Honey bees and beekeepers are preparing hives for winter. One of the bees’ hive preparations involves collecting propolis. Bees gather resins and gums from trees to produce propolis, the antimicrobial “bee glue” that they use to varnish their hives. The bees seal all unwanted openings in the hive with propolis to block entrance of unwanted insect intruders. Cracks inside the hive, smaller than a bee space of three eights of an inch, are filled with propolis. This includes the seams between the several boxes that make up a modern bee hive as well as the space along the edges of hive frames. A sturdy beekeeper’s hive tool is required to break the propolis bonds of individual boxes and frames. Propolis is sticky in warm weather and brittle when cold. The bees in today’s photo are foraging propolis warmed by the sun. Bees use the propolis to control unwanted drafts inside their hive, even building propolis plenums in the hive to block chilling winter air flows. Guard bees drive small hive beetles into sticky propolis “jails” to help control these hive pests. The antibacterial and antifungal propolis is an important element in the honey bee colony’s health. If a hive invader, such as a mouse, cannot be removed by the bees, they will encapsulate the dead body in propolis to prevent the spread of bacteria in the hive.
Inside the hive, worker bees are concentrating the honey from cells high in the hive to cells closer to the brood nest. While the bees continue to forage for fall nectar, beekeepers need to ensure that every hive has adequate honey stored for the winter. The essence of beekeeping is to tend to healthy colonies and not get too greedy when robbing the hives. If a beekeeper takes too much honey from a hive, the colony will starve over winter. How much honey should one leave on the hives? The answer comes from the shared experience of beekeepers in the local area.
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