Reclaiming Beeswax…

 

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Beeswax is a great by-product from harvesting and spinning out honey.  Pollen and propolis are two other gifts from bees, although using the term “gift” isn’t particularly accurate since these are all treasures taken, rather than offered.  I continue to wrestle with this tension, resisting the assumption that what is created by other creatures for their own use is rightfully mine to take… My best defense is that we protect the species “Honeybee” by keeping hives and keeping them healthy in a time when CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder) threatens them.   And in exchange we collect rent of various sorts.   They could leave our hives and go find another place to live anytime they wanted.  We aren’t, after all, forcing them to stay…

Still.  The day questions like this stop giving me pause is the day I want to hang up my John Deere cap.

So I’m figuring out how to mine one of these treasures at a time.  Because if you harvest honey (which is the most straight-forward extraction), you will also harvest wax and propolis.  I disregarded these extras the first harvest when we were focusing of figuring out how to get honey out of the comb.  And last year I tried melting down the beeswax cappings from our second honey harvest and failed to get it very pure.  I did a bit more research this year, and this year am Very Happy with the results.  A good size bag of cappings and other beeswax yielded a little more than 2 pounds of pure golden wax.

This is a great winter’s day project–or fall too, if you have time in the fall after your honey harvest.

For those of you with access to wax, or interested in the process, here’s how to do it…

1. PREP: You will NOT want to use your regular kitchen utensils for this.  Visit Goodwill or a garage sales and buy:
one heavy duty soup kettle (I paid about $7 for mine at Goodwill)
one metal mesh strainer ($2 at Goodwill)
one or two heavy plastic buckets (one or two gallon size are good unless you have LOTS of wax)
one stirring tool (I use one of our hiving tools)
cheeseclothe or equivalent (I use a cotton diaper–the thin old-fashion kind that needed to be folded multiple times to work as diapers. They also make great “burp clothes,” and, my favorite use, window cleaning rags!)
a burner or campstove is ideal to avoid doing this in your kitchen. Optional, but ideal.

Secure a supply of beeswax/cappings (the wax cut off the comb when the honey is harvested).

3. Fill the kettle about 2/3 of the way with wax and add hot tap water so that the kettle is no more than 2/3 full.  (The water will compress the wax a bit.  You may be surprised how much water the kettle can hold even with it being 2/3 full of wax!)

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4. Put the kettle on your burner and stir as the wax melts.  Stay present for this.  It will take between 10-30 minutes depending on how much wax you have, how hot your water is, and how fast your burner heats.

wax-melt

5. Once all the wax is melted, and you have a gross goopy mess, pour the wax and water through the strainer into one of your buckets and set aside to cool.  I do this in the laundry room and lay down a black plastic bag to work on.  It’s easier to clean up than the floor… The wax will form a solid disk on top of the bucket. FEED THE GOOP IN YOUR STRAINER TO YOUR CHICKENS, or dump it in your compost or directly into your garden.  It is compost (or for hens, a delicacy) most wonderful!  Especially if your wax included any larvae…

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6. Repeat steps 3-5 if you have more wax and pour into your 2nd bucket.

7. After the wax has cooled, remove the disk by pushing on one side, which breaks any seal and allows you to lift it out easily.  The bottom of your disk will have a slimy substance on it.  Mostly this is dirt, but it includes propolis.  Scrape off the loose layer with a knife or hive tool.  Don’t worrying about getting it too clean. I also tossed this into the garden and the chickens loved pecking through them.

8. Put the disk/s back into your kettle, add a little water (maybe 1/4 of the kettle this time) and remelt.  If you have more than two disks, allow one to be mostly melted before adding the next one.  Once melted, strain again, using your same strainer.  Again, let these cool until you have firm discs.  And again, scrape the bottom.  Once the loose stuff comes off, what is left is mostly propolis (which I should save–but didn’t this year.  I probably threw out a couple of ounces, which seems to be valued at about about $12-15 per ounce!)

9. Once more (a third time) melt the wax, adding a small amount of water (perhaps about 1/5 or 1/6 of the kettle).  This time pour the melted wax through the cheese cloth or diaper for the final screening. I cut squares out of my diaper and used a rubber band to hold them in place, pouring into used wax lined soft drink cups.  You may need to change the cheesecloth once or twice if your final pour still has a fair amount of non-wax junk.  Milk cartons and other wax lined paper containers make great containers for your final pour.

10. Once cooled, tear off the paper cup/carton and, Wa-laa!  Golden beeswax ready for an assortment of uses–candles being mine for this year.  Instructions on candle-making will be forthcoming!

 

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