries were established in December 1903, but according to a New York Times article, the modern trend dates back to Hamburg, Germany, in 1999. At least a dozen other airports in Europe have also welcomed beekeepers. America’s O’Hare has 75 hives, making it both the busiest and the buzziest airport on the continent. Prominently featured in the NY Times is Montreal’s Mirabel which has 6,000 beckoning acres. The airport authorities reached out to Montreal’s Miel Montreal, a honey makers’ cooperative. The group responded with the five hives of bees now kept at the airport.

You might wonder how the bees feel about their new location. It’s almost certainly a good thing. The hives are kept out of sight, somewhere on the back 6,000. They aren’t going to bother anyone – no one ever wanders around on a commercial airfield and any pilot who runs into the hives has bigger problems to think about than the hives he just hit. The fields at most airports are not farmed so pesticides are not likely an issue. What about the noise? The bees won’t complain – they don’t have ears.

About Ron Miksha

Ron Miksha is a bee ecologist working at the University of Calgary. He is also a geophysicist and does a bit of science writing and blogging. Ron has worked as a radio broadcaster, a beekeeper, and Earth scientist. (Ask him about seismic waves.) He's based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
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