This week I'm getting my hands dirty and also posting a transcription of Episode 41 of my podcast, Beekeeping Short and Sweet. Check out my podcast on your favourite podcast app.
Well, I don’t know about you guys but for me, As the season progresses we seem to be constantly accumulating beeswax in a range of different guises, brace comb, burr comb, frames that have become too old and need replacing, frames that have been drawn out just the ways the bees want it but completely at odds with how we would like it. You probably know the frames I'm talking about, the ones where the bees draw the comb at all sorts of odd angles to the foundation that you have so lovingly put in for them. I normally find this is because the foundation is a little old and the bees don't take to it immediately. Alternatively, they build comb nicely down from the top bar but away from the foundation so you end up with a frame of unused foundation and a nicely drawn slab of comb that can only be viewed from one side. Sometimes I find I have given the bees too much space and they draw out a perfectly rectangular slab of comb from the crown board and again whilst it is perfect for the bees it makes inspecting difficult and it needs to be removed.
There are probably lots more places the bees can build comb that doesn't quite fit in with our uniform boxes and hives and so we cut it out and take it away.
What to do with it once it's been removed though, for beginner beekeepers this can be a tricky question and without any knowledge of what to do next it can easily find it's way into the bin. But before you do that let me give you some ways in which you can make much better use of this oh so precious commodity.
Firstly, if nothing else, save it for the annual wax exchange at a trade show, this is where you can swap it for fresh foundation that can be used to replace old comb in your hives.
Even if you only have one bee hive you will over the course of a season or two gradually build up a box of old comb to deal with and I wanted to talk about how to safely melt it down and reclaim the cleaned wax to reuse.
There are so many uses for reclaimed beeswax, you could as I've mentioned swap it for new foundation but you could just as well start making candles and I know there are lots of beekeepers out there already producing some fantastic candle products and I intend to give it a try myself in the coming months.
What not use the beeswax to make some furniture polish, again it can be as simple as adding some beeswax to raw linseed oil as I have done in the past, this makes a really lovely smelling furniture polish that can be used on most household furniture, just remember to test it first on a spot that won't be seen! Once you've made the base polish you could add various oils to give the polish different smells such as lavender or orange.
Lip balms are another product I've made with the addition of beeswax and although I've never made any other cosmetic products I know there are a whole range out that you could use this beeswax for so let's not just throw it away, use it for something fun and practical, especially with Christmas on the way, what better way to use up wax than to make some fun gifts for everyone.
So hopefully I’ve now convinced you not to throw away your brace comb and you’ve got a bucketful to clean. What do you do next?
A lot depends on the quantity you have to render but the process is the same regardless of quantity, let’s start with a beekeeper who has just one or two hives and a small bag of brace comb. I’ll talk about the way I render larger quantities of old wax later in the podcast.
All you need is some kind of microwavable glass dish, I use one called a pyrex bowl, a pair of tights or stockings or some coffee filter paper and something to hold the filter paper or stockings in. It could be a shop bought jelly bag stand or you could use a couple of old wire coat hangers to bend a stand out of, in just the same way as they use coat hangers to make things in Blue Peter, do they still use wire coat hangers on Blue Peter?
Anyway, the process is quite simple, we add some boiling water to the bowl, add the wax and reheat in the microwave, the wax melts and then it gets poured through the filter material into another container and is left to set.
Here’s how I used to do it. Firstly, boil the kettle, while the kettle is boiling break up the wax and put it into the pyrex bowl, I did try using a pyrex jug but the wax never really poured very well from the spout and it would spill everywhere, if you have a decent pouring jug then you could use that instead. Remember that is you’ve used foundation with wire in it you must remove all of the wire from the wax before you microwave it otherwise there’ll be trouble!
pour boiling water over the wax carefully until you have an inch or two in the bottom of the bowl, next place the bowl into the microwave and give it about one minute on full power, watching carefully incase you missed a bit of wire! Open the door and check it, has the wax melts completely? You don’t want to over heat the wax and never try to melt it without first having water in the bowl. if the wax hasn’t melted completely give it another 30 seconds to a minute and check continuously. Once it has all melted, remove it carefully.
Here you will need another bowl to place beneath your filter system. Again, add some hot water to the bowl and carefully pour the liquid wax and water into your filter set up. allow it to drain through. I usually pour a little more boiling water through the debris in the filter to wash the remaining wax out and into the bowl beneath.
Once the debris has finished dripping you can set this aside with some newspaper beneath it to catch any last remaining drips. leave the entire operation to cool, I normally did this in the evening and allowed the set up to cool over night.
The next morning there would be a nice block of partially cleaned wax in the bowl of water and a block of debris usually stuck together with a little wax that could be removed from the filter and placed in the newspaper below for use as a fire lighter. Of course if you are using coffee filters you can simply lift the filter paper out and use this, wrapped in newspaper as a fire lighter.
The cleaned disc of wax will probably have some remaining sludge stuck to the base and this can be gently scrapped off with a standard hive tool. You know have wax that is ready for a second cleaning if you want to use it for cosmetics or candles, otherwise it’s good to go for wax exchange. Simply bag it and store it ready to add to or to take to the Spring Convention or BeeTradex or the National Honey Show.
Now that I have so many more hives than when I started using the microwave in our kitchen just isn’t practical and I’d get into more trouble than I’d want so I moved the whole process outside and scaled up.
I use the same gas burner set up I have for cleaning frames and hive equipment, it’s a Propane gas bottle and burner, the main difference is I switch to a stainless steel commercial kitchen pan which can hold a lot more than the pyrex bowl. Again, safety first, wear some protective eyewear and never ever try to melt wax without putting a water barrier between it and the bottom of the pan, it can overheat so quickly and then you’ll have real problems to deal with.
I put about three or four inches of water in the bottom of the pan and heat this up, while it’s warming I add the various buckets of comb, no need to remove the wires on this occasion but just be careful when you pull the wires out of the molten wax and water as it can easily splash.
Once the wax has melted I use an old jug to pour it into a coarse filter material, at the moment I’m using some old insect netting which I peg to the top of an old honey bucket, these buckets are good because they are flexible enough to be able to pop the wax out once it’s hardened.
Continue to pour the wax and water out of the pan and into the bucket, again when I’m near the last dregs I’ll pour over some boiling water to rinse out the debris in the netting, a quick squeeze, it’s never a long squeeze as the netting full of debris is too hot, oh, remember to wear some gloves for this bit! anyway, a quick squeeze and you should have some fairly clean wax. At this point you need to decide what you’re going to use it for, wax exchange for fresh foundation and this wax is clean enough to swap, anything else and you’ll need to clean it some more. Time for the stockings again, if you’re quick and have everything to hand you can easily strain the buckets again without having to reheat them, there’s no point in leaving everything to cool down a solidify if you know you need the wax refined further, so use the residual heat to give it a second straining. Once this has cooled down, preferably overnight, you can scrape the remaining fine debris from the bottom of the wax and then make a decision about further refinement. If you’re looking to make cosmetics I would suggest at least one more filtration if not two and if you’re looking to put a block of wax on the show bench well, you may just had to keep filtering and filtering and filtering. Wax blocks for show are another whole ball game and not one for today’s discussion.
Hopefully, you now have at least a small disc or a larger slab of refined, rendered beeswax that you can go on to use for a raft of other uses.
Just remember to stay safe and don’t leave any hot wax or naked flames unattended.
Perhaps in the coming weeks we can investigate making some candles or dare I say have a go at refining some wax for the show bench.
Well, that’s it for this week, Thanks for hanging around until the end of the podcast and keep the comments coming.
I’m Stewart Spinks
And that was Beekeeping Short and Sweet