Monday, December 19, 2011

LESSON 112: The Sticky Subject Of Propolis ( 217-427-2678)

Propolis6I’ve never written a lesson on propolis, that sticky stuff that ruins your nice, new, white bee suit, that stuff that won’t come off your fingers unless you use alcohol. But, propolis plays an important role in the colony’s health. This lesson will be very important for understanding how propolis can improve the health of your bees and be a fun lesson examining where propolis comes from, how the bees use it in the hive, the health benefits to humans and much more. But before we get started let me say...
dsnHello friends, we are David & Sheri Burns from Long Lane Honey Bee Farms in central Illinois. Folks tell us we have the best website, most complete information on beekeeping and the best price on beekeeping equipment. Whether you are just thinking about getting into beekeeping or have kept bees for many years, we are here to help you. When you buy from us, we do not consider you a customer, but a friend!

LESSON 112: The Sticky Subject Of Propolis
(I’d like to thank some of our top bee experts in the country who spent time feeding me great information in preparation to this lesson. I’ve added their names at the end of this lesson.)
When we think of products from the hive we are most familiar with honey, wax and maybe pollen. But two more products from the hive are more obscure to us, royal jelly and propolis. Today, we’ll take an in depth look at propolis. Soon we’ll take a look at royal jelly.
If you have ever opened a hive of honey bees you have encountered propolis. You probably still have some on your bee suit. If you have a hive that produces copious amounts of propolis then you know what it’s like to fight gummed up frames and lids. Caucasians bees are known as excessive propolizers.
Propolis is sticky and it makes hive inspections more challenging. If you work your hives bare handed like I do, then you know what it feels like at the end of the day to have your fingers coated with propolis. All the dislikes aside, I love the appearance and smell of propolis. Each year I scrape off propolis and keep a ball of it handy to use in our queen rearing operation, to help set the cell cups and bars tight in position.
What Is Propolis And Where And How Do Bees Gather It?
Propolis1Bees gather propolis from plants and trees such as the poplar, alders, birch, willows, and conifers. Trees and plants produce a sticky resin to protect their buds against bacteria and fungus. The makeup of propolis varies depending on the plant source, and therefore varies from region to region and colony to colony.Particular foragers are assigned the task of gathering propolis. Since propolis can only be gathered when it is pliable (between 77 and 113 degrees F), foragers gather it on warm, dry days. They fly out to the plant source, then use their mandibles to scrape off pieces of plant resins.
They pass the propolis from their mandibles to their forelegs, then to the inner surface of the middle leg or basitarsus. Here the propolis is packed into their pollen basket or corbicula on the back leg. When the foragers returns to the hive loaded with propolis, they go to the area of the hive where it is most needed.
Propolis8Since they are unable to remove the sticky substance themselves, nearby house bees remove the propolis. The propolis foragers may even perform a dance to communicate to other foragers where the propolis is located, including robbing it from old abandoned equipment if it is sticky enough.
How Is It Used In The Hive
Propolis10Propolis is undeniably the bee’s glue, sealing cracks, smoothing over rough wood and used to encase foreign objects too large to carry out of the hive. Bees have been known to kill mice inside their hive and since they cannot remove the mouse due to its size, they encase it in propolis so that the decaying mouse cannot spread disease. Notice in this photo how the bees have used propolis, here a bright reddish brown color, to smooth out the wood grain on a frame.
Propolis11Bees coat much of the inside area of their brood nest, especially in more natural habitats such as trees and Warre hives that have rougher surfaces in the hive. When I remove colonies from homes, I always find that the bees have coated all the wood in their colony with a layer of propolis mixed with their own wax. We often find this even in traditional Langstroth’s hives over time, especially frames and lids. Here’s a picture I took showing how the bees have varnished the surroundings of their hive in a house.
Tests are being conducted to see if coating the insides of hive boxes improves the overall health of the colony. Many people are now recommending that we score or scratch the smooth service of the insides of our hives, forcing the bees to add propolis as they would in a natural hive in a tree. Bees also add wax to comb to give it strength. It is believed by some that house bees use propolis to polish brood cells between brood cycles.

It has also recently been discovered that bees will imprison small hive beetles in propolis jails by trapping SHB with walls of propolis. Unfortunately, every time we open a hive we release small hive beetles from their propolis jails, and even if we didn’t, the beetles have learned to rub their antennas with the bee and trick the bees to feed them while in jail.
Propolis4More than a substance to seal openings and cracks bees need propolis in the hive for the overall well being of the colony. With over 180 different compounds, it is the colony’s chemical warfare against various pathogens. It is antiseptic, antifungal, antibiotic, antibacterial, antiviral, and antimicrobial.  Beyond being used as a medicated sealant there is still much more to learn about propolis and how the bees use it in the hive.
Propolis5Propolis is from the Greek words pro (before) and polis (city). Ancient beekeepers observed the wall of propolis the bees built at their entrance to protect the “city”, their hive.Last year I noticed how some of my mating nucs were sealing down their openings so small that only one bee at a time could pass through.
Propolis2In the late 19th and early 20th century, comb honey production was at its peak, and beekeepers did not want comb honey darkened with excessive travel stains from propolis. Queen producers responded by raising queens whose colonies gathered very little propolis. Larger beekeeping operations found propolis to be a bother, slowing down hive inspections and honey harvesting. Yet, recent research reveals this was not a good idea because it has recently been found that bees benefit from propolis in the hive. We may have accidently removed an important part of the colony’s defensive mechanism.
How To Harvest Propolis From The Hive
Propolis can simply be scrapped from frames, lids and hive boxes. When I harvest propolis in this manner, I am careful not to also scrape up bee parts, paint or wood into my propolis. It can be filtered out, but it saves me time gathering the purist of propolis.
PropolistrapAnother way propolis is harvested from the hive is by placing a propolis trap inside the hive. The propolis trap is plastic and flexible and placed inside the hive near the top. Since bees like to seal out drafts and light, prop open your top slightly above the propolis trap and this will encourage the bees to place propolis in the trap as a way of sealing off the top opening. Then, once filled, you can remove and freeze the trap, flex it and the frozen, hard propolis will fall off the trap. Propolis is soluble in alcohol. Click here for more info.
Propolis9I placed a piece of cardboard on the bottom of a top cover to add some insulation to an overwintering colony. I left it on in the spring and summer and the bees plastered it with propolis. The bees did not like that it was corrugated and attempted to smooth it out with propolis. Click on the image to enlarge.
Health Benefits Of Propolis
ColegatePropolis is being studied extensively for its health benefits to humans, even with the AIDS virus. The health benefits may date back as far as Old Testament times as Jeremiah 2 may be referring to propolis as the balm of Gilead. Many people give strong testimony as to the health benefits of propolis in helping with colds, sore throats, wounds, pimples, ulcers, burns and even cancer. Some people can be allergic to propolis and too much can be toxic, so always consult your doctor before using propolis. Many health stores sell various propolis  supplements and even Colgate makes a tooth paste with propolis that is said to promote healthier gums.
In preparing this lesson on propolis, I learned so much. Most of the information on propolis was easy to research. But, in one area I hit a wall. I’ve always heard that house bees coat or polish brood cells with propolis between brood cycles. But as I read through books and literature I could not find a definite citation proving bees coat or polish brood cells with propolis. I found several websites that support the idea, but just because a website mentions something does not lend enough support. I contacted my friend and bee expert Jon Zawislak, at the University of Arkansas Extension, a fellow EAS certified master beekeeper and he flooded me with propolis papers and research, but he could not find a solid citation for house bees using propolis to coat brood cell linings. I then contacted David Tarpy, at North Carolina State University. He could not find an answer for me off the top of his head and said he would mention it to the world renown authority on propolis, Mike Simone-Finstrom. Mike was kind enough to flood me with many studies and his own thoughts that there is no studies verifying the use of propolis to coat individual cells between brood cycles. Jim Tew also sent me his extensive thoughts on whether bees add propolis to brood cells as did Diana Sammataro, and Keith Delaplane. Clarence Collison, who writes a column in Bee Culture went out of his way to scan and email me many pages on propolis. Jerry Hayes, the American Bee Culture Classroom answer man also gave me his feedback too. Thank you all!
We all know bees polish cells in preparation for the queen to lay an egg, but is it truly propolis that is used in the polishing stage? I think it is safe to say that it is believed that housecleaning bees coat the insides of their brood cells with propolis between brood cycles.
Thanks for joining us for another beekeeping lesson from Long Lane Honey Bee Farms. We appreciate your business, so please give us a call to let us help you enjoy beekeeping to the fullest.

David and Sheri Burns
Long Lane Honey Bee Farms
Here’s our contact information: