Category Archives: Bees Wax

My Thoughts About Bee Keeping and Honey

We started our bee keeping ventures in 2013 and to date it has been the most frustrating farming activity we do. Hive losses are heartbreaking and we have had many. Probably our worst experience was when the bees we ordered did not even make it to our farm alive. You can read about that here. If you read that article you may understand when I say that bee keeping is also one of the most thrilling and rewarding activities that we do. Capturing swarms, observing the bees while they forage and pollenate our crops, harvesting honey and wax all make this so.

As with everything we do our bee keeping efforts are done on a small scale. We often use the word boutique to describe our farm. Since we started bee keeping we have maintained at least one hive and at times had as many as seven hives. Each year we have harvested honey and for the last 4 or so years we have harvested and processed our own wax as well. If you are interested in learning how I filter bees wax you can  read about that here.

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Beekeeping has given me a whole new understanding and appreciation of honey. Most of my life I have used store bought honey and never thought much about it. The color and flavor were pretty consistent. Honey was just honey. It wasn’t until we started harvesting our own honey that I realized that honey is not just honey. In fact we have yet to have any two honey harvests where the honey tasted the same.

When people find out that we are beekeepers they often have many questions. Below are some of the points I make when talking about bees and honey.

  • Each honey harvest is (should be) a wonderfully, unique blend of nectars and pollen from various plants that have been in season.
  • The color and flavor of honey should vary between harvests.
  • Mono cropping, the practice of moving bee hives to a particular location where a specific crop is in blossom in order for the bees to pollinate that crop, may be detrimental to bee health. (how well would you fare if you only ate one food for the majority of your life?)
  • Feeding bees sugar syrup is probably not good for the bees.
  • Local honey may or may not be effective as a treatment for allergies depending on what the bees were foraging to make their honey.
  • In the U.S. honey suppliers are required to put their address on the honey label. Buying honey that has a local address does not necessarily mean you are buying honey that was produced locally.
  • Raw honey is honey that has not been heated above 110 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Honey can be stored at room temperature and has an indefinite shelf life.
  • Honey might crystalize but it is still good.
  • Honey that has crystalized can be turned into liquid again by slowly heating the jar in a pan of water. Do not microwave!
  • Because the honey may crystalize and you may want to heat it to make it liquid again do not buy honey in plastic bottles.

Do you have any questions or thoughts about honey bees or honey? Leave me a comment and I will be sure to get back to you.

Thanks for reading and have a great day! 🙂

 

 

 

Filtering Bees Wax

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Honey Comb Inside A Warre’ Top Bar Bee Hive.

To clean the bees wax that we harvest with the honey from our hives I have seen and read about several methods. I first tried what I thought would be the easiest, which involved boiling the wax in water, allowing it to cool and then scraping all of the non-wax particles off the bottom of the hardened wax, it was exactly the way I would render lard or tallow. I was not happy with the results of this method for cleaning wax. I found that scraping the particles off the hardened wax was difficult, and it took several times repeating the whole process to get the wax as clean as I wanted it. The wax also lost it’s sweet bees wax fragrance.

I next decided to try one of the filtering method that I read about. I will start by saying that all of the pans and utensils that I use when working with wax are dedicated to working with wax. Once it is there the wax is extremely difficult if not impossible to wash off.

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I always start by rinsing the wax. Today my husband did this for me. The wax was in a five gallon bucket that has small holes drilled in the bottom. He took it outside and ran water from the garden hose though it until it seemed like most of the honey was rinsed out. I then just let it drip for a while.

There are two important things I will point out about rinsing the wax. The first one is never rinse the wax in the house. Beeswax is a very hard substance, its melting point is about 147 degrees Fahrenheit. A drain clogged with beeswax could be a very expensive fix.  The second is that once the wax is rinsed and drained as much as possible, it should be cleaned or filtered right away. If it is not possible to filter it within a few hours, I freeze the wax. The reason for this is that the wet wax will grow mold. Unfortunately, I learned this the hard way last year and ended up throwing away quite a bit of wax.

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To melt the beeswax I use a double boiler or two old pans that stack together (again they are only used for this purpose). I put water in the bottom pan and the wax in the top pan. I heat the water and let it boil the water until the wax is melted.

IMG_1338When the wax is completely melted the non-wax particles can be filtered out. To do this I use a strainer lined with several layers of cheese cloth.

The strainer fits nicely into this old ceramic crockpot insert that I picked up cheaply at a Salvation Army thrift store. I pour the wax through the cheese cloth into the ceramic pot and then pour the filtered wax into some of my soap molds.

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As the wax hardens it looks like this.

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When it is taken out of the mold it looks like this. Some of the bars may still have some dark spots in the and will go through one more cycle of melt and filter.

 

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While I always use news paper on the counter, when working with wax, I have learned that the finished bars should not be placed directly on the newspaper because the ink will transfer from the paper to the wax.

I have read that one pound of beeswax holds 22 pounds of honey. These numbers are very close to the amounts of honey that we harvested and the wax that I filtered. Most of this wax will be used to make my balms and some may be used to make candles.

Not to have any of this valuable wax go to waste, we have begun using the cheese cloth, that is now coated with a wax film, as fire starter in the fire place. It works wonderfully.

Bare Foot on November 3rd 2015

With the beautiful weather we had today and I am so thankful that I got out and enjoyed some of it. I started the day inside, making a batch of soap.

Coconut Soap Ready to Pour in the Mold
Coconut Soap Ready to Pour in the Mold

No that is not vanilla pudding – “don’t eat it” . Then I filtered the beeswax from our last honey harvest. By 2:00 I was ready to get out of the house, so I loaded Scout and Trooper into the van and we headed to the farm. My husband was working on the chicken coop remodel, and I really didn’t know what I was going to do except be outside. After all you don’t often get 75 degrees and sunny on November 3rd in Michigan. In fact the temperature tied the record high which was set back in 1987.

After I went for a walk in the field with Trooper I decided that I would rake the out the leaves that had settled in the beach end of the pond. If I had planed this before I left home I would have been wearing my rubber boots, but since the weather was so nice I decided to just go bare foot.

November 3, 2015
November 3, 2015

The sand was warm as was the air temperature, but I didn’t wade into the water because, while it obviously wasn’t freezing, (no ice) it was cold.

I wasn’t the only one who enjoyed our above average temperature.

Trooper
Trooper on The Beach
Scout Relaxing In The Van
Scout Relaxing In The Van

The Scout and Trooper were both happy to be at the farm.

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Super Chick
Super Chick

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The chickens were happy to be out and about and scratching for bugs.

After I raked the beach area,

November 3,2015
November 3,2015

and picked up the piles of leaves so they would not end up back in the pond, I cut up some branches that we will use for kindling and then took a few more photos of this beautiful November day.

November 3,2015
November 3,2015

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