Emerado beekeeper ships hives to Texas and California for winter

Corey Nelson.jpg
Corey Nelson checks his beehives near Emerado. (By Adam Kurtz)

EMERADO — For beekeeper Corey Nelson, the season is winding down, but that doesn’t mean it's time to rest. Actually, he’s just getting started.

Nelson, 25, began harvesting honey from his 400 beehives in August. Though his bees are still active, the honey harvesting season is nearing its end, which means Nelson and his employee, Keith Kawski, will load their bees and head to West Columbia, Texas. It's a 1,450-mile trip from Emerado, ending south of Houston near the Gulf Coast.

Once there, they help a larger-scale beekeeper, Nancy Kiefat, manage her 4,000 hives. Kiefat in turn, allows Nelson to winter his bees on her land. He'll stay there, too.

"Some guys go to Oklahoma, but it snows on them in Oklahoma every now and then,” said Nelson. “Where I go, it’s super hot.”

Just before Halloween, the beehives are stacked, then loaded on a semi, covered with a net and hose set-up, then driven to Texas. The hose is to water the bees, so they don’t die of dehydration. The water comes from truck stops along the way.


“You want it to rain the whole way,” Nelson said of the annual trip to Texas.

Once in Texas, Nelson and Kawski work the bees, feeding them a diet of corn syrup and trying to keep them healthy. The bees don’t produce much honey in the winter. All they do is eat, said Nelson, and just keeping them alive is a challenge.

“It’s very hard for us to keep them alive. There are a lot of things we have to give them,” he said. “You can’t just let them live on their own.”

The bees require some medications to combat mites, which can infect the hives. There are other afflictions as well, the worst of which is a phenomenon known as colony collapse, where most of the worker bees suddenly die, leaving the queen and young.

A report earlier this year in The Washington Post noted the difficulties endured by commercial beekeepers. According to the report, "the annual loss rate for honeybees during the year ending in April rose to 40.7 percent, up slightly over the annual average of 38.7 percent, according to the Bee Informed Partnership, a nonprofit group associated with the University of Maryland."

According to the Post report, the troubles often are linked to colony collapse disorder, chemical herbicides and non-chemical viruses.

The bees, accompanied by Nelson and Kawski, stay in Texas from November to January, when they then separate; Nelson and Kawski come back to North Dakota, and the bees go on to California.

In California, the bees are used to pollinate almond trees. That's another revenue stream for beekeepers like Nelson.


“There’s a huge demand for them out there,” said Nelson. “They want more and more (bees) every year.”

Once the bees’ work is finished, they are sent back to Texas where they wait out the winter before coming back to North Dakota, around April. The cycle repeats itself, with the bees going back to Texas in October.

Kawski doesn’t mind working with bees and spending time in Texas.

“I like it a lot down there,” he said. “First off, it’s warm during the winter, and you get to get away from home and experience something different.”

And yes, he does get stung, though not as much as one would think.

Nelson Honey is located in Emerado, near Grand Forks Air Force Base. His parents, Todd and Carrie Nelson, run the nearby Nelson’s Pumpkin Patch at 2448 20th Ave. NE., where guests can make their way through a giant corn maze, as well as buy Nelson Honey. Nelson sells most of the honey supply to Sue Bee, also known as the Sioux Honey Association Co-op, in Sioux City, Iowa.

The barrels provided by the honey co-op can hold about 600 pounds, according to Nelson. Last year he filled about 110 barrels, his best year. One truck takes 62 barrels. Six hives are capable of filling a barrel.

“I’ve always gotten either a semi-load or over, but this year I didn’t even get that,” he said. “Last year was our best year, so I guess that’s how it goes.”


Nelson said he hopes to expand his beekeeping operation in the future.

“I’m always trying to get more. I want to get up to 5,000 hives,” he said. "That would be my goal."

Adam Kurtz is the community editor for the Grand Forks Herald. He covers higher education and other topics in Grand Forks County and the city.

Kurtz joined the Herald in July 2019. He covered business and county government topics before covering higher education and some military topics.

Tips and story ideas are welcome. Get in touch with him at, or DM at @ByAdamKurtz.

Desk: 701-780-1110
What To Read Next
Get Local