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A Buzzworthy Journey — From Backyard Hobbyist to Airport Beekeeper

April 29, 2024

Siobhan Hutchison dove headfirst into the world of bees when she moved to her property in White Center in 2014. She was eager to start homesteading; raising chickens seemed daunting so she decided to check out the buzz around honeybees. She was immediately fascinated by this new world and the interconnectedness between pollinators, farming, and plants.

After getting a handle on raising her own bees she started volunteering at the West Seattle Bee Garden and learned more about bees, bee management, and the plants that support them. She led field trips and tours for community groups and taught classes.

“I love that beekeeping is so multifaceted. It connects us to a greater world around us. I love that it is a demonstration of what we can accomplish if we work together for a common goal.”

She was eventually recruited by Bob Redmond of Urban Bee Company to join his team of beekeepers. When Redmond was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer in 2019, he passed on his project to Hutchison — an apiary on three acres of the former Tyee Golf Course at the south end of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA). After Redmond passed away in 2023, Hutchison continued managing the Port of Seattle contract through her own business, Sunflower Bee Company.

The hives have been in place at SEA Airport since 2013 when the Port joined forces with Redmond’s nonprofit The Common Acre to establish Flight Path, a project to raise honeybees and turn the unused green spaces on the south end of SEA into a native pollinator habitat with a goal of producing a breed of bees better suited for survival in the future.  Although there is seasonal fluctuation in the number of colonies, there are currently 12 colonies at the site.


Un-bee-lievable parallels

At first glance, bees and airports seem like an unlikely pair, but the two have more in common than you might think.  

1.     Bees and airports both operate efficient, sustainable transportation systems

A bee colony is a complex and highly organized society, with each member playing a crucial role in the hive’s operation. Air travel requires the diligent dedication and communication of all the people and departments involved, including the airports, air traffic control, engineers, ground support crew, customer service agents, and all the other jobs that make flying possible.

2.     Bee hives and aerospace technology share key design elements

The hexagonal shape found in honeycombs (built from beeswax by honeybees) is also used in aerospace technology — it maximizes strength while using minimal materials and staying lightweight.

This realization came to Redmond when he was flying into Chicago O’Hare International Airport. Based on that seed of an idea, The Common Acre and the Flight Path project were born.


A natural fit

Hutchison said airport land is a natural fit for hosting bee colonies.

“Because of airports and security, we have to have a natural perimeter buffer around the runways of the airport,” she said. “This provides a unique untouched land opportunity, secluded away from the general public. It shows that nature and commerce and the general comings and goings of people can coexist.”

As part of Flight Path project goals, Hutchison is nurturing locally raised and adapted honeybees in the form of a nucleus colony (a smaller hive that includes bees in all stages of development) and queens to sell to local hobbyists. This allows hobbyists to raise bees that are more adapted to our environment.

Hosting bees also helps the Port monitor native pollinator activity at the site. If honeybees are bringing in nectar and pollen, that indicates there is food for native bees as well. The Flight Path project has supported native bee research in the past, and Hutchison plans to further this goal. She is enrolling in Oregon State University’s Master Melittologist program this summer and will volunteer with the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) Bee Atlas program to document the native bees present in every county in the state. Through the program, Hutchison plans to track the health of native bees in the surrounding flight path areas.

One way to encourage native pollinators is to curate landscapes and public use land for pollinators, a full-circle approach to managing land. Hutchison and her colleagues are working with the Port’s Environment and Sustainability team to implement and reinvigorate the pollinator habitat. Pollinator habitat features plants that are beneficial to the feeding, nesting, and reproduction of pollinators like bees, butterflies, and certain birds and animals. The new public walking and biking path that runs parallel to the site provides new habitat and education to local communities who are not necessarily visiting the airport. 


How you can support pollinators

According to “The Importance of Pollinators” on, animal pollinators help three-fourths of the world’s flowering plants and about 35 %of the world’s food crops reproduce. The good news is you don’t have to be a beekeeper to increase pollinator health. Check out Hutchison’s tips below.

  1. Plant native plants and trees in your backyard
  2. Leave out a shallow watering station for bees. Place stones and other objects in the shallow water dish to prevent bees from drowning
  3. Support community parks and projects like the West Seattle Bee Garden and the Shark Garden

Hutchison says that keeping honeybees isn't for everyone — it's a costly and labor-intensive hobby. And honeybees aren’t as effective at pollinating plants and trees as native pollinators. Instead, she encourages people to try out native bee husbandry — Mason bees or Leafcutter bees are great options for hobbyists. “They are loads better at pollinating than honeybees, they do not sting or bite, and they are more a set-and-forget type of seasonal husbandry, she said.

Still interested in honeybees? Hutchison recommends connecting with a mentor, reading online resources like The Honey Bee Suite or Scientific Beekeeping, and having a mite management strategy in place.

Need more bee products in your life? Check out Hutchison’s side business, Bee Witch, which features homemade body care products, art, and jewelry made from beeswax, honeycomb, and propyls from her hives. She also sells jars of locally sourced and harvested honey.

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