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Beeswax is one of the products harvested from honey bee colonies. It is a natural product produced by special abdominal glands of the honey bees. It is normally produced as wax droplets that transform into flakes when exposed to air. These are converted into usable material for holding together honeycombs. The worker bees are solely responsible for the entire task of softening the flakes using their mouths. Beeswax is widely used across so many industries. It is one of the top products that generate revenue for the beekeeper. It can be consumed in its natural state, however, it is a preferred skin and hair product. In this article, we shall explain how to harvest beeswax.
How to Separate Beeswax from Honeycomb
The first step of removing beeswax from honey is the removal of wax cappings using a heating knife. Beeswax cappings are easy to process since they contain the least amount of stains, propolis, debris, or pollen. The cappings however retain some honey since they are removed from the comb surface. The honey residue should be removed to avoid wastage.
You can place the cut cappings inside any container that has some tiny holes on the bottom. Place this container on top of another container that will collect the dripping honey. You can also use a filter bag to hold your beeswax cappings. Place the bag on top of a bucket and allow the liquid honey to drip into the container. You can then rinse the beeswax using cool clean water.
The entire process of harvesting beeswax should be carried out away from the beehive.
How to Filter Beeswax
The most crucial first step before filtering beeswax is rinsing and drying the wax caps. Freezing is also an important step preceding beeswax harvesting. Collected wax should be frozen to remove air and moisture that might ruin the resulting wax. Any freezer-safe container can be used to keep the clean and dried honey.
The main aim of filtering is to remove any bee parts or any other type of debris from the wax. You can use the following method to filter beeswax:
Step 1: You need a double boiler. If you do not have one then you can DIY one. Use a stainless steel bowl placed inside boiling water.
Step 2: Use a piece of woven cloth to filter any propolis and debris from melted wax directed into a bowl. You will need parchment paper that will serve as a mold at the bottom of the bowl. The wax will harden onto this paper. You can also pour melted beeswax inside silicone molds, once it has been filtered. You can also use a muffin tin for the same purpose.
How to Clean up Beeswax
Beeswax may be useful but at times it can be annoying when it sticks to clothing, carpets, tablecloths, tabletops, or any other furniture surface. There are so many techniques you can use to clean up beeswax.
Some of the techniques you can use to remove beeswax include the following:
- Use of an iron– works on any wax that is stuck on clothing, carpets, and fabric. You can use a kitchen towel or paper bag to cover the wax. Place the lowly heated iron on top of the paper or cloth. This will gently melt the wax that then gets deposited on the paper or cloth. You can then cover the affected surface with a little baking powder, leave it overnight, and vacuum it. Clothing can be cleaned thereafter using a washing machine.
- Freezer – place dishes, candlesticks, cooking pots, and dishes inside the freezer. Leave it overnight. The wax will harden making it easy to pull out using your fingers. You can then use a soft cloth to clean any stains.
- Vinegar and water solution – this can be used for cleaning all other surfaces. You can use a hairdryer or any other heating equipment to heat the affected surface. Then take a soft cloth and wipe off the surface. Mix 1 part vinegar with 3 parts water and fill it into a spraying bottle. Spray the solution on the affected surface and use the soft cloth to wipe the surface dry.
- Boiled water – this can be used to clean wax that is stuck on kitchenware. You can place the utensils inside boiling water and remove it once the wax has melted. Use a soft cloth or paper towel to wipe it. If you still have wax residues then apply a small amount of vegetable oil, then wash it off using hot soapy water. The pot should also be clean thereafter using the same procedure.
How to Clean Beeswax Cappings
The commonly used method of collecting wax cappings is the use of a special knife. It involves the scrape and drain method. Cappings are scraped off and the open combs left to drain out the honey. A collection tray is used to keep the wax cappings.
Scarped wax cappings will collect some honey and this needs to be harvested as well. A large mesh bag is used for cleaning out the honey from the cappings through a method called straining. All wax cappings are suspended on the mesh bag above a collecting jug or bucket. The honey will slowly drip into the container for one or two days.
Resulting cappings with honey residues can then be cleaned by rinsing in cool water. The wax can then be melted and refined using solar melters, a water bath melter, or even a double boiler. Melted wax can then be stored in any useful container and kept in a cool and dry place such as a freezer. Some contaminators such as wax moths will be destroyed when the beeswax is frozen.
How to Store Beeswax
Beeswax is easy to store. The ideal condition for beeswax storage is a cool and dry spot preferably under room temperature. It should be kept away from dust or any potential contaminants. Plastic is the ideal storage material for keeping the wax blocks. Wax tends to attract dust and dirt.
You can melt huge wax blocks and keep these in smaller molds to ease storage. Smaller blocks are easier to handle and will take up a small storage space. Keep wax blocks in tightly sealed containers as well. Remember wax has an infinite lifespan. It can however collect a powdery substance when stored under extremely cool conditions. A blow drier can be used to remove this powder also referred to as bloom. You can also use a soft rag to remove the bloom.
Melted wax can be poured into tiny containers such as ice cube trays, silicone molds, and muffin tins. You should also avoid warm storage areas since the wax will melt and stick to the plastic container.
Benefits of Beeswax
Beeswax is impermeable and is therefore often used in moisturizing products. It is used to keep the skin firm and plump. It also helps ease skin irritation due to its anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic properties. Doctors recommend it for the treatment of eczema, rosacea, and many other skin conditions.
Beeswax is also used as a hair product. It moisturizes and soothes hair making it grow more quickly. It also helps to reduce hair loss and retains moisture within the hair. Beeswax is also used as protection against irritants. It forms a layer of protection on the skin, keeping it safe from extreme weather and other irritants.
Beeswax is used for cleaning and healing wounds. It also functions as an anti-microbial and anti-bacterial agent that heals infections. You can also use beeswax to calm rashes, abrasions, or even burns.
Does Harvesting Beeswax Harm Bees?
Just like any other honey bee product, the bees do not make beeswax for humans. It takes plenty of hard work to gather pollen that helps when making beeswax that is used for building the bee colony. Concerns have been raised as to whether beeswax harvesting should be stopped or not. The declining bee population has even further aggravated the situation. It is believed that the main cause of this decline is attributable to mankind.
Bees play an important role in sustaining the planet. Bees pollinate ¾ of the crop species that feed 90 percent of the global population. Harvesting beeswax unsustainably therefore threatens our very well-being. It might not be possible to pinpoint and put a number on how much beeswax harvesting affects bees but it is right to infer that too much of the activity has serious effects on both bees and the human population.
So does harvesting beeswax harm bees? Well, it is clear beeswax is mainly produced for the beehive. This, therefore, means that harvesting the beeswax is an activity that affects the bees directly. Harvesting should therefore be carried out sustainably. Harvest what is in surplus to avoid overworking the bees as they try to replenish the beeswax that has been taken away.
Is Beeswax Sustainable?
Well, as mentioned earlier, human activity has had a serious impact on the honey bee population. The main causes of this decline are closely linked to activities such as: use of pesticides, improper handling of commercial hives, widespread planting of genetically modified crops, use of cheap sugar as substitute feed, and unsustainable harvesting of honey bee products.
What then is the best way of harvesting honey bee products? Should we not harvest these products in entirety? Well, that is a question you should answer at an individual level. Some beekeepers have opted to never use beeswax and that is admirable. However, there is a better way of handling beeswax. Just like honey, bees can produce excess beeswax. It is this surplus amount that should be harvested for use. How can we live in a world without candles or even products such as lip balm, furniture polish, and many others?
Sustainable harvesting of beeswax means the collection of only the excess wax. Those that source beeswax should also buy it from firms that are committed to the sustainable management of their apiaries.
The bottom line is that natural beeswax is sustainable. This does not apply to synthetic beeswax such as paraffin wax. The natural wax is produced naturally by bees and can be harvested safely with the least impact on the bees and ultimately the environment. Bees and their colonies benefit immensely through the sustainable harvesting of the beeswax.
Another direct benefit attained through harvesting of beeswax is that it allows the bees to build fresh honeycombs. This is disease-free and best suited for nurturing the next generation of bees. A good example is where you find honeycombs that have been abandoned by wild bees. This is a part of their natural life cycle.
An indirect benefit of beeswax harvesting when it comes to sustainability, is the fact that beeswax replaces other products. For instance, plastic wrap and clingfilm are replaced by beeswax. You can use the wax to keep food fresh instead of using these unsustainable products. A popular best green alternative is the beeswax paper or wraps available in stores. Beeswax is food safe and is best suited for wrapping a wide variety of foods. It also lasts so much longer in the freezer or refrigerator. It is also worth noting that beeswax wraps are 100% recyclable and biodegradable. You can throw away unwanted beeswax without worrying about its impact on the environment.
A Final Word
Beeswax has been in use for a very long time. It is used widely in products that include: artwork, cosmetics, woodworking, black powder shooting, and many others. Beeswax harvesting should be carried out sustainably since the bees work so hard in preparing the product. It is produced for the bee colony and not for our use. Therefore, you inflict no harm to bees when you only take away the surplus beeswax. A proper understanding of how to harvest beeswax will thus benefit both the beekeeper and the bees. Beeswax is a sustainable honey bee product and is the best alternative for products such as plastic food wraps. It is recyclable and biodegradable making it the best green option for the environmentally-conscious.
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