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Honeybees are incredibly efficient in whatever they do. Such a small insect is capable of producing more than one product, is able to feed a colony comprising of thousands of bees and still have surplus produce for human use. Propolis, the greenish-brown product made by honeybees, not only helps the bees coat their hives and seal hive gapping, but is also beneficial to humans. The product is sourced from trees leaves and bark.
Propolis has been in use for many years and was popular for its medicinal value among early civilizations such as the Assyrians and Greek. Egyptians also made use of propolis and was the best preservative for mummies. Beekeepers can benefit immensely from propolis just as they do with other honeybee products such as honey, beeswax, royal jelly, and pollen. The bees can be encouraged to build and accumulate propolis, which can then benefit the beekeeper economically.
What is Propolis?
Propolis is the sticky honeybee product that is made up of a gummy and resinous substances specially collected by worker bees from specific trees. The term itself is derived from Greek and is translated to mean “for the city”.
Propolis is usually collected and placed at the entry of the beehive and acts as a natural barrier that secures the hive inhabitants from predators and unwanted microbes.
Propolis is an essential honeybee product that is rich with a wide variety of potent ingredients. These include phenolic acid and flavonoids. The bees collect the amber colored resin from certain trees, then add some more products such as bee secretions and wax. More products such as pollen, pieces of wood, sand grains, and dead bees end up in the propolis, hence the need for purification of the product after extraction.
The worker bees collect propolis from tree buds using their tongues and jaws. It is then accumulated into their hind legs to form large drops that are then transported to the beehive.
Some of the features of propolis include:
- Unique scent – Propolis has its signature smell and does not smell bad. It has a unique scent that smells like a beehive, vanilla or hyacinth. It gives a feeling of a coniferous forest.
- Propolis is colorful – It has a combination of a brown, green, to red natural color. The color may also vary depending on the vegetation source. It however remains unchanged even after purification.
- Composition of propolis varies – Precisely due to the fact that the resin source varies with available vegetation. Main components comprises of pollen, essential oils, beeswax, minerals, flavanoids, vitamins, and resins.
Benefits of Propolis in a Beehive
There are many benefits of propolis. The substance is both beneficial to the honey bees and humans. Here are some of its benefits:
- It is used by the honeybees in covering the hive walls.
- Propolis helps to seal and germinate cells and combs.
- It is also used for packing and embalming intruders that have been decimated. This helps to keep the colony safe from infections. These are ideally huge intruders such as lizards and mice that cannot be removed from the hive. Propolis helps disinfect the carcass and prevents it from rotting inside the hive.
- Propolis can be compared to glue and helps enhance the beehive structure by holding together the various components of the hive.
- It also helps to seal out all alternative entrances to the hive, making it impossible for intruders to sneak into the beehive.
- It helps reduce vibrations since any loosely hanging component of the hive is tightly sealed.
- Propolis helps keep the beehive sanitary by disinfecting colony members.
In addition to these, humans can benefit from propolis as well. Some of its health benefits include the following:
- Boosts the body’s immunity against viruses and diseases.
- Ideal for promoting oral health, by boosting gum health and eliminating bad breath.
- Helps sooth the respiratory tract.
- Helps boost muscle and joint health.
- Fastens the healing of wounds.
- Improves bowel movement and boosts metabolism.
- Helps improve the quality of sleep.
Why Bees Build Propolis
Honeybees build propolis for a number of reasons:
- It is bee gum that helps seal small cracks in the beehive.
- It is also used as disinfectant of brood cells.
- It helps the bees to wrap up any dead intruder and keeps it from decomposing and infecting the colony.
- Propolis is also built by bees to help smoothen rough surfaces, thus helping prevent wear and tear to their wings when moving around these surfaces.
- Propolis is used in reducing the size of the main entrance to the hive. This acts as a safety measure that keeps off any potential intruders.
- Honeybees also use propolis to glue together frames within the brood box. This can explain the need for a hive tool. Various parts of the hive such as boxes, bottom board, inner cover, supers, roof, and inner cover tend to be glued together by the bees using propolis. These need to be separated using the hive tool during honey harvesting.
How to Encourage Propolis Buildup
Honey bees can be stimulated or encouraged to accumulate propolis through a number of ways:
- Roughened interior of the hive – The interior of hives that tend to be rough, helps encourage honey bees to accumulate propolis. This ties together with our earlier explanation that honeybees use propolis to seal off rough surfaces. Doing so helps the bees protect their delicate wings when moving around inside the hive. The rough surfaces will therefore attract propolis buildup.
- Plastic traps on hive walls – This also works when it comes to propolis buildup in hives.
- Parallel saw cuts on the interior of the hive walls will encourage honey bees to accumulate propolis.
Propolis can easily be extracted from a beehive without necessary inflicting any harm to the honey bee colony. This can be done through a number of ways: Scrape the propolis from the honeycombs annually, the use of perforated plastic grids can help collect propolis that can be harvested. The honeybees will seal the holes using propolis. These grids should be frozen to make the resin brittle and easily removable. Propolis production varies from region to region, with Caucasian bees taking the lead when it comes to the amount of propolis accumulated at any given time. The vegetation in an area also impacts the amount and quality of propolis produced. On average, honeybees produce between 100 to 300 grams of propolis every year.