When most people think about beekeeping, the big harvest is for the honey. Another byproduct of honeybees is of course beeswax. Beeswax is popularly used in candles, soaps, beauty products, and even as a wood finish. To obtain clean, pure beeswax, it is actually quite a laborious process.
It all starts during the honey extraction process. First, in effort to expose the honey, the wax caps are cut or scrapped off each cell. I like to scrap them into a tupperware container to collect them for later.
Last year when Mike and I extracted honey from our hives, I saved all the wax in a sealed bucket until now. Again this year Mike and I collected the beeswax during the extraction process. When you collect the wax you get everything that was in the wax including bee parts, honey, pollen, and propolis. Before beeswax is usable, it must be rendered to a clean and pure form.
As with everything in beekeeping there are different ways to achieve the same result. Because this was my first time rendering beeswax, I didn’t want to invest heavily in equipment or mess up the kitchen and cooking utensils. Instead I took the approach of creating a solar wax melter.
What I used for this was:
– a cheap styrofoam cooler
– a large ziploc container
– a sheet of acrylic (or plexiglass)
– aluminum foil
– duct tape
– a paint strainer (or panty hose)
I put the ziploc container in the strainer and tied the end off. The top needs to be pretty tight to prevent the wax on top from sagging into the melted wax. I then lined the styrofoam cooler with tin foil to reflect the sun’s rays.
I put as much beeswax as I could fit on top of the strainer and into the cooler. Then I cut the acrylic sheet down to size to act as the lid for the cooler, allowing sun rays in.
By duct taping the acrylic to the cooler, I have created a sun oven.
I know it’s hard to imagine in our current winter weather, but if you remember back to the hot summer days of August, there were many days that were perfect for solar wax melting.
Here you can see the mesh has filtered out all of the old wax, pollen residue, and any bee parts that were stuck in the wax.
As we see on the inside, it appears we have some clean wax and dark honey!
The amount of beeswax you harvest depends on what style of honey extraction you use. Because we rent and use a centrifuge to extract the honey, we are able to keep most of the comb in tact and simply scrap and remove the wax cappings. Alternatively, some people prefer the method known as crush and strain. In this method, you remove all the comb from the honey frame into a bowl or bucket and crush the comb and strain the honey. The problem with this method is that by destroying all that wax comb to access the honey, you are creating a lot more work for the bees to rebuild next time they want to store honey. Not only are you creating more work for them, but they must use precious resources to create new wax. For every 1oz of beeswax created, honeybees must consume about 6oz of honey for energy. On the positive side, this method requires very little additional equipment to be purchased or rented.
Nothing goes to waste. We were able to reclaim about 32 oz of honey that was caught up in the wax. Because this went through my solar over, it is no longer considered raw. I’ve started branding this as “cooking honey” due to the fact that it went through a heating process just as you would when using honey to cook. The color of the honey also became darker as it was heated.
In my harvest, I only ended up with about 2lbs of beeswax. This will go a lot further in making beauty products as opposed to something like candles. In my next post, I will share what I ended up doing with most of the beeswax.