The Public Works Center is always abuzz with activity, but it was not just the human workers making the noise this summer. The real buzz was coming from the 90,000 or so honeybees that are at home on the roof of the sprawling structure on South Boulevard at Lombard Avenue.
Seen as an extension of the Public Works Center’s green roof initiative, proponents have long stressed the benefits bees bring to the local ecosystem. But taking the step from idea to implementation required some professional skills beyond those typically found in municipal government.
The Village is working with the Westside Bee Boyz, a Chicago company that manages hives at more than 250 sites across the Chicagoland area, including downtown skyscrapers and notable destinations like Shedd Aquarium and Lincoln Park Zoo.
A representative from Westside Bee Boyz visits about every two weeks to play the part of both doctor and landlord, making sure the bees in the hives are healthy and have enough space to go about their honey making business. In between visits, Village Forester Rob Sproule keeps an eye on the hives and makes sure the bees have access to fresh water, a key element in the production of a hive.
Officials estimate more than 120 pounds of honey will be produced by the hives this season, with half of the yield going to the Westside Bee Boyz and the other half going to the Village. Where the Village’s share of the honey will go is yet to be determined.
Honey bees play a crucial role as pollinators for flowering plants, but recent declines in the honey bee population is causing alarm given that a third of the American diet is in some way a product of pollination by bees and other insects.
According to the USDA, last year beekeepers in the United States reported honey bee colony loss that is nearly three times higher than the acceptable winter loss rate of 15 percent. This continues a trend over the past decade of increasing decline in bee colonies attributed to pesticides, loss of habitat, climate change and disease.
While the two hives on the roof of the Public Works Center won’t solve the wider problem, the Village’s program does promote a healthy environment for bees. It also assists the West Side Bee Boyz in their mission of strengthening the local honey bee populations by broadening genetic diversification in hopes of developing a bee population that can withstand the climate in the Chicago area.
In Oak Park, a property owner can establish up to two honeybee colonies. For more information on specific Village requirements to set up an apiary, call 708.358.5480 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.