In a comment yesterday, Ed mentioned reclaiming wax after the harvest is done. For lots of people, honey is what they think of when they think of beekeeping. There are tons of other things that beekeepers can harvest or use from the beehive though. Wax is a big item on that list. In one of yesterday’s pictures, you can see that wax capping that covers mature honey in the honeycomb. When I extract the honey, I have to remove those cappings with a knife to allow the honey to be removed from the comb. Some folks might be tempted to throw all of that wax away, but those wax cappings add up quickly.
When we process honey, we uncap the honeycomb on the frames, place it in the extractor, run the extracted honey through a kitchen strainer to remove cappings and pour it into a bottle. That is the extent of our processing. Besides making a more pleasant looking honey, we run it through the strainer to harvest the wax cappings in particular. So, I collect the wax cappings from when I use the knife to uncap the comb as well as the little bits of cappings that come out in extraction and let them drain (as both are covered in/full of honey still). The bees are given access afterwards and they complete the bulk of the clean-up for me.
After the bees have their time, the cappings get thrown into my solar wax melter. It’s basically a black wooden box with a baking pan and a bread pan inside, covered by a sheet of plexiglas. The box rests at an incline so it faces the sun properly. The baking pan has 3-4 small holes drilled in one edge at the bottom of the incline, and the bread pan sits under those holes. As the sun passes through the plexiglas, it heats everything inside like crazy, just like any greenhouse would.
The honey begins to melt and runs down through the small holes into the bread pan. Any bee parts or other detritus are too big to flow through the holes. Honey sometimes flows with the wax but the melted wax floats on the honey very nicely. After everything cools, the wax hardens and comes out very clean. I pull the wax out, feed any honey to the bees and marvel at how awesome the wax looks. And let me tell you, the smell is incredible!
So, once the honey is cleaned (and yes, truthfully, it sometimes takes a few runs), it can be used for anything where wax is needed. Usually, people make candles but folks also use it in soap, for quilting and woodworking (as a lubricant) and for handlebar moustaches! Honey is a major crop from the bees, but wax is also significant and just plain cool. And what better wax to process honey than with the help of the same sun that allowed the bees to make it in the first place!