We are all familiar with honey made by bees. But, beehives produce several useful substances including beeswax and propolis. Some beekeepers invest the time and effort to harvest propolis and sell it to supply companies. This adds another income stream to help offset costs. Bee propolis can be used to make tinctures and other holistic products.
Collecting Propolis from Your Bees
Worker bees that leave the hives in search of food and needed resources for the colony are called forgers. Each hive has thousands of these female bees that keep the colony working on a daily basis.
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There are are actually several things collected by worker bees. Bees need water and it is not stored inside the hive. But, food collection is primary need.
Another interesting item collected by bees is plant resins. Resins are sticky secretions produced by various plants and trees. These resins become the substance we call propolis.
What is Bee Propolis?
By definition, bee propolis is a red or brownish substance collected by honey bees from tree buds and plants. Then, the bees mix their enzyme rich saliva with the plant resins.
Another word for propolis is “bee glue”. If you have ever experienced it inside a hive, you understand why it is called glue.
The correct pronunciation prop·o·lis has an accent on the first section “prop”. However, you will find many beekeepers who pronounce it with an emphasis on the first 3 letters “pro-po-lis.”
Propolis is used by bees to polish inside the hive, clean and seal cracks. In addition, they also stick down every frame. And, seal the small cracks between each box to keep out cold wind.
All of this work by the bees can make beehive inspections a bit more difficult for the beekeeper. But, the use of propolis promotes good colony health.
Bee propolis has anti-fungal, antiviral and antibacterial properties. It helps prevent unwanted fungus or bacterial growth inside the warm humid hive. This use of this natural sealer goes far beyond just sealing a few cracks between bee boxes.
Possible Health Benefits
Propolis is not only considered a healthy compound for bees, many humans seek it out too. Among other qualities, it is valued for reducing inflammation and is used as an aid in wound healing. It is also reported to be beneficial against fungi, bacteria, and viruses among other substances.
This makes propolis a valuable ingredient in many types of medicines and homeopathic treatments. Some of these uses date back to the Egyptians thousands of years ago.
How Bees Carry Propolis
How do bees get this sticky resin from the tree back to the hive? Workers gather plant resins and bring them back to the hive on their hind legs (pollen baskets).
The beekeeper may get a glimpse of a returning worker with a resin load. But, it is sometimes difficult to see because it is not as colorful as pollen.
In this process of gathering and transporting, the chemical composition changes. Bee saliva along with wax, honey, etc is mixed with the plant resins to create the substance we call raw bee propolis.
The exact chemical composition of propolis varies slightly from one location to another due to the different plants used for resin and sap collection. This is similar to the way that the color of honey (as well as taste) varies from one area to another.
Bee Glue During Inspections
Some colonies produce more bee glue inside the hive than others. This seems to be, at least in part, a genetic trait due to differences in bee types.
In spite of the health benefits to the colony, having too much propolis in the hive can make beekeeping tasks very difficult.
It is not uncommon for beekeepers to attempt to remove at least some of the excess during routine inspections. This mostly refers to frames that are being glued down too securely.
However, try as we will to make changes in the hive – the bees will just replace the propolis.
Propolis Harvesting Methods
Selling propolis is big business due to a high demand in the healthcare industry. Many large companies focus on the collection of propolis and other premium bee products.
However, small scale beekeepers can also harvest raw propolis from their hives. This can then be sold or used for your own purposes.
No damage is done to the bees in the hive with normal harvest methods. The most common method of collection is by using traps. This could be a flexible piece of screen or fabric or a commercial propolis trap .
How to Use a Propolis Trap on Your Hive
The trap looks very similar to a plastic queen excluder except that the openings are much smaller. Worker bees can not move through the trap. Therefore it should not be placed between bee boxes of the hive.
The best time of year to trap propolis is early Fall. During this time the bees are working hard to plug any cracks.
The trap is placed beneath the inner cover – on top of the highest super box. Most often, bees fills the cavities of the trap with bee glue as they attempt to close up the hive for Winter.
Once the trap is full, or before true Winter cold arrives – remove the trap. After placing it in the freezer for a few hours, the material will become brittle. Then, bits of propolis will pop out when the trap is flexed.
Another option used by some beekeepers is to create a propolis trap using metal screen wire. Window screen is a common choice with a frame of wood around the outside for strength. This is similar to a regular wood shim used by some beekeepers for other hive management strategies.
Placed inside the hive in the same position (on top), the bees will also propolize the screen. This is only left on the colony for a short time and removed before Winter arrives.
Then, allowed to cool in the freezer – scraping the screen with your hive tool should cause the bits to pop out.
How to Scrape Bee Propolis from Equipment
- Spread a sheet or plastic tarp on the floor to catch the scrapings
- Inspect each wooden hive part – looking for sticky propolis
- Use your hive tool to gently scrape off the bee glue
- Avoid getting wood shavings in the product as much as possible
- When finished – gather your tarp and pour propolis bits into a jar
- Store in freezer until ready to clean
If you only want to harvest a small amount of propolis for home use – box scrapings will do well. After the honey harvest, super boxes and frame ends still contain some bee propolis.
A beehive that has failed and is empty is another place to look for bee glue. Scraping is an easier way to get propolis without disturbing the hive.
However, it can be difficult to avoid getting wood scrapings in your collected propolis. As you use your hive tool to peel the propolis off the surfaces, tiny slivers of wood can be included. Be as gentle as possible.
Storage & Use
After scraping the wooden surfaces, store your propolis in a jar or plastic bag in the freezer. Once you have enough to bother with, you can clean the propolis and prepare it for use. You can also make your own propolis tinctures, creams etc.- after cleaning and preparing.
The demand for propolis is very high. Raw propolis can be sold to several online companies. Do a search for them and make a bit of extra money from your hives.
Learn how to harvest propolis from bees and add another valuable product from the hive to your apiary.