You’ll never believe it, but some folks sort of look at us beekeepers and wonder if we lost every last ounce of sense that our Mommas slapped into our heads when we were younger…well, that’s how my Momma did it. Anyhow, we also have a reputation as being a fairly dull bunch. Wait, I know, it is hard to believe. So, to prove any doubters wrong, I am here to describe a great winter project that some beekeepers work on to keep the cabin-fever-crazies from setting in…candle making!
Honeybees make beeswax. That’s how they roll. Every egg that the queen lays and every ounce of food (honey and pollen) that they gather is stored in beeswax. They are industrious builders and sometimes become a little over-zealous in their projects. You see, honeybees like they hives to be orderly. One huge part of that is “bee space“. Bees like to have 3/8” space to crawl between frames and throughout the hive. If they have left, they typically fill it with propolis, a super sticky product they create to patch holes (or spaces smaller that the required bee space). If the hive has spaces larger than 3/8″, the bees will fill it with burr comb. Burr comb is just “filler comb” that they use to tidy up spaces and make every part of their hive the proper bee space. It works great for them and settles their nerves (which is good for beekeepers!), but it makes inspecting the inside of a hive difficult for a beekeeper. You see, we use those nice frames to keep things straight inside the hive so we can remove the pieces. Bees don’t see it that way at all and build their burr comb in every direction they feel inclined.
What does that have to do with candle-making you ask? Beekeepers cannot allow too much burr comb to build up or the hive becomes very difficult to manage without greatly disturbing the bees (by the way, bees have stingers and aren’t afraid to use them!) which is never a good thing. Each time I get into my hives (once a month…sometimes more often, sometimes less), I scrape the burr comb into a box I carry with me. Some beekeepers just pitch that comb, but that seems like a huge waste. I gather it and toss it in a solar wax melter and let the sun add its magical heat to melt the wax (the process, by the way, leaves the wax mostly free of impurities…the wax flows into a collector while the dirt, twigs, etc that I introduce by accident stay in the melting tray. Similarly, I also keep every bit of wax I remove when I harvest honey (honey cells are capped with wax which must be removed for harvest).
So, finally, we get back to candle-making. When I get a little stir crazy in the winter, I have a good stash of clean wax that is just begging to be made into candles. We melt the wax in an old crockpot so the wax heats slowly and does not get too hot. Wax, as you hopefully have never experienced, is very flammable and if heated too fast or hot, will give you problems. In my opinion, the only safe way to melt wax is in a solar wax melter or an old crockpot. So, we add chunks of wax we collected and melted all summer into the pot and wait for it to melt.
Once melted, the wax can be poured into all sorts of molds. To be sure, there are tons of candle forms that one can spend an entire inheritance on. I prefer the simple approach though. We add a wick to a simple jelly-jar or a small decorative jar. No wax is melted during the burning of the candle and I like how easy they are to store in jar-form.
By the way, pure beeswax is always some shade of yellow. Colored candles, by definition, are not pure beeswax. Pure beeswax candles are sootless when they burn and are the smoothest burning candles. Candles made from parafin (most candles) put off black soot and are simply not as pleasant to burn in my opinion.
There isn’t a lot to making candles in a simple form. Beekeeping is pretty straight-forward, but candle-making is even simpler. Many beekeepers in your area probably collect wax but don’t bother to make candles. If you are interested, you may consider approaching them and buying some beeswax. It’s great family fun and a simple, easy, wonderful gift you can give for any occasion!