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Know the full potential of the hive: how beekeepers can increase their income through the production of other beehive products

We would like to invite you to the next moderated discussion “Know the full potential of the hive: how beekeepers can increase their income through the production of other beehive products”. This will be a discussion about the less known beehive products propolis, beebread and bee larvae and about how beekeepers can increase their income and health through the production and use of these beehive products.

The discussion will be moderated by Antonio Couto, International Apitherapy Consultant and Natural Therapist, expert in bee venom therapy (BVT).  Antonio has been working with beehive products since 2000. In his private practice in Portugal he uses Apitherapy and bee venom therapy to deal with health issues. He is also traveling the world to teach and promote apitherapy.  Antonio is president of the Portuguese Apitherapy Association and co-founder of the ONG “Bees For Life” (Apitherapists without borders).  He also invented devices and instruments for Micro Api-punture (Bee Venom Therapy).

Antonio will be moderating the discussion from 27 November to 31 December 2017. During this time, he will share relevant practical information and knowledge with all people interested in beekeeping and apitherapy in developing countries so that they can increase their income from beekeeping and use the beehive products to enhance their health.   You will learn about propolis, beebread and bee larvae and discover how to produce them, extract them from the hive, store them and use these products for improved health.

If you are curious and want to learn already a bit about the health benefits of these and other beehive products, you can read the TECA discussion on Apitherapy: http://teca.fao.org/discussion/apitherapy

Please feel free to invite your friends and colleagues and all who might be intersted in the topic to join the discussion.  Remember, to post a question or share an experience, you first have to log-in.  If you are not a  registered member yet, you can register here: http://teca.fao.org/user/register

We are looking forward to a very intersting exchange of information ! 



1.       What is pollen?

Pollen is a food composed by a large group of constituents (minerals, vitamins, proteins and fatty acids), which make it suitable for the energy needed and required for the bees to fly and other activities of life in adult bees.  Because of that large amount of vitamins, minerals, etc., pollen is a very interesting product to provide health and energy to the human body.

To see more about pollen composition please see “pollen as food” http://teca.fao.org/comment/2318#comment-2318

Each grain of pollen is microscopic (please see picture 1) and has the characteristic color of the plant flower (please see the pictures 2, 3 and 4).

Bees collect pollen from the flowers (please see picture 2, 3 and 4) and carry pollen (to the hive) in small balls on their hind legs (please see picture 5) to the hive. These balls can contain between 100,000 to 2 million microscopic pollen grains (please see picture 1), dependng the ball size.

When the bees starts to collect pollen from one flower it remains on the same species of flower until the pollen ball is sufficiently large to take it to the hive.  That’s the reason why one pollen ball is always one colour only (please see picture 6).

Inside the hive, the bees deposit the pollen balls into the wax cells, where other bees introduce layers of honey and more pollen (please see pictures 7 and 8).  The honey helps to conserve the pollen.

Picture 1 -  Microscopic picture of many different pollen types (from different plant species) – internet picture

Picture 2 – Bee collecting pollen (white colour) – Antonio Couto picture

Picture 3 – Bee collecting pollen (Orange colour) – internet picture

Picture 4 – Bee collecting pollen (yellow colour) – internet picture

Picture  5  – Bees at the entrance of the hive with pollen balls on their legs – Antonio Couto picture

Picture 6 – Many pollen balls from different floral sources (different colours) – Antonio Couto picture

Picture 7 – Bees mixing honey with different colours of pollen – internet picture

Picture 8 - Bees mixing pollen balls with honey inside the wax comb – internet picture

2.       How to collect pollen from the hive?

The beekeeper collects the pollen before the bees enter the hive. For that beekeeper needs to remove the pollen from the bees’ legs before they enter into the hive. A special hive entrance (pollen collector or pollen trap) is the solution (please see picture 10). A pollen collector is not more than a box with little holes (or a net) installed in front of the hive entrance through which the bees have to pass to enter the hive. Because the holes of the pollen collector are exactly the size of the bee, the pollen balls cannot pass with the bee and fall down on the floor of the pollen collector (please see picture 11).  For information on how to build a pollen trap, see the TECA technology: How to collect raw pollen from the hive: http://teca.fao.org/read/8672

2.1 Collecting pollen

Pollen should be collected every day (or every other day) because if pollen is not collected and processed every day (or every other day) it will ferment and/or mold will start growing on the pollen. Such pollen is not suitable for human consumption anymore.

The beekeeper should also avoid that ants or other insects can get to the pollen and eat or remove the pollen before the beekeeper can collect it.

Picture 9 – Pollen collector installed at the entrance of the hive. Bees are forced to pass through the holes of the pollen collector (green screen) to enter the hive.   The pollen will fall off the hind legs of the bees through the blue grid and are collected in a box. Antonio Couto picture.

Picture 10 – Bees entering into the hive through the holes of the pollen collector. The pollen pellets are “detached” from hind legs of the bees and fall in the collector box under the blue grid where they wait for the beekeeper to collect them later.

Picture 11 – Box where the pollen pellets are collected. Note the different colours of the pollen pellets

Picture 12 – Beekeeper collecting pollen from the hive.  You can see me taking the picture 11

3.       How to process pollen

After collecting pollen, the beekeeper should clean the pollen. By cleaning I mean that pollen balls should be separated from any dirt that may be mix with the pollen balls. Not only dirt blown by the wind but also pieces of bees like legs and/or wings that also can fall down in the pollen collector with the pollen balls.  It is important that the cleaning and processing is done in a clean environment and that only clean material is used. It is mandatory to wash your hands before you start manupilating the pollen !

3.1 Processing pollen

Because its water content, pollen needs to be dried or frozen as soon as it is collected to preserve all its good properties (vitamins, minerals, proteins and fatty acids) and to avoid spoiling of the pollen. The best way to preserve all the properties is freezing pollen and defreezing only when pollen is consumed. Drying pollen can be done using a special pollen dryer but some of the good properties of pollen can decrease with the drying process.

(please see the TECA technology "How to process pollen": http://teca.fao.org/read/8755).

4.       How to store pollen

Fresh pollen should be stored in freezer at -10ºC or more (picture 13) to keep all good properties. Dried pollen should be stored in airtight containers in a dark place. Dry pollen doesn’t need to be stored in a freezer or refrigerator because the water content was eliminated in the drying process.

If you are not able to freeze or dry the pollen, fresh pollen can be mixed with pure honey. The pollen should be well mixed with the honey to avoid air bubbles inside the honey, and should be completely covered by the pollen.  Leave the mixture for 2 weeks to allow the pollen to dissolve in the honey. You should turn the jar containing the mixture every day to allow for the pollen to mix completely with the honey. This mixture can be stored at room temperature for up to a year.

Please see also the TECA technology “How to process pollen”: http://teca.fao.org/read/8755.

Picture 13 – Pollen stored in the freezer. Antonio Couto picture

5.       How to sell pollen

It is better to put pollen (dried or frozen) in small plastic bags (please see picture 14) or in jars (50g, 100g or 200g) because that way people can buy it and consume it rapidly which is good in case of the client has not good conditions to store it. Freshly frozen pollen, when removed from the freezer should not be unfrozen and frozen again.  If a customer buys freshly frozen pollen, it should be transported in a cool box or bag and put back into the freezer immediately when the customer arrives home.  When the customer wants to consume the pollen, only the quantity that will be consumed immediately should be removed from the freezer. The rest of the pollen should be kept in the freezer.

It is very important that the pollen is properly processed and stored after collection to avoid spoilage of the pollen and to avoid possible health hazards. In some countries, it might be difficult to process and/or store the pollen correctly. For example in tropical countries with a high percentage of humidity in the air, it can be difficult to dry the pollen properly if no appropriate device (dryer) is available to dry the pollen. Likewise, in areas with poor or unstable electricity supply, it is not advisable to store pollen in a freezer. A good idea could be to collect the pollen on a daily basis from the hives and consume it the same day, after removing any debris or to mix it with honey as described above. Or, a better idea would be to collect only beebread from the hive.

Picture 14 – Pollen bags (50g and 100g) – Antonio Couto picture.

I will stop here now.  On Friday, I will share with you information about bee bread.   If you have any questions about what I explained about pollen, feel free to ask.  I am also curious to hear about your experiences with pollen. 

Good wishes,


Dear followers of this discussion,

Today, I will explain more information about bee bread.

First of all, let's see what is bee bread

Bee bread is a mixture of pollen and honey made by the bees inside the comb cells (please see the picture 15).  

As I already explained before, bees collect pollen and store it in the wax combs mixing it with honey. It is kept in the cells until the pollen is dissolved and ready to be consumed by the bees. So bee bread is more powerful than only pollen because it is a combination of two bee products: honey and pollen. It is a product “ready to be consumed” with all the power and the good properties of pollen and honey together.

Picture 15 – Layers of pollen and honey inside the wax combs. Internet picture

To collect and process bee bread is very simple.  There are several methods. I will explain two.

The first method requires a freezer. For this method, my recommendation would be however not to use more bee bread than what you will be able to consume within 2 days.  The method is as follows: 

1 - Choose and take, from the hive, some frames with bee bread (please see picture 16) and put them inside the freezer for 2 or 3 days. That will freeze all the wax and the bee bread.

2 - Remove the frames from the freezer.

3 – Put a clean plastic sheet on the table and use clean plastic or rubber cloves.

4 - With your fingers, break the wax combs where the bee bread is deposited. Frozen bee bread is hard and will not break so easily. The frozen wax comb on the other hand will break very easily.

5 – Remove the wax comb pieces, put them aside and collect the bee bread into one clean jar or plastic bag.

The bee bread should be consumed immediately or you can store it up to 2 days in a fridge or put it back into the freezer immediately

The second method is the best option for countries where electricity supply is unstable or no freezer/fridge is available. It is to remove pieces of comb with bee bread directly from the hive and consume it immediately. You can eat the wax and bee bread together, without removing the wax first. Just chew the bee bread and the wax, there is no problem to swallow the wax, it is a safe product to eat. If you don't want to swallow all the wax, you can throw away the pieces of wax after you have chewed it well and there is no bee bread left anymore in the wax. With this second method, there is no risk for deterioration of the bee bread through storage.  The safest place to store bee bread is inside the hive !

Picture 16 – Frame with bee bread inside the wax combs. Picture by Antonio Couto 

How should we store bee bread ?

Bee bread, contrary to fresh pollen can be stored more easily because it is a product that is already fermented and that way it will not  degrade so rapidly like fresh pollen when out of the freezer. However bee bread can also degrade if it is stored too long in a warm place.  It should be kept in a dry and cool place or fridge (in case you want to store it for long periods of time). That way bee bread properties will be preserved for longer time. 

Fresh bee bread like fresh pollen has an important amount of humidity so it is necessary to store it in a freezer or to consume it within 2 or 3 days from collection if you don't have a freezer. 

If you want to sell bee bread, the best ways is to sell it in small plastic bags or jars to be consumed rapidly. 

You might want to know what is the difference between bee bread and pollen from a nutritional point of view.

Well, because pollen is mixed with honey by the bees and in that process the bees add some enzymes from their stomach, the final product (bee bread) is more powerful because it has more nutrients than only pollen.  Bee bread is also easier to digest by our body, even if taken with other kind of food.

To conclude, I will share briefly some information on how and when to use pollen and bee bread.  You can read more in the discussion on apitherapy: http://teca.fao.org/discussion/apitherapy

In case you don’t have a freezer, fresh pollen can be consumed as soon as the bees collect it, during the spring and in summer.  The bee bread could be saved (in the hive) to consume during periods when less flowers are available and when it is not possible to collect pollen from the hive.  Remember, when manipulating pollen or bee bread, you should always wash your hands first with soap and clean water, use clean equipment, and store your products in clean containers, in a cool place and out of the sunlight. 

Remember, pollen is food for the bees, you should only collect pollen and/or bee bread with moderation from the hive. Don't put too much pressure on your bees by collecting too much and for too long a period pollen. If you have several hives, alternate pollen collection between hives, so that the bees have enough quality food inside the hive to feed the larvae and the queen and can also build of stocks for periods of reduce availability of pollen. Your priority should be to have strong hives at all times !  Developing a floral calendar for your area could be useful for you to know when the plants that provide more pollen are flowering and when you can safely remove pollen from the hive without putting too much pressure on the bees.  Also, pollen from certain types of plants have special properties that can be used for therapeutic reasons.  If you are interested, we can address this topic in a different discussion.

As you know already, I am available to answer all of your questions.  So please, feel free to ask them !

Best wishes,


In Tanzania the beekeepers have started to collect propplis from the hives. Some propolis collected i observed to be very dry. Some are collected from hive openings and may become oxidized and dried. Propolis collected inside the hives become very sticky and difficulty to grind to obtain powder ready for making extract.


My question is how to get instrument for making propolis powder ready for extract? how to grind? thank you.


Second, we also get propolis from stingless bee colonies that we kept in hives size of common nuclear box.  Propolis from stingless bee is easy to collect  but is also very sticky. I will send to you picture of stingless bee propolis.


Stephen Msemo

Dear Stephen,

Thanks for your question.

I would like to make clear that you don't need to have propolis powder to make propolis extract. You can mix the raw propolis after collection, directly with alcohol or another kind of solvent.

It is only necessary to have powder if you want to fill capsules.

In case of liquid propolis to make propolis powder the best will be mix with alcohol and when the extraction is complete evaporate the alcohol. After evaporation of alcohol you obtain propolis paste. This paste is still sticky.  If you want to obtain powder, you can mix the proplis paste with silica powder. In this case, the propolis will not be sticky anymore and you will be able to fill the capsules.

When the raw propolis is solid and hard (like in Brazil for example) the best is using acoffee mill to make small piece of propolis, to improve the extraction (more contact surface with smaller pieces).

Generally stingless bees don't produce so clean propolis as stinging bees. I know very well the reality in Brazil of stingless bees and there the more clean propolis is from Jatai stingless bee. The other stingless bees can have clean propolis or not (depending of the materials they have near by). Stingless bees collect all kinds of materials to use as propolis. In some cases animal feces..... or other kind of materials not so good for us to use as a remedy. 

So please pay attention when using propolis from stingless bees.

All the best



We will now move to the 3rd beehive product that we are going to talk about in this discussion: bee larvae.

We can find 3 types of bee larvae: queen, drone and worker bee larvae. Bee larvae have been consumed by humans for thousands of years as a protein source. Each of the three types of bee larvae have a similar nutritional composition.

A study published in Journal of Asia-Pacific Entomology provides some interesting information on the nutritional value of bee larvae as food:

“Proximate nutrient compositions of dry larvae, pupae and adults of worker Apis mellifera ligustica were determined. Chemical analyses of the samples were carried out and the amounts of 16 amino acids, 10 fatty acids and 12 metals were measured and compared with their occurrences in conventional foods of animal and plant origin. Our results show that as the larvae progress to the imago stage, carbohydrate and fat contents decrease from 46.1 and 14.5% to 30.6 and 6.9%, respectively, while protein amounts increase from 35.3 to 51%. Honeybees at all developmental stages could be an ideal food item on account of their high protein content, balanced composition of saturated and mono-unsaturated fatty acids, and in particular their highly significant amounts of iron and zinc. We conclude that not only would bees as a source of food, feed, or dietary supplement be able to ameliorate the prospects of global food security but they could also improve the economic situation of the small and medium scale bee keepers if they themselves in addition to other hive products became an accepted hive product.  - Journal of Asia-Pacific Entomology - Volume 19, Issue 2, June 2016, Pages 487-495  (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1226861515302521)

The below graph shows the percentage of protein, lipid (fats) and carbohydrates in an adult worker bee (apis mellifera), pupae and dry larvae.  You can see that the 3 contain an important amount of protein.

Journal of Asia-Pacific Entomology - Volume 19, Issue 2, June 2016, Pages 487-495

Bee larvae are a very nutritious food (source of protein) for man and animals and have also therapeutic properties. Because drone larvae have the highest nutritional value compared to worker brood and because by removing drone brood, the beekeeper does not so much interfere with the development of the bee colony,  I will continue to talk only about drone brood.

Drone larvae have the highest nutritional value 10 days after the queen laid the egg (12 days for the worker bee larvae). Therefore, if possible, it is best to use larvae of 10 days old (i.e. 10 days after the laying of the eggs).   The below chart can help you to identify larvae of 10 days old.  For drone brood, the best time to extract the brood is just before the capping of the cell.

Picture 1 - Development cycle of the three bee castes (drone, worker, queen), from egg to adult. Source: http://www.dummies.com/home-garden/hobby-farming/beekeeping/tracking-the...

It is easy to see the difference between worker brood and drone brood. The wax cells where the drone larvae are, are larger than those of workers and the operculum of the capped drone brood is more convex (dome-shaped). (Please see picture 2).

Picture 2 – Drone brood can be seen in the lower part of the picture (bigger cells with domed capping) and the worker brood can be seen on the top part of the frame on the picture (smaller cells) – Antonio Couto picture

Collecting bee larvae

As I mentioned before, the best time to collect drone larvae is 10 days after the queen has laid the egg because it is at day 10 that the drone larva has the maximum nutritional value. To know when the larva has 10 days you need to control the new eggs from the queen. An easy way to do that is by puting 2 marked frames with about 10 cm of foundation sheet on the top, one on each side of the hive (last frame). The queen will start to lay eggs into the new frames, probably also drones in the lower part of the frame. Ten (or twelve) days after the drawing of the combs, you can remove those frames to collect the larvae. Of course, it is also possible to consume bee larvae with less or more than 10 days.

Collect, from the hive, the entire frames with bee larvae or cut the part of the frame where the drone larvae are (generally in the bottom part of the frame). Use a clean knife and put the combs or pieces of comb inside a clean (closed) container. Ideally the larvae should be stored in a cool box, especially when it is very hot, to avoid deterioration of the larvae.  You should consume the larvae as soon as possible or else  freeze the combs.  Another way is to wrap the frame into a clean humid towel to maintain the humidity and avoid the larvae to dry and die before you eat them. This way, you can store the larvea up to 2 days. Remember that inside the hive, there is high humidiy and high temperature. So to safely store the larvae, try to replicate the hive conditions to keep the larvae alive as long as possible if you don’t have cooling facilities. 

See also the TECA technology on how to collect larvae: http://teca.fao.org/technology/how-collect-drone-larvae-bee-hive

Removing the larvae from the wax combs

1. the easiest method is to freeze the wax comb. It will be easy to remove the frozen larvae from the cells one by one with a fine tweezer, or in case you don’t have a tweezer it is also possible to shake the comb on a clean plate in a way that the larvae fall down into the plate. That way the larvae will not be damaged by the tweezer. The larvae should be cooked immediately (still frozen) or frozen again before they thaw.

2. Another method is putting fresh clean water directly into the freshly collected wax combs where the bee larvae are and then shake the larvae out of the wax combs onto a clean plate. The larvae should be dried afterwards (f.eg. with paper towel) if you want to store them.

3. It is also possible to squeeze juice out of the freshly collected larvae. After collecting the wax combs with the larvae, cut the comb into small pieces and put these inside a clean cloth bag. Squeeze the pieces of comb with larvae  with your hands and collect the juice into a clean glass jar. The larvae juice should be consumed immediately or stored in a freezer.

How to process bee larvae

After collecting the bee larvae, they can be consumed (raw or cooked) immediately or frozen to consume later. When freezing larvae, it is better to store the larva in small jars or bags (individual dose) so that only the portion that will be consumed immediately can be removed from the freezer. It is not a good idea to freeze and unfreed larvae (and any other type of food) several times.

See also the TECA technology on how to process larvae: http://teca.fao.org/technology/how-process-raw-drone-larvae-value-added-products

How to store larvae if no freezer is available

Larvae have a high water content and hence they ferment and deteriorate very rapidly. Therefore after collecting it is necessary to consume the larvae immediately or to dry them to eliminate the excess of water.  Dried larvae can be easily and safely stored and consumed later without any problems of loosing the good larvae nutritional. Drying larvae is a complex process that requires special drying machines (lyophilization or low heating dryers). So if you don’t want to consume the larvae immediately after collecting and you don’t have that kind of drying machine, the best alternative is to cook them immediately after collection. Cooked larvae can be preserved for 2 or 3 days in the fridge. You can boil or fry the larvae according to your preference.  Another way is to mix the cooked larvae with honey to preserve them from one to four weeks (depending if you store it in a cool place).

How to consume larvae and which amounts

I recommend to consume larvae immediately after collection. That way we have always the best quality and also the maximum nutritional value when we consume them.  Collect only the quantity of larvae that you can eat (or sell) the same day.

Because of the high protein level of bee larvae I always suggest my patients (children and adults) to eat bee larvae when possible.  Many health problems have their origin in nutritional deficiencies. So if you want to address a disease, improving the nutritional situation of the body is often a good start.  The quantity of larvae for an adult is around 50 to 70 g and for children half the amount.

I want to make clear that the amount of larvae collected from the hive should be controlled in order not to disrupt the healthy development of the bee colony. The spring season, when the queen lays more eggs and the prodution of new bees and drones increases dramatically, will be the best time to collect larvae. As I mentioned before, I think that the best is to collect only drone larvae and leave the worker larvae in the hive. Strong colonies can produce more honey and other bee products and will be able to protect the colony better against bee diseases and enemies. 

You are welcome to ask all the questions you want !



Dear friends,

It was a great pleasure for me to have shared this information about bee products and how they can help us to live better, longer and with good health and at the same time increase our financial capacity.
As we have seen, being a beekeeper is not only producing honey. It is a very important activity for society: not only financially but also for public health. By making available to the general public the products of the hive, we may change people's lives for the better.
I invite all those people interested in knowing more about bee products and its properties to send their ideas or suggestions for future discussion about bee products.
Good New Year to all.
Antonio Couto