Merry Christmas, Beekepers!
We hope you’ve all had a fantastic year and the team at FABKA wish you and your bees the happiest of holiday seasons.
This month’s newsletter is all about beeswax. If you’ve recently got your bees, then hopefully you’ll have some excess wax from cappings and brace comb next year – you could be gifting handmade beeswax candles to friends and family next holiday season!
So, what do you do with this wonderful wax?
Firstly, what is beeswax?
Beeswax is a product secreted by the worker bee. It’s used to construct the comb upon which the bees live and also used to seal the honey-filled cells. Wax is secreted by eight wax glands which are situated in pairs on the underside of the bee’s abdomen. During a really good nectar flow, you might even be lucky enough to spot a wax scale on the bee.
The beeswax is synthesized from the sugars of the honey eaten by the bee and requires some protein too. Figures for the amount of honey required to produce one lb. of wax are wide in range but the general consensus seems to be that the bees must consume between 8 and 10 lbs. of honey to produce 1 lb. of wax. This should give you some idea of the monetary value of beeswax. In other words, mind the cappings! (Please forgive the imperial measurements, but I find it very hard to move with the times!)
After uncapping the frames, you’re left with what can only be described as a “mush” of honey and wax and these need separating. There are several ways to achieve this.
- One possibility is to filter the cappings through a strainer and then wash the cappings. Use distilled or rainwater for this cleansing preferably.
- Another way is to put the mush into a cloth (e.g. muslin cloth), knot the top and hang over a bowl. This is easy to do but time consuming. Make sure the foragers don’t find out what you’re up to because for sure you’ll be inundated with bees looking for handy forage.
- You could also place the cappings in a stainless steel container and put this into an oven that has just been turned off but is still warm. The wax will melt and float to the top and settle as a cake when cold. The separated honey may have lost some of its properties as a result of the heating process, but is perfectly fine for cooking and baking. PLEASE do not heat the oven to quicken the process as beeswax can vaporise and that very vapour is highly flammable. Just be very, very careful when mixing heat and wax!
- Another technique would be to put the cappings in a colander, run water over same and then dry the separated wax out on newspaper.
As you can see, there are several methods. I generally let the honey drip from the cappings through a filter. I then wash the wax in rainwater, leave them to dry, melt this in a bain-marie pot, strain it into containers and hey presto – a cake of wax.
We will find time to demonstrate this process later on.
Beeswax has many practical applications, both in ancient and modern times. Amongst the many commercial uses of beeswax are the manufacture of cosmetics, handcreams, ointments, etc.
The impermability of beeswax is appreciated in industries concerning waterproofing.
Beeswax furniture polish and cream are popular too and very easily made. They do, however, require a lot of elbow grease in the application!
Encaustic or hot wax painting is an ancient art and my mother R.I.P. was an avid enthusiast, creating beautiful greeting cards and paintings. Some of the finest early encaustic paintings may be found in Egyptology collections, especially those from the era dating c.ad. 60-250.
Candle-making, however, remains my favourite use of the wax. There is nothing like the joy of giving a 100% beeswax candle as a gift for that extra special occasion.
So, there’s something you can be doing or reading about during these weeks, and I’ve no doubt that you’ll be lighting one of your own candles to welcome guest and traveller alike with the greatest of pride.
I take this opportunity to thank each and everyone of you and the giving of your time and energy to further the success of our association FABKA. I also thank all who have renewed their membership for 2022 and remind you that 2021 membership expires December 31. You can renew your membership via the shop on our website.
Mairead Love & the team at FABKA