The Beekeeper’s Companion Since 1861
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The Classroom

The Classroom November 2015

- November 1, 2015 - Jerry Hayes - (excerpt)

Q Beekeeping is a Sticky Subject

As many people say… we love your article, and read it first! My question comes as a fairly new beekeeper that’s just bumped up to 6 hives. We are enjoying a productive honey crop and everything is getting quite sticky. So, the “hygienic queen bee” in me wants to know… how do I clean my suit, gloves, and hive tools of honey, propolis, etc.? I don’t want to ruin the leather and hot soapy water doesn’t cut it on the hive tool. There must be some way to deal with it…other than buying new, or trying to be even more careful.

K lazy D Ranch, Star Valley, WY


You made me smile, because as a new beekeeper I had the same thoughts and concerns about cleanliness and being sanitary, so I didn’t expose my bees to some disease or something from another colony. The only readily available and safe chemical that will dissolve propolis is alcohol, although some beekeepers say they have used finger nail polish remover with good results. I had the same problem with gloves early on too, so don’t feel like the Lone Ranger.

There is not much you can do other than 1) learn to work the colonies without gloves or 2) buy some new ones if they get too gunked up. It is good for the economy!
You can place your hive tool in your burning smoker, one end at a time, before you extinguish it after working your hives. The heat/fire will burn off sticky material and sterilize, and then you can also scrape it off semi-easily.

For bee suits sticky with honey, a regular wash cycle (remove zippered veil and wash suit in warm water only) will do. Check the washing instructions label on your particular suit.

If you have a lot of honey and wax on your gloves and hive tools, you can leave them outside hanging some place and the bees will clean them off pretty well. (But, this is not a good idea if you have been working hives that might have foulbrood.)

This is all a lot easier if you learn to work without gloves…… which comes with time.

Let me share a Jerry story with you. A long time ago when I went back to school to learn about beekeeping at Ohio State University I was in a hive that had AFB (American Foulbrood) with my gloves on. I was a poor student, so didn’t want to buy more gloves, but didn’t know how to sterilize them. So, I thought—well they sterilize everything else in the autoclave, a high heat, and steam unit. I put my leather gloves in with other stuff the lab was going to sterilize and thought voila I have figured it out. I came back the next day and as they opened the autoclave up, I saw the gloves. The gauntlet tops were nice and white and clean and regular size, nothing had changed. But when I saw the glove part with all the fingers, it had dramatically changed! All the leather parts had shrunken to the point that it looked like a miniature cluster of bananas or little pickles or Vienna sausages. Same look as a shrunken head you see on the Discovery channel! It was so bizarre and cool that I didn’t mind buying a new pair of gloves. So, that is my leather glove story.

Q Young Beekeeper

My name is Caleb and I am 13. I have had bees for two years now. Last winter my bees didn’t make it and in 2015 I installed a new set of bees. I have two questions: In early June I put on a shallow super in hope of a fall harvest. I checked my hive recently and the bees haven’t even pulled out the wax. Do you know why? My second question is: How do I use a propolis trap to harvest propolis?

Thank you,


Hey Caleb, sorry for the problems. First, let me chastise you in hopefully a helpful parental way. So, you are telling me you haven’t checked the colony for three months? If that is true, that means you didn’t catch this early and you didn’t feed them to encourage them to draw out the foundation, and you don’t know if they became queenless or what the level of Varroa mites is or was, were diseases a factor and on and on…
Sounds like neglect, as you were a beehaver not a beekeeper. Do you belong to any local beekeeping club or know of any experienced beekeepers who can help you? You need a teacher, a mentor Caleb.

The short answer is it seems as though the colony didn’t have the nutritional resources needed to make wax and build comb so the queen could lay and raise bees to build the colony population. This, in turn, would have allowed the colony to forage on flowers, bring in more nectar and pollen, raise more bees and store food for winter. And we haven’t even talked about treating for varroa mites in late summer/early fall.

I think you crashed before you even took off. Look up and join your local honey bee association and go and ask for help. Too late now, but there is always next year. Hang in there!

By the way, propolis traps are placed on top of the brood chamber (in place of an inner cover). The bees don’t like open spaces, so they fill them in with propolis. Then, you take out the propolized mat and freeze it. After being frozen, place the plastic mat in a bag and knock off the propolis by banging it on a hard surface.

Q African Bees

My question is: Why are feral honey bees surviving so well in Baja? The background to this question is that around 10 years ago my wife and I sea-kayaked around San Jose Island in the Sea of Cortez. In one campsite we encountered a lot of honey bees. They were in our kayaks and on our water bottles. We asked friends, who have a house on nearby Coyote Island about them, and they explained that they were “killer bees” and had just shown up a year or so earlier, and were after water. This observation begs a number of questions. For one, how did they get there? The closest crossing is about 3 miles to the Baja Peninsula. And, of course, what do they do for water in one of the driest places on earth?

This last May our little group of (r)aging river runners, returned to paddle about 115 miles from Punta Coyote to Escondido. I can’t remember if they were everywhere we camped, but we definitely found …