Wannabees Thinking About Honey Bees

A bee swarm is a thing of beauty
My honey bottles
My honey bottles

Ummmm…..that’s sooo good! I hear that phrase over and over when someone tastes my home-grown honey for the first time. Their face lights up and a look of delight transforms them when they dip their fingers into the sticky sunshine. Most people are used to the purchased plastic bear of generic clover honey (sometimes adulterated) available at the local grocery store. For me it was a taste of local honey which began my revelatory journey towards keeping bees over 20 years ago.

Pulling out a perfect frame of honey
Pulling out a perfect frame of honey

Attending a local beekeeping club classes set me on the right path, with loads of information on bee biology, choosing the right equipment, and lots of help setting up my first two hives. There are free on-line courses available and excellent books on the subject, but I found that personal hands-on help was the most valuable. For ‘Wannabees’ who have sat on the fence for years, and pored over glossy bee catalogs, my bee journey might help you take the first steps. But be warned, you have to order bees now, for the spring. Most bee suppliers are sold out of bees by early March.

You can order bees by mail
You can order bees by mail
One of my newly installed nucs last spring
One of my newly installed nucs last spring

Cost   

What does it cost to get into beekeeping? Costs can be steep the first year, as you are paying for equipment, plus your bees. But then it levels off. At a major retailer of bee equipment, you can pick up beginner kits for a complete setup for around $400 which includes tools, hive bodies, and equipment. That doesn’t include the most important part though – your bees. Bees could run you anywhere from $130 to $200 per colony, depending upon colony size. So, we are talking about $500 per hive and I suggest that you start with two. You are more flexible with two (a stronger one could help a weaker one) and you won’t be devastated if one doesn’t make it through the winter. The total cost just doubled but the advantage it gives you the first year is worth it.

I recommend that you start with at least 2 hives
I recommend that you start with at least 2 hives; the tall one has supers on top for excess honey; the shorter one isn’t as strong

Factor in buying large amounts of granulated sugar to make up sugar syrup for feeding. When floral nectar is in short supply or unavailable, like early spring or late fall, bees draw on their honey stores in the hive. During these times, it is important to feed your colonies because when stored honey in the hive is gone, the colony will starve.

Time

I use entrance feeders
Entrance feeders full of sugar water

Your first spring of beekeeping will suck up the most time. Everything is new, you panic over nothing, and you are driven to open your colonies a little too frequently. You will be installing new packages of bees, hovering worriedly over your new babies, and feeding them sugar syrup every day to get them going. See my post on Installing Packages or Nucs of Bees or Honeybee Nuc 101.

Beeswax that I have poured into molds
Beeswax that I have poured into molds; Go to my post on Beeswax Sachets

Leveling off in the summer, your time is more likely to be spent observing and peeking into your hives, and adding extra boxes as the colony grows. If you are using disease medications (I do it organically), you are spending time applying chemical controls.

Inspecting an open beehive
Inspecting an open beehive

Extraction of your long-awaited honey surplus will take a full day in the late summer. It involves removing bees and boxes, uncapping honey from frames, spinning the honey out, and the most time consuming of all-cleanup of a sticky mess. See my post on Spinning Honey  or Beeswax-Honeybee Gift.

 

Straining raw honey
Straining raw honey

A few hours is involved in Fall and Winter, wrapping your hives for winter, and feeding more sugar syrup. I am using a new product for wrapping called, Bee Cozy which streamlines the winter process greatly. Over the entire year of beekeeping, I estimate that I spend at least 30 – 40 hours tending to them.

Bee Cosy on hive
I love using the Bee Cozy, which is insulated,  in the winter
Setting up hives in the spring
Setting up hives in the spring

The wonder of the symbiotic relationship of flowers, bees, and nature continue to fascinate me and make it worth my time. When my bees visit my year round greenhouse in Maryland on a mild winter day, I am amazed! Amazed that they can zoom in on one orange tree that is blossoming from several thousand feet away in the dead of winter. And the unexpected events that happen (like swarming) causes me to marvel at honeybee behavior and never get bored with it.

A bee swarm is a thing of beauty
A bee swarm is a thing of beauty

My bee journey took me other places too-like becoming interested in all pollinators and how our native pollinators as well as the imported honey bee are in decline and need our assistance to survive. I learned what plants were beneficial to pollinators and established a meadow around my bee hives to supplement their foraging diet. See my post Grow These For the Bees Garden Plan.A meadow surrounds my beehives

I still love opening my bee hives -thrilling to the sight of their collected honey full of nectar and pollen foraged from close by. Smearing honey on my toast in the morning has given me a new appreciation for all their hard work; To produce 1 pound of honey, 2 million flowers must be visited. I savor the flavor!

After extracting, the hives go crazy
After extracting, the hives go crazy

So, if you are still thinking about it after reading about the cost and time, look up your local beekeeping club and get started!

Scented Beeswax Sachets

Scented Beeswax Sachets

Winter is the time that I make use of all my beeswax that I have collected from the hives in the summer. I have melted and cleaned it right after harvesting in August and it is ready to be made into something creative and useful. To see how I clean the raw beeswax, go to Beeswax-Honeybee Gift.

Scented Beeswax Sachets
Scented Beeswax Sachets

If you don’t have access to beeswax, use plain old paraffin white wax instead.

Beeswax from my hives
Beeswax from my hives

Sorting through all my Christmas stuff and putting it away, I noticed my cookie cutters still out, so decided to use these as my inspiration. I even had a bee skep shaped one!

Beeswax poured into a bee skep cookie cutter
Beeswax poured into a bee skep cookie cutter

The best way to melt your beeswax is in a dedicated crock pot – one that I have used for years for just this purpose. If you don’t have this luxury, use an old tin can inside of a saucepan of water on your stove top. I had about 4 lbs of beeswax to work with and ultimately only used about half of that for nine sachets. I added 2 tablespoons of lavender oil to the wax for fragrance. Use more if you want the scent to last and linger. Great as a small gift for someone, these didn’t cost me a penny, as I already had all the supplies.

I used old pressed flowers and lavender essential oil
I used old pressed flowers and lavender essential oil
Old crock pot for melting beeswax
Old crock pot for melting beeswax

Directions for Beeswax Sachets
1. Set out your cookie cutters on parchment paper on a cookie sheet. You can also use small pastry molds instead of cookie cutters.

Cookie cutters on parchment paper with dried flowers in bottom
Cookie cutters on parchment paper with dried flowers in bottom

2. Add pieces of fragrant dried flowers to the bottom of your cutters to add color and fragrance. Mine was pressed flat in my dried flower press over the summer. Or you can use crumbled pieces of dried flowers from an old flower arrangement.

3. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of essential oil (I used lavender) to the melted wax and swirl in. Don’t skimp on the fragrance to make sure it lasts.

4. Spoon melted wax, using an old plastic measuring cup, into the cookie cutters on parchment paper, letting the first layer of wax solidify before adding more. Wax will bleed out from the edges of the cutters onto the parchment. That excess can be gathered up later and returned to your crock pot for reusing.

Spoon wax into the molds
Spoon wax into the molds

5. Pour another layer of wax into the molds and drop in more dried flower pieces. I made my sachets about 1/2 inch thick.

6. While still soft, insert some dowels into the top of the shapes for hangers or leave them whole.

Insert dowels for hangers
Insert dowels for hangers

7. Place in the freezer until hard for several hours. Remove the cutters when firm and cold.

Place molds in freezer to harden
Place molds in freezer to harden

8. Take out dowels and insert hangers ( I used raffia) if desired. The dowels can be tricky to remove, but I just continue to rock them back and forth in the hole until they release.

9. To clean any excess wax on the cookie cutters, boil them in water in a large pot.

The whole house was very fragrant when I made these and the smell lingers after hanging them in your closet or placing in drawers with linens or lingerie.

For more ideas on beeswax projects, go to Beeswax Citrus Soap, and Lavender Honey-Scented Body Butter.

Citrus beeswax soap
Citrus beeswax soap

 

Lavender Honey-Scented Body Butter

Finished body butter ready to use

In the dry air of winter, I go through a lot of “body butter”.And what better way to put to use the beeswax and honey that I gathered from the hive last summer? I bought body butter from Burt’s Bees at $15 for a small tub and it was adding up. I like to apply it all over my body after I shower and the butter goes on smoothly and sinks right into your skin and really hydrates. Updating on one of my older posts at Luscious Honey-Scented Body Butter, I find that this has become one of my most popular posts of all time. For other uses of beeswax, go to Honeybee Gift-Beeswax or Orange Citrus Soap With Beeswax.

body butter

BODY BUTTER

After going through some recipes on-line and experimenting with several, I came up with one that works great and costs about half of what I was paying Burt’s Bees. Plus, I made a dent in all of my horded beeswax. The whole process is so easy, I don’t know why I was spending all that money before. The butter is a little thicker than others that I have tried because of the addition of beeswax but it still feels light and creamy.

First of all, gather your ingredients.

Healthy Ingredients

Beeswax: Forms a light coating on the skin helping to hold in moisture. If you don’t have your own hives, contact a local beekeeper to buy some. Available on-line also, and you can buy beeswax already grated which is easier to use.

Raw Unpasteurized Honey: Adds moisture to the skin and helps lock it in, while providing protective benefits. Find a local beekeeper.

Coconut Oil: Naturally rich in proteins which help keep the skin rejuvenated. Coconut oil is becoming ubiquitous in the stores and I am finding more and more uses for it.

Shea Butter: Vitamins, minerals and fatty acids moisturize and revitalize dry skin.

Sweet Almond Oil: Softens and hydrates skin.

Essential Oil: Adds aromatherapy benefits and supports healthy skin. I used lavender oil, but the possibilities are endless-bergamot, lemon, scented geranium, orange, peppermint. I especially like the flavor of lavender and honey and have used this combo in Lavender Honey Ice Cream.

Ingredients for body butter

I shopped for my oils at MOM’s Organic market.  You could try Whole Foods or online. I used 1 Cup of Shea Butter, 1/2 cup of Coconut Oil, 1/2 cup of Sweet Almond Oil, two teaspoons of honey and at least a dozen drops of lavender essential oil. If you can’t find Almond Oil, you could substitute olive, jojoba, or any other liquid oil. Beeswax is hard to measure, so I just broke off a hunk from my stash and chopped it up into smaller pieces.  The beeswax keeps the butter from becoming too soft and scents the body butter with honey. Here is the recipe:

Honey Scented Body Butter

1 C Shea Butter

1/2 C Coconut Oil, which is solid at room temperature

1/2 C Sweet Almond Oil

3-4 ounces Beeswax, broken up into small pieces

Dozen drops of Lavender essential oil

1 T of Honey

Melt the Shea Butter, Coconut Oil, and Beeswax in the top of a double boiler until all lumps melt.

Melting the oils
Melting the oils at a low temperature

The Beeswax has the highest melting temperature, so will be the last to melt. Beeswax has honey deposited in it so you get the fragrance of the honey from your added beeswax, as well as the added liquid honey added at the end.

Beeswax chunks are the last to melt

Remove from the heat and add the Sweet Almond Oil and the vitamin E drops and stir

Remove from heat, letting cool slightly, and add the Sweet Almond Oil. Place the whole thing into the refrigerator until the mixtures turns almost hard and opaque. This could be 15 minutes or less. If you let it harden too much, just return to the heat to melt the mixture again. You want it soft enough to whip, but not too hard that the mixture will form lumps. Creamy smooth is the key, not hard and solid.

Place the mixture into the refrigerator to solidify

While in the refrigerator, the mixture will turn opaque and become very thick.

The mixture after chilling looks like icing

Bring the mixture out, adding the honey and the lavender oil and whip it with a mixer or immersion blender until thoroughly mixed. The more air incorporated, the lighter the mixture.

Scrape into containers. I used an old Burt’s bees container and some small mason jars.

Adding honey and lavender oil
Adding honey and lavender oil
Scooping out the butter into containers It is the perfect consistency!

With this recipe, I made about 3 1/2 cups of body butter that cost about $25 for materials.  I was spending $15 for a 6.75 ounce container from Burt’s Bees. After some calculation, I figured that if I bought 3 1/2 cups of body butter from Burt’s Bees, it would have cost me twice as much. Plus, I knew exactly what went into it.

Enough body butter to slather on for months

 

Beeswax-Honeybee Gift

Beeswax pillar candle from  https://www.etsy.com/shop/PeaceBlossomCandles
Beeswax pillar candle from
https://www.etsy.com/shop/PeaceBlossomCandles

A beekeeper for over 15 years, I have accumulated pounds of beeswax as a welcome byproduct of my honeybees.  A substance formed by insects, it is simply amazing that it has been in use for millennia, even found in tombs of the pharaohs, and caulking the ships of Vikings. Think of it as the duct tape of ancients! Here are some interesting beeswax facts.

Beehives and giant birdhouse at Ladew Topiary Gardens
Beehives and giant birdhouse at Ladew Topiary Gardens

 Beeswax Facts

  • By consuming honey, honeybees produce beeswax. It takes about 8.5 pounds of honey to produce one pound of beeswax. When the bees make one pound of beeswax into comb, it will hold 22 pounds of honey.
  • Honeybees collect nectar from approximately two million flowers to make one pound of honey. If you do the math, nectar is collected from 17 million flowers to make one pound of beeswax!
  • Secreted in the form of a scale about the size of a pinhead by worker bees, there are eight wax secreting glands located under its abdomen. It takes 800,000 of these scales to make one pound of beeswax.
Beeswax scale pictured on the bottom row as clear flakes -from Wikipedia
Beeswax scale pictured on the bottom row as clear flakes -from Wikipedia
  • The beeswax scale when first secreted is odorless, colorless, and tasteless, nothing like the golden brown aromatic final product.
Beeswax cakes from my hives which has been melted down and cleaned
Beeswax cakes from my hives which has been melted down and cleaned
  • Beeswax obtains its natural color of golden-yellow due to propolis, which is basically tree sap that bees collect to seal up their hive, and from pollen brought into the hive.
  • Beeswax obtains its distinctive aroma from the storage of honey and pollen in the honeycomb. The proximity of the honey gives the beeswax the strong smell of honey.
  • Over time, beeswax will develop a whitish coating called bloom. This is the result of softer oils rising to the surface and can be removed with a soft cloth or hair dryer. The appearance of bloom is  proof that you have 100% beeswax.
  • Some various uses of beeswax are: candle making, batik art, leather products conditioning, waxing wooden windows and drawers, quilting(thread strengthener), cosmetics, furniture polish, soap, and fly tying.
  • Beeswax is very stable; samples of thousands of years old beeswax is identical to new wax.
  • The oldest known notebooks used sheets of beeswax  for pages. Recovered from ancient Mediterranean  shipwrecks, stylus marks pressed in the wax pages can still be read after centuries on the sea floor.
  • Of 100 volatile constituents in beeswax, only 41 have been identified.
  •  Beeswax forms the oldest known dental filling.  A fragment of beeswax was found in a 6500 year old jawbone, being used to plug a gap in a tooth, predating the first recorded amalgam filling by around 5,200 years.
  • It is a wonderful furniture polisher and is what the professional antiques industry uses to beautify its furniture.
  • In the 11th century there are records of huge quantities of beeswax being used by the Church, usually in the form of candles. Every monastery and abbey had an apiary to meet this need.
  • Beeswax candles burn brighter, longer, and cleaner than any other candle. In the process of burning, the candle gives off negative ions that are known to clean the air and invigorate the body.
A perfect frame of honeycomb that is capped with wax, ready to be sliced off to remove honey filled cells
A perfect frame of honeycomb that is capped with wax, ready to be sliced off to remove honey filled cells
Removing beeswax cappings with a heated knife. The darker area is an older honeycomb that was formed earlier. The comb darkens with age.
Removing beeswax cappings with a heated knife. The darker area is an older honeycomb that was formed earlier. The comb darkens with age.

Other Uses of Beeswax

Food Storage

I found a new product called Bee’s Wrap, which is a beeswax/cloth food storage solution and is found at www.beeswrap.com. This is an innovative product which claims to be the new “old fashioned” alternative to plastic wrap. Environmentally friendly, beeswrap is a reusable cloth impregnated in beeswax that with the warmth of your hands, can be formed around pieces of cheese, bread, or cut pieces of fruit, keeping the moisture in. Once in the fridge, the cold keeps the wrap stiff and in place. Ingenious! Fully washable, the cloth can be reused over and over. I am using this for all my cheese and fruit from now on.

Beeswrap around a chunk of cheese
Beeswrap around a chunk of cheese

I wanted to see if I could make something similar with my store of beeswax. It is a ton of work to grate beeswax, but if you want the DIY method, here it is:

DIY Beeswax cloth
DIY Beeswax cloth

Basically, I cut a piece of unbleached muslin and placed it onto an aluminum foil covered cookie sheet. After evenly grating a chunk of beeswax over the fabric, I placed the cookie sheet into a preheated 170 degree oven for about 15 minutes. Making sure that the beeswax melted completely to fully saturate the fabric, I pulled the sheet out, removing the fabric from the foil immediately. When cool, I used pinking sheers to cut around the entire piece so it doesn’t fray.

I loved doing this but since this was so much work, I think that this was a good case of buying it rather than making it! Buy at Beeswrap.com.

Arts and Crafts

Beeswax can be dyed different colors and used in different applications, like modeling or sculpting. For tips on dying beeswax with natural spices, like turmeric and cinnamon, go to http://www.wikihow.com/Add-Color-to-Beeswax.

Dyed beeswax for modeling purposes
Dyed beeswax for modeling purposes

Beeswax ornaments for Christmas will literally last forever and add a faint scent of honey to the room along with pine scents from the tree.  To make an ornament, beeswax is easily melted and poured into molds and inserted with a hanger to make a beautiful Christmas ornament.

Beeswax bunny ornament
Beeswax bunny ornament
Dyed beeswax ornament rolled in cinnamon
Dyed beeswax ornament rolled in cinnamon

Candles

Beeswax candles from my hives
Beeswax candles from my hives

Candles are the most common use of beeswax for crafters, as it is easy to pour the wax into molds or roll sheets into tapers. Beeswax candles are environmentally friendly with no chemicals discharged such as benzene, styrene, toluene, acetone, and particulate matter, which paraffin candles emit polluting your indoor air.

Beeswax Candles
Beeswax Candles, on the right natural colored, on the left, bleached

Soap/Cosmetics

I love making soap using beeswax. For posts of soap making with beeswax, go to Orange Citrus Soap with Beeswax, and DIY Soap. Beeswax adds a welcome honey scent to the bars.

DIY Soap with Beeswax
DIY Soap with Beeswax

Body Butter

Body Butter is expensive to buy and I have found a very simple recipe, that prepared with just five ingredients, an immersion blender, and about 45 minutes of your time, you can make enough butter for the dry winter months ahead. Go to Luscious Honey-Scented Body Butter to see the step by step process. If you need beeswax, I found a source at http://www.beeswaxco.com/catalog/12/Bulk-Beeswax where you can buy a one ounce bar for just $2.00. For any of these projects, a small amount of beeswax goes a long way.

If you like this blog, please take a minute and vote for my blog at http://www.bhg.com/blogs/better-homes-and-gardens-style-blog/bhg-blogger-awards/ Many thanks!!

Finished body butter ready to use
Finished body butter ready to use

   

Beeswax Citrus Soap

 I am experimenting with different varieties of handmade soap and I love orange flavor, and recently made some citrus soap bars. They turned out great, so wanted to share this variation using a base of olive oil soap.  I call it Beeswax Citrus Soap. Think how good this soap is for your skin with all this olive oil and beeswax! Beeswax softens and protects skin from environmental elements and is naturally nourishing and antibacterial and anti-allergenic. the addition of orange peel adds to the exfoliant properties. Orange Citrus Soap

Orange Citrus SoapI love handmade, preferring it to the commercially overly scented variety, picking it up at local craft fairs and boutique stores.  The cost was adding up, plunking down $5 or $6 for a small bar, and I looked into making it at home. I have always hesitated to make soap due to the use of caustic lye in creating the chemical of making soap, which is called saponification.

In the old days, when people had to make their own soap, they made lye with wood ashes. They would take the white ash left over from a hardwood fire and boil it with rain water, and liquid lye would float to the top.

Commercial lye which is also used as a drain cleaner- very toxic!!!!
Commercial lye which is also used as a drain cleaner- very toxic!!!!

 

Beeswax cakes from my hives
Beeswax cakes from my hives

Gather Materials

Immersion blender, scale, large saucepan, large juice jug, plastic disposable cup, wooden spoon- I don't have the thermometer here but you need a good digital instant read one
Immersion blender, scale, large saucepan, large juice jug, plastic disposable cup, wooden spoon- I don’t have the thermometer here but you need a good digital instant read one

First off, make sure that you have the containers and equipment needed.  They are:

  • Immersion blender
  • Digital cooking thermometer
  • Kitchen scale
  • Variety of containers and cook pots that you will only use for soap making; a heavy saucepan, plastic 2  quart beverage container, and wooden spoon
  • Soap mold-You can use a small kitty litter pan; I used a milk container for my soap
  • Old clothes and apron
  • Goggles
  • Rubber Gloves
Safety items- apron, goggles, white vinegar, rubber gloves
Safety items- apron, goggles, white vinegar, rubber gloves

Safety Precautions

I recommend making soap in your kitchen or basement laundry tub where curious kids and pets cannot get into it. A caustic substance, lye has to be handled very carefully. If you use common sense, and pay attention to directions, you will be fine. Keep a bottle of white vinegar handy, if you spill any caustic lye on your skin.

Assemble all your ingredients and equipment in advance and put on old clothes and an apron, though I have never damaged any of my clothes in the process. Put on your safety goggles and rubber gloves and you are ready to go. The following is your basic procedure and ingredients. The final step is adding your flavoring/scent and you can add any scent at all that you like.

Recipe for Olive Oil Beeswax Soap

36 ounces olive oil

6 ounces coconut oil

3 ounces castor oil

2 ounces of grated beeswax

12 ounces distilled water

6 ounces lye

2 ounces essential oil of your choice ( I used Vitamin E, but the possibilities are endless)

Olive oil, castor oil, coconut oil
Olive oil, castor oil, coconut oil
  1. Measure 12 ounces of water into the plastic pitcher. Your kitchen scale should subtract the weight of the pitcher from the weight of the water.  Everything has to be measured precisely. Set your pitcher in the sink.
  2. Weigh out 6 ounces of lye. I used a plastic disposable cup.
  3. Pour the lye from the cup into the water in the pitcher NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND!! And gently stir it in with the wooden spoon.
Pour the lye into the pitcher of water and stir
Pour the lye into the pitcher of water and stir

A thermal reaction will occur and the solution will get very hot and give off some fumes. It stinks!! At this point, I set the pitcher outside to cool off –  away from animals. I hate the smell of the fumes.

Measuring out your oils on the scale
Measuring out your oils on the scale

4. Weigh your oils and beeswax and put them into the wide saucepan and heat on a low heat until everything dissolves. Remove from the heat to cool slightly. You will measuring the temperature of this mixture to be around 98 to 110 degrees F.

Heating the oils- the beeswax melts the last
Heating the oils- the beeswax melts the last

5. Test the heat of the lye solution by touching the outside of the pitcher to see if it is cooling down a bit. It should feel tepid to the touch, not hot.

6. Take the temperature with your digital thermometer of both the oil solution and the lye solution, making sure that you wipe off the probe with a paper towel between each use. The trick is to get the two solutions around the same temperature, around 98 degrees to 110 F which is called equalizing. This is the most difficult part of the whole process.  The lye solution will take about an hour to come down from a high of around 160 degrees to the lower temperature that you need. The following is a useful video on how to do this:

7. Plug in your immersion blender so it is ready to use.

8. Combine the two solutions once they have reached the right temperatures (see above), pouring the lye solution into the pan of oils and stirring with the wooden spoon a couple of times.

10. Without turning on the blender, immerse it into the mixture down to the bottom of the pan. Make sure that your gloves and goggles are on because you could get splattered a bit.  I also like to put the saucepan in the sink for this step. You can do this by hand without a blender, but it will take much longer with a lot of stirring!

11. Turn on the blender and slowly circulate it around the circumference of the pan. Keep blending, watching the consistency.  Within a few minutes, the mixture will start turning opaque and thicken. Keep blending until the mixture starts forming a ‘trace’, which is just part of the mix leaving a visible swirl on top.  The mixture should be the consistency of runny pudding.

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12. Add your essential oils ( I used 1/4 ounce each of lemon and orange oil). Grate 2 oranges to get about 1/4 cup of grated skin and add to mixture. I also sprinkled some turmeric on top to increase the intensity of the orange color.  This is for color only, not for any flavor. Mix in and I liked the swirls of turmeric so didn’t mix that in completely.

Grated orange peel, oils, turmeric, and mold with immersion blender
Grated orange peel, oils, turmeric, and mold with immersion blender
Adding the oils and grated orange peel
Adding the oils and grated orange peel
Turmeric sprinkled on top
Turmeric sprinkled on top
Swirl the colors and oil in
Swirl the colors and oil in
Pour into a milk carton mold and cover with a towel for 24 hours
Pour into a milk carton mold and cover with a towel for 24 hours

13. Pour your soap into your mold (here I used a wax covered milk container with the top cut out).

14.  Wrap the container in an old towel and set aside for 24 hours.

15. The next day, the soap is still soft enough to be cut into blocks with a sharp knife. I peel off the container and chop it up with a warmed knife.

Peeling off the milk carton
Peeling off the milk carton

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Out of this one batch, I made 20 blocks of soap which should last me a long time for my personal use and lots of gifts.

Clean up

To clean up your mess, I take bunches of paper towels and wipe everything off thoroughly and throw the towels into a garbage bag to go outside. Remember, this stuff is very caustic and can still burn you. The immersion blender I treat the same way, and then take off the blender stick and thoroughly clean it in hot soapy water –  same with the digital thermometer.

Aging

You have to let the soap age about a month before using as it will retain some of its caustic nature immediately after you make it. I leave it out in a sunny window to age it for a few months before using or giving it as gifts.

DIY SOAP

Beautiful handmade soap
Beautiful handmade soap

I love handmade soap, preferring it to the commercially overly scented variety, picking it up at local craft fairs and boutique stores.  The cost was adding up, plunking down $5 or $6 for a small bar, and I looked into making it at home. I have always hesitated to make soap due to the use of caustic lye in creating the chemical process of making soap, which is called saponification.

Olive oil beeswax soap
Olive oil beeswax soap

In the old days, when people had to make their own soap in addition to their lye, they made lye with wood ashes. They would take the white ash left over from a hardwood fire and boil it with rain water and liquid lye would float to the top. It sounded so simple, that I really considered doing it for about 1 second and then thought that the soap making would be enough of a challenge without complicating things.

Commercial lye which is also used as a drain cleaner- very toxic!!!!
Commercial lye which is also used as a drain cleaner- very toxic!!!!

Lye is 100 percent sodium hydroxide, NaOH. I got mine at Lowes in the plumbing aisle as Crystal Drain Opener.  It can be hard to find as it is used in the illegal manufacture of meth ( who would have thought!!!) and it has been pulled from drugstore shelves.  You can also buy it online.

I also wanted to use my accumulated hoard of beeswax in my soap so started looking for soap recipes which included beeswax.

Beeswax cakes from my hives
Beeswax cakes from my hives

Gather Materials

Immersion blender, scale, large saucepan, large juice jug, plastic disposable cup, wooden spoon- I don't have the thermometer here but you need a good digital instant read one
Immersion blender, scale, large saucepan, large juice jug, plastic disposable cup, wooden spoon- I don’t have the thermometer here but you need a good digital instant read one

First off, make sure that you have the containers and equipment needed.  They are:

  1. Immersion blender
  2. Digital cooking thermometer
  3. Kitchen scale
  4. Variety of containers and cook pots that you will only use for making soap like a heavy saucepan, plastic 2  quart beverage container, wooden spoon
  5. Soap mold- I bought a small kitty litter pan
  6. Old clothes and apron
  7. Goggles
  8. Rubber gloves
Safety items- apron, goggles, white vinegar, rubber gloves
Safety items- apron, goggles, white vinegar, rubber gloves

Safety Precautions

I recommend making soap in your kitchen or basement laundry tub where curious kids and pets cannot get into it. Lye is very caustic and you need to respect that, but don’t be afraid of making soap because of that.  If you are careful and use common sense, you will be fine. Keep a bottle of white vinegar handy, if you spill any caustic lye on your skin.

Assemble all your ingredients and equipment in advance and put on old clothes and an apron, though I have never damaged any of my clothes in the process. Put on your safety goggles and rubber gloves and you are ready to make soap!!

Recipe for Olive Oil Beeswax Soap

36 ounces olive oil

6 ounces coconut oil

3 ounces castor oil

2 ounces of grated beeswax

12 ounces water (distilled is best)

6 ounces lye

2 ounces essential oil of your choice ( I used Vitamin E, but the possibilities are only limited to what you can think up)!

Olive oil, castor oil, coconut oil
Olive oil, castor oil, coconut oil
  1. Measure your plastic pitcher first and then measure 12 ounces of water into the pitcher. Your scale should subtract the weight of the pitcher from the weight of the water.  Everything has to be measured precisely. Set your pitcher in the sink.
  2. Weigh out 6 ounces of lye. I used a plastic disposable cup.
  3. Pour the lye from the cup into the water in the pitcher NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND!! And gently stir it in with the wooden spoon.
Pour the lye into the pitcher of water and stir
Pour the lye into the pitcher of water and stir

A thermal reaction will occur and the solution will get very hot and give off some fumes. It stinks!! At this point, I set the pitcher outside to cool off –  away from animals. I hate the smell of the fumes.

Measuring out your oils on the scale
Measuring out your oils on the scale

4. Weigh your oils and beeswax and put them into the wide saucepan and heat on a low heat until everything dissolves. Remove from the heat to cool.

Heating the oils- the beeswax melts the last
Heating the oils- the beeswax melts the last

5. Test the heat of the lye solution by touching the outside of the pitcher to see if it is cooling down a bit. It should feel tepid to the touch, not hot.

6. Take the temperature with your digital thermometer of the oil solution and the lye solution, making sure that you wipe off the probe with a paper towel between each use. The trick is to get the two solutions around the same temperature, around 98 degrees to 110 farenheit.  This is the most difficult part of the whole process.  The lye solution will take about an hour to come down from a high of around 160 degrees to the lower temperature that you need. The following is a useful video on how to do this:

7. Plug in your immersion blender so it is ready to use.

8.Combine the two solutions once they have reached the right temperatures (see above), pouring the lye solution into the pan of oils and stirring with the wooden spoon a couple of times.

10. Without turning on the blender yet, immerse it into the mixture down to the bottom of the pan. Make sure that your gloves and goggles are on because you could get splattered a bit.  I also like to put the saucepan in the sink for this step. You can do this by hand without a blender, but it will take much longer with a lot of stirring!

11. Turn on the blender and slowly circulate it around the circumference of the pan. Keep blending, watching the consistency.  Within a few minutes, the mixture will start turning opaque and thicken. Keep blending until the mixture starts forming a ‘trace’, which is just part of the mix leaving a visible swirl on top.  The mixture should be the consistency of runny pudding.

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12. Add your essential oil and mix in.

13. Pour your soap into your mold which has been lined with parchment paper and smooth it down with your spoon.

Pour into your mold (kitty litter pan) lined with parchment paper
Pour into your mold (kitty litter pan) lined with parchment paper

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14. Cover with a board and throw some towels on top and leave it for 24 hours to cool down and harden.

15. The next day, the soap is still soft enough to be cut into blocks with a sharp knife.

Cutting the soap into blocks
Cutting the soap into blocks

Out of this one batch, I made 20 blocks of soap which should last me a long time for my use and for gifts.

Clean up

To clean up your mess, I take bunches of paper towels and wipe everything off thoroughly and throw the towels into a garbage bag to go outside. Remember, this stuff is very caustic and can still burn you. The immersion blender I treat the same way, and then take off the blender stick and thoroughly clean it in hot soapy water –  same with the digital thermometer.

Variations and Additions

With this soap base, you can add anything to personalize and complement your own preferences, like herbs, spices and colorings.  For colorings and scents, you could add chocolate, coffee, tea, paprika, mixed herbs, turmeric, cocoa, cinnamon, mint, poppy seeds, star anise, lavender buds, orange peel, rose buds, honey, marigolds, and orange peel. The possibilities are endless.

Oatmeal honey soap
Oatmeal honey soap
Lavender swirl soap
Lavender swirl soap
Poppy seed lemon soap
Poppy seed lemon soap

Experiment! These soaps above look good enough to eat!

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Oatmeal soap which looks like honeycomb

I tried an oatmeal soap batch where I added oatmeal after the mixture had traced up and was getting thick.  I poured the mixture into an empty clean milk carton with straight sides which had one of the long sides cut out. I pressed bubble wrap into the mixture while it was still soft to get the texture of honeycomb.  The next time I add oatmeal, I will grind it up into smaller pieces. When you use this soap now, clumps of oatmeal fall out!

Soap ready to give as gifts
Soap ready to give as gifts

You have to let the soap age about a month before using as it will retain some of its caustic nature immediately after you make it. I leave it out in a sunny window to age it for a few months before using or giving it as gifts.

Related articles:

Luscious Honey-Scented Body Butter

Finished body butter ready to use

BODY BUTTER

In the dry air of winter, I go through a lot of “body butter”!  I have been buying it from Burt’s Bees at $13 for a small tub and it was adding up. I like to apply it all over my body after I shower and butter goes on smoothly and sinks right into your skin and really hydrates. For an updated version of my body butter with lavender, go to my post Lavender Scented Honey Body Butter.

After going through some recipes on line and experimenting with several, I came up with one that works great and costs about half of what I was paying. Plus, I got to use some of my beeswax from my hives! The whole process is so easy, I don’t know why I was spending all that money before.

First of all, gather your ingredients.

Ingredients for body butter: Shea Butter, Sweet Almond OIl, Beeswax chunks, Coconut Oil, and Vitamin E

I shopped for my oils at MOM’s Organic market.  You could try WholeFoods or a good pharmacy, or online. I used 1 Cup of Shea Butter, 1/2 cup of Coconut Oil, 1/2 cup of Sweet Almond Oil, and 50 drops of Vitamin E. If you can’t find Almond Oil, you could substitute olive, jojoba, or any other liquid oil. I also use about 4 Tablespoons of Beeswax.  The Beeswax is hard to measure, so I just broke off a hunk from my stash and chopped it up into smaller pieces.  The beeswax keeps the butter from becoming too soft and scents the body butter with honey. Here is the recipe:

Honey Scented Body Butter

1 C Shea Butter

1/2 C Coconut Oil

1/2 C Sweet Almond Oil

4 T Beeswax, broken up into small pieces

50 drops of Vitamin E Oil

Melt the Shea Butter, Coconut Oil, and Beeswax in the top of a double boiler until all lumps are melted.

Melting the Coconut Oil, Beeswax, and Shea Butter in the top of a double boiler

The Beeswax has the highest melting temperature, so will be the last to melt. Beeswax has honey deposited in it so you get the fragrance of the honey from your added beeswax.

Beeswax chunks are the last to melt

Remove from heat, letting cool slightly, and add the Sweet Almond Oil and the Vitamin E drops.

Remove from the heat and add the Sweet Almond Oil and the vitamin E drops and stir

Stir until mixed and place into the refrigerator for about an hour.

Place the mixture into the refrigerator to solidify

While in the refrigerator, the mixture will turn opaque and become very thick.

The mixture after chilling looks like icing

Bring the mixture out and whip it with a mixer or immersion blender or mixer.

Whipping the body butter with an immersion blender

Place in containers. I used an old Burt’s bees container and just some other containers that I had sitting around.

Scooping out the butter into containers- It is the perfect consistency!

Don’t worry if you forget the mixture in the refrigerator and it gets too hard.  Just gently warm it until it softens enough to whip.

With this recipe, I made about 3 1/2 cups of body butter that cost about $25 for materials.  I was spending $13 for a 6.75 ounce container from Burt’s Bees. After some calculation, I figured that if I bought 3 1/2 cups of body butter from Burt’s Bees, it would have cost me twice as much. Plus, I knew exactly what went into it.

Enough body butter to slather on for months!

I am thinking about making another batch for Christmas gifts!