A Bee Space, Pollen, Wax and Propolis Primer

It’s the time of year when there are lots of new beekeepers. For the next several months, we’ll be publishing some bee basics, many of them excerpted from writings by the late Walter T. Kelley, our founder. The following is from the highly recommended publication: HOW TO KEEP BEES AND SELL HONEY by Walter T. Kelley.

Bee Space

Bee hives and supers must be accurately made to provide the correct bee space inside the hive so that the bees can pass freely. A bee space may vary from 3/16 to 3/8 of an inch. If it is smaller the bees cannot get through so they will seal it up to keep out moths and other enemies. If the space is over 3/8 of an inch it will be too wide so they will proceed to bridge it with cross combs. The accepted standard for a bee space used in the manufacture of bee hives is 5/16 of an inch. This space is allowed at the top side of the supers and hive bodies. People who make homemade equipment seldom realize the importance of this bee space and as a result the parts become too badly propolized to be serviceable.


Pollen is the powdery-like substance that the bees gather from the flowers. It is produced on the stamens, the male part of the flower, and normally varies in color from a light cream, yellow, and even to a deep red. The bees store this pollen in pockets on their back legs and it is a common sight to see the bees going into the hive with large balls of this pollen on their legs.

Only a small part of the pollen is collected on the legs of the bees and much of it collects on the tiny hairs covering the bee’s body and this is dusted on the female parts of other flowers as the bees go from flower to flower thereby producing cross pollination. It is this cross pollination work that the bees accomplish unintentionally that makes bees so valuable in the production of many fruits and legume seed crops.

Pollen is normally stored in the brood nest just outside the ring of brood in a frame, as it is the main part of the young bees’ diet. It is not uncommon, however, to find nearly solid combs of pollen in the frames on the far sides of the brood nest and it is not uncommon to find a few cells in frames of honey near the brood nest, especially when queen excluders are not used.


Many uninformed people believe that pollen is what the bees make beeswax of but this is not true, although wax is colored by pollen. Beeswax is secreted from glands on the underside of the bee’s abdomen in a process similar to the secretion of milk by a cow. The bees chew these tiny wax scales into a plastic form and somehow unite these into honey comb that appears to be all of one piece.


Propolis is the general name for the bee glue that is gathered largely from the buds of trees. It is used by the bees to fill up cracks and will be found in quantity at the ends of frames. It is also used to seal in enemies found in the hive such as wax worms, mice, etc. The grey Caucasian bees glue up their entrances and use so much propolis that few beekeepers care to keep them on this account although they are very gentle.

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