So, what do you do with your old wax? For some of us, as little as possible, but for others, there’s money to be made. There are different kinds of wax based on a couple of factors, including how long it was in the hive and how it was used by the...
So, what do you do with your old wax? For some of us, as little as possible, but for others, there’s money to be made.
There are different kinds of wax based on a couple of factors, including how long it was in the hive and how it was used by the bees. Bees wax from the brood area tends to get dark fast, in a couple of years, it’s nearly black from old cocoons, pollen, uneaten honey and the like.
In fact, after a couple of years those old combs will have enough dirt, grime, propolis and especially ag pesticides soaked up that they should be removed from the hive. But then what? Solar wax melters work, a hot plate and a double-boiler work too. Melt it down, get rid of it.
Cappings wax, that beautiful wax removed from honey frames however, is usually beautiful, light, bright and glowing yellow. That should be saved. There’s high demand, high value and good money to be made from this wax.
What’s beeswax worth these days? You can check the journals, and other beekeepers. There is money in turning the wax into candles as well as selling it in bulk to other beekeepers, cosmetic manufactures and even beauticians.
In this episode, Kim and Jim talk about how you can mind your bees wax and maybe even make a good dollar or two at the same time!
If you like the episode, share it with a fellow beekeepers and/or let us know by leaving a comment in the show notes. We'd love to hear from you and how you deal with bees wax!
Thanks to Betterbee for sponsoring today's episode. Betterbee’s mission is to support every beekeeper with excellent customer www.betterbee.comservice, continued education and quality equipment. From their colorful and informative catalog to their support of beekeeper educational activities, including this podcast series, BetterBee truly is Beekeepers Serving Beekeepers. See for yourself at
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Music: Heart & Soul by Gyom, Walking in Paris by Studio Le Bus, original guitar music by Jeffrey Ott
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Jim Tew: Kim, plain and simple, what do you do with your old wax, particularly, the cappings?
Kim Flottum: Plain and simple, as little as possible.
Jim: Okay. That makes sense. I try to melt mine down but sometimes, it makes a bigger mess than it’s actually worth it.
Kim: Yes, you got that exactly right which is why I answered that as little as possible.
Jim: That was a legitimate answer, believe it or not, for those people listening. Hi, I'm Jim Tew.
Kim: I'm Kim Flottum.
Jim: Today, we're at Honey Bee Obscura where we're trying to decide what to do with old wax during the cold months when we should be staying busy.
Introduction: You are listening to Honey Bee Obscura, brought to you by Growing Planet Media, the folks behind Beekeeping Today Podcast. Each week on Honey Bee Obscura, hosts Kim Flottum and Jim Tew explore the complexities, the beauty, the fun, and the challenges of managing honey bees in today's world and engaging in an informative discussion meant for all beekeepers, long-timers, and those just starting their journey with bees. Sit back and enjoy the next several minutes as Kim and Jim explore all things honey bees.
Jim: Kim, the trouble wax is that there's different kinds of it. The wax cappings are nice, new, sometimes called virgin wax. If you treat it correctly, it's canary yellow when you melt it down. Then, there's all those old wax burr comb pieces that you scrape off the hive while you're working bees that seems to primarily get stuck in the bottom of your boot. It should never have been on the ground because the inspectors and people like Kim Flottum will tell you that spreads disease. What are we going to do with all this? What do you do with this wax? If you're just a small operator, tell me what you're going to do with it.
Kim: I take my wax in two directions. One of them is what you mentioned was that burr comb scrapings and old frames, old foundation. I think I've mentioned before when we were talking about, if you hold a frame up to the sun and you can't see through the foundation, it's too old and you should be getting rid of it. That's even now changed a little bit because of the amount of chemicals that bees are running into in the environment, internal and external. When I'm dealing with old foundation, I roast marshmallows with it because I'm not going to melt it down because-- Here's the question I'll ask every beekeeper. Would you eat that wax? Would you take that wax, and put it in your beehive, and let your bees live in that wax? A good answer is - probably not.
Jim: Probably not.
Kim: The cappings wax, that's a whole different animal. The cappings wax, I save. I don't do anything with it. I don't make candles, I don't make wrap, I don't make any of those things. I don't have a place to do it, I don't have the energy. Up until just recently, I didn't have the time. What I'm going to do with the cappings is melt them. I got a two-burner hot plate and a big pan that goes on that two-burner hot plate.
The first thing I do is I take the cappings after I'm done extracting, and I put them outside and let the bees clean up the honey that's sticking to them. Most of the time, they'll do that. I know sometimes yours haven't. I want to talk to you about that because I can't figure out why. They'll clean up 90% of the honey. I wash it off. I put them in that pan on the two-burner hot plate, pour in some water, come back in an hour. It's sitting outside, by the way, that two-burner hot plate.
Jim: I was waiting for the right time to ask are you going to burn that garage down you cleaned out in other episodes?
Kim: Then, I got a block of wax that's nice yellow. I got a dozen friends that will make candles out of it, make some money. They're happy, I'm happy. For me, wax is not much of an issue, but I can see where it would be.
Jim: It's not much of an issue for me now. As you were talking, I was thinking, reminiscing as I so often do. In my life, when I worked at Ohio State, we had a lot more bees, a lot more wax, a lot more equipment. Everything was bigger then and the whole wax load was more serious. That made meaningful amounts of wax, but now, in my later life with me with 10 or 15 colonies here, maybe any given time, half of those making bees, it seems like I get just enough beeswax to make a mess.
Jim: By the time you get the two-burner unit out, get everything going, get the water heated and whatever. Maybe that's what most beekeepers do. Maybe it's just small amounts because you get the small amount of wax, but at least, it's your wax. Your bees made them. There's some pride, some usefulness in that.
Kim: Yes. One of the things that's happened that I think is for the better in the whole world is getting rid of that old, black wax. Just taking it out of circulation. Now, I take a half a step back and I start thinking about, "What am I putting into the air when I burn that stuff?" The climate change world has awakened me to what is my footprint doing here.
Jim: I agree. I agree with that. I have trouble getting off the subject in these conversations, but when we're burning equipment to get rid of it or when you're burning equipment because of American foulbrood and you realize that half of that equipment was plastic, should we have been burning it at all? You got to do what you got to do.
Kim: Yes, and then people will start saying about burying things and I'm going, "Wait a minute. That's a shovel. That's a lot of work. Let me think about it."
Jim: It doesn't go away just because you bury it though. It's still there.
Kim: That's true.
Jim: Whatever you do, it's the wrong thing, isn't it? Wait, we're way off the subject now. When I was a younger man, a solar wax melter was a common piece of equipment. You would make them out of old windows. You could buy them then; you can buy them now. You can buy them from our sponsor that's listed right in the catalog. You have one of these units that sits outside, and you just put all those chunks right there, and you clean up as you leave. On the next bright day, the sun melts it down. You're good to go.
Kim: I used one of those for quite a few years rather than that hot burner plate. You just throw it in and get out of the way, come back in a week, and what's in the pan at the bottom is what you're keeping. What's left on the slider up above it, you scrape off. That's what I would burn then. There was a lot of stuff on this from some of those old frames.
Jim: Don't you just love that old word slumgum?
Jim: S-L-U-M-G-U-M, slumgum. I should look that up. I like old words like that. That remains in that solar wax melter. It's got a lot of wax on it and a lot of propolis. Other beekeepers, long ago, would use that as a fire starter. Take pieces of that and instead of just throwing it away, stick a match to it. It almost burns freely so you had used that to start a fire. Then you had the wax that the sun melted down, but it bleached it. If it had any yellowness in it, the sun bleached out that nice canary wax and made it all whitish. Don't put high-quality wax in a solar melter. You're better off to use your two-burner method.
Kim: You reminded me, fire starters. I used to know people-- Well, I still know people that make those, and they sell them in packs of 6 or 12. They're about the size of a pencil. You stick them into your pile of whatever it is you want to get a fire started in, you light one in, and they burn well because it's beeswax, a little propolis, and they smell good. I think that's what people like about them is they smell good. They get you off to a good start. There is a use for the stuff that's left in some cases. I don't have so much money that I can afford to throw it away all the time.
Jim: Where do we seem to be up to this point? See if you agree with me. If it's old, dark wax, you don't really have a lot going there. That's going to be mostly propolis and not much wax. Going to be hard to melt down. We didn't say this. You probably have to have a wax press. Who has those things anymore? No one. You probably just looking at some kind of - we decided fire - didn't we? Did we decide that burying wasn't the right way to go?
Kim: Yes, I think so.
Jim: Let the wax moths eat it. They'll take it. Feed the wax moths. That way, you got plenty of wax moths for your yard. All that nice, lighter wax you get from the cappings, that's worth saving, even the smaller amounts. Let's take a break, hear from our sponsor, and then when we come back, I'm going to quiz you on how to take those nice, yellow cappings you got and turn them into candles.
BetterBee: Betterbee is pleased to sponsor today's episode of Honey Bee Obscura Podcast. For over 40 years, Betterbee has supplied beekeepers across the country with the tools, equipment, and knowledge needed to succeed. Because many Betterbee employees are beekeepers themselves, they understand your needs and challenges and are better prepared to answer your beekeeping questions. From their colorful catalog, to their support of beekeeper educational activities, including this podcast, Betterbee truly lives up to their tagline of "Beekeepers serving beekeepers." See for yourself at betterbee.com.
Jim: Do you make candles? I have in the past, but not now. Do you make candles?
Kim: I've never really made any myself. I have friends who make them by the bazillion. I like going over and helping them. I'm the guy who puts the bobby pin across the top of the mold to keep the wick straight. I'm good at that. Anything else? No. I'll come back-- Maybe refilling. You fill a mold, and it cools, and it shrinks a little bit, and you need somebody to come back and fill up the rest of that cavity. That's what I do. I'm the gofer.
Jim: It's nice to feel useful, isn't it? Even at our age, just nice to have a job. Any job. I want to talk more at some other time about candles, but today the candle issue comes up because we've saved that wax cappings and we want to make some candles out of these things. You enter another world. There are all kinds of people out there who make candles like crazy and wouldn't know a bee from a housefly. They just want the wax that results from it.
Kim: One of the things about the bee supply companies, I'll just mention our sponsor Betterbee, you take a look at the catalogs they put out. What? 200 molds? Something like that every-- You got Christmas tree molds and candle molds. They do a good job. There's a candle in there for every customer that walks by your booth at the farm market.
Jim: It's a different world. I could enjoy it. Doesn't that wax have a heavy, heavy odor? When you walk in, it's like the air is thick. That wax permeates the air so strongly, but it's a nice odor. That wax is so persistent. It will stick to your floor for 50 years. You can scrub it, scrape it, do whatever you want, it won't wash away. There are stories about wax cakes being found in shipwrecks that were still usable as beeswax. This stuff really is persistent. It really is in high demand. It really is a unique product and honey bees really do make it.
Kim: It has value. If you got a handful of wax, somebody would give you money for it. A place to start is to take a look at the bee journals because they all have a price for bulk beeswax right now. You start at that. Then, you're like, "$2 a pound, $3 a pound. I bet you I could get a little bit more." It goes up because you're going to turn that $3 a pound beeswax into $50 a pound candles.
Jim: That would work well. The trouble is you got to get the equipment, you got to be persistent about it. I'll probably just buy the candles, maybe from you, because otherwise-- I have every intention of doing it sometime, but I probably won't do it. We started it all from this, Kim. We've got a little bit of cappings wax. What are you going to do with it? We've got a little bit of wax from old comb.
What are you going to do with that? We basically worked our way through getting rid of it, for the most part, and then making candles out of it, for the most part. Having said that, we've really gotten off the subject from what to do with wax cappings because the uses of beeswax are just staggering. What can I say? It's on everything. It's on candy. It's in dental work. Beeswax is just used everywhere.
Kim: If you're like me and you don't make much every year, you save it for three, four years, you got a chunk of it sitting out in the garage protected from wax moth and anything else that might want to get in there. After five years, you take it to a bee supply place and you say, "Here's 50 pounds of wax. How much foundation can I get for this? Or how much credit?" You turn it in. You're not going to do it every year but after five years, you get, here's five years' worth of wax.
Jim: Do bee supply people still do that? They used to swap wax. I guess they would do it. You'd take in your old, unrendered wax, and they'd give you a nice cut on the foundation cost.
Kim: Long time ago, far away, A.I. Root Company was making church candles, 51% beeswax. Beekeepers back up to the loading deck, "Here's 50 pounds of beeswax." Depending on the color, get paid, go home.
Jim: Yes. I've done that. I have done that. You feel so efficient. You feel like a successful bee farmer because I just got all this foundation at a real cut-rate price, because I took all that old wax over that I didn't even want anyway. I like wax. It's a useful product. Now, if we had time, we could talk about propolis because I save all those propolis pieces too. They accumulate like those wax pieces, except I can't find the ready market for all these propolis balls that are under the seat of my truck.
Kim: We need to talk about that.
Jim: I want to talk more about propolis because that's the unloved product. That can be next time or sometime.
Kim: Okay. Good
Jim: All right. I guess I'll consider making candles since you shamed me.
Kim: I'll tell you what, if you're going to make candles, I'll give you my beeswax. You can make candles.
Jim: I'll make a candle from yours and a candle from mine and that'll be two candles more than we have right now.
Kim: Here we go. Okay. Good.
Jim: Thank you. Bye-bye.
Kim: Talk to you later.
[00:16:23] [END OF AUDIO]