Tag Archive | process

Processing Beeswax

June 12, 2015

Several months ago I posted all about cleaning frames, removing the dark old comb so I could add fresh new wax foundation.  Of course, beneath all that old black crustiness is bee-utiful, golden beeswax that can bee used to make skin products, soaps, lip balms, furniture polish (yep), candles, and more.  So how do we get rid of the bad to get to the good stuff?  That’s what I’m going to show you in this post.

Equipment

First you’ll need some dedicated wax processing equipment.

  • 1 old bucket
  • 1 old large pot (I use an old crab pot)
  • 1 large colander (not plastic)
  • 1 long wooden spoon
  • Crockpot
  • Cheese cloth
  • Large rubber band
  • Half gallon cardboard milk carton with top arched section cut off.
  • Crockpot (optional)

Part 1 – Cleaning the Wax

I’ve never collected a ton of old comb at one time.  It’s something I collect over time.  When I have a bucket full, then I’ll melt it down.  But first you’ll want to clean your comb and cappings thoroughly so you don’t end up with sticky wax.   You don’t want honey in your wax.

1.  Place the comb and/or cappings in a 5 gallon bucket.

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2.  Fill the bucket with warm water.  Warm enough to melt the honey but not the wax.

3.  Dig in with your hands and stir the wax around so all the comb makes contact with the warm water.

4.  Allow it to soak for about 15 minutes, then drain most of the water off the wax through a colander.  (Interesting fact: back in old times, kitchen staff would clean wax combs just like this, and they would make table mead from the discarded honey water by leaving it out to collect wild yeast.)

5.  Refill the bucket with more warm water and repeat the process multiple times until the water runs clear.

Part 2 – Melting the Comb

1.  Fill your pot with the clean comb and add about 2 inches of water to the bottom of the pot.

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2.  Turn the heat on medium and watch the pot!  Do not walk away from the pot – this stuff can boil over and cause a horrible mess and it’s dangerous.

3.  Gradually the wax will melt down and you will have a yummy brood and larvae wax stew.   Stir constantly with the wooden spoon.

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4.  Once everything is melted down completely, place the colander over the bucket and pour the hot pot o’ wax stew through the colander and into the bucket.  I do this in the garage.

5.  Use the wooden spoon to stir the lumpy leftovers in the colander to help release all the wax down into the bucket.

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6.  Dump the colander filled with lump leftovers in the chicken coop or in a back corner of the yard where the wild critters can snack on it.

7.  Allow to cool overnight, then fish your first wax cake out of the bucket and scrape off and discard the loose, dirty layer on the bottom.  Well done!

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Collect 4 or 5 more buckets of comb and repeat this entire process for each bucket full so you end up with 3 or 4 wax cakes.  (The wax cakes preserve well in the freezer until you’ve collected enough for Part 3).

Part 3 – Melting the Wax Cakes

Your wax cakes, at this stage, a still filled with dirt and bee chunks.  So we’re continuing to melt and clean our wax.  We start this step once we’ve collected at least 3 wax cakes.  If you have more than 3 wax cakes, then one milk carton may not hold all of the liquid wax, so bee prepared if you have more wax.

1.  Break the thin cakes into chunks and add them to your pot.

2.  Fill the pot about 2 inches with water.

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3.  Turn the heat to medium and watch the pot!

4.  Stir with the wooden spoon until all is melted completely.

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5.  Place colander over the bucket, then dump the wax stew through the colander and into the bucket.

6.  Allow to cool overnight and in the morning, fish out your large wax cake.

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7.  Scrape off the bottom layer of dirt.

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Now at this point you should have an impressive, much cleaner single fat cake of wax.  You can repeat this process again, or move on to Part 4 for the last cleaning phase, depending on how dirty the wax still appears.

Part 4 – The Final Cleaning

I use an old crockpot for this phase.  You could also use a double boiler over the stovetop.

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1.  Start by cutting a 12″x12″ double layer of cheesecloth.

2.  Cut the top arched section off of a cardboard milk carton.  Leave the container as tall as possible.

3.  Cover the top of the carton evenly with the cheese cloth and securely slide the rubber band over the cheesecloth to tightly secure it around and over the top of the milk carton.  You don’t want it to fall in when you pour the hot wax through it.

4.  Cut or break the wax cake into small enough pieces so it fits into the crockpot or double boiler.

5.  Turn on low and allow it to melt completely.  The crockpot can be left unwatched.  The same is not true for the double boiler, so keep an eye on it so the water and wax don’t boil over.

6.  Pour and strain the melted wax through the cheesecloth and into the milk carton.

7.  Remove the cheesecloth and rubber and and carefully set aside the wax filled carton and let it cool overnight.

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8.  Peel off the cardboard and you should have a bee-utiful block of wax that can be carved or shredded for all kinds of fabulous natural products.

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Note: if you want smaller bricks, then purchase a silicone mini loaf mold and pour the wax into that after it’s been strained.

I’m hoping to post more tutorials on making product of the hive, so stay tuned.   Happy beekeeping!














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Cleaning Old Frames

April 14, 2015

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After last weekend’s cleaning spree, I collected quite a few frames filled with old dark comb. Comb gets darker and darker the more it’s used. Many beekeepers will replace brood frames year after year because it’s believed to be unhealthy for the bees to raise their young in old comb. For me, cleaning old frames is threefold:

  • It’s healthier for the bees,
  • It saves me money by allowing me to reuse old frames, and
  • I can harvest and process the wax for balms and soaps and lotions, etc.

I collect old frames as I have the opportunity, like during spring cleaning after boxes have been rotated and the old brood comb works its way to the top of the hive, or at the end of the season when the girls are condensed down and extra boxes and frames are collected and stored for winter.

Note:  You might want to keep a few old brood frames around for making swarm traps.

Setting Up Shop

Spring temperatures are perfect for cleaning frames. It’s still cool outside, but too cold or too hot, so the wax is soft enough to cut through, but solid enough that it comes out in chunks.

I set up a table outside, collect my tools and a big plastic bin, then I start harvesting the wax and picking the frames. It’s not the most thrilling job, but carve out a few hours, pick a nice spring day, turn on some music, and it becomes one of those relaxing, zen-like tasks that’s over before you know it.

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Tools for Picking and Scraping

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I have several favorite tools for this project:

  • Hive tool – great for scraping wax and propylis off the surface of the frames.

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  • Set of stainless steel picks – from the tool section at Home Depot. Great for picking wax out of the narrow crevices.
  • Paint can opener – the hubster filed the opener end into a V shape that fits right down into the grooves at the bottom of the frame. It’s slightly curved shape helps to lift the wax right out without splitting the wood.

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  • Palette knife – the palette knife is super thin, but still strong, so it fits down through the gully across the top. Use it to push the wax through, then run it across the inside surfaces to cut the wax out and scrape the gully clean without cutting into the wood.

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Another Tip for Easier Cleaning

Soaking frames in a long, narrow plastic bin (like the one shown in the photo above) that’s partially filled with clean warm water can also soften and loosen wax, making it easier to cut through the debris and clean out the crevices.  Immerse up to 4 frames in water at a time, and work on one while the others soak.

This step also helps clean sticky honey and propylus from the frames – it’s a pre-soak before the final soaking step.

Final Soaking Phase

Scraping and picking will remove most of the wax and propylus, but the frames will still bee sticky and waxy. So my final cleaning step is to soak them for 30 minutes in a hot water bleach solution.

Fill an old bucket or large plastic bin with hot water and a ½ cup of pure unscented bleach. Immerse the frames and let them soak for about 30 minutes.  I soak half, then flip them around and soak the other half.  Give them a thorough rinse, then stand back and admire your clean, disinfected frames. The bleach solution will sterilize the frames and will eliminate any pests or wax moths.

Add fresh wax foundation back into the hives so the girls can build them out and reuse them for another year or two.

Next step…processing the wax…

Our First Taste of Honey

March 9-11, 2014

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During my 1st year beekeeping presentation, someone asked me about the supers on my hives.  I told them they weren’t supers.  Up to that point, I didn’t think of them as supers.  I was allowing the bees to create sugar syrup stores for winter, but not honey for harvesting.  When in fact, they are supers without a queen excluder – and the bees built up quite the stash.  So what to do with the stash?  My answer – extract it and feed it back to the bees, for a number of reasons. 

  1. It’s healthier for the bees to feed from their own food vs. sugar.
  2. The bees will clean up the wet drawn frames so I can reuse them.
  3. I’d rather practice extracting for the first time using sugar syrup than the real honey.
  4. I don’t have the freezer space to store the frames and I can’t keep them outside forever. I can store sugar syrup in the fridge.
  5. And best of all – I have an excuse to buy an extractor!

The boxes I took were from my dead yellow hive.  I purchased a complete extracting kit from Brushy Mountain.  It included the tools, the extractor, the uncapping tank, and a straining bucket.  I thought about waiting a week, but was so excited that I decided to start that day.   I moved the uncapping operation into our guest bathroom, and the extracting operation in the kitchen.

Lesson 1 – Honey Extracts Best When it is Warm

This explains why beekeepers extract their honey when its 90 degrees outside, and not when its 30 degrees outside. Warm soft wax slices easier and liquid honey comes out of the comb much easier.  Most people extract in their garages (too cold) or basements.  Our guest bathroom is small, so I added a space heater and left the room to warm for over 24 hours.  So much for extracting over the weekend…

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Lesson 2 – Keep a Wet Towel and Hot Water Handy

Everything gets sticky – the floor, the door knobs, the cats.  Keep a wet towel handy to clean your hands and wipe things down as needed.

The pitcher of hot water is for the capping knife. Store the knife in the water when its not being used to clean the honey off the knife and warm it up (unless you have an electric knife) to help cut through the wax easier.  Be sure to wipe the water off each time so you don’t get water in the honey.  You don’t want ANY excess moisture in your honey.  Although its not as big a deal when working with sugar syrup.  But start good habits early.  

Lesson 3 – Elevate the Uncapping Tank

I uncapped 16 frames.  Initially I was bending over.  Uncapping frames one after another is physical work. After 3 or 4 frames, my back got the hint and I elevated the tank so I could stand upright while uncapping.  Trust me on this.

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Lesson 4 – Uncapping Tools

Those uncapping knives are huge.  I used a Pampered Chef bread knife and it worked great.  For the small missed spots, I used an uncapping tool, and I also kept a fish knife handy for areas that were hard to reach with my larger knife.

Lesson 5 – Bottom Up vs. Top Down

Beekeepers always seem to uncap from the bottom up.  I’m not sure why, but for me, the cuts are thinner, cleaner and smoother.  Top down caused more butchering of the comb.  Comb is soft and delicate.  The bees will put it back together, but still, be careful not to mash the cells shut.

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Lesson 6 – Extracting Makes it All Worthwhile

Add frames and churn.  This is the fun part!  A good churn in one direction, then churn in the opposite direction, flip the frames and repeat.  Honey accumulates at the bottom and when it reaches a certain level, drain the tank.  I can tell you, the even though it wasn’t honey for us to eat, it was still tasty and unbelievably satisfying to see how much real honey our girls had produced.

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Lesson 7 – Filter the Honey

I had cleaned and sterilized gallon jugs ready to go. Be sure your containers are dry.  Again, no water in the honey.  Because this was going to the bees, I didn’t bother to filter and released the honey directly into the containers.  Truth is, I ended up filtering anyway before feeding.  So lesson learned, add one more step and filter the honey from the extractor through a filtering cloth and into the 5 gallon filtering bucket.  THEN filter it into containers.  The filtered honey won’t clog up your feeders, and you’ll have more wax to clean up for lotions and potions.

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Lesson 8 – Don’t Forget Your Wax

Cappings make the best quality wax.  Allow them to drain in the uncapping tank then put them in a plastic bag and in the fridge til you’re ready to clean it up.  Also, you’ll be amazed at how much honey has collected in the bottom of the uncapping tank after the wax cappings have drained.

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Final lessons learned….

  1. Mount the extractor onto a more solid surface so it doesn’t shake or wiggle while churning.
  2. Dedicated extracting equipment will make life easier – pitcher, knife, towels, containers, etc.
  3. No mite treatments when supers are on.  I didn’t think of my supers as supers, so it didn’t occur to me to remove them when treating for mites.  As a result, the sugar syrup and comb smell of thymol.  I’m told the smell will dissipate, but I don’t want my honey to have any taste of thymol, so I’ll either use fresh spring drawn comb in my supers this year, or new foundation.
  4. I will use 7 frames in my supers so the bees draw out thicker comb.  Thicker comb will be much easier to uncap because it will extend farther outside the frames.
  5. Another reason why beekeepers extract in the summer – the equipment can be left outside and the bees will be much more active and willing to clean it all up for you!
  6. Uncap and extract in the garage – this is not an indoor job.

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Feeding it Back to the Bees

To feed back to the bees for spring, I’ll just add water and mix well to achieve a 1:1 consistency.  For now, the syrup is going into quart size ziplock freezer bags.  I set a bag on the top frames of the hive, stick several times in the top using a sewing pin, and let the bees enjoy their nectar in hopes it will stimulate their spring activity.

Thanks for sticking with me through this post.  I know it’s a long one, but extracting is a process that’s worth documenting.  It’s a sticky job, but someone has to do it.  I personally cat wait to do it again with real honey!