The Dark Side of Beekeeping

Until now, I’ve not dwelled on the dark aspects of a beekeeper’s job.

No, I’m not talking about losing hives, dying queens, or even the Dreaded Varroa Destructor Mites.

I mean old beeswax.

Beeswax is a lovely substance. In its cleaner form, it smells delicious, is great for wood and has many other uses including beeswax wraps.

Unfortunately, wax that’s been reused gets old and ugly, and eventually bees refuse to use those frames.

I can’t say I blame them. The many herbicides and pesticides used in our world can accumulate in the wax and begin to affect the young bees.

Recently, we realized many of our frames have reached this state and have begun to clean and/or replace them.

Initially, we tried to extract the honey from the old frames, but it proved a lost cause. Instead we scraped them, and The Engineer powerwashed both the frames and foundation.

What to do with all that dirty, ugly wax though … hmmm, such a quandary.

Well, it turned out there was some honey, so I strained that to feed to the bees. It’s a little dark, and probably partly sugar rather than nectar, but I tasted a bit, and it’s not horrible. The Kremlin and the newest OH, Girls Split seem to like it.

I probably don’t need to remind you that honey is very, very sticky, but I’m going to anyway so you can understand the full beauty of what I was dealing with.

Straining left a dripping dark, sticky substance that stupid me decided to try to melt down.

Do NOT do this. It’s a waste of time. You get very little decent wax from a mountain of disgusting grunge.

Here’s an example of part of the mess I was working with.

At first it didn’t go too badly. I ended up getting what looked like a brand new electric roaster for $20. Using this at 200F, my first pile of wax left me with a dirty pile of … stuff … and more honey.

Still, honey is good, right? Better for the bees than pure sugar syrup, at least.

Once again, I strained the honey from the gunk, then did the same to the the other pile.

Next, I wrapped the black sludge (I’m running out of synonyms for what I cannot in good conscience call beeswax) in a cheesecloth, tied it tightly, and put it back in the roaster, with water.

Theoretically, the wax will melt and rise to the top, the gunk will stay put in the cheesecloth, and any honey that’s left will wash away with the water.

I’ve done this with cappings from when we’ve extracted, and it actually works.

Unfortunately, this stuff proved to have very little usable wax. And making matters worse, when I lifted out the second batch (while still hot, so it doesn’t get stuck in the wax), the cheesecloth slipped from my tongs and dropped back into the roaster.

Picture the first Apollo splashdown only with hot wax and honey.

Yes. It was a Big Mess, and I used every bad word I knew.

I hope the neighbors didn’t hear.

And, oh, yes, the floor.

This is from one side of the island. There was an equally disgusting spill on the other.

Lessons Learned:

  1. It’s probably worth it to stain and even heat dark old wax for the honey.
  2. It is not worth wasting cheesecloth, time and effort to try to render the wax.
  3. An electric roaster if you can get one cheap is excellent for melting wax.
  4. A smarter person would have used said roaster outside for this job, perhaps in the garage, if it’s raining or you’re worried about attracting every bee in the neighborhood.
  5. Cleaning beeswax from a linoleum floor is possible, but not fun. I used water heated in the electric kettle, a scrubby, a towel, and a mop.

That’s how I’ll do it next time, minus the scrubbing the floor (I hope).

I’ve learned from my mistakes. But I’ll feel a lot better if you do too.

On the bright side, here are the brand new frames we’ll be using to swap out the rest of the old ones in our hives. The Engineer assembled them, and they’re waiting for me to apply a better coat of wax.

If only I could have somehow used the stuff in the roaster …