API of the Month

Mathieu Domecq

Editor-in-chief of the API blog of the month

Find out what beekeeping work needs to be done in May and learn more about propolis. You will also learn about the benefits of the different queen excluders, before receiving tips when it comes to harvesting spring honey.

Did you know that a bee colony produces between 100 and 300 g of propolis over the year? Harvesting is time-consuming for the beekeeper because it requires purification. (Source: miel en France)

Mathieu Domeq

This month’s work

May is still a busy month for the beekeeper. If you start with a single swarm in the year, the first point is more relevant to you. For swarms that have already wintered, their development will no doubt allow you to harvest a little honey! Here is a summary of the beekeeping work:

Feeding young swarms: with the rainy and cool weather returning to our regions, the young swarms of the year that you were able to buy from another beekeeper lack supplies. Remember to provide them with at least 2 kg of Apiinvert syrup to make up for deficiencies. You can supplement it with protein to boost the queen’s laying.

Monitoring swarms created by the beekeeper
Monitoring swarms created by the beekeeper

– Harvesting propolis and pollen: why not harvest your own propolis and pollen on thriving colonies? It is easy. For propolis, place an excluder on top of the frames, with the roof on top to create a draft. The bees will then plug the holes. For pollen, you will need a trap in front of the flight board, with a grille onto which the bees drop their balls of pollen as they fly past. The pollen trap can then be recovered after a few days.

– Place supers: some supers placed last month are already full thanks to rapeseed and acacia. If this is the case, do not hesitate to put a second super on top!

– Harvesting honey: some beekeepers will carry out a first harvest in May to extract the spring honey. Please note that your super must be capped up to at least 80% to take the frames out. Otherwise, you may have too much nectar and not honey (it will be too moist leading to poor preservation).

– Harvest swarms: you may still come across clusters of bees on branches. Take advantage of the swarms to repopulate your last empty boxes or expand your colony!

The honey flowers of the month: acacia, phacelia, rosemary and sainfoin.


The word propolis derives its name from the Greek word “pro” meaning “front” and “polis”, the city, referring to the observations of beekeepers who saw this resin at the entrance to their beehives: the front of the city. Since then, we have been using it for its many beneficial antibacterial, immunostimulating and healing properties.

The Romans used propolis to treat wounds during invasions. According to narratives from the Middle Ages, Europeans made medical preparations to treat oral and respiratory diseases.

How does one store propolis? Store it away from light in a closed container and protect it from heat. Long-term storage does not appear to alter its antibacterial properties.

The beekeeper uses it to reduce the size of the beehive entrance and close the cracks made by the bees, harvesting the propolis by scraping the frames or by placing an excluder over the frames.

Which excluder should one choose? They are available in plastic, which is very effective and you just need to scrape off the propolis. Alternatively, you can find fibre cloths, which you simply place in the freezer and then roll up to loosen the propolis hardened by the cold. You will harvest what is known as crude propolis. Caution: it contains almost 40% impurities such as wax or plant fibres.

Bee with drops of propolis (rarely captured on camera!)
Bee with drops of propolis (rarely captured on camera!)

The different queen excluders

The queen excluder is placed to prevent the queen from climbing up the super and laying eggs on it. It is like an insect screen. Place it between the body and the super. Without a queen excluder, you may find a brood in the centre of the super frames, which can be a problem when harvesting the honey.

Queen excluders can be made of several materials, often plastic or metal.

Note that a plastic excluder makes it easier for bees to climb up the super than a metal excluder. Maybe the bees cannot hold on to it when it is cold?

On the other hand, a metal excluder is easier to clean with a flame for example, which you cannot do with a plastic excluder. A metal excluder also further prevents the transmission of bacteria. A metal excluder with a wooden frame is stronger, so the meshes do not part if you drop it (and then leave a way through for the queen!).

However, please note that a plastic excluder is cheaper to buy and will not deform over time unless it is very sticky with propolis and, if you pull on it, it may break.

Tip: you can also place the first super without a queen excluder so that the colony does not feel too squeezed. Place the queen excluder with the second super on top of the first.

Let us list the advantages of the queen excluder:

  • It is easier for the beekeeper to find the queen
  • It helps prevent the presence of a brood in the honey supers (more space for honey)
  • The harvest period is easier (less risk of looting)
  • Faster harvesting
Metal or plastic queen excluder?
Metal or plastic queen excluder?

Harvesting your first honey

A novice beekeeper may have a first honey harvest in May. Once you have removed your frames from the super and brushed the bees, head to the honey farm.

The first step involves removing the wax caps that block the alveoli to release the honey: this is called uncapping.

Uncapping a honey frame
Uncapping a honey frame

Then the frame will be placed in the extractor to evacuate the honey from the alveoli by centrifugal force (like a salad spinner). A well-filled super frame can hold up to 2 kg of honey!

Once extracted in both directions (to release both sides of the honey), the frame can go back to the super and be licked outside. The bees will fly around it for several days to collect the last drops of honey.

At the honey farm, your nectar will come out of the extractor through the tap. You must have placed a bucket with a filter underneath first. This strainer will clean the honey of impurities such as wax debris or a bee’s foot (this happens!).

Finally, you can pour the bucket into the ripener, where the honey will rest for a few days so that the air bubbles rise to the surface (which is only a matter of appearance).

Now it is time to pot!

Extraction of honey by centrifugal force.
Extraction of honey by centrifugal force.

Do not wait too long if you have had rapeseed in your supers. This is a honey that crystallises very quickly and you may not be able to get it out of the frames in the extractor! It is usually harvested at the end of flowering (early May).

As usual, share your photos with us. We will publish them on our website from social media with the hashtags #apifonda #apiinvert!

We shall be back next month on the API blog with your faithful partner, Les Ruchers De Mathieu!


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