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Local beekeeper bundles his bees for the winter

Sean I. Mills
Staff writer
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Posted 12/23/22

Winter has a lot of annoyances to contend with, but one thing people don’t have to worry about is pesky insects and stinging bees.

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Local beekeeper bundles his bees for the winter

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HOLLAND PATENT — Winter has a lot of annoyances to contend with, but one thing people don’t have to worry about is pesky insects and stinging bees. That’s because bugs bundle up for the winter, especially if keeping bees is your hobby.

“Bees don’t go dormant, they’re alive in the hive,” said Jimmy Morawiec, who teaches beginner and advanced beekeeping classes at Cornell Cooperative Extension. 

“You’ve got to make sure they’ve got enough honey, because that’s what they feed off of.”

Honeybees do all of their work in the spring and summer, when there are flowers to pollinate and honey to be made. When it comes to keeping bees in your own apiary, the fall and winter months are all about making sure your bee survive so that they can get back to work, Morawiec explained. 

Morawiec has been keeping bees in Oneida County for 16 years, continuing a hobby taught to him by his father. An electrician by trade, Morawiec runs Adirondack Apiaries as a side business. He sells honey and other products on  Facebook.

“Earlier in the fall, we make sure my bees have enough feed on them for the winter,” Morawiec said. “The warmer it is, the more they eat.”

If it’s a warm fall, the bees eat more of their stored honey, he said, which means he needs to provide more man-made feed. Morawiec said beekeepers use a sugar and syrup solution, and “studies say that’s just as good, if not better, than actual honey.”

This year was one such warm fall, Morawiec warned.

Before packing the hives away for the winter, Morawiec said he takes a supply of honey for himself for his products, leaving enough for the bees to feed on, supplemented by the sugar/syrup solution.

Inside each hive, he said the bees cluster in the middle, with the queen at the core. They keep the internal temperature at around 98 degrees “by flexing their wing muscles to create heat,” he explained.

On the outside, Morawiec said he wraps his hives in roofing tar paper, and then puts a piece of foam insulation on top, with a brick to keep it from blowing off. He also covers the hive entrances in chicken wire, which is large enough for bees to fly through, but small enough to keep out mice.

Bees do leave the hive on warm winter days, Morawiec said, if only to relieve themselves.

Also key to include is a ventilation hole in the top — nicknamed the “Hole of Life,” Morawiec stated. Hot bee breath while they cluster in the winter creates moisture inside the hive, which condenses on the ceiling. If there is no ventilation, that condensed wetness can fall on the bees and kill them.

The cold doesn’t kill the bees, moisture does, he said.

“Every year is different” when it comes to surviving winter, Morawiec said. He wraps up the bees in the fall, and then he goes to check in February to “see who is alive and dead.”

Morawiec said he’s had years where all his bees survived, and he’s had years were he lost whole hives.

Once he starts checking on the bees, Morawiec said he places a pollen substitute near the hives to get the bees thinking about the summer, and to get the queen to start giving birth to worker bees.

Morawiec will be teaching beginner and advanced beekeeeper classes in the new year in March and April. 

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