Beeswax is a natural product, made by worker honey bees, that has many benefits and uses in our various industries. When collecting it, there are some things to take into consideration, as most reviews of beekeeping equipment would tell you. Beeswax has a low melting point, thus caution is advised when processing it.
As any beekeeper will tell you, we cannot talk about honey without talking about the beeswax it comes in, as they are both harvested together, and at a later time separated through a special process. Worker honey bees build a special honeycomb inside their nest that they use to store honey in. The entire structure of the honeycomb is made out of beeswax.
First of all, let’s take a closer look at what beeswax is, how it’s produced and what purpose it serves. As said before, adult worker bees are responsible for the production of beeswax as well as building the honeycomb they will later store their honey in. They have special glands on their abdomen that produce tiny wax flakes throughout their lives.
Honey bees gather these wax flakes, chew on them, mixing the wax with pollen and special enzymes in their saliva, thus creating a moldable, resistant material that is suitable for building the honeycomb. The temperature inside the nest has a major influence on the wax producing process, as it should be between 90 and 97 degrees Fahrenheit.
Anything above or under those temperatures will lead to either melting wax, that bees cannot use to build the comb or hardened wax that would not be moldable into the desired shape. Honeycombs are made out of many hexagonal shaped cells. Scientists revealed that this particular shape holds the best building material versus storing capacity ratio.
How is beeswax collected from the hive?
First of all, you may never want to attempt harvesting honey and beeswax from a wild hive, unless you are a professional, and most definitely you should not do that alone. The risk of getting attacked by a wild honey bee swarm is very high, and the potential injuries can become life-threatening. That being said, let’s see how we can harvest beeswax from a domestic hive.
Your timing has to be right. It’s best to do it from 9 am to 4 pm, when the bees are out foraging for pollen, so you would have considerably fewer bees to deal with. Secondly, always wear the appropriate protective gear, and have the special smoker in handy. Smoke is used to calm them down, in case they get over-excited about your presence.
Step one would be opening the hive top and inspecting the frame. If you notice there is not a lot of honey in the combs, or the combs are still in the making, it’s best to leave them alone and come back at a later time. If, however, the frames are filled with honey in the honeycomb, and the comb covers a major surface of the frame, then you are to move forward to step two.
Step two involves taking the frames out of the hive, one by one, and then gently scraping out the entire honeycomb. Make sure you remove any bees that are still attached to the honeycomb using a special comb brush. Also, the knife you use to remove the comb from the frame should be previously heated, as it makes the comb slide down easier.
Once you make sure you got all of the wax caps off the frame, gently place it back into its original hive slot and move on to the next one. You can use the smoker as many times as you need to during this time since the smoke will not affect the quality of the honey you are harvesting. Make sure you always stay safe.
Make sure you leave enough honey inside the hive frames for the bees to survive on. Once you are done with all of the frames, put the lid back on and proceed to extract the honey from the combs. You should not wait for too long before doing so, because the process gets gradually more difficult as more time passes by. The sooner, the better, in this case.
Once you have finished separating the wax from the honey, you need to melt the wax, filter it, and mold it into the desired shape for storing. For this activity, you will need a well-ventilated area, two pots, a heat source, water, and a cheesecloth. It all sounds quite complicated, but it really is not that bad.
How is wax melted properly?
Given that beeswax has a low melting point and it is also dangerous when hot, extra precautions need to be made before actually starting the melting process. Melting wax on a gentle heat source is the first thing to be taken into consideration. Also, it’s best to use a double boiler, or even solar energy on a very hot summer day.
Make sure you never expose the wax directly to the heat source, as it will cause it to melt unevenly, and lose some of its important and sought-after properties. Beeswax does not actually boil, therefore if it passes a certain boiling temperature the wax will turn dark brown, start to give out fumes and lose its financial value.
Keep in mind that beeswax will solidify as soon as it cools down. Therefore, make sure you have all the storing containers ready and you pour it in the desired molds as soon as you can. This way you avoid having to melt it all over again. Moreover, the melted wax should be allowed to cool down as slowly as possible to maintain all of its natural properties.
The value beeswax holds
The freshly produced wax is glass-clear and colorless. The wax will turn opaque as the bees start turning it into suitable building material. After that, the wax will turn light yellow as adult worker bees mix it with pollen and other substances throughout the process. The wax’s color can go from white, for fresh wax, to dark brown. Different bee species make differently colored wax.
When the honeycomb is only used for storing honey in it, the wax will be light yellow. However, when the comb is used as a nursery, the wax color will gradually get darker depending on how long it has been used for, mainly because some larvae feces remain in the wax, as well as some of the larvae’s cocoon spun.
The color of the wax is not generally an indicator of higher or lower wax quality. However, on the market, lighter-colored wax is valued higher than darker colored wax. The one exception here is dark-colored wax as a result of overheating. This wax type lost some of its qualities, and it will surely be valued lower than crude wax is.
The main beeswax quality issues are concerning its contamination with chemical substances that are generally used to control various diseases within the hive. Also, its authenticity of origin may sometimes be debatable. The contamination of beeswax can be avoided by not using synthetic chemicals in the hive, especially regarding the prevention of bee mites.
Beeswax is a valuable product that will provide the beekeeper a substantial income in addition to honey. One pound of beeswax can be worth more money than one pound of honey. Since beeswax is not a food product the whole process of storing and transporting it is by far simplified, as opposed to the one regarding honey storing and transporting regulations.
Although wax is such a valuable by-product, due to a widespread lack of knowledge, most of the world’s beeswax production gets thrown away. This is a huge loss for the wax market, especially since this is a product that is widely used in many industries. However, the wax that does make it to the market becomes a good income source for the beekeeper, as it is fairly good priced.
What is beeswax used for?
Beeswax has been used since the dawn of time, as ancient people used it for candle making, as they had no other light source inside their homes. As science evolved, beeswax became one of the most widely used ingredients in beauty products, such as face and hand cream, lip balm, mustache wax, a wide range of hair masks, and eyeliner.
There are three types of beeswax used in different industries, such as the cosmetics industry, food industry, and the pharmaceutical industry. These three types are white, yellow, and beeswax absolute. Beeswax absolute is regular wax that has been treated with alcohol and it is mainly used in the food industry, for sealing the pores of mature cheese, as an example.