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Encouraging a propolis envelope...

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Guard Bee

Joined: 26 Mar 2016
Posts: 50
Location: Chichester, UK

PostPosted: Sat Jan 21, 2017 5:59 pm    Post subject: Encouraging a propolis envelope... Reply with quote

I recently watched a lecture by Thomas Seeley where he spoke about natural colonies fully sealing the inner surfaces of tree cavities with propolis, and the health benefits which this provides to the bees. I've previously read and pondered about the importance of propolis, and how it's unique make up from colony to colony is determined by the local geography (forage) and the bees themselves. This unique tailoring of the propolis provides a defence against local biological threats. In my short time beekeeping I have observed how some colonies are far more affective than others at producing propolis and sealing a hive.

Thomas' lecture went on to say that the almost clinical smooth inner surfaces of typical hives causes this vital task to often be overlooked by the bees. Bees will seal gaps and rough edges/corners, but don't tend to bother with lining the whole cavity. There was a very brief discussion about encouraging the bees natural behaviour by 'roughing up' the inner surfaces of the hive, or by fixing small plastic mesh to the inner walls. This was something which Thomas said he had not explored any further, but the benefits of encouraging a propolis lining of the hive seemed obvious and he encouraged the audience to carry out their own experiments.

I've not tried an eco-floor other than in my plant pot bait hives, and the construction of my TBHs doesn't lend itself to adaption for an eco-floor. However, I'm considering an experiment where I could line the walls and floor of a hive with hessian sacking/cloth. This would likely encourage the bees to propolise the inner surfaces of the hive, perhaps go a small way towards providing an eco-floor by providing a habitat for beneficial bugs etc., and potentially improve thermal performance of the hive slightly. I do have a concern though, because this may also provide a place for varroa and/or wax moth to gather where the bees can't get to them. On the flip side, if the bees do successfully propolise the inner surfaces with this encouragement then there will be absolutely nowhere for varroa or wax moth to hide!

... discuss?
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Site Admin

Joined: 27 Jul 2011
Posts: 1857
Location: England/Co.Durham/Ebchester

PostPosted: Sat Jan 21, 2017 6:48 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I really like the idea, particularly using hessian instead of plastic. I hadn't considered that the smooth hive sides would have that effect on suppressing propolis production but it makes sense. The down side will be that cutting away brace comb for inspections will be more difficult and the chances are the hessian will get snagged and rucked up in the process. Maybe try just one side of the hive so that you can cut brace comb on the other side and then carefully work it loose on the hessian side. Of course if I get myself into gear and get some skeps made, there will be no need for hessian and it may be another benefit of straw skeps that they encourage the bees to coat the surfaces with propolis because of the unevenness.

I look forward to reading others' opinions.
Well done for raising an interesting discussion topic.


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Foraging Bee

Joined: 18 Jan 2016
Posts: 139
Location: central Belgium

PostPosted: Sat Jan 21, 2017 7:53 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi Sam,

Is the lecture on youtube? I would love to see it too.

I like the idea of propolis covering the inside, in fact the word propolis literally means 'for the city' or more freely translated 'for the benefit of the community'.

Eventually bees will cover the inner side of a smooth wooden box with propolis, some of my 10 year old boxes are nearly completely covered within. All you have to do is resisting the urge of cleaning it off every year.

Last winter I made my first top bar hive. I bought the wood from a local suplier, it was cut to length from rough planks and shaved att no extra cost. To spare him the trouble I asked to only shave one side. The rough side is on the inside so this gives me the perfect opportunity to see if the covering process will be faster.

I also made a skep last winter and that one is populated with a strong colony of black bees, they have been pretty busy with propolis but that is what black bees like to do. They also stick the skep to the floor it is standing on so you have to be a bit carefull when you turn it upside down for inspection or you could damage the bottom ring.

@Barbara: gear up it's great fun.

friendly greetings Adriaan
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Golden Bee

Joined: 30 Nov 2009
Posts: 1137
Location: UK, North Yorkshire, Bentham

PostPosted: Sun Jan 22, 2017 7:57 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

In the People's Hive (Warre) the hessian is painted with a flour paste to stop the bees chewing and removing it. You might like to look into something similar?

As long as the cloth is firmly attached to the sides (stapled?) there will be minimal opportunities for Varroa/wax moth to hide. Perhaps painting the flour paste with the hessian in situ?

Look forward to hearing what you decide and the result. Good luck.

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Guard Bee

Joined: 26 Mar 2016
Posts: 50
Location: Chichester, UK

PostPosted: Sun Jan 22, 2017 8:39 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks for your thoughts on this everyone.

Yes the lecture is on YouTube. While I enjoy Thomas' books, I don't find his lectures so engaging. Some very interesting discussions nonetheless.

Trekmate, many thanks for the tip regarding flour paste, I'll look into that. I did wonder if the bees might chew hessian, but thought it was unlikely...
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Foraging Bee

Joined: 27 Nov 2015
Posts: 136
Location: Ireland, west

PostPosted: Sun Jan 22, 2017 5:10 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Interestingly enough I bought my second hive beginning of last year and that hive is 'smothered ' in propolis . All the sides and even the frames. Its always been difficult to get into as everything is glued in place. Lovely smell too. None of my other hives have anywhere near the same amount in them and as Barbara says now I'm going to be looking more keenly at that hive to see why and how I can improve the others to do the same . My other hives were all smooth on the inside including the frames which I sanded smooth and now wishing I hadn't.
Have to sit and ponder on this now...........

Bees utterly fascinating creatures! Will we ever understand them?
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Quality Top Bar Hives by Andrew Vidler

Conserving wild bees

Research suggests that bumble bee boxes have a very low success rate in actually attracting bees into them. We find that if you create an environment where first of all you can attract mice inside, such as a pile of stones, a drystone wall, paving slabs with intentionally made cavities underneath, this will increase the success rate.

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