His bees have given him a run for his money on more than one occasion, but Bill Moats Jr. doesn’t carry a grudge.
“Sure, I’ve been chased across the yard a few times,” he said, as he described the day-to-day life of keeping and caring for 35 bee hives. “But most of the time bees are harmonious. They don’t get angry unless something scares them like a sudden jolt or a loud noise.”
Only a few of Moats’ 35 hives are located at his home in Columbus. Most of the hives are located at rural sites near Hope and Hartsville, and he spends most of the daylight hours caring for the bees at the different sites.
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“I’ve arranged my schedule to accommodate the bees,” said Moats, explaining he works at night as a machine operator at the AK Tube plant in Walesboro.
Hives have their own characteristics, Moats said. Bees that make up a hive die within six or seven weeks and new bees are born to carry on in the hive, developing a kind of genetic disposition.
“Most of the hives are mellow, but every once and a while you get a hive that has an angry disposition and you have to deal with that. Working with bees is as much an art as a science,” Moats said.
He told the story of how one of his hives showed a very aggressive attitude. He moved flats of bees around into other hives in an effort to isolate the trouble makers. Eventually, he determined it was the queen bee of the hive that was causing the trouble.
“That queen was dispatched and another queen was brought into the hive, and there was no more trouble,” Moats said.
Moats, 49, said he’s learned about the art and science of beekeeping from his own experiences, reading and the help of other beekeepers.
He’s been interested in social insects since he was a small child, but it was not until he was a student at Hauser High School that he became focused on bees, Moats said.
Moats kept two hives during his high school years, but after graduating in 1986 his interest in bees took a back seat to earning a living and supporting his family.
He returned to his interest in beekeeping in 2007, when he set up his first hive. Then he added a second hive, then three more, and kept adding hives until he built his current apiaries.
Moats collects honey from the hives, and his wife Becky helps him sell it at local farmers markets.
He also collects and sells pollen.
“Not everyone knows about pollen, but some people consider it to be nature’s miracle food, and I have a lot of calls for that. I can’t say I have a business yet, but down the road when I retire from my job at AK Tube, I want to learn more about how to go into business selling honey and pollen. Also, I am interested in learning about providing pollinator services to local farmers,” Moats said.
Moats is involved in beekeeping now because it is interesting, challenging and he likes it, he said.
“But, I also raise bees because I think it is important to the environment. I believe God gave us the natural environment and he expects us to take care of it. We must be good stewards,” Moats said.
“Right now we have an environmental crisis with the shortage of pollinators. Not just bees but other pollinators, too. By keeping bees, I hope I am doing something to keep the bee population growing,” he added.
Moats said many people have contacted him to get advice on how to start their own hives.
“I encourage people to get started. You can get a hive kit for around $200, and five flats of bees and a queen for less. There are bee clubs you can go to for advice and other bee keepers are usually helpful,” Moats said.
He credited Mark Smith in Edinburgh for helping him get started, and he still goes to Smith for advice.
“It is a very rewarding hobby, and I think it brings good to everybody,” Moats said.