Tuesday, July 29, 2014

yet another bee post

Last week I decided to finally tackle a project I'd been putting off for several honey harvests: rendering harvested honeycomb.  My honey harvesting is very low-tech- two half-gallon mason jars, one filled with smashed honeycomb, the other empty, with a screen between the two to filter the honey through.  It's pretty effective, and it allows me to harvest usable beeswax, as well.  Or it would be usable if it was cleaned and rendered.  Virgin honeycomb, the white comb filled with honey, is easy to deal with.  Melt it and you're done.  But brood comb, which is often filled with honey after the brood has moved on, well, it's a mess.  Full of pollen, the cocoons that the larvae formed at the time their cell was capped and they developed into bees- it's much darker stuff.  I had tons of both sorts of comb that were in the freezer, stored in zipper bags in the basement, and still in the jars I'd used to harvest the honey.  Finally, I decided, I could deal with it.  There are several ways to clean and render beeswax- mine is only one way.
Here you see my setup: an impromptu double boiler and a big wad of honeycomb, both virgin and brood, shoved inside a pantyhose leg.  Yes, very technical.  I shoved as much broken comb as I could into the toe of a hose section, tied it off, then cut it and jammed it into the too-small saucepan.  I set the saucepan inside a pot of simmering water and waited for it to all melt.  the clean beeswax (and a little honey that was left inside from my most recent harvest) melts out and the junk stays inside the hose.  As it melts, I poured off the liquid into small plastic take-out tubs you see here.  I tried to pour each tub about half to two-thirds full, then move to the next tub.

Here is one tub after the wax has hardened.  There's a thick disc of wax at the top of the container, and a dark layer of honey at the bottom.  After the wax has hardened, I rinsed off the honey that clung to the wax and put it into a bag.  The honey that was at the bottom was poured off into a half-pint mason jar.  I reclaimed an extra half-pint plus of honey from the rendering, which I'll probably use in cooking.  It was thinner than my first harvest of honey, and since it was heated, it's no longer raw.  I wound up with about 8 pucks of wax, which I'll melt again and pour through several layers of cheesecloth to further remove any impurities and let them harden back in these containers so that I can use them for candle wax.  I set the sticky containers outside for the bees to clean up, which they did quickly, and I dropped the hardened hose and junk-wax packets into the compost.

If you render wax yourself, keep in mind that beeswax is so so flammable and needs to be tended carefully.  It also gets everywhere.  I should not have used my vintage dansk pot as my double boiler- wax got inside the pot and it took a lot of doing to clean it all out!!

In other news, today I checked both my beehives and was delighted to see this in both hives!
I'm not sure how well you can see it, but if you look very carefully you'll see white curlicue shapes in some of the cells.  In others, especially near the top left, you'll see a small white dot - the dots are the eggs, the curlicues are developing larvae.  BOTH of my hives have laying queens, lots of eggs, and capped brood!  The flat caps are worker brood, and the puffed-out cells are drone cells.   After my last post, my mentor told me that he thought my langstroth hive had swarmed and rehomed itself into the newly-cleaned out top bar hive.  This means that the old langstroth queen laid an egg in a queen cell, and when it was nearly ready to hatch, she took half of the hive with her to find a new home.  When the new queen emerged in the langstroth hive, she made herself at home, made a mating flight, and got busy laying eggs.  While I saw neither queen in my inspections, this isn't unusual.  The queens are shy and frequently covered up or laying eggs, making it difficult to see her large abdomen.  As long as there are plenty of eggs and brood, the hive is in good shape.  I can't tell you how relieved I was to see this! My bees are back on track!


  1. Thanks for the instructions – I was wondering how to get my beeswax into a usable form (I'd love to use it in my lotions and lip balm)! The take-away container is brilliant!

    1. other suggestions are melting it in a big pot then using a mesh strainer to pull out the big stuff that floats, then pouring it into a cardboard milk carton with a layer of cheesecloth over it. For body-usage, I'd definitely melt and strain at least twice, Erin!