Wax-moth Hell

This is the time of year for scraping down the stack of equipment that got thrown into the shed during the active season – I know this because that’s what I’ve been doing this afternoon. Once started I realise why it takes so long to get down to it because it really isn’t nice. Not nice at all.

There should be a course -‘Entomology for Beekeepers’ because the assortment of creepy crawlies to be found in the detritus at the bottom of a beehive is bewildering and horrifying – like Doctor Who with maggots. Continue reading Wax-moth Hell


Propolis is a word with Greek roots.  Pro means before and polis means city.  The reason propolis is called propolis is that the bees will use it to narrow the entrances to their cities (hives). The bees also use propolis to waterproof their hives from the inside or to glue down anything that is loose.

Propolised skep
Skep propolised on the inside

While they do tend to rely on the sticky exudations of plants they can and will bring home anything sticky such as wet paint, tar or even bubblegum. Fortunately, though they tend to prefer the natural gums that coat the buds of some trees for example the horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) or poplars (Populus spp).  If you want to know what propolis smells like – stand beneath some poplars in March or April on a sunny day and that wonderful resinous smell is propoplis. If it is a warm day listen carefully and you may hear the bees at work.

Poplars in March
A fine row of aromatic poplars on the Barrow near Millford, Co.Carlow.

They will also gather the resins that ooze from softwoods. Amber is a fossilised resin and samples have been found with bees trapped inside. Those ancient must have gone out one sunny day millions of years ago to get some propolis and got stuck there they are for us to marvel at today. A neighbour of mine once cut down a line of cypress trees in the middle of summer – the stumps continued to ooze sap and that year my hives were absolutely gummed to the gills with it.

Bees gathering propolis are bees on a mission – they have detected a draught or something loose and they head out for something to fix that with. When they find something sticky – and they’re not over fussy – they pack it into their pollen baskets (corbiculae) and head for home.

Bee with corbiculae stuffed with sticky propolis
Bee with corbiculae stuffed with sticky propolis

Depending on what they are up to they will either mix it with beeswax or use it neat.

In its pure form it is a reddish gum with a wonderful resinous aroma. In the summer it has a gluey consistency and it is a nuisance to beekeepers and bee breeders – in this part of the world anyway – will select against propolis gathering.

In winter when it is cold, propolis is quite brittle and is easily chipped or scraped off hive parts. If you want to harvest some nice pure propolis, spread a sheet of gauze across the top bars of the hive under the crown board, when the bees have it packed with propolis, peel it off, fold it up and put it in the freezer. Next day remove the gauze from the freezer and crumple it up over a sheet of newspaper – all the little squares of propolis will fall out onto it.

Apart from its stickiness, propolis has other properties. It is an anaesthetic which used to be used by dentists and it has antibacterial and antifungal activity so when they line the hive with it they are applying a protective shield around it – it even hinders the beekeeper.

If you want to test the anaesthetic properties – chew a small piece and you will feel a numbness in the lining of your mouth. Don’t try too big a piece or you may find your teeth all glued together.

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Beeswax Facts

Beeswax has been described as the most recalcitrant substance known to man which means it makes great, long lasting polish but is not so great to splash it on your clothes.

  • Beeswax is produced by the bees from wax glands on the undersides of the abdomen;
  • Bees will only produce wax when there is a nectar flow;
  • To produce wax the bees cling together in clumps and consume a lot of honey to bring up the temperature, then wax is extruded in little white lens shaped scales that can sometimes be discovered amongst the debris on the hive floor;
  • Approximately 4lbs of honey is consumed to produce 1lb of wax.
  • Beeswax begins to melt at 64 degrees centigrade;
  • Beeswax begins to discolour at temperatures above 85 degrees centigrade;
  • Beeswax will spontaneously combust if it is heated to above 200 degrees centigrade;
  • The natural colour of beeswax is yellow – all shades of yellow depending on forage but if it is brownish or olive it has been overheated. If it is pure white it has been bleached.

Click here for how to render beeswax

Click here for beeswax facts

Click here for beeswax lipbalm recipe

Click here for beeswax handcream recipe

Click here for beeswax furniture polish recipe

Click here for beeswax soap recipe

Click here for beeswax candlemaking

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Beeswax Mountain – Candle Making

Beeswax is a by-product of beekeeping  and there are dozens of things you can do with it. Each time you visit your bees and scrape those bits of brace comb off the top bars or the crownboard – instead of flicking them into the undergrowth, save them in a bucket and when you have enough you can render it into blocks of clean wax which can be stacked in a cupboard and in a very short while it will be bursting out the door.

I’ve been doing that for many years now and the cupboard is full of wobbly stacks of it so the time has come to do something with it. The options include the following: Continue reading Beeswax Mountain – Candle Making

A Good Bee Book

If you haven’t already done so – read Ted Hooper’s book this winter: Guide to Bees and Honey. It’s the first and the finest bee book I ever read. I sat down in the conservatory one winter’s day and read it from cover to cover like a novel. By the time I had it finished I was hooked and come spring I had bees – swarmy bees from Old Tom. That was 12 years ago now and Poor Tom is long gone – only his swarmy bees live on in the trees and woods hereabouts and of course in my apiary.

But back to Hooper. Well illustrated chapters cover everything the beeginner needs to know about bees and beekeeping including biology and life cycle, hives and equipment, forage, honey harvest and lets never forget pests and diseases. As a reference book it will always be there to guide you through seasonal management including swarm control and queen rearing.

If you only buy one bee book, let it be this one.

Then move on to Snelgrove.

Click here for more about Snelgrove

Click here for how to improve those swarmy bees

Click here for a better look at this wonderful painting above by Nikolay Bogatov (1854-1935)

Is this were I stick an advert and a link to Amazon?

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Things to do in November

So the clocks have gone back and the nights are drawing in; the bees are all stocked up and strapped down ready for whatever winter will bring. What is left for the beekeeper to do? Maintenance that’s what: –

  • Supers and honey frames should be scraped clean and stored wet to scupper wax moths, stack them on a floor with a queen excluder on it to keep the rats out, put a couple of sheets of newspaper between supers and top with another queen excluder and a roof or a sheet of plywood. The newspaper stops any moths, or caterpillars making their way from super to super. Make the stacks as airtight as possible so the honey won’t draw in water or your supers will be dripping by spring. Last year I wrapped the stacks with clingfilm and that worked a treat. If possible start your stacks in the middle of the floor so you can walk all the way round that way you’ll know if there are vermin at work – a rat can chew right through a super;
  • Get a cat or a better still a couple of kittens – they cost nuppence ha’penny to feed, they’re a joy to watch and the vermin hate them;
  • If you have somewhere light and airy and cold to stack them, so much the better – wax moths are creatures of the dark – light unnerves them;

  • Empty boxes need to be scraped clean and given a light going over with the blow torch. Unless you went for polystyrene…;
  • Brood frames also need to be scraped clean of wax and propolis; old frames with black wax or gaping holes should be stripped down – don’t re-wax till you need them though or the wax will go all hard and the bees won’t work it properly they’ll just draw out weird abstract works with wings and flaps – but you already know that! If your shed is like mine, empty frames can be stored out of the way in between the rafters;
  • Frames can be fumigated using acetic acid – click here for how to do that;
  • Spare gear that’s unoccupied needs to be looked over and repairs made where necessary;
  • All the wax scrapings should be put aside for rendering later;
  • If you’re into propolis – it will chip off best when the weather gets really cold;
  • Think about candle making – I am;
  • Think about next year, make plans and write them down before you forget about it;
  • Improve your bees! Go through your Colony Assessments and do your Colony Appraisals so you know which queens to breed from next year and which to use for your drone rearers;
  • Make new gear;
  • Order a book for the winter;
  • Don’t forget to check your bees after high winds;
  • My bees are still working the last of the ivy here so the queen will be laying away albeit slowly – you need to be aware of that if you are thinking of treating with oxalic acid in the deep midwinter – you’ll need at least 3 weeks after the ivy has finished for all that to hatch out otherwise you are wasting your time.

I’m off out to my shed now.

Click here for Winter Oxalic Acid Varroa Treatment

Click here for Acetic Acid Fumigation

Click here for How to Improve your Bees

Click here for Colony Assessment

Click here for Colony Appraisals

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Honey, Healing and Hayfever

Many hayfever sufferers find a daily dose of local honey to be helpful in controlling their symptoms but how can this bee?

Composition of Honey

Honey is a complex mixture of sugars dissolved in no more than 20% water. So long as the water content is below 20% honey is not readily metabolised by bacteria or fungi including yeast.

The sugars make up 97% of honey excluding water. The 3 main ones are dextrose, levulose and sucrose but there are also other lesser known ones such as kojibiose, isomaltose, nigerose, ab trehalose, gentiobiose, laminaribiose, meleziotose, maltotriose, turanose, 1-kestose, panose, maltulose, isomaltotriose, erlose, theanderose, and O-a-D-glucopyranosyl-(1->6) -O-a-D-glucopyranosyl-D-fructose… the list goes on through about 25 or more in total.

The remaining 3% comprises minerals, trace elements, vitamins, proteins and enzymes and pollen.

So what exactly is responsible for the healing?


Apart from being a healthy alternative to sugar it has curative benefits including antibiotic properties which can be effective in treating sore throats, skin complaints and open wounds such as ulcers. There is also some evidence to show that if honey is applied to burns it will help them to heal. I personally know a beekeeper whose daughter was badly burned as a child. The surgeons told him his daughter’s arm would be scarred for life. He was the son of a long line of beekeepers and did not accept this; he knew a recipe for a burns remedy including honey and beeswax and he applied this remedy to his daughter’s burns daily. The result was that the child’s wounds healed without scars in a few short weeks.

The observable antibiotic activity in honey is mostly due to the activity of the enzyme glucose oxidase which is probably the most important enzyme in honey – it originates in the pharyngeal glands of bees so it is added by the bees and therefore must have some purpose. Its effect is to oxidise glucose to gluconic acid a reaction which launches a two pronged attack on bacteria. The creation of gluconic acid contributes to the background acidity of honey which in turn has a preservative effect by suppressing the growth of bacteria. But there’s more – a by-product of this reaction is hydrogen peroxide which is a powerful antibiotic. The reputation of honey as an antibiotic is due mostly to the action of hydrogen peroxide.

Glucose oxidase can withstand temperatures up to 60 degrees centigrade after which it will become permanently denatured and no longer chemically active – effectively a dead molecule. Mass produced honey is routinely heated to over 75 degrees to pasteurise it. Pasteurisation is not necessary so long as honey is ripe. Beekeepers know this and only warm the honey sufficient to run it through a fine cloth to remove debris. Pollen and colloids pass through the cloth.

Manuka honey, which is a produced in New Zealand by bees foraging on the Leptospermum scoparium, has an additional active ingredient methylglyoxal and it seems to have more pronounced antiseptic activity than other honeys. However, recent studies in Sligo have produced comparable results using Irish honey and in Scotland, honey from Portobello Community Orchard has been found to have antibacterial activity similar to that of Manuka.


Hayfever is a terrible thing to bear if you have it. Some people believe that a daily dose of a tablespoon of local honey will help, the rationale being that the honey contains the pollens of the local flora and therefore if it is eaten regularly – the exposure will de-sensitise them. Some people swear by it although there is little scientific evidence to prove it. It is worth a try, it can do no harm and at the very least – it’s something nice to eat.

However, if your hayfever comes on late in the summer the chances are that you are allergic to grass pollens in which case no amount of honey will help as grasses are wind pollinated and not visited at all by bees.

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Information For Humans Beeing