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Beekeeping has come a long way since the time humans first began domesticating bees. The honey bee can be described as one of the most beneficial insects to man. No other domesticated creature is capable of producing so many products as the honey bee. Honey, beeswax, propolis, royal jelly, and pollen are some of the products derived from the honey bee. If you needed to find out how to harvest propolis, then we got you covered in this article. Propolis, a sticky resinous substance is collected by the worker bees serves many purposes. It is one of the most potent antimicrobial substances in existence.
What is Propolis?
Propolis is also referred to as bee glue. Its name originated from the Greek words “Pro” and “Polis”, meaning the front of and city/body of citizens, respectively. The name itself denotes what one would find at the entrance of the beehive. The honey bees use propolis to narrow the entrance to the hive, thus making it easier for defense against predators.
Propolis is used as a building material and also acts as a disinfectant. It helps sterilize the hive given its natural properties. The honey bees derive propolis from deciduous trees such as poplar, cottonwood, alder, and birch. The resins are normally secreted by these plants during budding, serving the purpose of keeping off fungus and diseases.
The worker bees carry propolis on their pollen baskets referred to as corbicula. These sticky resins are taken back to the bee colony for use. Propolis tends to be sticky when warm and hard and brittle when cold.
Propolis comprises the following:
- Resins – 45-55%
- Fatty acids and waxes – 25-35%
- Phenolics (oils/aromatic compounds) – 10%
- Pollen – 5%
- Organic compounds (flavonoids e.g citrin, Vitamin P) – 5%
How to Harvest Propolis
The propolis collected can be utilized within your apiary or you can also sell it to the market. A natural remedy and herbal manufacturer will readily purchase raw propolis. Read on below to see how you can harvest propolis.
1. Using a Propolis Trap
There are so many brands out there that design propolis traps. If you are interested in harvesting propolis, then a propolis trap can make your work so much easier. The trap is simply a plastic grid that resembles a queen excluder and has small holes. It replaces the inner cover and will be positioned below the telescopic cover. The small openings in the trap annoy the honey bees since they are too tiny to pass through. They therefore fill up these small openings using the plant secretions referred to as propolis.
You can use stock or shim when placing the propolis trap. Ensure the outer cover is propped open to let in some light into the hive. A small opening is required, just enough to let in some light. The propolis trap is designed in a way that the bees cannot pass through the holes, hence are forced to accumulate propolis on the trap. Otherwise, they would have sealed the opening on the outer cover.
The bees may take a few days or even months to fill up the propolis on the trap depending on some factors. First on the list is the area or geographical location. This determines the plant species available and will also affect the prevailing weather conditions. Secondly, the weather at the time the trap is placed. Cold weather combined with sunny conditions, forces the honey bees to work harder when sealing off the openings. That means they can fill up the trap so much faster when these weather conditions are prevailing. Thirdly, the plant sources have a huge impact, since the amount produced by each tree species varies immensely. The colony itself also has a huge impact on how fast the propolis trap is collected. Certain colonies appear to collect propolis much faster than others.
Removing the Trap
The best time to remove the propolis trap is during autumn, late fall, and early winter. Once the propolis trap is full, remove it and replace the inner cover. Place the propolis trap in a bag such as a garbage bag and place it inside the freezer overnight. It will become brittle when frozen making it easier to harvest it. You can then remove the trap and bag from the freezer and bang the trap on any hard surface such as the floor or the tabletop. The trap should remain inside the garbage bag while banging to collect the brittle propolis that falls off.
You can also twist the trap while removing propolis from the trap. This however may result in more mess. A hive tool can also work when removing propolis from the trap. Use it to scrape off the propolis. Any foreign particles such as wood, dead bees, and other debris should be removed from propolis.
The simple act of freezing and banging the trap is sufficient for removing all the propolis that has been collected and there will be no more cleaning required. The trap can then be taken back to the hive if you would like to harvest more propolis. You can also store it in a safe place if you do not wish to collect any more.
Storing the Trap
The best place to store a propolis trap is in a cool and dry place. It should be kept away from pests such as mice that can damage it. It is important to avoid warm areas since it causes propolis to glob together. Propolis is easier to clean when dry and brittle.
Homemade Propolis Traps
You can make your propolis trap using locally available materials. A nylon window screen will work. Make one and place it on top of the hive, just underneath the cover. The bees will fill it with propolis the same way they do when you place the commercial propolis trap. Once it is filled, you can freeze it then flex it to crash the brittle propolis.
What to do with Propolis
Propolis is used in many products ranging from healing salves, toothpaste, to skin creams. It is also used to make herbal tinctures, elixirs, and syrups. It does not require processing but only cleaning and purification.
Propolis can be taken directly when treating sore throat, gums, or dental problems. It can however be sticky on teeth.
Some of the uses of propolis include the following:
1. Oil Extract
This you can prepare by mixing propolis with any food-grade oil such as olive, coconut, or sunflower. You can also mix it with butter. Heat the mixture gently in a water bath while stirring for at least 10 minutes. Filter the resulting extract and keep it in sealed containers
2. Hydrolyzed propolis
You can obtain hydrolyzed propolis by soaking or boiling it in water. Boiling is however discouraged since some of its aromatic compounds will be lost in the process. Aqueous Propolis is ideal for those who wish to avoid alcohol. You can then filter and refrigerate the resulting substance.
3. Propolis Extracts / Tinctures
You need an appropriate solvent and the propolis to prepare propolis extracts or tinctures. Ensure the solvent to be used is safe for human consumption. You can use ethanol as a solvent or any other food grade alcohol with at least 65% alcohol. The propolis needs to be broken into powder form and then mixed with the alcohol. Put this mixture in a water-tight container then seal the top. Shake the mixture for some time and leave it to soak for 1 or two weeks. Ensure you shake the mixture once each day during this period.
Once the one or two weeks lapse, the extract will be ready. Filter the mixture using a clean and fine cloth, cotton ball, or even paper filter. The resulting liquid will be a clear liquid that is free from any particles. It will have a reddish or dark brown color. This should be packaged in a clean, dark, sealed, and airtight bottle.
If you need to make a highly concentrated propolis extract, then use more propolis for the solvent. You should also eliminate the filtering process, so that the resulting mixture can carry along the fine propolis particles that collect at the bottom. You can also use a porous cover on the final storage container to allow the solvent to evaporate, leaving behind a product with more propolis ratio to the solvent.
4. Powder Capsules or Tablets
Propolis can be processed into a powder. You can freeze the propolis for a few hours alongside a hand grinder or a mortar and pestle. Ground-up the propolis once removed from the freezer using a manual or hand-operated powder grinder. This is ideal since the propolis will not warm up and become sticky when grinding.
You can also purchase capsules and use them to encapsulate powdered propolis. The powder propolis can also be mixed with raw honey making one of the best medicines. Some large firms also make tablets out of the propolis.
How to Purify Propolis
You will need several tools and equipment to clean and purify propolis. The entire task should be carried out outside. Any tool used for the job should be dedicated to the task since it is not possible to completely clean off propolis.
- Garden hose.
- Hammer or mallet.
- Grocery store bags or garbage bags.
- 5-gallon bucket.
- A strainer or window screen. Extra window screen required for drying propolis.
- Rubber gloves.
- Select a useful place for the work, preferably away from driveways or walking paths.
- Remove the propolis from the freezer and place it inside stronger bags or a layer of bags.
- Use the hammer to smash the propolis into smaller pieces inside the bag.
- Fill the 5-gallon bucket with an inch of water and put the smashed propolis into the bucket.
- Fill the bucket with cold water using the garden hose. Swirl the propolis around to allow debris such as bee parts and pieces of wood to come up and float.
- Allow the propolis to settle and add more water little by little until the bucket is filled. Use the wire strainer or screen to skim the debris from the top of the bucket.
- Repeat the smashing and cleaning process (step 3 to 6) until there is no more debris floating at the top of the bucket.
- Pour off the water from the bucket cautiously leaving behind the propolis.
- Place the extra window screen on a tabletop, board, or a cookie sheet and pour the propolis into it. Let the water drain off and dry the propolis. Speed up the drying process by mixing the propolis from time to time.
- Take the dried propolis and put it inside a freezer bag and place it in the freezer.
How to Clean Propolis off Tools
You can clean propolis off any tool using 100% alcohol. This solvent is one of the most effective since it easily dissolves propolis and then it evaporates. You have to clean the tools within an open space since alcohol is flammable. Get a soft cloth for wiping out any residues afterward. You can use alcohol pads to clean your hands once you are done cleaning the tools. Any cloth you use to clean off propolis should be disposed of since the propolis gums it up.
You can also prepare an alcohol solution by mixing 25 parts soap against 75 parts of alcohol. This is effective in cleaning off propolis from tools such as the hive tool. You can also use the same solution to clean your hands.
Another way to clean off propolis from tools is the use of a Clorox and water solution. Soak up the tools for a few hours and then use a scrubbing sponge to remove the propolis. The solution softens the stains and makes it so much easier to remove them. You can also use a soft cloth to remove the propolis after soaking.
Since propolis melts easily when subjected to high temperatures, you may as well leave the hive tool under the sun and let the sticky mess melt away. You can then wipe off the tool for a clean finish. This will work as well.
A Final Word
Propolis is a beneficial product derived from honey bee colonies. Most beekeepers harvest propolis for their own purposes, whereas others sell it to commercial manufacturers of herbs and health remedies. If you haven’t harvested your own propolis, then it is perhaps time to do so. This product can generate some extra income just like other products such as beeswax, royal jelly, and pollen. It is used widely and therefore there is a ready market for the product.
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