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Apiculture :: Harvesting and Processing of Bee Products


Honey, bees wax, royal jelly, bee venom, propolis and pollen are the important bee products. Honey is harvested at the end of a flowering season. In traditional or top-bar hives, the beekeeper selects combs which contain ripe honey covered with a fine layer of white beeswax, usually those nearest the outside of the nest. Honey is extracted only from super combs using honey extractor. The sealing of cells on combs is removed with sharp knife before placing in the extractor. Extractor should be worked slowly at the beginning and at bout 150 rpm at the end for about 1 to 2 minutes. Then the sides of the frames are reversed and the extractor is again worked. Extracted honey is filtered through muslin cloth. Providing a bee escape between the brood and super on the day prior to honey extraction keeps the bees away from the super. Remove the escape soon after honey extraction. During the lean season (May-September), remove the super chambers, arrange the available healthy brood combs in the brood chamber and use division boards to restrict the space. Provide artificial feeding once in a week by way of 1:1 sugar syrup in water. Each colony may require syrup prepared from 500-750 g sugar a week depending on the size of the colony and availability of stored food. When there is dearth of natural source, pollen substitutes may be provided in the colony.

1. Honey
Flowers nectar is a solution of sugars and other minor constituents that bees collect and concentrate into honey. It is a sweet, viscous fluid, produced by honeybees. It is collected as nectar from nectarines at base of flowers. Also collected from nectar secreted by plant parts other than flowers known as extra floral nectaries. It is collected also from fruit juice, cane juice etc..

Collection and ripening of honey
Honeys contain a wide range of sugars, varying according to the nectar source, and small amounts of other substances such as minerals, vitamins, proteins and amino acids. The temperature in a nest near the honey storage area is usually about 35 °C.

Field bees draw nectar by its lapping tongue known as proboscis. Field bees regurgitate the nectar which is colIected by hive bees and deposited in cells in comb. Nectar contains 20 to 40 per cent sucrose. The enzyme invertase converts sucrose into dextrose (glucose) and levulose (fructose). Invertase is present in nectar itself and also in saliva of honeybees. Finally ripening of honey takes place by the action of enzyme and by evaporation of water from honey by temperature and the ventilation produced by fanning of wings by bees. When the water content is reduced to about 20 percent, the bees seal the cell with a wax capping. The honey is now considered "ripe" and will not ferment. In this way the bees prepare for themselves a concentrated food source packed in minimal space. It is free from problems of fermentation; therefore bacteria cannot grow in the honey and it will not deteriorate during storage. This food sustains the bees through periods when there are no flowers.

Unripened honey in the comb

Composition of fully ripened honey

Constituents Per cent (Approx.)
Undetermined (Enzymes, vitamins, pigments, etc.)

Pigments: Carotene, chlorophyll and xanthophyll are the important  pigments present in honey.
Minerals: Potassium, Calcium, Phosphorus, Sodium, Magnesium, Manganese, Copper, Sulphur, Silica and Iron are the minerals present in honey.
Vitamins: Vitamin B1 (Thiamine), B2 (Riboflavin), Nicotinic acid, Vitamin K, Folic acid, Ascorbic acid and Pantothenic acid are the vitamins present in honey.

Physical properties of honey

  • Honey is hygroscopic. If exposed to air it absorbs moisture
  • Honey is a viscous fluid.
  • Heating of honey reduces viscosity
  • Specific gravity of pure honey is 1.35 to 1.44 gms/cc
  • Refractive index of honey, helps to find moisture content measured using refractometer

Purity test for honey

  • Measure specific gravity of honey using hydrometer
  • If the specific gravity is between 1.25 to 1.44 it is pure honey

Aroma and flavour of honey

  • It is acquired from the nectar of the flower
  • It is lost if heated or exposed to air for long time

Colour of honey

  • Depends on the nectar of flower and the plant species
  • Darker honey has stronger flavour
  • Lighter honey has more pleasant smell

Crystallization or granulation of honey: This is a natural  property of honey particularly at low temperature. Dextrose present in honey granulate and settle down. Levulose and water remain at top which is more prone to fermentation. High ratio of Levulose :Dextose (L/D)results in less granulation. High ratio of Dextrose:Water (D/W) results in more granulation.

Uses of honey
Honey has value as a food, as a medicine, as a cash crop for both domestic and export markets and as an important part of some cultural traditions.

As a food: Honey is valued everywhere as a sweet and tasty food. At times of food shortage it is a useful carbohydrate source that contains trace elements and adds nutritional diversity to poor diets. Honey often has an important place in traditional food preparation.

As a medicine or tonic: In many parts of the world, honey is used as a medicine or tonic and as a special treat for children. Modern medicine is increasingly using honey for a variety of treatments.

As a cash crop: Fresh local honey is always more highly valued than imported honey. Many beekeepers sell their product directly to consumers. Honey is often used as a barter commodity in villages, especially in remote areas or areas isolated by war or sanctions. Honey is a stable commodity with a long shelf life. If harvested carefully, it will remain wholesome for many years.

As an export crop: As standards of living rise, honey consumption increases. Most industrialized countries import honey to meet demand. This requirement can provide developing countries with a useful source of foreign exchange from honey exports. The countries with the highest honey exports are Mexico, China and Argentina. Because beekeeping does not use land, production of honey for export need not conflict with growing crops for local consumption.

beewax2. Beeswax
Beeswax is the material that bees use to build their nests. It is produced by young honeybees that secrete it as a liquid from special wax glands. Worker bees secrete wax when they are 14 to 18 days old. On contact with air, the wax hardens and forms scales, which appear as small flakes of wax on the underside of the bee. About one million wax scales make 1 kg of wax. Bees use the wax to build the well-known hexagonal cells that make up their comb, a very strong and efficient structure. Bees use the comb cells to store honey and pollen; the queen lays her eggs in them, and young bees develop in them. Beeswax is produced by all species of honeybees, although the waxes produced by different species have slightly different chemical and physical properties.

Composition and property
Alcohol's and fatty acids 70 to 74 per cent; free acids 13 to 15 per cent; saturated hydrocarbons 12 to 15 per cent; vitamin A 40961U; specific gravity 0.95; melting point 65°C.

Beewax is obtained from the cappings collected during honey extraction. Wax is obtained from old combs that are unfit for use and from combs damaged during honey extraction. Best grade wax is obtained from cappings where the recovery per cent is higher. In India, major proportion of wax is from combs of Apis  dorsata


  • Mainly used by candle industry
  • Used for preparing comb foundation sheets
  • Used in cosmetics like cold creams, lipsticks and rouges
  • Used in pharmaceutical and perfume industry (ointments, capsules, pill coating and deodorants)
  • Used for preparing shoe polish, furniture etc. for water proofing
  • Used in adhesives, chewing gums and inks etc.

It is used in the manufacture of very many items of cosmetics like beauty lotions and creams, lipsticks, ointments and pomades and of polishes for boots, floor and furniture, of lubricants, paint and varnishes, inks, electrical insulating apparatus and candles.

3. Bee venom
Sting of worker bee is attached to a poison sac where venom is stored. Newly emerged bee is unable to sting because she cannot insert the sting which is not fully chitinized. Also little amount of venom is stored in the venom sac. A bee, when two weeks old has maximum venom in her poison sac.

Bee venom contains histamine, apamine, acithinase, hydrochloric acid, formic acid, orthophosporic acid, sulphur, calcium, copper and magnesium sulphate.

Bee venom is commercially obtained by the use of electric shock. An electric current is passed through copper wires at 12 volts. The bees get shock, irritated and release venom by inserting the sting into a thin nylon cloth below the copper wires. Venom is deposited on a glass plate placed below the nylon sheet. The venom on drying is scrapped from the glass plate. One Mellifera colony yields about 50mg of venom.


  • Rheumatism can be cured by apitherapy where bees are made to sting the patient
  • Venom can be used as sub-cutaneous injection for treating rheumatism
  • Ointment made by mixing apitoxin, vasaline and salicylicacid (1:10:1) can be applied on affected areas.
  • It has stimulating effect on heart muscles and decreases cholesterol level and lowers blood pressure.
  • It can cure neurosis, endoarteriosis, endoarthritis and neuraglia
  • Antihistamine creams or injections are used as anti-allergents

4. Propolis
Propolis gathered by bees from resinous exudes of tree. In the bee colony propolis is used for sticking frames, sealing cracks and crevices but it is a contaminant of comb wax. Propolis is obtained by scrapping it from the frames.

It contains resins and balsams 55 per cent, ethanol and scented oils 10 per cent and pollen 5 per cent.


  • Used in preparing ointments for treating cuts, wounds and abscesses in cattle.
  • Mixed with vasallne to soothen burns.

5. Royal jelly
Royal jelly is secreted by gland of nurse bees of the age of 6 to 12 days when the glands are fully active. It is very nutritious food and is fed to the young worker larvae and the queen larva and adult. Royal jelly is milky or light pale in colour.
It contains proteins 15 to 18 per cent. Proteins are mainly amino acids (alanine, arginine, aspartic acid, gultonic acid, glycine, isoleucine, lysine, methionine, phenyl alanine, tryptophane, tyrosine and serine). It also contains lipids 2 to 6 per cent, carbohydrates 9 to 18 per cent (glucose, fructose, melibiose, trehalose, maltose and sucrose) and ash 0.7 to 1.2 per cent. Vitamin A, B and C, iron, copper, phosphorus, silicon and sulphur are also present.

The queen cell is trimmed to the level of the royal jelly. After 2 or 3 days of grafting, larvae are gently removed with forceps and the royal jelly is removed with royal jelly spoon. This is stored in refrigerated conditions. In case of Apis mellifera 200mg of royal jelly is obtained from a queen cell.


  • Responsible for queen determination
  • Very nutritious food for human beings

6. Pollen
It is collected by pollen trap from ingoing pollen foragers. Pollen is a rich protein source for human diet.

Uses of honey bee
In addition to providing man with very valuable materials as honey and beeswax, the honey bees are also useful to him in aiding in pollination of many of his crops. In fact, it has been claimed that the value of bees in pollination of crops is ten to twenty times the value of honey and wax they produce. Certain crops like apples, alfalfa and clover almost entirely depend upon bees for their pollination. Even among some regularly self-pollinated crops, the yield is considerably increased after visit of bees.


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