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!
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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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