Beeswax Rendering

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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.

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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.

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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)

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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.

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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.

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By duct taping the acrylic to the cooler, I have created a sun oven.

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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.

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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.

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As we see on the inside, it appears we have some clean wax and dark honey!

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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.

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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.

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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.

The Honey Harvest: Summer 2013

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I’ve been a bit delayed on posting about our rake from this summer. So here it is. This summer was a good summer to be a beekeeper.. for the most part. What a rainy season we’ve had, bouncing back from the terrible drought last year. While I took a significant amount of honey (23+ pounds), I could have had more if I did not have queen issues with both of my hives. At least this year the bees started with fully built comb in their frames from the work of the bees last year.

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As I had mentioned, between my two hives I was able to take over 23 pounds. My friend Mike has the same amount of hives and was able to take almost three times that amount at 65 pounds. There are many factors and guesswork associated with why this might be. For one thing, location and available resources play a key role as to how much honey they forage. However, my hive and Mike’s hive are both on my roof right next to eachother. So that is not likely the difference maker. Sometimes it is just the productivity level of the bees from the genes they have received from their ancestors.  While Mike and I both got our bee packages and queens from the same place, I happened to receive faulty queens for both of my hives. So, at a key point in the season when the bees should have been out foraging for the vastly available nectar, my bees were busy requeening the hive.

In this process, they must remove the current queen, transfer one of her eggs to a queen cell, and rear the new queen. Once born, the virgin queen must take a successful mating flight, return to the hive and start laying eggs. After the gestation period of about 21 days, new foraging bees will begin to emerge. This whole process can take anywhere from 3-5 weeks. In the meantime, no new bees are being born and the population takes a dip. With less workers, there is less production – simple as that.

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Regardless, it was still a lot of honey we took. If you recall, last years harvest was about 1/3 of this years and we only took the honey because the hive had died. This harvest translated into 32-8oz jars, 38-4oz jars, and 3-16oz jars (our personal stash). I plan to leave each hive with about 60-70 pounds of honey to eat over winter.

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My 23 pounds of honey were made up of 10 or 11 full frames of capped honey. I did have 1 foundationless frame that I was able to make cut comb honey out from.

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Here you see the results: two nice containers of 5″x5″ cut comb honey. Delicious.

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Over at Mike’s garden, his hive was super productive this year. However, for some reason they were much more aggressive than any of our other hives. Again, due to genetics. And that’s right.. there is a guy crouching there in a t-shirt and shorts. He was actually trying to get stung by the bees as a therapeutic measure (apitherapy). He lucked out and got stung 3 times as we stole honey.

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As we had taken many frames out of the hive, we left a lot of empty space. The bees filled this in with bees and wax.

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Here you can see the wax that they’ve built just within 24 hours of the frames being absent. This is a good example of their productivity.

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As we moved honey frames around we accidentally burst some comb, spilling honey. No worries, the bees flew in to clean up after us. Nothing will be wasted.

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Here Mike and I examine a frame we’ve uncapped, discussing how viscous the honey is this year.

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And there’s the pure honey coming out of the extractor. There are bits of wax, bee parts, and pollen that will be filtered out.

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Then finally onto the jarring. We washed all jars in the dishwasher in scolding hot water. Even if there was bacteria in the jars, honey is naturally anti-bacterial and would not allow the bacteria to spread.

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Nothing beats honey like this- fresh, golden, delicious, raw.

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Here is one of our 8oz jars.

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Thanks for reading. Hopefully you were lucky enough to pick up a jar of our honey before we sold out in 3 days!

 

 

 

 

 

When Everything Looked Great*

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Oh the good times.. when the queen was laying and the worker bees were bringing in honey and pollen. Where did those times go? Okay, that is a bit dramatic. In reality, this summer has the potential to create some strong colonies and produce lots of sweet, sweet, honey.

*Over at the garden, we’ve already dealt with Spencer’s hive swarming. My hive has had a great start to the beekeeping season with a few issues along the way.

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All the rain we have been having has been great as the bees have been raking in the nectar and making honey.

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Before installing this hive, I converted my solid bottom board into a screened bottom board. This allows better airflow in the hive and also helps control varroa mites.  When the varroa mites fall off a bee, rather than climbing back up and into the brood chamber, they fall through the screen and out of the hive. Unfortunately, the screen mesh I installed was just big enough for bees to squeeze through when entering and exiting the hive. When they squeeze through, the mesh scrapes their pollen baskets and flicks the pollen granule to the floor. What you see in the photo above is a pile of pollen under the hive. There has been a lot of pollen this year and I know they have also brought pollen in from the front, so I am not too concerned.

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Bee pollen is actually a super nutrient. Some people take bee pollen as a natural energy supplement. It also has a very interesting taste and texture. The bees won’t recollect the pollen once it has fallen on the ground. Rather than let this pollen go to waste, I collected most of it and put it in a jar in my fridge that I snack on from time to time. Just another delicious byproduct of beekeeping.

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Here is a great example of a good laying pattern.  You can see a little white rice-shaped egg in each empty cell. When a healthy queen is laying properly, the pattern is densely clustered, with one egg per cell.

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The egg develops into a larvae and eventually capped with wax. The capped larvae is the final stage of brood before hatching into a baby bee. Again this is a very dense pattern, which is great.

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Honey is also capped with wax. After the bees bring in nectar, they wait until they have the right level of moisture in the cells before capping it off, which is when it is officially considered honey.

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With a hive is thriving and doing great with resources, it is only natural that the bees start to consider swarming.  Here are two queen cups the bees have created in preparation to swarm. Looks like I will have some work ahead of me.

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I took some honey!


Here are some busy bees at the end of an Autumn season.  We had a few unusually warm days in the past couple of months.  You can see I already put the entrance reducer at the front of the hive to limit wind from getting in the hive.  It also helps the guard bees have less area to protect from any end of the year honey robbers or invaders of their hive.  However, as you can see in this image, there is high traffic at the entrance.


In preparing for Winter, I am going to be doing a bit of reorganizing of the frames and supers.  I am going to remove any completely empty frames (as seen above), as the bees will not use these as their foraging comes to close.  I will also make sure there are solid honey frames at the bottom and in the middle of the hive.  There should also be an energy supply (honey) in the supers above. The whole purpose the bees collect and create so much excess honey is to make sure they have enough to last them through the winter. This is something I consider before taking honey from them for my own consumption.


So here it is.  My take for the season.  A measly 1-sided 75% full frame of honey.  This is almost not worth taking, but I need to try some of my honey.  This might yield me a 12 oz jar if I’m lucky and do not lose much honey in the extraction process.  This is the only amount I felt comfortable taking from my 1st year hive.  Hopefully I left them 60 or 70 lbs of honey.  I’m not quite sure how much is in there.


This is the backside of that frame.  You can see there is a small section of capped honey.  I probably won’t even bother with this.


The dark cells in the frames are actually packed pollen.  Pollen is generally used for feeding brood in the rearing process, if I’m not mistaken.  Trace amounts of pollen end up in honey as well.  Unfortunately, neither the bees nor I will make use of this pollen.  Unlike honey, pollen does expire after a certain amount of time.  Also, there is no easy way to extract the pollen here for consumption.  I did however take a toothpick and pick out some cells and tried the pollen. It has an interesting sweetness, some more tart than others.  The tartness might be from expired pollen.

Mid-Autumn Hive Inspection


At the end of September, we were able to inspect the hive to determine if I was going to be able to to harvest any honey this year.  After the inspection, I decided to wait to take any honey from the hive.  At this point they still had a few weeks to gather nectar. We’ll see in a later blog post if I take any honey… 😉


Here are our working grounds. My hive is in disassembled mode on the right.


Lifting out a frame.  Looks like some busy bees!


Another busy frame of bees.  Look at all that capped brood.


Here was a frame FULL of capped honey. Woo hoo!  I’ll leave this one for the bees though. They deserve it.


Mike is inspecting his hive.


Just giving the girls a little smoke. Letting the know our presence and clouding their communication.


I’ll leave you with this photo of Mike inspecting one of his frames.