Category Archives: Filtering Beeswax

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! 🙂

 

 

 

Fall Activities

To start off this post I want to send a great big Thank You to anyone reading this. My readership is growing and in the past few months the number of people who are following my blog has doubled. It’s still not a big number but it is very encouraging. Having followers is kind of like making new friends. Followers can visit our farm through many of the pictures I post and can keep up with what we are up to just by reading along. It’s always exciting when somebody hits the “like” button or I get hits off Facebook indicating that somebody liked my writing well enough to share it with their friends. Best of all is when someone takes the time to leave a comment.  It’s almost as good as having friends stop by for coffee and a chat. So again thank you to all those who are reading.

This is a quick update on some of our fall activities before we begin planting garlic this week. If you are interested in what we will be doing with garlic planting you can check out this page https://donteatitsoap.com/a-year-in-growing-garlic/ .

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My husband has been working on expanding our strawberry patch. He first weeded  them then cut and transplanted runners before mulching with straw. Since this picture was taken he has finished the center so there is now 7 full rows of strawberry plants. We are praying for a bountiful crop in 2018.

After finishing the strawberry patch he moved on to the asparagus bed. We added to the asparagus this spring so we now have around 100 plants. Over the past few days he has cut down the ferns that were dead leaving a few that were still green. With hands and knees in the dirt he weeded the areas directly around each plant. He then tilled in between the rows. Since I didn’t get a picture you’ll have to trust me when I say it looks beautiful. Straw will also be used to mulch the asparagus before winter sets in.

He has cleared out most of the garden since nearly everything is done producing. He cut corn stalks and gave some to friends and neighbors to use for fall decorations.

While he has been busy with all of the fall farming activities my time has been split more between the farm and the house. My activities at the farm were mostly preparing the prayer garden for winter.

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I gave it a good weeding, then I trimmed dead foliage and blossoms from most of the plants. I left any blossoms that were still open, as they were being used by bees and butterflies in search of food. I also dug out some Irises because they were spreading beyond where I wanted to go. I gave the dug up Iris bulbs to a neighbor who was happy to receive them.

At home I cooked up and froze pumpkins from our one volunteer pumpkin plant that produced this year. It was not a pie pumpkin but it made a fabulous pumpkin pie.  You can find my pumpkin pie recipe here https://donteatitsoap.com/2015/09/22/pumpkin/   I froze several packages of eggplant and I turned some of the strawberries, that I had froze in June, into jam. I also filtered the beeswax that had been tucked in the freezer after the our honey harvest.  Check out this post to see how I filter beeswax. https://donteatitsoap.com/2016/06/06/filtering-bees-wax/

After several months of not making soap, I made two batches last week. The first one I made was Sweet Dandelion. Since it was such a big hit when I made it in the spring, I knew that I would want to make another batch so even though they were nearly done blossoming, in late June I walked the farm in search of dandelions. I was able to find enough to make a pot of dandelion tea and infused the rest in some sunflower oil. I froze the dandelion tea and I had both of my key ingredients ( tea and oil) last week when I was ready to make this soap.

The other soap I made was coffee soap. I am really looking forward to trying this soap because I used a new and (hopefully) improved method. I will post about it in the future, probably in six weeks or so when the soap is ready.

For now I must refocus on the task at hand – garlic planting, so until next time I wish you well.

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.