As Old Man Winter tightened his grip around Charlotte for an extended, cold season, it became clear the mountain of bee boxes chock full of old and damaged combs and frames would not clean themselves. <sigh> Time to make some wax. It's truly a cathartic process. And quite filthy. All of that dirt. Each frame of old, damaged comb involved me telling myself I should be better organized when it comes to inventory and equipment. I also noted which methods of frame building worked better than others. When you're hands-on up close with the combs, it makes a difference.
I instantly became aware that the easiest and best frames to work were the foundationless ones. The simple inverted wedge on the top bar and lack of foundation AND wires meant I could simply cut out the combs into a waiting tray and move onto the next one. Not so with foundation. You have to cut through all those damn wires, pull it out of the wedge ... it quickly becomes a messy nightmare. Even starter strips of foundation got in the way. Nothing beats a quick cut through the comb against the inverted wooden cleat. The WORST? All of those first-year frames I built using Duracomb foundation (has a plastic sheet in the middle) AND strung support wires along the frames. What a pain, and waste. All that time, money and effort into using what ultimately was completely unnecessary, and something the bees don't really prefer. I'll never use all that stuff again.
It was COLD (did I mentioned that?)! Yvonne's little heater helped a smidge as I spent hours on the back porch. After cutting the combs out of the frame, I brought a stock pot of water to a boil on a hot plate. I like to keep the hot plate in an old metal roasting pan. Makes it easy to carry, you can park your tools there, too, and it catches splashes, drips and trash. I filled the pot about half full of hot water and brought to a boil. In went the combs. I used a hive tool to get them under the boiling water. Then, I used a large metal kitchen strainer to sift out all of the non-wax materials off the top that I could. Old cocoons from inside each cell in the combs. Trash and dirt. Propolis. Wax moths, eggs and cocoons. Everything that's not wax separates out using the hot water method. The big strainer makes it easy to sift through the combs so that they quickly melt. Pull off all the junk off the top you can and then dump that out to the side before the next step.
Hey, did I mention how many boxes and frames I have to work with? Way more than I realized. It quickly became apparent that I need specific storage space JUST for my frames. I decided I'll store them outside of my boxes, so I can quickly pull a needed frame, drawn or undrawn, and use as needed independently of any box. Time to make those framing shelves I've been thinking of for the past year.
Once the wax has been melted and sifted through, I pour the liquid into a plastic bucket. Overnight the wax, propolis, dirt and water separate. Wax floats to the top in a nice cake. You pop that off the water, and scrape the loose dark stuff off the bottom of the cake. That's dirt. The dark stuff that sticks to the cake? That's propolis. I'll be saving and using that. Nothing wasted!
I did two rounds of wax harvesting. I then took the large wax cakes, melted those down, sifted and sifted through again. This time I used less water than the first time. The second round I poured into old yogurt containers lined with a bit of dish soap, which helps the wax cakes release.
A really nice clean cake of wax with a very specific propolis layer came out of each. All in all it weighed 9.75 pounds.
I painstakingly scraped the propolis layer off the wax cakes. I'll remelt the wax one more time for a third round of melting and straining. I want super clean cakes of wax to sell, trade and use. After all the scraping was done, I had a little over 8 pounds of wax on my first two harvests of wax. I still have some more to go. I'm liking this wax gig. It's messy as all get-out and takes work, but man, the smell of clean beeswax is amazing. And your hands feel unbelievable.
Scrape, scrape, scrape with a bread knife. I quickly figured out if you let the knife blade flex and use it's tip, you can get more done by letting it dig underneath the propolis layer. Scrape until you get beyond the shiny green. Some wax comes off, too, but I'll remelt that down and separate that wax from all that propolis, and eventually have propolis cakes for use in my products and to sell or trade, also.
Out of 9 12 ounces harvested, 8 pounds 3 ounces was wax only. The rest went into the propolis tray.
And here it is, round two of wax harvest complete. Next, let's repeat all that fun and glorious work (sarcasm alert). I remelted all and poured into their final molds, wax paper cups (perfect solution), for super clean wax cakes in various weights. It's hard work, but it's so rewarding to see something some folks with less gumption would throw away. My bees worked so hard to make these amazing hive products. I celebrate them by using everything possible. T's Bees will have more than honey in its inventory!
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Tom Davidson is the owner and beekeeper at T's Bees.
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