A bee sting is no problem for Stonewall Apiary’s Stuart Woronecki.
“I get bitten all the time; 10 times a day,” said the Hanover-based beekeeper, who cares for about 350 bee colonies in eastern Connecticut and teaches hobby beekeepers how to get started.
It’s busy season for Woronecki, as the flowers begin to bloom and the bees become active.
“I once heard a beekeeper say that a single hive needed 15 acres of continuously blooming flowers in the hot season to keep it alive,” Woronecki said. “But you can’t plant 15 acres that will bloom all summer, that’s why bees fly up to 8 km.”
They can actually fly further than that, he explained, but the effort takes so much energy they will starve to death trying.
More often than not, bees from a single hive forage within a few kilometers, he said.
Woronecki didn’t start out as a beekeeper, and actually has a doctorate in music theory and music education. He was an elementary school music teacher in the city of Franklin, and later, while working on his master’s and doctorate at the University of Connecticut, he taught at UConn.
His interest in bees developed at an early age when he helped an elderly neighbor in Somers, where he is from.
“There was this neighbour, and he was very old when I met him. He was born in 1897 and he was a hobbyist who had a small orchard, maybe 12 trees and some beehives,” Woronecki said.
When the beekeeping neighbor died, his wife gave Woronecki his hives and equipment, but he was in college at the time and the timing was not right for him. But later, when Woronecki got married, lived in Sprague and taught school, he realized that beekeeping fit well with the school year. As the bees emerged from the hives and gathered the first flowers of spring, the school year was drawing to a close.
Around 2000, when Woronecki was working on his doctorate, he had around 20 hives. After supplying honey to his friends and family, he set up a roadside card table with an honor box for passersby who wanted to buy his honey.
“And then I would take that money and buy more hives with it,” he said.
Today, Woronecki hives are all over eastern Connecticut, including at Coogan Farm Nature and Heritage Center and Denison Homestead in Mystic, as well as on farms, orchards, and some backyards.
The benefit is pollination – the act of transferring pollen grains from the male anther of a flower to the female stigma. Bees accomplish pollination through their search for nectar, when pollen from one flower sticks to the hairs of the bee’s body and then rubs off onto the next.
Their efforts create rewards for everyone. The farmer has his crops pollinated, which means they will reproduce, the bees will get the nectar, and Woronecki will get the honey.
He has worked there full-time since 2013, when after the Great Recession there were fewer college jobs for him, but an opportunity, he believed, to earn a living from beekeeping. Today, in addition to raising bees, he also supplies live bees to hobbyists, produces queen bees, sells all necessary beekeeping equipment and teaches the art of beekeeping.
“There is no one who puts his roots down harder for hobby beekeepers than Stuart himself,” said Brendan Cholewa of Griswold, one of his students and an avid beekeeper himself.
“Stuart wants to keep people in beekeeping. He wants to expand the breeding of beekeeping. He’s probably the smartest man in Connecticut, maybe New England, when it comes to bees.
Five years ago, Cholewa decided he wanted to try his hand at a bee hive. Like Woronecki, he had been introduced to the idea by an elderly neighbor. So Cholewa learned all he could about beekeeping on YouTube and bought a beehive and some bees from Woronecki.
“The learning curve is very steep,” Cholewa said. “Nature can be harsh. She’s not always nice. I lost my first hive. Maybe it was dust mites, but I was devastated. It was like losing a child. »
He decided to step up his game and he and his wife, Janee, attended Woronecki’s class.
“I knew I needed a higher level of education,” Cholewa said. “And Stuart covered all the topics and all the challenges. He validated the things I was doing well and also my flaws.
Its second season, it had two hives and two disasters. In the third year, he moved his hives to a friend’s property which he considered better habitat and increased his hives to three. One of the three survived.
Cholewa persevered. He increased the number of his hives each year, and had more successes and fewer failures. This year he plans to split one of his hives and introduce a new queen.
“It’s the closest connection and relationship I’ve ever had with nature other than hunting,” he said. “I can literally stare at these bees forever. Without traffic control, they are synchronized to achieve a goal. Survive the winter and continue the colony itself. Individuals will die but the superorganism will survive.
Woronecki is also captivated by bees.
“In the past, I had an observation hive in my office, and I would sit there and try to work and find myself, even after all these years, just being fascinated,” he said. .
He worries about the health of bees and the survival of insects.
“Remember when you were a kid and you were driving with your parents and you had to pull over and wash the windshield?” Woronecki asked, adding, “That doesn’t happen anymore.”
It’s a combination of many things, he suspects, but for bees in particular there is a parasitic mite called Varroa that infiltrates bee colonies and feeds on adult bees and larvae. , transmitting viruses and destroying colonies. He does everything he can to keep them at bay and shares his knowledge with amateur beekeepers.
Her business grew during the pandemic as people sought more home and leisure activities, and her classes continue to be hugely popular. It’s not a cheap hobby, Woronecki said, explaining that it costs around $650 to get started with the proper equipment, protection, hives and bees.
He traveled to Georgia in March to collect 500 bundles of bees that he sells to his customers. A packet is a wooden box filled with approximately 10,000 bees. They arrive in the crates most often grouped in a ball, around a feeder container of sugar syrup.
Cholewa said that when the queen bee lays eggs, the hive can grow to 60,000 to 70,000 bees.
Typically, there is one queen for each hive, and the vast majority of the others — about 96% — are worker bees. Drones are male bees.
In the summer, the job of worker bees is to forage, defend the hive, raise brood, and care for the queen. In winter, they keep the queen fed and warm.
The summer work of worker bees is so grueling that their lifespan is about 42 days.
Woronecki is an expert in all things bee and in January 2021 he opened his new Stonewall Apiary headquarters where he has all his beekeeping supplies, production facilities, offices, retail store and , outside, flourishing hives.
In addition to beekeeping paraphernalia, it sells honey, cream honey, comb honey, and lump honey, as well as honey butter, beeswax candles, and both wood polish and a beeswax-based hand salve.
Woronecki likes to think of bees as the legs of plants, moving from flower to flower, mating for them. And, after all these years, he still marvels that the queen of a hive is the mother of all the bees that live and work there.
The bees perform what is called a wriggling dance. It is a type of figure-eight movement they make to share information about the direction and distance of nectar-filled flowers and other things with other bees. Woronecki does his own balancing act, teaching others the ins and outs of beekeeping, of keeping a healthy and thriving hive, of taking just the right amount of honey and leaving enough for the colony to survive, and share his passion.
“I just think bees are pretty amazing,” he said.