Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Waxing Poetic (or something like that)

...



There hasn't been much blog activity of late, because

  1. 1. I suck and,
  2. I've been indulging in my new favorite hobby of having tenacious head-colds.

Seriously, this is the third bad cold since the beginning of October. The physical sickness is bad enough, but the abject stupidity is driving me insane.

Let's not dwell on that, okay?

Instead, I wanted to talk about harvesting our beehives.

So, look again at that top photograph. On the left side of the frame of comb, you'll see closed-over cells, containing developing female worker bees. During the colder months of the year, we understand that the queen lays almost no male drone eggs. We can tell the difference in the developing bees' gender by the size of the wax cells. We do not use factory produced wax foundation in our hives, but allow the bees to build whatever types of structures suit their needs. On the left of the frame, you'll see smaller comb, and on the right you'll see that the wax cells are notably larger. At one point these cells would have contained developing drones (the big boys). Now, they're used for nectar storage. Cool, huh? You can see a few cells that are capped with lovely white wax. These contain ripened honey, that the bees have sealed up for later use. You'll also see a rainbow of cells, surrounding the tan-colored brood cells. These contain pollen from the flowers near our house. Amazing, that. The pollen is a high value food for developing bees.




Robb and I leave most of the honey for the bees, but we were able to harvest a bit for ourselves.

Please pay no attention to the stray crumbs on our kitchen counters.




If the comb is especially beautiful, we'll carefully cut it out, and float it in a jar of honey. This batch was rather funky-looking, so we opted not to preserve any of the wax comb.

(We give away a fair amount of the honey that we harvest, and it seems that people are sometimes baffled and slightly horrified by the idea that the wax comb is edible. It's sort of like how people are grossed out by imagining their vegetables growing in the dirt. Don't get me started on this...)

While large-sale honey producers harvest with centrifugal extractors, we're entirely low-tech. We remove our honey from the combs using the crush-and-strain method. We cut the comb out of the frames, and place it in a double-layered sieve that's set over a bucket. Then we smoosh the comb, and wait for it to drain. The bucket has a clever honey dispenser, which allows us to fill jars easily.




All that's left in the sieve is some slightly sticky wax. Sometimes we'll wash this, and use the honey-wash-water to make mead.

And sometimes we'll skip that step, and just harvest the wax. This brown stuff doesn't look very promising, does it?

We wrap the wax in two layers of fine cheesecloth, and tie the cloth into a bag. The bag is then placed on a wire cookie-cooling rack, which is in turn placed over a bowl of water. This goes into a barely warm oven. The wax melts, and is filtered by the cloth. The liquid wax floats on top of the warm water. Once all the wax is melted, we take the bowl out of the oven, and wait for it to cool. The leftover gunk goes on the compost pile.




And we're left with beautiful clean honey-scented beeswax. It's like some kind of kitchen alchemy.

(Also, how about that faux-bois tablecloth? Allie gave it to us. It's super-awesome, and is decorated with cowboys, guns, and oil wells, as well as buildings that just might be slaughterhouses. You just can't make this stuff up. Allie, you're the best!)

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

How do you use the wax? if you tell me you hand-dip your own tapers, i may die. unless you hand-dip tapirs, in which case, i will laugh (also possibly to death)

-V

. . . Lisa and Robb . . . said...

Uh huh. Right.

Like you weren't standing right next to me at the Farmers' Museum, and also thinking "wax tapers -- I'll bet I could make those..."

Anonymous said...

if you are looking for some old fashioned candle molds, we have a crapload of that stuff around here-

Annalisa

. . . Lisa and Robb . . . said...

Do you mean that the Pennsylvania stores have candle molds, or that you personally do?

Ashley said...

I am so intrigued by keeping bees! Our winters are significantly harsher than yours (hi from Ontario!), so I'd have to do some major research before hand because I'd hate to jump right in and then have them all die :S.

Stefaneener said...

Man, I am definitely going to use your rendering method. So much easier than my "boil it all then strain while pouring" method! Hand-dipped tapers await!!

Susan Kuchinskas said...

interesting method but potentially even messier??

. . . Lisa and Robb . . . said...

We don't find this messy at all. No messier than cooking dinner.

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