Recovering wax from our beehives

Harvesting Bees Wax

At Afrinoon Permaculture we have had two very productive bee hives over the last couple of years. Our bees are the quiet, gentle calm Buckfast bees. However at the end of this year we suffered a terrible loss due to sudden colony collapse. We believe this was due to a high infestation of veromites as the colonies were weakened they were then subjected to an attack of Asian hornets.

So we cleared and cleaned down both the hives, and recovered as much honey as we could. Part of the clean up process is retrieving the wax that was in the frames as these could not be reused in the hives due to health concerns.

Good hygiene is a key factor in beekeeping. In a beehive, the frames are one of the important items you should clean. Once cleaned the frames can then be reused in the beehives with little risk of spreading diseases.

Hence the aim was to recover as much wax as was possible. Beeswax is an incredibly versatile substance, with uses in food preparation, crafts and much more. Here is a small list of ways in which we use beeswax:

  • Wax wraps for food storage
  • Skin care
  • Ateliers de pratiques artisanales
  • Wood care products

Step one: Gather the wax

In the first instance we harvested the cappings gathered when extracting the honey out of the full frames. This is usually some of the best beeswax you can find and is taken off by using an extractor knife. Beeswax cappings are easy to process since they contain the least amount of stains, propolis, debris, or pollen. I placed this in a cheesecloth and hung it over a bucket to allow any liquid honey to drip into the container. 

As we use foundation-less frames in our dadant hives, the combs are the main source of wax. This was the arduous part, as each comb had to be cut from the frame, then broken down it into small pieces and placed into serveral large plastic containers.

As we cleaned out 2 hives we had plenty of beeswax to process. Unfortunately alot of the one hives wax was really mixed in with all sorts of other gunk, so these took longer to process.

wax from frame
extracting wax from frames

Step Two: Separate the Wax

For the first stage I melted down the capping wax, which I had placed in a cheese cloth. I used a large saucepan that I reserve specially for “non food” related tasks. I half filled it with water and brought this up to a simmering.  I placed the cheesecloth with the wax in the water and slowly the beeswax started to melt.

Afterwards I brought the water to a boil, and when all the wax had melted into the water, I removed and squeezed out the cheesecloth. This leaves behind “wax water”.

I took the saucepan off the heat and allowed it to cool (overnight). One can at this point also pour it into another container to allow it to solidify, but be warned you may not be using the container or saucepan for food production in the future.

As the water cools the wax rises to the top, with dirty water underneath. A solid layer forms  on top which is the wax, and you will see that it is still quite dirty.


   Step three: Clean the wax

Next I took out the wax cake and drained off the dirty water along with any loose debris. I refreshed with clean water and put it back on the hob to heat up.

Same process again, let it boil then cool it down and wait for the wax cake to form.

Step four: Pour into a mold

This step may have to be repeated several times until you have clean water and no debris. So after melting, cleaning, and refreshing water a few times I was finaly left with a nice clean disc of wax.

One could at this point, melt the wax for a final time and pour into the mold of your choice and you are done.

Wax should store well indefinately in a cool, dark place. Plastic is the ideal storage material for keeping the wax cakes. Wax tends to attract dust and dirt.

Our objective is to always use and recycle products where we can,  and although this processs was time consuming it will save us money, and have many use in the long term

melted wax in water
wax cake