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Archive for September, 2015

Lights and Sweets from Scraps and Bits

September 5, 2015 6 comments
The Light

The Light

Each year about this time, we begin the process of reclamation – of beeswax.  We use beeswax for all kinds of things around our homestead; candles, soaps, lotions, salves, lip balm and plastic-free wraps, so we need to reclaim as much as we possibly can.  We also end up

The Sweet

The Sweet

with a nice by-product of this reclamation process – nice pure, raw honey.  Honey is another essential ingredient we use: baking, tea, medicine, and just sweetening things.  We normally get just enough honey each year to last us until the next year.  Since our hive died out last year, and this is the first year for our current hive, we’re probably not going to get a whole lot of honey from it.  So  we bought “cappings” from one of our neighbors again, who has about 20 hives, and harvests and sells quite a bit of honey.  Cappings are the bits and scraps of leftover wax that get removed from the tops of the honeycomb before the honey gets extracted.  There’s usually a good bit of honey in with them, besides just the beeswax.  We bought 2 5-gallon pails of cappings, for a total of $55.

We ended up with 6 pounds of wax, and a gallon and a half of honey.  To buy this retail would cost close to $200, but of course there’s quite a bit of somewhat messy labor involved to realize this savings.

Finished Beeswax

Finished Beeswax

Here are the steps to convert raw, unprocessed wax cappings into nice clean beeswax, and delicious, healthy, raw honey.

Raw Honey

Raw Honey

Of course, the first thing you need are the cappings.  If you don’t have a friend or neighbor that keeps bees already, you can find a beekeeper through your local beekeeping association.  This web site has a list of beekeeping associations by state.  Beekeepers are pretty friendly folks, and always willing to talk to someone interested in their craft.  Who knows, maybe you’ll find bees so interesting you’ll want to keep a few hives of your own.

Once you’ve got your cappings, the next thing you’ll need is something to cover your floors.  We learned this the hard way in previous years.  After doing 15 gallons of cappings, we spent weeks scraping bits of beeswax and honey mixed with dirt, off the floor.  Since beeswax doesn’t dissolve in water, mopping doesn’t help in cleaning up.  The best thing to do is to simply put something down on the floor in whatever area you’re working.  You might think you want to do this outside, but believe me; the bees will convince you otherwise.  They will find the honey and harass you while you work.  So find something to cover the floor, and you’ll be fine.  We just use cardboard boxes laid out in the area we’re working in, from the stove to the kitchen table.

When you’re finished with them, you can simply burn them, or throw them out – however you normally get rid of trash.

Now that you’ve protected your floors, you’ll need a couple of BIG pots to set up a double boiler.  One of the pots you will end up dedicating as your beeswax pot.  It will never come clean again.  We had bought a set of stainless steel stock pots from Harbor Freight a few years ago, thinking we could use them for home-brewing, making tomato sauce, chili, etc.  Turns out the bottoms were so thin, they were pretty much useless for cooking anything, other than boiling water.  So we’ve dedicated one of them as our beeswax pot.  You can always use a metal coffee can for this, but it won’t hold quite as much. The other big pot will be your water pot, and won’t get all waxy.  We use one of our water bath canners for our water pot.  It’s the perfect size to slide the wax pot down inside, and we’ve usually got it out canning something this time of year anyway.Wax pot

You’ll also need some sort of containers to use as a mold to harden the wax in, some old (clean) cloths to filter the melted cappings, a pair of metal tongs, and containers for your honey.  This year we used glass bread pans for our molds.  We buttered the insides first, so that we could easily slip the hardened wax, and pour out the honey; this worked great.  In past years we’ve used wooden  soap molds, or small cardboard boxes lined with plastic wrap.  The filter cloths can be any type of thin cloth that you don’t plan on using again.  Cheesecloth works, but if you don’t have any; use whatever you have on hand.  Now, you won’t want to use this cloth for anything again; so make sure it’s not something important.  Honey containers – we just use canning jars; we have hundreds and hundreds of them around, so finding a few for honey is never a problem.  Since (raw) honey has antibacterial properties, we’ve never worried about sterilizing the jars, just make sure they’re washed, rinsed, and dried.

Once you’ve got your pots, the set-up is pretty simple.  Fill the bottom pot about 1/4 full of water, and set it on to boil.  Take your beeswax pot and fill it almost completely to the top with your cappings.  Don’t pack it down, just pile it in there.  Then set the beeswax pot into the other pot.  Once the water starts boiling, the cappings will begin to melt.  Add more cappings until you get a pot of liquid about 2/3 of the way full.  Don’t fill it much more full than that, you need to be able to handle the pot to pour the melted cappings into your molds.

Slowly pouring

Slowly pouring

Once all the cappings are melted, you’ll have a dark yellow-brown liquid that looks like exactly what it is – a mixture of melted beeswax and honey.  Slowly pour the hot liquid thru your cloth into your mold.  It may help to use rubber bands or some sort of clips to hold your cloth from slipping around, or tuck the edges of your cloth under your mold.  You really don’t want the cloth sliding around while you pour hot liquid!  Don’t worry about the debris that you’ll get as you’re pouring, the cloth will filter out all the dead bees, bits of propolis, and other flotsam and jetsam.  Fill all your molds about 3/4 of the way to the top – except the last one – fill that last one halfway.  Once you’ve poured out all your liquid, you’ll want to carefully gather up the 4 corners of your filter cloth and suspend it over that last mold container.  Now take your metal tongs, and squeeze the last remaining bits of liquid into your mold.  Resist the urge to dip your finger into the melted cappings – it’s HOT and you’ll burn yourself.

Next step is pretty simple… wait for your wax to harden up.  Today was 94 degrees, and it took approximately 30 minutes for the wax to harden enough to be removed.  Yes, we chose the hottest day of the week to melt down our cappings.  Why not – it’s already hot, what’s a couple more degrees, right?  As your wax is hardened, you’ll notice 2 distinct layers inside your mold.  A light yellow colored layer of wax, floating on top of a nice dark layer of delicious honey.

Make sure the wax is totally hardened, then lift it out of your mold.  You might need a butter knife or some other sort of flat object to encourage it to pop out.  Normally your last mold will have quite a bit more honey in it than wax (like the picture there on the left).  These are the easiest to remove the wax from.  The others will have 10-20% honey and the rest wax.  After you get the wax free from the mold, you’ll want to run the bottom of it under warm water to remove the little bit of sticky honey from the wax.  That way, when you store the wax, you won’t have to pry the pieces of wax away from each other when you’re ready to use them.  When you’ve gotten all the sticky off, you can put your wax up for storage.  You can put it in ziploc bags to keep the dust off, or just put them in a box.

Now you should have some molds left with honey in them; so it’s time to put up that honey.  Get your container, and another clean piece of cloth to filter with, something to secure your filter cloth, and begin pouring.  As you can see in the picture, we went with the extremely simple method of a canning ring to secure the filter cloth during this part of the process.  The cloth should catch any little bits of wax, or other bits of unwanted “stuff” that may have made it’s way into your mold during the first melt and pour session. When your containers are full, put a lid on them, wash the outsides, and put them up on your pantry shelf.  You end up with a surprising amount of honey when you process cappings.  The first year we did it we were amazed by the almost 2.5 gallons of honey we ended up with.  The best part about it is, you get real, raw local honey – the healthiest kind.  We use it for homemade cough remedies in the winter time, baking, sweetening tea and coffee, or just sneaking a spoonful when you’ve gotta have something sweet.

The last part of the cappings processing is the cleanup.  Leave your floor protection down until you are completely done, there always seems to be some sort of spill that happens when you’ve almost got everything cleaned up.  Clean your molds out – honey cleans up just fine with soap and hot water.  Wash out your hot water pot – any wax residue will have to be scraped off.  Use a putty knife or something with a wide blade if you have a large area to clean up.  If you have a dish or pot that has a lot of wax on it – stick it in your electric freezer for a couple hours – the wax will just pop off with your finger.  Dispose of your filter cloths – we haven’t found anything to really use them for.  If you keep bees, you can put the cloths near the hives and let the bees clean up any excess honey, and then throw the waxy cloths out.

Processing cappings is turning into an annual event for our family.  It’s a great time to use the benefits of the family economy to produce something useful, as well as save a little money.  This year we even have enough beeswax left from previous years to make and sell some really neat beeswax skep candles from wax that we’ve processed as a family.

Until next time…..

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