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How to Harvest Propolis from Bees

Beehives produce several useful products such as honey and beeswax. However, some beekeepers invest the time and effort to harvest propolis too. Bee propolis can be used to make tinctures and other holistic products. The beekeeper may sell raw propolis to supply companies this adds another income stream to help offset costs.

Collecting Propolis from Your Beehive

Sticky propolis on frames inside a hive with bees nearby image.

Worker honey bees, called foragers, fly from the hive to find food and other needed resources for the colony. There are thousands of these female bees that keep the colony working on a daily basis.

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In fact, there are several things collected by worker bees to meet the needs of the colony. Food collection is primary of course.

They visit flowers to collect plant nectar which is used to make honey. Also, pollen is gathered to use as a protein source for rearing young bees.

But these are not the only resources needed by the colony. Honey bees also collect plant resins. Resins are sticky secretions produced by various plants and trees. These resins become the substance we call propolis.

What is Bee Propolis?

The definition of propolis is a red or brownish substance collected by honey bees from tree buds and plants. Enzyme rich bee saliva is mixed with the plant resins.

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.”

Another word for propolis is “bee glue”.  If you have ever experienced propolis inside a hive, you understand why it is called glue.

Seam of bee propolis on top of a frame from the hive image.

It 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.

Propolis has anti-fungal, antiviral and antibacterial properties. It helps prevent unwanted fungus or bacterial growth inside the warm humid hive.

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How Bees Carry Propolis

Worker honey bees gather plant resins and bring them back to the hive on their hind legs (pollen baskets).  Bee saliva along with wax, honey, etc is mixed with the resins to create the substance we call 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.

Propolis sticking frames together in a hive image.

Cleaning Bee Glue During Inspections

Some colonies produce more propolis inside the hive than others. This seems to be, at least in part, a genetic trait.

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.

Bee propolis seams on a canvas inner cover from a hive image.

Propolis Harvesting Methods

Selling propolis is big business due to a high demand in the healthcare industry. However, small scale beekeepers can also harvest raw propolis from their hives.

No damage is done to the bees in the hive with normal harvest methods. Some beekeepers use a flexible piece of screen or fabric for collection. Others choose 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 propolis trap. Therefore it should not be placed between boxes.

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. The colony often fills each cavity with bee glue.

Once the trap is full, or before Winter cold arrives – remove it. After placing it in the freezer for a bit, 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. This is simiar to a regular shim with the additon of the wire.

Placed inside the hive in the same position, the bees will also propolize the screen. This is only left on the colony for a short time and removed before Winter arrives.

Gathering Bee Propolis Scrapings

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 can contain some 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. Simply use your hive tool to peel the propolis off the surfaces.

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.

How to Scrape Bee Propolis from Equipment

  1. Spread a sheet or plastic tarp on the floor to catch the scrapings
  2. Inspect each wooden hive part – looking for sticky propolis
  3. Use your hive tool to gently scrape off the bee glue
  4. Avoid getting wood shavings in the product as much as possible
  5. When finished – gather your tarp and pour propolis bits into a jar
  6. Store in freezer until ready to clean
Cup of bee propolis collected from a hive image.

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.

You can also make your own propolis tinctures, creams etc.- after cleaning and preparing.

Learn how to harvest propolis from bees and add another valuable product from the hive to your apiary.

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