Beeswax

Wax produced by bees.

Cliches aside, this really has been a busy week. Sarah has been running around the kitchen making jelly from locally harvested chokecherries and rhubarb. Our landlord has a number of chokecherry trees and kindly let us grab as many as we want. My mother grows a couple of rhubarb plants, as does one of Sarah's friends. Sarah can cook up some yummy jelly.

Sarah making jelly.
Sarah preparing delicious rhubarb jelly.

For my part, I've been playing around with stuff for the bees. In preparation for colder weather, I made a bunch of bee candy. Bee candy is a supplemental food for bees to help them get through winter. It is primarily carbs in the form of pure sugar. I've added pollen for additional protein. I also took the small amount of wax we have collected so far and melted and filtered it. I'll go over both of these projects below.

The Candy Man

Usually, first year hives don't produce a ton of honey. The bees spend a great deal of their energies building comb, sealing cracks and general housekeeping. However, Sarah and I are going to be robbing their larders anyway. Well, at least a little. We want to test out our extractor for Langstroth frames, and see how much honey we can get from a few combs of the top bar, as well.

Since I want to try to over-winter these bees, that means I need to be able to replace what we take. To do this, I've made bee candy following the general guidelines I've seen on a few web pages. No two recipes seem to agree, but they all generally have one thing in common - crap-loads of sugar.

Making Bee Candy
12lbs. of sugar and three cups of water.

Started with 12 pounds of sugar and three cups of water. In retrospect, I probably would have used less water. While I was able to get solid blocks, they did have sticky wet spots.

Added to the sugar was about half a pint of pollen granules for protein. Most of the recipes I saw called for putting a pollen patty into candy. However, while we were at the Tanana Valley State Fair this year, a vendor booth was selling jars of pollen. Always love to support Alaskan businesses.

Bee Candy With Pollen
Adding the pollen to the bee candy.

Finally, with everything well mixed, I used bread pans as molds. This makes a rather thick candy, but I couldn't find anything thinner. In Langstroth hives, a thin board is used that fits above the supers. I have no idea how top-bars do this. My plan was to use some wood blocks to support the candy above the bottom mesh.

Bee candy in mold.
Bee candy in a bread mold.

This is really soft when placed in the mold (and sticky!). As water evaporates, it becomes harder. Everything I read said give it 24 hours. However, with these being thicker, we gave them several days before placing them in the hive.

Makin' Wax

Ok, the bees technically made the wax, I just melted it and cleaned it. At this point, we didn't have a lot of wax, but my curiosity got the best of me, and I decided to see if I could melt and clean it up.

I used a double boiler with the wax on top. It was mostly a combination of bridge comb and cross comb we pulled out of the top-bar hive.

Raw bees wax.
The raw bees wax pulled from the hives.

There was rather a lot of dirt and dead bees in this. It looked pretty gross as it melted.

Raw melted wax
The brown sludge that the wax became as it melted.

I wasn't exactly feeling hopeful at this point. Bees, pollen, dirt and god knows what else was floating in the melted wax. Still, the next step was filtering, so surely it would look better.

We had recently purchased a stand to hold a jelly filter, so I figured I'd give that a try here, too.

Filtering bees wax.
Filtering the bees wax.

This is a pretty basic set up. Some cotton filter cloth is pinned to the stand, which is above a pot of cold water. Both wax and any residual honey pass through the filter. The wax solidifies and the honey either dissolves or sinks. Worked better than I expected.

Filtered bees wax.
Bright yellow bees wax after filtering!

I was impressed with how clean this came out with such a basic setup. Gone was the brown goop that was in the pan and in its place, nice yellow wax. This I remelted in a small aluminum bread mold (amazing how versatile bread molds are!)

Finished bees wax.
The finished bees wax.

You can see there are still a few impurities, but its way better than I was expecting for a first try. It did crack in the mold, I didn't have enough wax to make a very thick bar. I love the way this wax smells.

Sarah and I did harvest honey today and placed the bee candy. I will go over that in the next post!

 

 

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Ok, while I can honestly say I've never quite "got" this particular Beastie Boys lyric (I'm gonna guess it's *gasp*sexual*gasp* in nature), it's also a fairly accurate description of what the bees have been up to lately: making new comb and honey.

Sarah and I recently opened up the top-bar hive to see how things are going. The answer appears to be "very well." The bees have been busy building new comb and setting up stores of honey and pollen. They now occupy at least two-thirds of the space in their box, with fresh comb both in front and back.

Comb in hive
Comb farthest back in the hive.

This was the furthest back comb. Not much activity on this side. It was a bit more eventful on the other.

Sarah with the bees.
Bees fill comb with honey and pollen.

This side is nearly all honey. There is a bit of pollen near Sarah's finger. This is the dark patch, filled with the blue pollen of local fireweed. Most of the new comb is being filled with honey and pollen. It seems the bees are in winter-prep mode.

In cutting some cross comb we did hit a few spots that let the honey flow. We could not resist tasting and I can say, in all honesty, that it is so much better than store bought. Store bought honey goes through so much processing that it just does not taste the same. I look forward to harvesting time.

We have had quite a bit of rain lately, and I have not seen the bald-faced hornets since the last post. Even though they were killing bees, they were fun to watch. I suspect that something happened to their hive, though I was never able to find it. Yellow-jackets still fly near the hives, but I've never seen them harass the bees. They seem to look for already dead bees. Maybe our yellow-jackets are just freakin' lazy.

Tomorrow, weather permitting, we will go check out how the Langstroth hive is doing.

Letters from the HiveNormally, I wouldn't do two book reviews back to back. Unfortunately, either from being busy or rainy or smokey (there's a butt-load of forest fires going on around Fairbanks), we didn't make it out to the hives for a good inspection last week. However, I did finish reading another bee related book, so there you go!

Today's book is not a how-to. It doesn't cover hive management. You won't get hive building tips or queen rearing advice. Letters from the Hive: An Intimate History of Bees, Honey, and Humankind delivers exactly what the title says; a history of how we, as a species, have learned to live with bees.

Maybe I'm a giant cynic, but whenever I purchase a book purporting to be a history of humankind, I generally expect a thoroughly euro-centric viewpoint.  I was pleasantly surprised to find in this book many tales from around the world. From the Mayan's stingless bees, to the floating barges of hives along the Nile and the giant bees of Asia, the history of honey hunting is a global story.

We've been utilizing the products of bees since the days of prehistory. Some of the earliest petroglyphs and cave paintings depict the gathering of honey comb from trees and steep cliffs. In many places the ceremony (and danger!) of those ancient hunts can still be seen, even in a world of mechanization and mass production.

The book provides a look at how we have used honey and wax, the primary products of the apiary. From food to medicine, the hive provides for many of our needs. Included are a sampling of recipes from around the world and throughout history. From mead to medicine and often both, we have come up with a myriad of uses for the simple products of bees.

Author Stephan Buchmann is both a beekeeper and entomologist. He is an expert on pollination and the critters that do it, particularly bees. He examines the life and evolutionary history of bees and how we fit into the changing landscape (quite literally) of the bee world. Admittedly, this book, being published in 2006, came just before the onset of major cases of Colony Collapse Disorder, but already it pointed to many of the potential causes, including neonicotinoid pesticides, monoculture farming practices and habitat depletion.

For all of human existence, we have lived with bees, utilizing the products of their industrious work. We are now in the position of destroying a pollinator that is responsible for a large chunk of the food we eat.