Clarifying Beeswax–a Rainy Weekend Task

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One small downside of a very BIG upside to getting to see our grandchildren often is our exposure to their viruses… I’ve been a little under the weather with a cold that Eden inadvertently shared during a sleep-over.

edenBut I’m not complaining. If anything I have more empathy for her own little body that battled a cold virus that took some of the bounce out of her step. Still, we made pinch pots together, read books, did a puzzle, had a hot chocolate/mocha tea party, and went shopping for shoes after watching an old episode of Mr. Rogers doing the same. I had a delightful 24 hours with one of my favorite people.eden1

Besides, this rainy rainy weekend was perfect for indoor activities–like taking the stash of beeswax from this year’s bounteous harvest and clarifying it into pure creamy golden wax.

I posted the process a couple of years ago, and have mostly cut and pasted from that post and added a few more pictures.

Beeswax is a great by-product of a honey harvest. Pollen and propolis are two other gifts we get from bees, although the term “gift” isn’t particularly accurate since these are 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 justification is that we protect the species “honeybee” by keeping hives and helping them stay healthy at a time when CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder) threatens them. In exchange we collect rent of various sorts.   They could leave our hive boxes and go find another place to live anytime they want, and every year some  hives do send a contingency off in a swarm where they go forth into the world, doing good wherever they land.

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. If you harvest honey you will also harvest wax and propolis.  I disregarded these extras the first year we harvested honey when we were still trying to figure out how to get honey out of the hive and out of the comb.  The first year I tried melting down the beeswax cappings I failed to get it very pure.  I did a bit more research after that year, and have been happy with the results the last couple times I’ve melted and strained the wax.

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

For those of you with access to wax, or simply interested in how it’s done, here’s the process.

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 $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 a lot of wax)
one stirring tool (I use a hive tool)
cheeseclothe or equivalent for the final strain
a burner or campstove is ideal to avoid doing this in your kitchen. Optional, but ideal.

Rinsed cappings from the honey harvest

Rinsed cappings from the honey harvest

DIRECTIONS:

1. Fill the kettle about 2/3 of the way with capping that have been rinsed several times and add hot tap water so that the kettle is no more than 2/3 full.  The water will compress the wax a bit.  The kettle can hold quite a bit of water even with it 2/3 full of wax.

Just starting to melt

Just starting to melt

2. Put the kettle on your burner on medium heat 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

3. Once all the wax is melted you’ll have a bubbly goop. Pour the goop (wax, water, and debris) 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.) Feed the wonderful gunk in the strainer to chickens if you have them, or dump it in your compost or directly into your garden.

cappings

4. Let the bucket of wax and water cool. It will take a while because the wax serves as a sealant, slowing down the cooling of the water. The wax will turn yellow as it hardens, and once hardened, dump the water, and then either dump the disk out of the bucket by turning it upside down and hitting it sharply on the ground or pushing on one side so the other side lifts up and you can remove the disk.

Cooling wax in the white bucket and freshly strained wax in the red bucket

Cooling wax in the white bucket and freshly strained wax in the red bucket

5. While the first bucket cools, repeat steps 1-3 if you have more wax and pour into your 2nd bucket.

6. Once you remove the disk you’ll notice the bottom of your disk will have a slimy dirt on it. Underneath the loose dirt is propolis. Scrape off the loose layer with a knife or hive tool.  Don’t worry about getting it too clean at this point. I also tossed this into the garden and the chickens loved pecking through it.

7. Put the disk/s back into your kettle, add 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 can be scraped off with a knife and saved separately. I saved it this year, although I haven’t decided yet what I’m going to do with it yet. Word on the street is that it is valued at about $12-15 per ounce.

8. Once more (a third time) melt the wax, adding a small amount of water (perhaps 1/5 or 1/6 of the kettle).  This time pour the melted wax through the cheese cloth or equivalent for the final straining. I cut squares from a thin cotton cloth and used clothespins to hold them in place, pouring into a milk carton. Wax-lined paper cups work as well.  You may need to change the cheesecloth once or twice if your final pour still has a fair amount of debris.  waxcarton

9. Once cooled, tear off the paper cup/carton and, wa-laa!  Golden beeswax ready for an assortment of uses.

I made some hand and body cream today, and will be experimenting with lip balm and other lotions over the next few weeks. I imagine recipes and photos for those projects will be forthcoming.

Thank you bees, for the amazing things you make.

blockwax

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