Propolis, Beeswax, and Owning a Wired Hive

Before we took our beekeeping course, I didn’t know about propolis. Obviously I knew bees make honey from nectar, gather pollen, and somehow produce beeswax, but propolis? I’d never heard the word.

In case you’re in a similar boat, here’s WebMD’s definition: “Propolis is a resin-like material from the buds of poplar and cone-bearing trees … Propolis has a long history of medicinal use, dating back to 350 B.C., the time of Aristotle … Propolis seems to have activity against bacteria, viruses, and fungi. It might also have anti-inflammatory effects and help skin heal.”

Bees use propolis to seal small openings and cracks in their hives. Some breeds and hives propolize a little. Others propolize a lot. Italian bees, in particular, are said to be less propolizing than others.

Having no basis for comparison, I can’t say for sure our bees are overly fond of propolis, but they do seem to be rather particular about their hive, and I’ve certainly scraped off a lot of propolis.

Here’s the thing: Propolis is sticky (as one might expect from something made of tree resin), which makes it challenging to clean off a hive tool. However, I recently learned it’s also quite brittle when cold, which makes cleaning much easier. Supposedly people buy it for natural medicine, but I imagine it would take a long time (or many hives) to acquire enough to sell.

Here’s what our supers looked like before I scraped them.

I should mention bees have also been known to propolize heat-seeking mice that sneak into their hive. If you’d like to see a picture, visit HoneybeeSuite.com.

Beeswax is a different thing altogether. Bees use it to form comb for honey and brood. They also use it to fill gaps and holes that are too big to propolize.

We don’t toss any propolis or wax on the ground (nor dead bees, for that matter) because we’ve heard those nasty yellow jackets will smell it and be even more attracted to our hive. Instead we put both substances into jars for future use.

A few days ago, I finally got around to melting down the was. Below is a picture of two pans. One has the sludge left on the bottom of the pan after warming and then straining the wax. The other has the wax. We had a quart and a 1/2 pint mason jar full of wax, and the strained wax barely covered the bottom of the pan.  IMG_3018

That’s okay. It made the house smell divine, and there’s enough to coat at least one or two frames.

And, hey, did I mention our hive is now wired? The Engineer and I bought raffle tickets at OSBA, and each won two drone frames. Now we have seven, more than sufficient for our single hive, but at least we’re ready for expansion.

I also won a Broodminder temperature sensor, perhaps partly because I paid attention to what it was and put a lot of tickets in the jar. I think most people just noticed the drone boards.

It’s kind of cool. You stick it above the brood box, with the tag hanging out, download an app, and then start taking readings (though you do have to be within thirty feet of the hive). Dead easy once I realized the plastic bit was part of the device and not the wrapping as I first believed. I’m repeating a picture so you can see the tab on the front of our hive.

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Beekeepers can then upload their information to the “Bee Counted” website where they and others can compare readings. Broodminder also sells a scale, but The Engineer won $30 off a wi-fi hive scale, so he bought that one, which has the advantage of being able to be read anywhere from any device.

I think we both felt too inexperienced to judge if our bees have enough honey for the winter.

So far, we’ve weighed our coffee table — 169 pounds, if you must know. It would be great if our hive weighed that much.

We’ll find out once The Engineer decides how to mount it. I’ll keep you posted.

 

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Minding our Bees and Qs

I think I’ve established The Engineer and I have a lot to learn about beekeeping. If you haven’t yet reached that conclusion, I recommend you re-read my previous post, as well as the one before, which are full of corrections.

For this reason (and because Brushy Mountain offered 10% off any orders picked up at the event) we attended the Ohio State Beekeepers Association (OSBA) conference held Saturday.

We also planned to visit Darling Daughter, which morphed into attending a beer tasting event held by the Friends of the Worthington Library system. Bees, beer and books — what more could you ask for in a weekend?

The conference sessions were interesting and educational, though some were well beyond our beekeeping skill level. I’m quite sure we won’t be rearing queens for profit in the near future, yet it was good to be exposed to possibilities that are currently beyond our capabilities.

Our order from Brushy Mountain was hope, prevention, and current needs made manifest in beekeeping equipment — a nuc box in the hope that we’ll eventually have a large enough hive to split, a drone frame as part of our pest management plan for the future, and an oxalic acid (OA) vaporizer to treat once more before winter.

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Oxalic Acid and Vaporizer, with my notes on use, painters’ tape for sealing hive, nitrile gloves and measuring spoons.

We previously treated Buzzers’ Roost with MiteAway Quick Strips (MAQS), which can be used with the supers on, but for the vaporizer, it’s necessary to remove them. This means first removing the bees from the supers, and to accomplish this, we used an escape board (picture below is from the Brushy Mountain catalog). 774-escape-screen-10-f_main-1.jpg

The board above is upside down, and you can see how it works. The beekeeper puts the triangular maze facing down so the bees easily enter through the big hole to return to the brood boxes, but find it difficult to find their way back to the supers.

After performing what will probably be our last semi-thorough check of the boxes on Sunday (when it was 67* F), we inserted the board.

At first we forgot to close the top entrance, rather defeating the purpose of an escape board, but once that was remedied, the board proved effective. There were only three bees in the supers when we took it out the next day. (If you leave it in too long, the bees figure out how to get back up, so this must be done within 24-48 hours.)

By then, however, the temperature had dropped to the upper 50s, necessitating a quick removal to avoid chilling the hive. About 30-40 bees were hanging out in the net triangle maze and had to be assisted back through the front door to their brood box. Even with our encouragement and guidance, not all managed the feat. (If we looked at it from the bees’ perspective, you could probably substitute “interference and meddling” for the words “encouragement and guidance.”)

Yesterday, I taped off the upper entrance and the small gap in the back where the bottom board is inserted, donned my mask, gloves, and eye protection, and used our new vaporizer for one last mite treatment before winter. You can see the tape in the picture below. And check out the verandah The Engineer created to help keep rain off the entrance. The metal thing is a mouse guard. Both were removed before the treatment. IMG_3003
Unsurprisingly, the bees don’t like this kind of intrusion. About thirty seconds after inserting the wand, a kind of quiet roar began emanating from the hive. Also, one befuddled bee tried in vain to find the entrance that had been there only moments before. No vapor escaped though, and the OA crystals were gone when I pulled out the wand, so maybe the treatment will prove successful. Between the tape and the bees’ propolis (more about that next post), the boxes were well-sealed.

I removed the tape so they would have the ventilation necessary to prevent a wet hive and left them to recover.

Then, this morning I woke up to this.unnamed-5

Snow.
Time to put on the hive wrap.

Not all beekeepers wrap their hive(s), but since our bees had a rough start, we wanted to give them some extra help for the winter. This morning, I duct taped on the hive quilt we bought from B&B Honey Farm. There are other means to insulate a hive — a wind break made of straw bales, wrapping the hive in tar paper, crumpling newspaper to absorb moisture under the lid — about as many as there are beekeepers.

It seems the challenge is helping the bees keep warm while at the same time preventing condensation. Damp bees are dead bees.

We chose two tactics: the hive quilt and insulating foam under the lid.

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Snow falling over Buzzers’ Roost

Cross your fingers that this is only a cold snap and not the start of true winter. We’d like one more warm day to move the hive, put the honey super back on, feed one last pollen and/or sugar patty, and attach our new wi-fi hive scale.