How I Refined My Beeswax

Last year we were devastated when we realized that another one of our bee colonies had died.  After pampering the girls over the winter with insulation and diapers (yes, diapers!), we thought we were actually successful in over-wintering our beehives! As new beekeepers (newbees), we felt we had really accomplished something, and we could officially call ourselves apiculturists!

Here is the colony “festooning” outside the hive on a very warm day last summer. This is normal , especially in the summer, though this behavior isn’t completely understood.

Well, just when we were patting each other on the back, one of our hives was attacked by Yellow Jackets or maybe Hornets…at least that is what we thought, and we found ourselves with another dead colony.

bull hornet

This is a Bald Faced Hornet.

We racked our brains for  some reason other than wasps, but after performing a necropsy on the hive, this was all we could come up with.  Yet, we were still puzzled.  We had reduced the hive entrances and had a strong hive, and it didn’t seem our varroa mite level was too high, so nothing was making much sense.

We purchased another colony to try again (our third time), and these bees went full speed from the moment we installed them.  We were ecstatic!  This hive was doing better than any we had installed previously!  But this last December, we realized we hadn’t seen any bees around the front of the hive, even on warmer days.  It was getting cold and we were busy building the house, so we decided to check them by opening the hive box on a warmer day when we had a spare moment.

A few weeks later we found another dead hive.  🙁

We were so distraught because it seemed we were becoming bee murderers!  We have tried for three years in a row to get a hive to survive the winter and it just isn’t happening.  What are we doing wrong?

Then, a little bird told us what was probably killing our bees.

The marijuana farmers!  We are surrounded by them and it was explained that some of them use very strong pesticides, especially in the late summer/early fall, among other illegal and frightening chemicals.  Unfortunately, all of the farmers around us are growing unlawfully, so it would make sense that they are using illegal methods and substances to grow their crop.

Ah Ha!  That makes sense! So it ISN’T our fault!

Unfortunately, until our government enforces the laws they make, there is nothing we can do about it.  Don’t get me wrong…if you are growing legally, more power to you!  But until our neighboring pot farmers are gone, or at least grow organically or have their pesticides regulated, we just can’t be beekeepers anymore.  So sad.

Since I didn’t want any of their hard work to go to naught, I cut the comb off the top bars and proceeded to refine the wax.

First things first – research!  Oh my, let me tell you, there are lots and lots of ways to refine bees wax.  You can melt it with water, or without.  You can strain it through cheesecloth or muslin or a paint strainer.  You can even make a solar thing-a-ma-jig that will melt the beeswax and separate it from the gunk using gravity.  Yup… there is gunk.

Apparently beeswax is very flammable, and me being a chicken, I decided to do the melt in water technique, which was really very simple.

So, this is some of the comb that I started with:

I placed the comb (that was now drained of most honey) in a large pot and added about 2 inches of water.  Heating the water/wax/gunk mixture over a medium flame, I continued stirring and breaking up clumps, while the wax melted in the hot water.  You don’t want the water to boil, but I found that the wax was all pretty much melted before the water actually started to simmer.  Now, all I had to do was let it cool and wait for the beeswax to rise to the top and solidify, which takes    F.   O.   R.   E.   V.   E.   R.

Well, at least overnight  😉

The next morning I couldn’t wait to see how my beeswax turned out.  The top looked okay with a few bumps of gunk here and there, but the bottom looked like this…

This is the bottom side of the beeswax. ICK! Can you see all that gunk stuck to the bottom of the wax, including pieces and parts of bees?

PLAN B

The bees wax all broken up with some new comb added in. Let’s see how this works!

I had previously purchased some “Painter’s Straining Cloth” at one of those big box stores and had used it to harvest the honey.  Just put your comb in the straining cloth bag and hang it in a warm place over a bowl, and the honey will stream out of the comb and into the bowl.  Squeeze it now and then to break the cells up to release more honey.  Once the honey is just barely dripping once every hour or so (it took ours about 3 days), it’s pretty much done.   I decided to break up the previously refined wax with all that gunk on it, add some more comb, and melt the whole mess together inside the straining cloth with a little bit of water.  I was a bit concerned that the painter’s cloth might melt because of the hot water, but it didn’t!

Oh, and now might be a good time to mention another piece of equipment you need…the large pot.  I found mine at Goodwill.  Mine is one of those large pots that are used to steam tamales, so it isn’t a really expensive or heavy pot.  DON’T use a pot you intend to cook food with ever again, because it’s next to impossible to get the pot completely cleaned up.  Beeswax is very hard and persistent! Also, the pot is big enough so that, when you are finished refining your beeswax, you can store the washed and dried straining cloth or cheesecloth or even your molds inside.

You can see in the next picture how I held the bag off the bottom of the pot so that it wouldn’t get too hot while the wax melted.

I also took my time with this batch and melted it at a slightly lower temperature because I didn’t add as much water and I had those broken up beeswax chunks.  All in all, it took about half an hour.

This time, once all the wax was melted, I decided not to take any chances of having more of that icky gunk stuck to the bottom side of the wax, so once I took out the bag that was now just mostly gunk, I poured the wax/water mixture through several layers of  cheesecloth into a very large margarine tub my mother gave me, which is now my official beeswax mold. It’s the perfect size. Judging from what was left behind on the cheesecloth, straining it was a good idea.

Once again, I had to wait for the wax to solidify and float above the water. Let me tell you, that wax stays hot for a long time.  By the way, if you get some hot wax on your skin, it will burn, very much like glue out of a hot glue gun, so BE CAREFUL!  Luckily, it’s wintertime with cold temperatures outside and no bees (honey or native) that would be attracted to the beeswax, so I was able to just leave it outside overnight!

Oh yes, we talked about the gunk, right?  Well, here is a picture of what was left inside the straining bag.

Prepare yourself, it’s pretty gross…

Most of that gunk is hundreds of individual capsules that the baby bee, aka brood, is reared in.  In the type of hive we are using – Kenyan Top Bar – the bees will raise brood, store pollen and store honey, all on one comb.  So, it is inevitable that some brood capsules will get into the beeswax.

The final results?

Isn’t that beautiful?  I am so sorry we can’t keep bees anymore, at least for now, but I have learned so much from the experience!  After all the harvesting, melting, filtering and waiting, I have three of these discs, and the effort was certainly worth it.

What will I make with the beeswax?   I might make some candles.  I just adore the smell of beeswax candles.  I also saw a tutorial on making lip balm with beeswax, very much like Burt’s Bees, which also sounds very appealing to me.  Or perhaps some of those reuseable wax cloths that can be used instead of plastic wrap.  Who doesn’t want to get more plastic out of their lives?

How about you…do you have any suggestions?  If you have a blog with a tutorial on this subject, please feel free to put your post in the comments, so we can all learn. Thanks!

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Energizing Our New Off-Grid Home

How to run a freezer with solar power

Our temporary solar power tower.  We will need a much bigger system to run our new house.

We have been doing lots of research about off grid solar systems for our new home.  For the last three or four years, we have dabbled in small solar systems that run our temporary living quarters, and have gained a basic knowledge of how off-grid solar systems work.

Well…at least Ray has knowledge in this department!  I still can’t get my head around the difference between watts and amps, inverters and charge controllers, and……..

ugh……..

Anyway, we’ve been talking with sales reps from different companies about setting up and installing a system for us.  Quite frankly, we were shocked at how much their systems were going to cost!

As I mentioned above, we have installed our own small solar systems that run our freezer, small refrigerator, satellite TV dish, flat screen TV and a bunch of LED lights, and so we are aware of the general cost of solar panels and all the components to run the whole shebang.  Therefore, we had a general idea of what a whole house solar system was going to cost, but unfortunately, we didn’t expect them to charge twice the cost of the equipment to install the system!

That’s when we found a few companies online that sell solar system “packages” to homeowners that can then do the installation themselves, or at least most of the installation.  We zeroed in on two of those online/direct to consumer companies.

One of those companies, Wholesale Solar, was only a few hour’s drive from our homestead, so we decided to drive up there in person and see what they could offer us.  Their online store lists quite a few options according to kWh size, ranging from a small 1 kWh system for a tiny weekender cabin up to a 16 kWh system for a large ranch.  They were also offering a 10% discount on an entire system, so we were onboard with that!

We had a great trip!  It was good to get away from the homestead and see the sights.  Mt. Shasta (the mountain) is right behind Mt. Shasta (the town and where Wholesale Solar is located) and is absolutely gorgeous!

Our first trip to Wholesale Solar. Isn’t Mt Shasta beautiful?

During our scheduled meeting, we met with Cheyenne, System Design & Sales Technician for Wholesale Solar.  Although we were pretty sure which “package” would work for us and were ready to purchase the system that day, she insisted that we go home after our meeting and do some research to figure out which electrical appliances we would use and how much power they would require, then send her this list so she could evaluate how big (or little) our system should be.

A freezer run on solar power

We used the stated manufacturer’s numbers to figure out how many kWh we would need for our everyday living.  This one is for our small 5 cubic foot chest freezer.

We sent her a sheet of the electrical appliances we plan to install, along with their kWh rating and our hours/day of estimated usage.  We used a lot of manufacturer’s baseline amounts, such as 5 hours of TV a day (which is what they rate their kWh usage per year on), though I doubt we will actually watch TV for 5 hours a day!  We sent e-mails relating to our potential usage back and forth for a couple of weeks, and it was then that I was starting to feel that Cheyenne was being unreasonable.  You see, our future potential usage is really an arbitrary amount that can only be estimated!  How can we say how many hours our whole house fan is going to run next summer, or the summer after that?  Who knows how hot it will be?  It’s all an educated guess!

But, the truth is, we appreciated her nit pickyness because we certainly didn’t want to come up short in the energy department.  When we all agreed which of their “packages” worked best for us, Ray and I were pleased to see that the system didn’t need to be as big as one the “other guy” wanted to sell us.

I had sent the same usage amounts to the second online solar store, and  got a decent quote from them within one week, but it was only a “sample” bid.  So, when we got the final bid from Wholesale Solar, we sent that bid to this second company to see if they could do any better.  They replied that the bid was solar panel heavy and battery light, and then gave us another “sample bid”.  I guess they didn’t want to give us a “real” bid?

That’s okay.  We really like the people at Wholesale Solar, and we also like to spend our dollars as locally as possible, so we decided to go with them.  One thing we did decide to do, however, was to NOT buy our batteries…yet.

how to run a freezer off grid

Here is the charge controller, inverter and batteries for our small solar system that runs the freezer.

Why?  OMG.  If you look at all the different battery options for off-grid homes, I can guarantee that it will make your head spin.  Last year we were actually on the list to get the new Tesla Powerwall.  This is supposed to be the next generation of energy storage and we were excited to be one of their first customers.  UMMmmm…No.  When we were finally “graced” with a phone call from one of their sales representatives, he informed us that even though we were originally told this would be good for off-grid situations, they would not sell it as an off-grid battery.

Well.  Nuts.  Back to square one.

As it turns out, there is a company in Germany that produces a battery very similar to the Tesla Powerwall, called the Sonnenbatterie, which apparently costs less anyway!  But wait.  Then we found out about Lithium IRON batteries. And salt water batteries. And then there is the old tried and true L16’s (fork lift batteries).  We haven’t made a decision yet, and that’s okay because the house doesn’t even have the walls up yet.  We have time.

So, what we purchased from Wholesale Solar was the solar panels along with the brains of the system (inverter, charge controller, etc.), mounting brackets and wire.  We also bought a Kohler propane generator as a back-up.  And, so far this company has been very helpful and “hands on” in terms of customer service.  They even provide all the information needed to get the solar permit!

To save money on shipping (and have the opportunity for another fun, short excursion) we decided to pick up the system ourselves. We have a flat bed trailer that has come in very handy lately.  We brought up all our Faswall blocks on this trailer and will soon be hauling up all of the concrete blocks (CMU’s) for our retaining wall.

On our first trip up to Mount Shasta, we stayed at a hotel in Dunsmuir called The Oaks, which was the cheapest hotel we have stayed in…ever!   After one night in a clean, quiet room with a king sized bed along with all the amenities (flat screen TV, microwave, coffee maker, ref/freezer) we had a wonderful breakfast – included in the price!  All for less than $70.

SERIOUSLY!!!!

Our “free” breakfast after a very pleasant night in The Oaks, all for LESS than $70.

We did some sightseeing, and then we had lunch in the town of Dunsmuir at a place called Yak’s.

When we saw Yak’s from the freeway, we laughed ourselves silly at the name.  Isn’t that what the kids call, um, regurgitation?  And it’s the name of a restaurant?  Of course, we had to check it out and I took this picture to prove to my family and friends that there really is a restaurant called Yak’s!   It was good, and, no, we didn’t yak. 😉

We drove 10 miles up the road from Dunsmuir to the town of Mt. Shasta and the Wholesale Solar warehouse, and met Shae.  Shae was a very polite and friendly young gentleman who helped us load everything onto our flatbed trailer. Within an hour’s time, we were on our way back home.

This was the view of Mt Shasta two months after the first picture above, when we were at the warehouse picking up our system. After a few snow storms, the mountain was gleaming in white…so beautiful!  Could you imagine living in that home?

The drive home was uneventful and we made it to our property in record time, not that we were in a hurry.  Whew – we were lucky because the weatherman was calling for snow that morning, but we had dry roads all the way home.

Our solar panels all stacked together, and the back-up generator.

It’s going to be fun to finally get the panels installed, but we have to get our walls up first!  My next post will be all about the rebar in the walls.

Spoiler alert… we just (yesterday) passed our first county inspection for the walls, including the electrical conduit, the gas piping and the rebar.  Next comes the special inspection and then pouring our first “lift”.

It’s starting to get exciting and it finally feels real!

Thank Goodness It’s MondayGrand SocialMix It Up MondayCreate, Link, Inspire;  Amaze Me Monday,  Over The MoonHearth and SoulShow & Share Tuesday;  Brag About ItTuesdays with a TwistThe Scoop;  Inspire Me TuesdaysTuesdays at Our Home;  Party In Your PJ’s;  Make, Bake and Create;   Wined Down Wednesday;  Fluster’s Creative Muster;  Homestead Blog HopWow Us Wednesday;  Waste Less WednesdayAIM LinkyTalk of the TownHealthy,Happy & NaturalOur Simple Homestead; Share Your Cup Thursday;  Home and Garden Thursday;  Think Tank Thursday;  Homemaking Party;  This Is How We RollNo Rules Weekend PartyBlogger’s Pit StopFriendship Friday;  Family Fun Friday;  Awesome Life Friday;  Home MattersTraffic Jam WeekendFriday FeaturesFlaunt it FridaySaturday Sparks;  Dare to ShareScraptastic Saturday;  Happiness is HomemadeAnything Goes Pink SaturdaySimple SaturdaysSaturday ShuffleThat DIY Party;  Snickerdoodle SundayDishing it & Digging It

 

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