Mind Your Beeswax

Bees are one of the first domesticated animals in history and evidence of beekeeping in pottery vessels can be found as early at 9,000 years ago in South Africa. From Ancient Egypt through modern times bees have been an important part of our ecology and agriculture as they are fantastic pollinators. Throughout the early and middle ages we have both pictorial and written documentation of beekeeping and things haven’t changed much since then. The earliest domesticated hives were placed in hollowed trees and by the Byzantine era man-made conical structure was used. To extract the honey and wax from the conical structures it was necessary to break them apart but this disturbed the bees and means building new hives each time. The first frame hive was invented in 1789 and by the late 1800’s most beekeepers had adopted this new format. That is about the extent of my historical beekeeping knowledge at this time.

I am a first year beekeeper and it has been a rough year for that. Between my inexperience, wildfire smoke, drought, etc. my bees absconded a few months ago leaving behind an empty hive. In preparation for my new bee colony coming in April I need to clean and prep my hive.

Me with my very modern hive

Sad starving bees

By this point in the year the comb should have been filled with honey, unfortunately there just wasn’t enough pollen in my area to sustain them and combined with the wildfire smoke and these poor guys just didn’t have enough food.

There was no honey in my frames but in a hope to get some wax I scraped the frames and cooked down the comb to extract the wax. This process was surprisingly easy as it really is just putting the comb and enough water to cover it into a double boiler. Also, my house smelled amazing! Once it is thoroughly melted and mushy strain the liquid through a fine cloth.

Scraped comb

Draining the liquid from the solids

The resulting liquid is left to cool. The beeswax forms a solid disk at the top and the remaining water is disposed of (not down a drain as it will gum up your plumbing).

You can just barely see the wax layer when it is warm
Cooled overnight
(wax is the yellow and the waste water is the brown)

I then broke up the wax and put it into a muffin tin in my oven at 150o F to make smaller disks.

As this is fairly dirty wax and only a small amount (about 1/3 C. total) I will most likely use it for waterproofing leather shoes. To do this I will combine it with tallow I rendered last year (see Black Sope), gently warm it all, and apply it to my shoes with an old cloth rag.

I will admit that this is not a subject I am very well versed in and therefore this is not a fully researched and documented medieval project like the other things I have posted. It is more a fun adventure and an attempt to bring more pollinators into the world. Hopefully next summer I will have better luck with my hive and get not only honey but more wax for larger projects.

3 comments

  1. Steve Alter · · Reply

    Hi Ula! I am in the SCA (Long time in Caid, recently moved to An Tir). Kept bees in my SoCal back yard for about 5 years until I developed a serious allergy to beestings…but my wife is still keeping bees. I’ve done a lot of research on period beeking, and currently working on collating it into a Compleat Anachronist. If you are interested, I’d be happy to send you some of my material. I can also suggest an easier way to purify wax…not a period method, but much easier than the “bee soup” method. Cheers!

    1. I would love to learn more! You can email me at ula1066 (at) gmail . com

  2. […] have any specific documentation for this I used a mixture of approximately 1/3 beeswax (from Mind Your Beeswax) and 2/3 tallow (from Black Sope) to create a waterproofing leather […]

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