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

   

Honey Bee Royalty at the Maryland State Fair

Danielle Dale, American Honey Princess 2012 for the American Beekeeping Federation, working at the Timonium State Fair promoting honey

Honey Princess 2012

On a hot and muggy afternoon recently, I worked at the MD State Fair in Timonium at the honey booth selling honey products. As a MD beekeeper, you are encouraged to work the fair for a shift to help our group, the Central MD Beekeepers Association, sell members honey.

While there, I got to meet Danielle Dale, a prior 2011 Wisconsin Honey Queen, who competed and won the national title of Honey Princess 2012, to represent the American Beekeeping Federation. Danielle is 20 years old and from Sparta, Wisconsin and is a 3rd generation beekeeper who began beekeeping at age 12.

There is also an American Honey Queen that does similar promotions around the country.  For Danielle, being selected as the American Honey Princess is quite an honor, and she gets to travel all over the country as the spokesperson for the American Beekeeping Federation, giving demonstrations and talks about beekeeping. Go to https://www.facebook.com/#!/AmericanHoneyQueenProgram to see Princess Danielle and Queen Alyssa in action. They do lots of fun things like roll beeswax candles with kids, make foods with honey, and give interviews and talks about honey.

Judged bottles of honey with ribbons at the MD State Fair

The American Beekeeping Federation represents beekeepers and honey producers throughout the United States and relies on Danielle and Alyssa as their ambassadors throughout the country, so Danielle really has to know beekeeping inside and out.  And she does! After talking to her and hearing her explain the demonstration hive to the fair goers, she impressed me with her breadth of knowledge. And that is the main criteria that the Honey Princess is selected on. She was poised, and even though the heat was stifling in the exhibition hall, Danielle always looked cool and calm. I was dripping sweat from being there for just a few hours, but Danielle who is from Wisconsin and not used to our sauna-like weather, was there all day and never complained. She was dressed in a dress, tiara, and nylons, so I felt for her!

One of the beekeeping displays at the MD State Fair

There were exhibits, bee products such as soap, honeycomb, honey, gift baskets, honey sticks, and candles on display and for sale.

Soap and chunks of beeswax for sale

Honey Tasting

We were deluged with hordes of people who wanted to taste the different varieties of honey and creamed honey for sale. We had 3 varieties from MD – thistle, locust, and wildflower, and 3 from different parts of the country – blueberry, orange blossom, and buckwheat. Buckwheat honey from Wisconsin is dark like molasses, and has a very earthy taste. It  is not my favorite but there are people who appreciate it.  I love thistle honey from MD which has a floral note that is sweet, but not too sweet like orange blossom honey. When people taste the blueberry honey, they are disappointed that it doesn’t taste like blueberries! I explain that it is the nectar from the blueberry flower in Maine that the bees collect and not the fruit itself.

Checking out the wares at the honey booth at the MD State Fair

People are very curious about honey and honeybees and this give me an opportunity to talk to interested people about my favorite hobby. At the demonstration hive which is just an enclosed glass beehive, my husband explained beekeeping to an enthralled audience. The queen is marked so you can easily see her move around and kids are fascinated.

Marked queen bee with attendants
Marked queen bee with attendants (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chunk Honey

Chunk Honey, which is a large piece of honey comb in a jar of honey – Delicious!

Not many people looked at the chunk honey which is just a large chunk of beeswax dropped into a jar with honey. From my days of extracting honey, I have become addicted to the taste of chewy tasty honeycomb.  I tell people who aren’t sure what to do with it, just to take a large spoonful of the honeycomb dripping with the honey and gobble it up.  The beeswax is chewy and delicious like bubble gum and you can spit the wax out when you are done extracting every bit of honey from it, or you can swallow it.  The honeycomb is actually good for you!

Creamed Honey

My next favorite is creamed honey.  This is simply a very creamy crystallized honey product.  It is processed commercially with seed crystals in precisely controlled temperatures to crystallize to a smooth consistency. As anyone who has honey crystallize in the jar, the resulting product can be very grainy and unappetizing. But with the invention of creamed honey in the 1920’s, a mild spreadable butter-like honey that doesn’t drip became possible.

Creamed honey in the jar
Spreading creamed honey on an english muffin

Storing Honey

Whenever I made a honey sale, I was sure to tell people to store their honey in a warm place, such as a sunny windowsill.  Honey needs to be warm so it will not crystallize into big granulated chunks.  Never put honey in the refrigerator! It will crystallize very quickly in cold conditions.  If the honey starts to crystallize, just set the entire bottle in a saucepan of water on the stove and heat very slowly.  Shake the bottle once in a while to distribute the heat and continue until all the crystals are gone and it is a runny consistency.

Other Honey and Wax Products

A combination langstroth and top bar hive that won first prize

There were lots of other interesting honey products and inventions that gave me ideas for my own hives. Seeing all the exhibits inspired me to show or sell some of the things that I have been making out of beeswax at next year’s fair. This combination hive that won the first prize really intrigued me because it combines two very different kinds of hives that you never see together. But it was ingenious how it all fit together. I need to find out more about it because I really can’t explain how it is used.

Cleaned and melted beeswax from my hives

I have plenty of beeswax that I have accumulated over the years and finally decided to do something with it the past couple of weeks.  I am definitely going to take some of my candles and soaps to the fair next year and maybe bring home a blue ribbon!

My mason jar and bee skep candles
My honey oatmeal soap