Bundling Up Bees for Winter

When winter rolls around, bears hibernate and birds fly south, but what about the bees? Like every other creature on earth, bees have their own unique ways of coping with cold temperatures. One way bees prepare for the winter is by gathering a winter reserve of honey. 

“In Wisconsin, bees need a minimum of 60 pounds of extra food in order to survive the winter,” explains Tim Willbanks, owner of Heritage Honeybee. “Beekeepers are working hard to make sure the hives have extra food. This can be either in the form of stored honey or sugar syrup.”

Beekeepers are also inspecting their hives to ensure the quality of their queen bees. Queen bees are key for maintaining the colony’s health and productivity.

While some beekeepers are preparing their hives for the winter in Wisconsin, others are preparing their bees to head to warmer states.

“Some Wisconsin beekeepers opt to prepare their bees for migration to warmer states such as Florida, Texas, and California,” says Willbanks. “These migrations offer opportunities for overwintering and early spring pollination in regions with milder climates.”

This year Wisconsin beekeepers faced varying weather patterns, which affected honey production. While some enjoyed record honey yields, others struggled to produce any honey at all. Willbanks says that while beekeepers prepare for winter, they’re also thinking ahead and making plans for the next season already.

Honeybees are critical pollinators and are responsible, directly or indirectly, for nearly one-third of the food supply in the United States. This includes a wide variety of crops, from blueberries and apples to almonds and pumpkins. 

Willbanks says, “Beekeepers play a crucial role in maintaining healthy honeybee populations, ensuring the pollination of these crops, and contributing to the diversity of produce in our markets.”

Beekeepers must also deal with invasive pests, with Varroa mites being one of the most biggest threats. These mites can harm both adult bees and developing young bees within the hive. Other pests, like small hive beetles, pose challenges to bee colonies. Additionally, insecticides used for mosquito control in areas with high population density can have adverse effects on bee colonies.

Willbanks is also involved in the American Beekeeping Federation. He is working on legislative efforts to ensure the integrity of honey. This legislation helps to combat fraudulent honey products, and promote buying local honey.

He says, “We’re also advocating for the reopening of the Canadian border. This will help protect North America from the potential introduction of harmful pests through bee shipments from other hemispheres.”

As we appreciate the diversity of foods available in our grocery stores, we should also acknowledge the significant contribution of bees to our tables.