October 10, 2016

Propolis and Bee Hives

Propolis is the sticky resinous substance that bees collect from plants and trees and which gets all over your hands and clothes when inspecting a bee hive.  Propolis is produced by the trees and plants to protect their buds from, bacteria, fungus and most insects. The composition and colour of propolis varies from plant to plant and therefore colony to colony and region to region. Propolis is most commonly an orangey/brown colour.

Bees use propolis to seal up small spaces throughout the hive, bigger spaces are sealed with wax comb . Propolis is sticky above 20 °C (68 °F) and becomes brittle and hard below that temperature. As a result forager bees tend to prefer to collect propolis in warmer temperatures. The bees collect the propolis using their mandibles to scrape the substance from the plants. They then pass the propolis from their mandibles to their forelegs, then to the inner surface of the middle leg or basitarsus. The propolis is then stored for flight in their pollen baskets or corbiculum on their back legs.

On returning to the hive with their load of propolis they go to the part of the hive where it is required. The propolis is removed by other house bees. Just as with pollen, nectar and water the bees will perform a dance to pass on the exact location of the propolis to other bees.

In sealing up small holes and entrances in the hive, the bees are strengthening the structure of their home as well as limiting the possible entrance points for predators and it is believed reducing vibration. In addition, whilst bees will remove any dead bees or small predators from a hive, bigger creatures such as small mice or lizards, which have been attacked and killed but are too heavy to remove will be shrouded in a propolis cocoon. By doing so the bees prevent disease and bacteria spreading from the decaying body.

The bees will also coat the inside of the hive with a thin layer, or varnish of propolis and also coat the inside of a brood cell. This is believed to be a way of using the known anti bacterial, antiviral and antimicrobial properties of propolis to keep the colony clean and healthy and free of disease.

Some strains of bees such as Caucasians use more propolis than others and some beekeepers will not keep them for this reason. Since beekeepers tend to hate having to deal with large amounts of sticky propolis there has been a tendency to favouring and breeding from lower propolis producing colonies in recent decades. Some scientists now suggest that this reduction in propolis use could be interfering with the bees natural weapon against diseases and be contributing to the rise in pests and diseases currently damaging bee colonies worldwide.

Human use of propolis

There is a growing interest in propolis and its natural benefits for humans. Many health stores sell propolis supplements and propolis can now even be found in some toothpaste produced by major toothpaste manufacturers, promoting in particular healthy gums.

Below are some propolis based products you might like to check out

More about Propolis

Urban Beekeeping Considerations

It is possible to keep bees almost anywhere including cities and towns and in fact beekeepers often find that honey production is better in an urban setting than a rural setting, as there are often more varied flora for bees to be found in urban gardens. However those wishing to keep bees in a city or town should check with their local authorities first as there are still some who do not permit urban beekeeping.

Once you are satisfied that you are allowed to keep bees it is important to take certain precautions to ensure that your bee hives do not become a nuisance to those living nearby.

Bee colony temperament

First of all it is important that you only keep bee colonies with gentle temperaments, so only purchase bees that have been bred for gentleness. If your bees sting a lot or are aggressive and follow you after the hives are closed up you should requeen as soon as possible as this will usually change the temperament of the bee colony within four to five weeks.

Water source for the bees

You should provide a source of water near to the bee hives as this will prevent the bees looking for a source in the neighbours pool, bird bath or hanging laundry. This can be a real problem, as once bees have become accustomed to a watering source, they will continue to use it in large numbers throughout the season and it is almost impossible to stop without moving the bee colony some distance.

Locating an urban bee hive

With a basic understanding of bee behaviour it is possible to locate your beehives so as to ensure they cause no problems to the people and animals around them. For example most bee colonies have a basic flight pattern as they leave and return to the hive. So it is important to ensure that people walking by are not likely to be within this pattern. Always ensure if possible that the beehives are not facing walkways or paths, children’s play areas or others gardens. In addition bees tend to release their body waste soon after leaving the hive so consideration should be given to spotting of laundry or cars underneath, especially if you are intending to keep several colonies of bees.

Bees will tend to fly straight out of a hive and ascend slowly if they can, so a good way of controlling their flight pattern is to build a fence or locate the hive opening towards a hedge, ideally this should be at least 6 feet high which will force the bees to fly above head level and thus reduces the chance of encounters with pedestrians. Fences and hedges also keep colonies out of view, which will help reduce theft or vandalism and also out of sight out of mind may be better for those more nervous neighbours.

Good bee colony management

When opening and inspecting your bee hives in an urban setting, you must think about the welfare of those around you. The weather and time of day influence the mood of a colony, just as bee colonies kept in the shade tend to be more defensive. Ideally you should inspect your bee hives on warm, sunny days, between the hours of 10 a.m to 4 p.m when most of the flying workers will be out foraging.

You should always use a well-lit smoker properly to control the bees and help prevent defensive behaviour. During a nectar dearth, keep robbing at a minimum as robbing stimulates defensive behavior. Keep examination time to a minimum and make sure honey supers and frames not being inspected are covered. All spare equipment stored outside should be bee-tight.

Swarming bees can be a major concern for neighbours. Even though swarming bees are quite gentle and seldom inclined to sting, the presence of a swarm in the neighborhood tends to worry people and your apiary, rightly or wrongly, will likely be seen as the source of the swarm. Having sufficient equipment to manage your colonies and reduce swarming is a must (see  our Swarm Management section).

Part of being an urban beekeeper is good public relations and beekeepers who allow their bees to become nuisances force communities to bring in banning orders which spoils it for everyone else. Exercise proper control and management of your bees and never keep more colonies, than the available  forage in the area can support or more than you have time to care for properly. Sweeten the neighbours with the occasional jar of honey or if they are interested let them see inside one of your hives. Follow these guidelines and you and everyone else arround you will be able to enjoy your urban beekeeping.

Locating your Bee Hives

Once you have decided beekeeping is for you some consideration should be given to where your hives should be situated. In this article we are assuming that your bees are to be kept in a rural or non urban area (see Keeping bees in an urban setting ),  most of the points covered here will also however be relevant to urban beekeeping.

Although bees can travel up to three miles to collect nectar and pollen it is obviously more productive for them to be able to forage nearer to their hives, that is, within a mile or less. Pollen is essential for brood rearing and nectar and the honey produced is the bees’ basic source of energy. While bees can in general be kept virtually anywhere, large concentrations of floral sources and large colonies are needed to produce large honey crops.

Bees also need a source of fresh water so they can dilute their honey to use it, regulate hive temperature, liquefy crystallised honey and raise brood. If a water supply is not available within a 1⁄4 mile of the hives, you can always provide a barrel or bowl of water with a floating board or small stones for the bees to land on and avoid drowning. Another source of water that bees seem to like is moist compost, a small open bag of potting compost is great for this.

Bees are also less irritable and easier to handle when located in the open where they have plenty  of sunshine. A southern or easterly exposure gives colonies maximum sunshine throughout the day, ensuring that the early sun hits the hives and gets them up and foraging early. The apiary is also best situated near natural wind protection such as hills, buildings, or evergreen bushes and trees.

The ground the hives are on should be dry and well-drained. Avoid windy, exposed hilltops or sites near water that might potentially flood. You should also avoid placing hives in heavily shaded woods or on damp sites to prevent diseases such as Nosema and European Foul Brood which thrive in such conditions. Hives should never be placed directly on the ground, but should have stands or be placed on pallets or similar. It is important to allow ventilation through the floor of the hive.

You should also locate your hives where you can be sure of having asy year round accessibility. You will not want to have to carry heavy hive parts, (supers filled with honey can weigh up to 50 lbs) for any distance.  Hives should be secluded from traffic, constant noise and disturbance from animals and children. To discourage vandalism, placing colonies near a dwelling house or area frequently visited yet screened from view by hedges or other vegetation is a good idea.

Safety from pesticide applications that can affect colonies directly or where the bees’ forage is also important. Acquaint yourself with the pesticides commonly used in the area and place colonies away from fields or other areas that are routinely treated with pesticides.

When selecting sites for large number of hives try to establish how many other beekeepers are operating in the area. A location can easily become overstocked with bees, which results in a poor honey crop for everyone. If you do not have the space for your hives yourself, contact your local land owner who will usually be only too happy to have your beehives. You may even be able to get him to pay you if it is going to help pollinate his crops, if not, honey is often an acceptable rent payment.

More about setting up Hives

Smith Bee Hive

The Smith Hive was designed by Scotsman Willie Smith last Century .The Smith Hive is essentially just a smaller and more simplified UK National Hive. The use of the Smith Hive is almost exclusive to the UK and in particular Scotland, where its smaller size is seen as an advantage when transporting to the heather. The frames are the same size as the National but have shorter lugs, that is , the bits that stick out at the top of the frame, are shorter.

As the Smith Hive has flatter sides than the National Hive it does not have indentations for lifting and carrying, so although lighter can be trickier to move around.

More Bee Hive Information

WBC Hive

The WBC Hive is the bee hive that everyone pictures when they think of honey and honey bees. What picture of an English country garden is complete without a white-painted WBC Hive. The WBC was invented in Britain in about 1890 by the writer and beekeeper William Broughton Carr, hence the name WBC. This design of hive was a variation on the earlier and still used moveable frame Langstroth Hive.

This is a double walled hive, the reason being that the double walls can offer greater protection in adverse weather, especially if you keep your hive in a cold damp windy environment. The inner air space creates a warm buffer zone, protecting the colony from the freezing winds and driving rain, although this can also have the reverse effect of taking longer for the WBC hive to warm up in the early spring sunshine. The inside of the WBC hive is made up of boxes like the Langstroth and British National Hive and the outside is built up with a series of box frames, called lifts, built on a landing porch or board. It is these outside lifts on the WBC that are often painted white.

The disadvantage of the WBC hive design is basically the extra work involved in taking it apart and moving it. The WBC also uses much more wood than other hives and every time an extra box or super needs to be added an additional lift also has to be made or purchased.

The WBC however uses the same frame sizes as the National so the two can be run easily together. There is one major difference between these two hives which is the number of frames in both brood box and honey supers, being only ten in the WBC, as opposed to the usual eleven in National and other hives.

This may seem a minor detail, but one frame can mean a lot, in terms of space for the growing colony and the spreading brood in early spring. If there is less space, then it’s more likely the bees will swarm and also there is obviously a smaller area in the WBC for storage of winter supplies of honey for the bees. However older or less strong beekeepers are often glad to have a lighter super box to have to lift when it is full of honey. But of course that also means harvesting less honey from a WBC honey box.

Despite the disadvantages of the WBC hive they still remain popular amongst hobby beekeepers who see them as a not just a home for their bees but also as a great garden ornament.

More Information on Bee Hives

Where to get your Bee Hives

The actual bee hive is the most expensive piece of equipment for a beekeeper and it is this cost that can often put off many from starting beekeeping.  A good quality redwood  bee hive will set you back at least $300 and since it is recommended that you ideally start with two hives or colonies then that figure is doubled. However if you look after your hives and treat the wood regularly they will last for years. If you decide later that beekeeping is not for you there is usually a good second-hand market, so you will recoup some of your original outlay.

Hives components are usually unassembled or ‘flat packed’ when purchased, but most suppliers offer an assembly service for a higher price and shipping fee. If you hate DIY this extra charge will be well worth the lack of stress. However full assembly instructions are supplied by bee supply dealers and are usually easy to follow. If you are putting the hives together you will need to familiarise yourself with the parts of a hive first, preferably seeking the help of a more experienced beekeeper in assembling the hive components for the first time. Also if you are just starting out you will need to ensure that you have your hives ready in plenty time for the arrival of your bees. Remember spring  is when everyone orders and a lot of suppliers have a problem keeping up with demand, so order early!

Some beekeepers find they can save money by making their own equipment or by purchasing used equipment. With both approaches, the equipment must be a standard size. When constructing beekeeping equipment, a thorough understanding of bee space is a necessity. Many beekeepers find they can economically make covers, hive bodies and bottom boards, but frames are more difficult and time-consuming. Success depends on availability and cost of materials, proper woodworking equipment and the beekeeper’s woodworking skills.

Purchasing used equipment can present problems and is not recommended for the beginner. Initially you may have problems simply locating a source of used equipment and determining its value or worth. In addition, secondhand equipment may be of non-standard dimensions or contaminated with pathogens that cause various bee diseases, despite considerable time in storage. Always ask for an inspection certificate indicating that the state apiary inspector examined the hives and did not find any evidence of disease. In addition we recommend that you clean all secondhand wooden hive parts yourself, a blowtorch carefully applied is ideal for this and is what most experienced beekeepers use.

More about Bee Hives

Painting and Maintaining the Hive

The basic parts of the hive traditionally have been made out of pine, cypress or redwood. However today all hive components are available in plastic. Plastic hive components and plastic frames that snap together are durable, strong, lightweight, easy to assemble, and require little maintenance. While plastic frames and foundation are becoming increasingly popular, plastic hive covers, bottom boards, and hive bodies have not proved to be as useful because plastic does not breathe and does not allow easy moisture ventilation. Plastic also warps easily and it has also been found that some types let in too much light, which the bees do not like.

Painting the Hive Parts

Since most bee hive boxes are made from wood they will start to quickly decay if not frequently treated. So all parts of the hive exposed to the weather should be protected with paint or wood preservative. Do not paint or treat the inside of the hive, the bees will varnish the inside themselves with propolis (a mix of plant sap and wax) and the paint may be harmful to the bees, especially as most paint today comes with factory added fungicides.

You should use a good low VOC (volatile organic compounds) latex or oil-based, exterior, white paint.  A light colour is desirable because it prevents heat buildup in the hive during summer as the suns’ rays will be reflected off a light surface. Although white is a traditional colour, various combinations of colours will it is believed actually help reduce drift of bees between colonies.

If you prefer the original wood colour then a preservative such as linseed oil can be used. Make sure that you use raw linseed oil and not boiled linseed oil as the latter will be much less effective. Some people use a mix of beeswax and linseed oil but be warned, this can get messy.

More Bee Hive Information

Picture: W. Virginia farmer David Brammer’s amazing bubble gum hive colours

Bee Hive Parts – Frames and Comb

The hive is the man-made structure in which the honey bee colony lives. Over the years a wide variety of hives have been developed. Today most beekeepers in the United States use the Langstroth or modern ten-frame hive and most in the UK prefer the National, which like most of the hive alternatives is just a size variation of the original Langstroth Hive.

A typical hive consists of a the following parts; a hive stand , a bottom board (floor) with entrance cleat or reducer, a series of boxes or with suspended frames containing foundation or comb and . The hive bodies that contain the brood nest may be separated from the (where the surplus honey is stored) with a , to prevent the queen entering and laying.


The suspended beeswax comb held within a frame is the basic structural component inside the hive. In a man-made hive, the wooden or plastic beeswax comb is started from a sheet of beeswax or plastic foundation. After the workers have added wax to draw out the foundation, the drawn cells are used for storage of honey and pollen or used for brood rearing.

Frames are 17 5⁄8 inches long and either 9 1⁄8, 7 1⁄4, 6 1⁄4, or 5 3⁄8 inches high to fit the various hive-body depths. Each frame consists of a top bar, two end bars, and a bottom bar. Top bars may be either grooved or wedged; bottom bars are split, solid, or grooved. Some types may have advantages over others, but the choice is generally a personal preference that includes consideration of cost. Top bars are suspended on ledges or rabbets in the ends of the hive body. V-shaped metal strips or metal frame spacers (castellations) are often nailed into the recess for reinforcement.

The size and number of frames used will depend upon the type and size of hive. There are basically two types of frames; self spacing frames often called Hoffman and Manley frames and conventional frames that require separate spacers. Having the correct space between the frames is important to ensure the correct ‘bee space’. That is there is enough space for the bees to crawl freely through but not so much that they will fill the space with comb or propolis. Self spacing frames have slightly tighter spacing than that given by conventional frames using spacers.

The comb foundation consists of thin sheets of beeswax imprinted on each side with patterns of worker-sized cells. Foundations are often reinforced with embedded wires, thin sheets of plastic, metal edges, or nylon threads. When deciding whether to invest in plastic beeswax foundation in plastic frames versus pure beeswax foundation in wooden or plastic frames, initial cost, assembly time, durability and length of expected use are all factors you should consider. Plastic foundation and frames are however becoming increasingly popular.

More Bee Hive Information

The hive is the man-made structure in which the honey bee colony lives. Over the years a wide variety of hives have been developed. Today most beekeepers in the United States use the Langstroth or modern ten-frame hive and most in the UK prefer the National, which like most of the hive alternatives is just a size variation of the original Langstroth Hive.

A typical hive consists of a the following parts; a hive stand , a bottom board (floor) with entrance cleat or reducer, a series of boxes or with suspended frames containing foundation or comb and . The hive bodies that contain the brood nest may be separated from the (where the surplus honey is stored) with a queen excluder, to prevent the queen entering and laying.

Queen Excluder

The primary functions of the queen excluder is to confine the queen and her brood to certain areas of the hive. The queen excluder is constructed of a thin sheet of perforated metal or plastic with openings large enough for workers to pass through, but not the larger queen.  Other designs consist of welded round-wire grills supported by wooden or metal frames.

The excluder is usually put on the top of the hive bodies but below the supers. The idea being that the queen will not enter the supers and lay eggs there, thereby leaving all the cells free for honey for the beekeeper.

It is however an optional piece of equipment and is used by less than 50 percent of beekeepers. Many beekeepers refer to queen excluders as ‘honey excluders’ because at times workers are reluctant to pass through the narrow openings of the excluder to store nectar in the supers above, until all available space in the brood chambers is used up. To minimise this problem, allow the bees to begin storing nectar in the supers before installing the excluder. Nectar stored in drawn comb will entice the bees to pass through the excluder. You should never put supers of empty (that is not drawn out) foundation above a queen excluder.

A queen excluder can also help in finding the queen. If you place an excluder between two hive bodies, after 3 days you will be able to determine which hive body contains the queen by locating where eggs are present.

More about Bee Hives

The hive is the man-made structure in which the honey bee colony lives. Over the years a wide variety of hives have been developed. Today most beekeepers in the United States use the Langstroth or modern ten-frame hive and most in the UK prefer the National, which like most of the hive alternatives is just a size variation of the original Langstroth Hive.

A typical hive consists of a the following parts; a hive stand , a bottom board (floor) with entrance cleat or reducer, a series of boxes or with suspended frames containing foundation or comb and inner and outer covers. The hive bodies that contain the brood nest may be separated from the (where the surplus honey is stored) with a , to prevent the queen entering and laying.

It might seem unusual to have two covers on a hive, the inner cover and the top cover. However in most bee hives the outer cover is the roof and the inner cover is a board that sits on top of the frames on the top most hive box.

Inner Cover

The inner cover or crown board rests on top of the uppermost super box and beneath the outer telescoping cover or roof. There are two main reasons for having this board the first being it prevents the bees from glueing down the outer cover  or roof to the super with propolis and wax. It also provides an air space just under the outer cover for insulation. During summer, the inner cover protects the interior of the hive from the direct rays of the sun and during winter, it prevents moisture-laden air from directly contacting cold surfaces and soaking them.

The hole in the inner cover may be fitted with a device known as a Porter bee escape (usually white plastic) which is an aid in removing bees from full supers of honey. This device is designed to allow the bees to go through it one way but not to re-enter, so that gradually all or most of the bees will have exited the honey box, making it easier to remove the frames for honey extraction.

Outer Cover or Roof

An outer telescoping cover protects hive parts from the weather. It fits over the inner cover and the top edge of the uppermost hive box. It is called a telescoping top cover because it hangs over the hive body and most telescoping top covers hang over between 1-2 inches. The top is normally covered with a sheet of metal to prevent weathering and leaking. Removal of the outer cover, with the inner cover in place, disturbs few bees within the hive and allows the beekeeper to more easily smoke the bees prior to colony manipulation.

Roofs do not have to have metal tops on them, but it does protect the wood from the weather. It is also very important to allow for some ventilation at the top of the hive in the winter as without some top ventilation, condensation can develop on the inside of the top of the hive and drip cold water down onto the winter cluster of bees. This can cause the bees to die and a little ventilation at the top can help the condensation to evaporate. Pre made hives will come with room ventilation.

Beekeepers that routinely move hives use a simple cover, often referred to as a migratory lid. Covers of this type fit flush with the sides of the hive body and may or may not extend over the ends. In addition to being lightweight and easy to remove, these covers allow colonies to be stacked. Tight stacking is important in securing a load of hives on a truck.

It is a good idea if you live in an area prone to high winds and storms to put a brick or a rock on top of the roof to weigh it down especially in winter, or when the hives are left unattended for any length of time.

More about Bee Hives