Beeswax is a natural wax produced by worker honeybees. The wax is secreted from wax producing glands in the abdomen. The wax comes out as colourless and brittle.
The bee then uses its legs to move the wax to its mouth where they chew it to soften it up. During this process, the wax picks up bits of honey, pollen and propolis which darkens the colour of the wax. Once the wax is pliable the worker bees use the wax to build honeycomb inside the beehive.
The honeycomb is built as hexagonal cells that are used to house eggs and other brood, and to store their food in the form of honey, nectar, and pollen. The bees fill each cell with honey and when its full, cap it off with beeswax.
I use a collection of open-ended boxes, filled with frames of foundation wax, to create each beehive. The bottom box is the home for the queen and her workers. This is where the worker bees build honeycomb for the queen to lay her eggs and food is stored. Once the box is full and the bees healthy and strong, I will add a mesh to the top of the box called a queen excluder and add another box on top with frames with foundation wax for the worker bees to build more honeycomb to fill with honey stores. The worker bees can get through the queen excluder but the queen is too big. This means the frames in the second box free of brood which makes it possible to harvest the honey and wax. As soon as this box is filled more boxes can be added. These honey boxes are the ones I will harvest, only taking more than the bees need, otherwise the bees will starve during the winter.
To harvest the honey and the wax I take the frames out and remove the capping wax with a hot knife from both sides of the frame. I then put the frames into a honey spinner which spins out the honey which then runs into a storage tank and then can later be put into jars. I put the frames into the freezer for a few days and then put them back into a hive. These are called stickies. The honeycomb is still there which means the worker bees can concentrate on filling the cells with honey rather than having to make more wax to create the cells.
To make the beeswax, I mainly use the wax cappings I take from the filled honey frames. I also use older honeycomb where I have taken out the honey, but the frames are broken (often the wire that holds the foundation wax on the frame snaps).
I put the wax into a cheesecloth bag which I then put into a boiling stockpot of water. This melts the wax but leaves a lot of the bits and pieces I don’t want to be in the wax. I then pour the waxy water into containers and allow the water to cool. The wax rises to the top and when its cold I can lift out a lump of wax. The wax is still pretty dirty, and I need to re-melt it in a double boiler so any solids or dirt fall to the bottom again. To further clean it I will pour the wax through a paper coffee filter which I then use as a fire lighter. By this time the wax should be reasonably clean, and I can pour it into a mould for later use. This is a very time-consuming job generally taking up a whole day. If I am lucky I will get about a kilo of clean wax out of every hive I harvest.
Each batch of beeswax will have a slightly different colour depending on the type of wax used, more cappings can make it lighter, the nectar, honey and pollen collected can make it darker.
Beeswax Facts and Figures