Monday, September 17, 2012

What do you do with all these Bees Wax Capping's? my learning experience.

So you've got bees. You're a fairly new beekeeper, you have harvested your honey and that went well and you are feeling pretty good about life! But now, what do you do with all these wax capping's? If you are like me, I was a little overwhelmed by the amount and the thought of doing something else after that big honey harvesting job. But I also felt bad about throwing them out or not using them. (After all, bees have to eat 8 pounds of honey to produce a pound of wax. That takes a lot of energy and work, so we don't want this precious stuff to go to waste.)  Bees wax is so useful in so many ways and is a valuable/sell able product. So this year I was determined to properly "deal" with this stuff. (In previous years I just melted it down and used it with some dryer lint to create fire starters, which works well as bees wax is extremely flammable, but I feel this stuff is better off used than like that!) Well, I began the process yesterday. We harvested 7 honey supers from our hives yesterday which yielded 22.5 gallons of honey, which is an average of about 3 gallons per hive or about 38 pounds of honey per hive. (A good hive on a good, year can produce anywhere from 60-100lb of surplus honey, so 38lb/per hive is actually low, but this year was particularly dry here in Utah and the nectar flow, from which the bees make honey was really low.) But all in all, we are happy with what the bees produced. Honey is all bottled and our mess is cleaned up. (And what a sticky mess this always is, but that's just part of the deal!) Now what to do with all this wax. You picture pretty light cream colored bees wax like in a chap stick or something, well it doesn't start like that. It is sticky, covered in honey, clumped together. There are unfortunate bee casualties, (body parts and such things) that need to be removed and purified before that pretty wax can be used. It is my goal this year to make that pretty use able stuff. So here goes! This is my first attempt at this so I'm sure I will learn a lot.

First I started by letting all that extra honey drain off (this took a while because I wanted as much honey off as possible, because one... that's more for me to eat and two... I think it will be easier and faster to clean.) So I didn't rush this process. I let it sit in the capping tank (which is a big tank that has a metal screen for the honey to pass through and separate/drain, and I also put a layer of cheese cloth on top of the metal screen to  help screen the small pieces of wax.) It sat untouched for as long as it took to stop dripping honey. (It took a full day.)
I then put all the wax capping's into the bottom capping bin (the one that has the controllable spout.) And I filled it with warm water and began moving the wax around with my hands to clean off all the honey. I started with a spatula/paddle thingy, but I prefer my hands because I could feel and help break up any sticky clods of honey/wax. (Oh, and when I was done I kinda felt like I'd had a paraffin wax treatment, my hands were soft.) I continued to swish the wax around until the water was very honey colored. Then I scooped up all the wax I could with my hands and put it into a big colander and then into another holding tank, then opened up the spout and let all the dirty honey water out. Put the wax back into the tank with the spout and filled with warm water again. I repeated this whole process of washing the wax and then getting new water until the water ran clear out of the spout. (This took about 4 repetitions for me)
Now the wax is clean, meaning no more sticky honey. (I tried to remove any dead bee parts as I went along by picking them out by hand when I saw them.) I now opened the spout and let all the water and wax run through a layer of cheese cloth lined in a large colander. When the colander was full of wax I took the cheesecloth wrapped wax and squeezed out what water I could and then spread the wax capping's out onto a double layer of cheesecloth that I had lying on top of a storage bin. (so the water would run through the cheesecloth into the storage bin and the wax would stay on top of the cheesecloth to dry fully.)
I made a double boiler out of an old steam canner top and a pan with boiling water in the bottom. When melting down the wax make sure you use an electric heat source because this was is extremely flammable! (not open flame, like gas) and don't get distracted and walk away from it. Because of it's flammability you don't want to leave it unattended at all. I melted it down over the double boiler I created over medium heat until all the solids became liquid then I removed it from the heat and poured it through a double layer of cheese cloth. This removed a lot of the large debris, but I also felt it removed a lot of the wax too, (as the wax cools so quickly and sticks to the cheese cloth.) The books I have read on this subject suggest to continue to re-heat and run through the cheese cloth or coffee filter strainers until the wax is completely free of debris. I observed my wax and noticed some of the debris floated to the top and some of it sank to the bottom. So I scraped the debris off the top with a spoon and poured the wax into a separate container, keeping the debris that settled onto the bottom from re-joining the wax as I poured. And I ended up with a pretty clean batch of wax. I poured it into a disposable aluminum cake pan which I folded to make smaller (that's what I had on hand) and what I've learned through this is that bees wax is hard to get off of everything! So I am keeping the utensils/pans etc. to be used only for this purpose. I then let the pan sit out at room temp. until it was hard on the top (so it didn't slosh around as I carried it) and then put it into the freezer. It hardened into a nice block that came right out easily! This was a learning experience and I am pleased with my results.

So this is where all the wax comes from. This is a frame full of capped honey. The bees make this wax to cover their honey and we take it off with a hot electric knife to expose the honey for extraction. This leaves the wax capping's.

Now you will let the honey all drip off the wax as much as it will on it's own. So leave it alone as long as it takes to stop dripping honey. ( I left mine a full day and that was enough)
This is the wax in the tub full of warm water. Here I am stirring it with a spatula, but by the end I preferred to just do it with my hands so I could feel the clods and break them up.

Then Handy Husband scooped out the wax with his hands into a big colander and then transferred it into another container while we strained the rest of the wax in the water. (We decided that this honey/wax thing is better with more people, it's definitely not a one person job!)

This is what the water starts to look like after a while (watery honey) so then I drained this water out and got new water and continued the process.

I then used a small colander to catch any remaining wax left in the dirty water. Drained out the dirty water and got new. And then repeated the process.
Once the water ran clear, I lined the big colander with cheese cloth to catch the wax and then wrung all the water out.

Then I could pick up the wax in the cheese cloth, wring it out and lay it out to dry.

This is a picture of the wax laid out on top of the tub so drain any more water out and allow to dry. (It's a double layer of cheese cloth draped over a plastic storage tub, cheese cloth held in place by string wrapped around the cheese cloth/tub.)

This is the double boiler I made from a big pot filled with water on bottom and a metal bowl on top to hold the wax. (Make sure to use aluminum or stainless steel, not iron or copper as it will darken the wax.) Avoid extended exposure to temperatures above 185 degrees Farenheit as this can also darken wax.

This is the wax going through the cheese cloth strainer.

Then I let the wax sit and I observed it. (Some of the impurities rose to the top and some settled to the bottom. So I used a spoon to carefully remove the stuff at the top and then poured the wax into the mold keeping an eye on the junk in the bottom as not to pour it in too!)
Then I poured the wax into this 9X13 disposable aluminum cake pan. (Easy to get out of and not ruined by wax)
Let sit on counter at room temp. until set on top, then moved to freezer over night.

This is the wax in the mold after it had been frozen. Notice the wax is pulling away from the mold, so it just came right out.

Here is my finished product. I am pleased. I have learned much and will continue to learn more about what to do with all these bee products. Next I will tackle Propolis!