Tuesday, December 8, 2009

What To Do With All That Wax?

So we harvested honey, fed the bees, and got them all tucked away for the winter. Now they should be all taken care of until spring- not much left for us to do except wait. That doesn't mean that we have been sitting idle though. All through the summer we were collecting burr comb from the hives and then then we collected the wax cappings from the honey frames when we harvested honey. We had read that you can use beeswax for all kinds of products from lip balm to furniture polish- but it has to be cleaned up first.

Beeswax, when it comes out of the hive, not not very clean. In fact, burr comb especially, can be quite dirty. It is full of honey, bee parts from any unlucky bees that happened to be in the way when the wax was scraped out, pollen, and sometimes even bee eggs if the queen happened to be close to the burr comb before it was scraped out. Our first attempt to "clean" the wax early last summer was unsuccessful. We threw the wax into a pot of water and heated it until the wax melted and then poured the whole thing through some cheese cloth. We figured that the cheese cloth would filter out any impurities while the wax and water would pass through and cool with the wax solidifying on top of the water. This did filter out most impurities except for the eggs- they were too small and we ended up with wax with a bunch of eggs all through it.

Fortunately, I was surfing the internet one day and came across another beekeeper's blog with a video about how to build a simple solar wax melter that would filter out any impurities. If you want to watch it yourself you can find it here. Basically, it is just a styrofoam cooler with a piece of glass across the top. Inside the cooler you place a plastic container with a little bit of water in the bottom and a paper towel rubber banded across the top. On top of the paper towel you place the wax you want to melt and put the whole thing out in the sun on a hot summer day. The sun melts the wax, the paper towel filters it, and then the clean wax solidifies on top of the water. We built one of our own, but instead of a styrofoam cooler we found an old metal box that had been painted black. We tried it a few different times but the weather wouldn't cooperate with us. This was a cooler and cloudier summer than usual so we were only successful a couple of times. We did manage to finish melting the wax but with a modified solar wax melter in that it was not solar- just a wax melter. We used the same set up but we used a metal bowl instead of a plastic container and put the whole thing inside the crock pot set on "keep warm". It worked just as well but wasn't as fun as using the sun to do the work. We ended up getting about a pound and a half of bright yellow wax.

After the process of melting and filtering the paper towel is saturated with beeswax and all the impurities. This sludge that is left is known as "slum gum". Beeswax is quite flammable so the leftover slum gum has made for excellent fire starter in our wood burning stove this winter.

Alright- now that we have all that wax, what do we do with it? We have already used some of it it to make hand moisturizer. I think I would actually call it a salve- definitely not a cream or lotion. It definitely has hydrophobic properties as it is just a mixture of bees wax and other oils. But- in this dry winter air, it will keep your hands as soft as a baby's bottom. Will we branch out and make other products? Maybe we will wait until next year to attempt lip balm or any other more adventurous recipes.

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