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A man in a blue Bee Downtown shirt rests a smoker on top of a nearby hive as he prepares to give a beekeeping lesson.
Information icon Nicholas Weaver and the hives he tends at Georgia Power. A beekeeper, Weaver tends to bees at corporate locations across Atlanta. Photo by Mark Davis, USFWS.

The buzz about pollinators

Georgia Power, others, embrace honeybees

Let’s get the first question out of the way. Has anyone been stung? No.

That begs another question: Has Georgia Power gone into the bee buzz — er, biz? Again, no. The utility is the site for a honey-making operation, but officials so far aren’t sure what they’ll do with the thick, amber stuff.

A man with a hand-held smoker pushes this smoke towards the opening in a man-made bee hive adorned with a Georgia Power logo
Those little dots surrounding Nicholas Weaver are bees. Getting stung, he says, is an occupational hazard. Photo by Mark Davis, USFWS.

But the company can tell you this much: Having bees in hives right outside the utility’s corporate office in downtown Atlanta doesn’t mean Georgia Power is, ahem, trying to sweeten its image. The real story is even better.

Georgia Power has become a sort of bee landlord because it’s the right thing to do.

“You may think honeybees don’t fit with Georgia Power, but I think honeybees do,” said Mark Berry, the utility’s vice president of environment and natural resources. “Anything we can do to make our community a better place, we want to make that happen.”

That includes bringing tiny, winged creatures with stingers in close proximity to the people who help make sure the lights stay on. The reason: As they go about making honey, bees are pollinating plants and flowers. It’s what they do.

A photo from inside the bee hive looking out with more than a dozen fuzzy bees in frame
A view from inside the Georgia Power bee hive. Photo by Nicole Vidal, USFWS.

And pollination, as any first-year biology student knows, is one of the foundations of life on Earth. Without pollination, things collapse.

“We need them,” Berry said. “They need us. …We only have one planet to live on.”

This is not hyperbole. In recent years, scientists say, the population of bees has been declining. Blame pesticides, habitat loss and a mysterious malady called “colony collapse disorder.”

This has ramifications at the dinner table. Bees and other pollinators — birds, bats, butterflies and beetles — are responsible for about a third of the food we eat, said Jennifer Berry, who manages the Honey Bee Lab at the University of Georgia.

“When you go into a grocery store and see all those fruits and vegetables, the honeybees are the reason they’re there,” she said.

Georgia Power is among a handful of Georgia businesses that have established hives to increase the number of pollinators going about their daily business. Companies with hives on-site include Delta Air Lines, UPS, Home Depot and Chick-fil-A, among others. The Atlanta Botanical Garden and Zoo Atlanta have embraced pollinators as well.

Hundreds of bees cover a frame that supports honeycomb
Hundreds of bees cover one of the frames removed from the hive during a beekeeping demonstration. Photo by Nicole Vidal, USFWS.

And it’s not just a Georgia phenomenon; businesses in other states have discovered that pollinators can be good for nature – a bonus for corporate images, too.

Georgia Power hired Bee Downtown, a North Carolina enterprise dreamed up by a college student three years ago. For a fee, Bee Downtown provides hives, a beekeeper and bees – lots of bees.

The company began small, with a hive at a Durham, North Carolina, corporation. Bee Downtown now has hives and employees in two states, with plans to spread farther.

When they visited Georgia Power to set up bee operations, Bee Downtown’s experts liked a site just outside the main entrance. Ringed by trees and dotted with flowers, the tract was a good spot for bees to wander and pollinate.

Earlier this year, with curious (and, perhaps, apprehensive) employees watching, Bee Downtown installed three hives just outside the utility’s front doors.

The bees took it from there.

‘Happened before’

Imagine a big motor whose power makes the very air quiver, a presence that fills all the space around you with energy. That’s the sensation caused by 150,000 bees.

Nicholas Weaver knows. He’s one of Bee Downtown’s beekeepers, regularly visiting Georgia Power and other Atlanta-area corporations with hives on their campuses.

He’s been doing this sort of thing since he was 13, when a family friend helped him establish a hive in the friend’s backyard (his mom wouldn’t allow young Nick to put one behind her house). That was 19 years ago.

On a recent afternoon, the clouds shouldering the sun aside, Weaver set a small fire in a “smoker,” a handheld device whose name identifies its function. Smoke, he explained, helps calm bees.

A man in a blue Bee Downtown shirt fills a small metal can with wood shavings and starts a fire
Beekeeper Nicholas Weaver ignites a smoker, which calms bees. Photo by Mark Davis, USFWS.

Weaver walked to the first of three hives, trailing smoke. He looked like a dragon out for a stroll. Weaver lifted a tray from the hive. Bees rose and darted in the air, past his bare arms. He ignored them.

Weaver gave a quick lesson in honeybees – how they pollinate from one plant to the next; how they select the queen; and how the occasional struggle over which bee shall be queen prompts tensions in the hive.

(Who says a TV series about the fight for a throne doesn’t imitate life?)

He is a beekeeper at home as well as when he’s on the clock. In the back of his house, about 50 miles north of Atlanta, are enough bees to fill a 55-gallon drum with honey every year. He cannot eat it all – but his neighbors can.

His favorite honey meal? Weaver paused “Honey on a biscuit?” he asked.

Then he winced, picked carefully at a spot behind his right ear and gently picked a bee off his head. Weaver shrugged.

“Stung,” he said. “It’s happened before.”

So, someone has been stung.

Contact

Mark Davis, Public Affairs Specialist
mark_r_davis@fws.gov, 404-679-7291

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