How To Harvest Propolis – A Beekeeper’s Guide

A bucket of propolis.

Beekeepers can add extra income to their operations by harvesting propolis. The collection process is simple and doesn’t require any expensive equipment. This guide will explain how to harvest propolis the right way.

What is propolis?

Propolis is a unique compound that honey bees use for insulating and sealing small gaps in the hive. It also has a potent antimicrobial that helps keep their home clean and disease free.

Also known as bee glue, this resin-like substance is made from bee saliva, plant resins, and wax secreted from worker bees.

5 steps to harvest propolis

Propolis collection is a straightforward procedure for beekeepers and the following steps are a useful starting point. You may want to tailor the process to suit your hive, climate, and beekeeping style.

1. Check hive condition

When propolis is removed from the hive, honey bees will immediately begin work on replacing it. This additional workload won’t be a problem for thriving hives, but it will place unnecessary stress on a weak one.

Before getting started, the hive must be ready. A check of hive numbers will quickly let you know if they’re suitable for collecting propolis. If the numbers are low, leave them to get established, or you may end up with no bees.

2. Wait for the right conditions

Adding a propolis trap at the wrong time of year can negatively impact the hive. If you live in a climate where winters are harsh, avoid using one during this time.

The best time of year for harvesting propolis is early fall. The hive works hard to winterize their home with the cold months looming. They produce a lot of propolis to insulate their hive, sealing airy gaps and holes.

3. Add a propolis trap

A propolis trap is a low-cost, reusable piece of equipment that looks like a queen excluder. This plastic grid has smaller holes that worker bees can’t resist sealing. The colony soon gets to work blocking up the holes with propolis.

Propolis traps are used in place of the inner cover. Honey bees cannot pass through the holes, so they should never be placed between boxes.

We recommend propping up the outer cover on two pieces of wood. This extra height creates an airy, light-filled gap that bees detest. It will encourage them to plug up the trap faster.

Propolis trap mats can also be added at the bottom of the hive in place of the hive mat. Beekeepers often prefer the top option as it involves less moving of boxes.

4. Collect the trap

Bees are never thrilled to see their hard work undone, so smoke the hive before getting started.

Lift off the hive cover and remove the trap, which could be sealed to the rest of the beehive. A hive tool will help to get it unstuck.

Carefully replace the trap with a clean one or an inner cover, then place the lid on top.

5. Freeze

The consistency of propolis is affected by temperature, and beekeepers can use this to their advantage. Place the trap in a clean plastic bag, then transfer it to the freezer.

Leave overnight to freeze, then remove the next day and bang, flex, and twist the trap until the propolis breaks off. Work quickly while it’s still icy for best results.

The propolis can then be tipped into a clean, airtight container for storing.

Check out this video demonstrating how to collect propolis. You’ll notice how messy this substance is and how it can be challenging to separate.

Did you know? Cold propolis is hard and brittle, making it easier to remove from the trap. On warm days bee glue is soft, sticky, and almost impossible to work with.

Tips for removing propolis from the trap

Getting bee glue off the trap can be a little tricky. After a lot of bending, there are usually plenty of stubborn bits still attached. Try these hacks for better results.

  • A hive tool will help to scrape off leftovers.
  • Windshield ice scrapers with plastic teeth will sometimes fit into the trap slots and scrape out any residual propolis.
  • Beekeepers that intend to collect propolis in large quantities may want to build a specialized comb using wood with teeth.
  • Silicone propolis traps can be rolled into a cylinder and frozen for easier extraction.
  • For easier removal, try making a DIY propolis trap with metal screen wire and a wooden frame.
Closeup of propolis on a beehive.
Propolis on a hive.

Do beekeepers have to use a propolis trap?

Beekeepers that only need small amounts of propolis for personal use don’t need to use a trap. Instead, they can use scrapings from harvested super boxes and empty hives. This is a much less invasive approach that natural beekeepers will appreciate.

Lay out a tarp or sheet on the ground as a collector, then use a hive tool to scrape the bee glue off.

There will probably be contaminants like dead bees, wax, and wood shavings. To remove them, place the propolis in a tub of water and wait for it to sink.

The foreign material will float, making it easy to skim and discard. If the bee glue still contains wax and wood, try cooking it in the oven for 2 hours.

Partially fill an ovenproof dish with water and bake at 200°F, stirring frequently. The wax will melt and float to the top for easy removal.

How to store raw propolis

Raw propolis is best stored at room temperature in an airtight container. Leave it in a cool, dark place away from food odors like ground spices or garlic.

For a longer-term solution, propolis can be kept in the freezer until needed.

If propolis is wet, lay it out on a clean tea towel to dry before storing. Moisture will encourage mold.

A wooden spoon full of propolis pellets on a white background

8 fast facts about propolis

  1. Most propolis is a shade of brown, but its appearance will vary depending on where the honey bees sourced the resin.
  2. Forager bees find the raw ingredient to make bee glue in trees like willow, alder, birch, and poplar. You can get some great suggestions for good trees for bees here.
  3. For thousands of years, propolis has been revered for its medicinal properties.
  4. The Egyptians used it for embalming mummies.
  5. Its name was coined by the Greeks who discovered the substance near the hive entrance. “Pro” means in front of, and “polis” means city.
  6. Propolis composition varies by the source of trees in the area.
  7. There are over 240 compounds that have been extracted from the substance.
  8. Propolis comprises resins, waxes, fatty acids, and essential oils.

Why do honey bees need propolis?

Bees use propolis to reduce hive openings and seal up unwanted gaps and cracks. It gives the hive added protection from predators and improves insulation in preparation for winter.

Bees also use their bee glue to sterilize the hive. The antimicrobial properties help fight disease, acting as a disinfectant inside the nest cavity.

The colony can easily remove dead bees and small insects from the hive. Larger animals like lizards and mice are too heavy.

Bees use propolis to encase the carcass like a mummy which stops decay and contamination.

An infographic explaining the steps to get propolis from the hive.
Steps to follow when harvesting propolis.

Commonly asked questions

Can I use a queen excluder as a propolis trap?

The gaps in a queen excluder are too big and will allow the bees to pass through. Instead of using propolis, the hive will build burr comb and create a big mess.

When is the best time to add propolis traps?

The optimal time for adding traps is in fall when bees prepare for winter’s onset. During this time, they will produce a lot of propolis and there should be spare capacity.

How often do you harvest propolis traps?

The harvesting frequency varies by type of honey bee, access to forage, weather conditions, and hive strength. It is best to check the trap each time an inspection is conducted.

Some beekeepers leave the trap in position all year and harvest once, while others may only wait four weeks.

Can any hive have a propolis trap?

It is good practice to only add propolis traps to thriving hives that can deal with the added work. If your hive is ready for a super to be added, it can probably handle a trap as well.

Summing up

Propolis harvesting may be messy, but it’s not complicated.

It offers beekeepers a lucrative additional stream of income. For hobbyists, propolis can be collected for personal use.

Propolis has some useful health benefits, although not all of them have good scientific evidence to support the claims. Source.

If you enjoy learning about honey bees, you may want to check out how bees build their hives here.

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