Joe Studier got a call Monday to see if he could move a swarm of bees from a transformer that Georgia Power crews were trying to replace as part of the planned power upgrades.
Bees had nested in some shrubs behind the Sonic Drive in, causing the work crew to call for the help of an expert. And Studier is a bee expert.
“I was born and raised in the bee business,” said Studier, perhaps the county’s largest beekeeper.
Studier’s father was a beekeeper from Minnesota who came to Georgia years ago to raise bees to take to Minnesota to produce honey.
“He met my mother while he was down here,” Studier said, “and that started the whole ball of wax.”
Since Effingham County isn’t a big fruit and vegetable producing area, Studier said, he mostly keeps his bees here over the winter until the spring comes and it’s time to put them to work again.
“We take these bees in the spring of the year out to crops like cucumbers, watermelons, squash, cantaloupes, blueberries, strawberries and various other crops that have to be pollinated,” he said.
He said business is getting off to a good start this spring.
“Now this year, there’s such a demand for bees, because of the heavy losses that all the beekeepers in the whole United States have had,” Studier said. “We’ve sent bees all the way to California. We’ve sent them to Bakersfield this year.”
Studier sent a tractor trailer load of bees out in late February and got them back a month later. The load consisted of 512 hives, which averaged about 40,000 bees per colony, and they were used to pollinate almonds.
Studier said he’s mostly in the pollination business and they, in effect, rent their bees to farmers to pollinate their crops. He said bees were put here on earth to pollinate and that honey is just a tasty byproduct of their efforts.
“There’s many phases of the bee business,” he said.
There are beekeepers who raise bees and queens to sell to other beekeepers. There are those in the pollination business, which is his focus. Then there is honey production. Even the beeswax, which is produced by the colony, is collected and used.
Studier runs about 3,000 hives and most are rented out every year, he said. They have bees from Fripp Island, S.C., all the way to Columbia and have a little business up in Statesboro.
Just like the rest of the country, he has seen big bee losses in recent years. He said a loss of 2 percent over the winter used to be considered bad. Now, they experience losses of up to 50 percent. He said he thinks there are many factors contributing to the problem, including mites and small beetles, affecting the bees. Studier said there are treatments for these kinds of things, but that they are expensive and very labor intensive to manage.
“The new deal,” he said, “is this ‘colony collapse disorder’. What they think it’s from is the new type of insecticides people are using that puts such a stress on the bees, they lose their orientation and their memory and they can’t get back to their hives. We haven’t noticed a lot of that yet, but it’s just a misuse of insecticides. People don’t understand that when they’re spraying for some type bug on a plant, it drifts over into where the bees are and it’ll have an effect on the bees.”
Studier said people don’t realize honey bees exist for pollination.
“They think they’re here to produce honey, and most people think they’re pests,” he said. “I have people call me — they’re complaining because the honeybees are flying around their swimming pool and they’re scared their kids are going to get stung. They want you to come kill them. But then that same person complains because he doesn’t have any vegetables in his garden.”
To make a pound of honey, it would take the equivalent flying time of a bee flying two and a half times around the world, and if conditions were just right, a healthy hive could produce 100 pounds of honey in a week’s time. But Studier has a warning.
“They claim that two-thirds of our food supply is directly affected by the pollination of bees,” he said. “If the bees disappear, two thirds of our food chain could go with it.”