Last summer, folks in the St. Kate’s biology department got wind of my insect drawings, so when I was in town I went in to talk about possibly drawing something for the Biology Club t-shirt. If you didn’t know, I did my B.A. in biology at St. Kate’s, and in my last year there worked on the then-new green roof and designed my first bio club t-shirt. While we were catching up (I hadn’t visited since I left in 2009!), we got to talking about bees and bee habitat and I remember thinking ‘the green roof would be the PERFECT place for a honey bee hive.’ Well it turns out it is. The bio club will soon be the proud supporters of a bee hive, in collaboration with Beez Kneez Honey House (check them out! They are also selling my greeting cards! http://www.thebeezkneezdelivery.com).
Beeswax is possibly my favorite hive product. There are so many things you can do with it, like making candles, salves, and lip balm. The wax I have collected has mainly been as a byproduct of the honey harvest, and from the inside of the inner cover where my bees insist on building comb between my visits. Lip balm doesn’t require very much wax, which is perfect as most first-year beekeepers don’t get much.
Honeybees use wax comb to house their brood and store their honey. The worker bees produce it in scales from glands in their abdominal segments. The scales fall off and other workers put them to use by softening them with their mandibles. The wax starts out clear, and then turns opaque once its been chewed- honey cappings are about the purest wax you will find other than the fresh scales. If the wax is used for honey or brood, pollen and propolis can change the color to yellow or brownish shades.
So the first part of the lip-balm-making process is collecting and cleaning the wax. After crushing the comb and getting any honey out of it, it needs to be melted down in a double boiler and strained through cheesecloth to get out any pollen or debris. Then, I like to pour the melted wax in 1 tblp containers so that when they cool, they harden into convenient pre-measured blocks. I use an egg-carrying container, but an ice-cube tray would work really well, too.
I have tried a good few recipes at this point, and am still fine-tuning it. I started by looking for a basic recipe online, and then reading the ingredient list of several other lip balm brands.
The basic recipe I have been using is:
1 part coconut oil
1 part beeswax
1 part shea butter
few drops of peppermint essential oil
couple drops of vitamin E body oil
Some other things people use are almond butter, olive oil, or lanolin. Each has slightly different softness and scent, and so which you use is simply a matter of preference.
Once I have all the ingredients together, I just put them in the microwave for 30 seconds at a time until everything is liquid. Then, I scoop the liquid into a funnel over the clear lip balm tubes I got from Amazon. Once the balm starts to cool, you get a significant depression at the top of the tube, so I top each one off with a few more drops before I put the caps on and cover them with a sticker. And that’s it! Feel free to send me a message if you would like to try one!
As many of you probably heard, I am trying my hand at beekeeping this year for the first time. Back in January, I ordered my ‘nuc’ (short for nuclear unit), then I bought the pieces and assembled my hive, and painted it turquoise and yellow.
When my nuc arrived in April, I drove to the pick-up location and put the sketchily-secured container of 12,000 anxious bees, with a not-at-all-secured screened entrance into my subaru and very carefully and nervously drove 3 miles to the apiary where I am now keeping them.
Since then, they have gone pretty-much gangbusters, filling up two brood boxes and nearly 2 supers with honey. They also built comb for all 35 frames, since my equipment was brand spankin new. Most beekeepers don’t get much honey in their first year, because building wax takes a lot more resources than honey- it takes approximately 8 pounds of nectar to produce one pound of wax, but my hive is doing exceptionally well.
I’ve been a pretty hands-off beekeeper so far-just enough to keep them happy. I go there once every week or two, open up the hive to check the brood pattern and make sure the queen is still laying eggs. Since they have been doing so well, I have also been
checking for queen cells and drone comb-signs that they are getting ready to swarm. I have been giving them extra space when necessary, by exchanging brood frames that were full of honey for empty ones so they can use them for brood, and by adding the honey supers. In doing so, we got our first harvest of honey, and probably a pound of wax that I have been testing out lip balm recipes with.
It’s has all been really fun, to say the least. I plan to write some more detailed posts about different aspects of beekeeping, and the projects I start with the wax, etc…, but I wanted to get you all up to speed with a quick, general explanation, and lots of nice photos (Pete is not deterred by such trivial hazards as bee allergies).
So, I’m doing this beekeeping apprentice thing this summer, where I have my own hives and have a mentor who helps me not kill all of the bees right away. I ordered my bees the other day, and am getting super stoked to get my hive all set up and put the bees in it! This is a photo from a day last summer when I was invited to watch the beekeepers at work on Lois and Doug’s farm. I’ve wanted to keep bees for a while, but this day solidified it for me. This photo was taken mere moments before a curious bee got ensnared in my hair, panicked, and stung me, inspiring a dozen other bees to do the same. But I was not deterred! Love hurts, right?