Products of the hive – cleaning and using bees wax


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Having previously written about both honey and the use of bee venom I thought it would be good to mention another product of the hive and share a bit of what I do with the wax that I accumulate from the hives. Having kept bees for several years I have ended up with quite a lot of wax from old brood frames and honey supers, cell cappings removed during the honey extraction and all those scrapings and bits of brace comb that the bees seem to build whenever they spot a little bit of space accidentally left in the hive by the careless beekeeper. The colour of the wax varies from near white cappings on the fresh honey combs to dark brown, heavily ‘propolised’, wax in the brood frames that are just a few years old.

Using the uncapping fork

clean wax cappings being removed from cells during honey extraction

Comb is quite bulky to store and often contains other bits and pieces from the hives so I initially melt this down to reduce the size and start the cleaning process. I use a large pan with about 2″ of water from the garden rain butt, bring it to the boil then reduce to a simmer and add my wax lumps. Bees wax has a relatively low melting point of around 62 – 64 degrees centigrade so this doesn’t take long and as it reduces the bulk, I can often get a large bucket of comb melted down in a single saucepan. I then leave this outside to cool over a couple of days, the wax ‘shrinks’ away from the sides of the pan so it is easy to remove and all the non-wax components sink to the base giving a layer of ‘crud’ which can easily be removed with a large knife and disposed of. This then leaves me with a round ‘cake’ of wax that I can store somewhere dry until I am ready to use it.

These wax cakes are then broken up using a large wooden mallet and melted down a second time in fresh rain water, I then pass the wax through a muslin cloth. To make this easier I cut a square of cloth to fit over a plastic plant pot that I have removed the base from, I attach the cloth with an elastic band to make a filter that is easy to use when I also have a large pan of hot wax to juggle. The wax is poured through this filter into containers that act as ‘moulds’ and again allowed to cool slowly. I now have wax that I consider to be clean enough for use in candle making.

A wax 'cake' that has been filtered through a muslin cloth filter

A clean wax ‘cake’ that has been filtered through a muslin cloth filter

In the past I have made tapered candles through ‘dipping’ wicks repeatedly into hot vats of wax but although great fun this is a very slow process,  traditionally families would have got together to share a meal with all the generations helping out with this task. For the purpose of this blog though I am looking at using a candle mould to make some small candles.

Wax is best heated using a double boiler, you can buy all sorts of devices for this purpose but to be honest if you are only using small amounts a recycled tin can in a pan of boiling water works very well. I use needle nose pliers to flatten the ‘lip’ and create a pouring spout to control the wax and reduce wastage (and cleaning up afterwards).

I have also seen YouTube videos where wax is melted in a microwave in a pyrex jug and guess this works very well if you have an old microwave and jug that you don’t mind using.

Melting wax in a 'double boiler' using a recycled can and pan of hot water

Melting wax in a ‘double boiler’ using a recycled can and pan of hot water

The silicon mould that I am using was purchased from Thornes beekeeping suppliers, although you can buy moulds from other bee suppliers, online from specialist candle making websites and very cheaply on eBay from China. You initially need to cut a partial slit down each side of the mould to ease the removal of the candle when made, then fix elastic bands around the mould to hold it back together again, feed the wick through the base (I use a skewer for this) then attach something to hold the wick in place – a hairpin is perfect for this.

Mould prepared for candle making

Mould prepared for candle making with wick fed from the base

Once the wax in the double boiler has melted it is simply a case of carefully filling the mould to the top and leaving it to set, for these small bee light candles it only took around 15 – 20 minutes to set enough for removal but obviously larger candles will take significantly longer.

Pouring the molten wax into the mould (slight spillage as poured left handed whilst using the camera)

Pouring the molten wax into the mould (slight spillage as poured left handed whilst using the camera)

Once the candle has had time to set and been carefully removed from the mould you simply cut the wick and re-attach the hairpin ready for the next candle to be made.

We take so much for granted these days and it is cheap and easy to buy a packet of paraffin wax tea lights but these will not have had the journey from bees to hive, then cleaned and moulded into shape. There is no real value to selling them as a product as the price would never reflect the time or effort of the beekeeper in producing individual  candles but there is a certain pride with putting them out as homemade when friends come round for dinner.

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There are of course many other uses for bees wax, from cosmetics through to cleaning products, so I would be interested to hear from other beekeepers as to how you use your wax.

I hope to keep adding to this blog as and when time allows in 2014, thank you for taking the time to read my ramblings your continuing comments and questions – this makes it all worth while for me as the writer….

I can also be found at @danieljmarsh on twitter or British Beekeepers page on Facebook.

Dan

Spring 2014 and the bees are flying again


Well it’s been a while since I have had a chance to write anything here but as ever the beekeeping year has sneaked up on me and I have to be careful not to get to far behind as the bees are not hanging about waiting for me and are well under way with colony building and bringing in the pollen and nectar and making lots of beautiful honey.

Blues skies - April 2014

Blues skies – April 2014

It was an incredibly warm winter in the UK with only a couple of light ground frosts and the bees didn’t really seem to have clustered at any point when I checked on the hives to apply oxalic acid and again to feed candy. It was also the wettest recorded winter for 250 years and the UK was repeatedly battered by strong winds and storms, starting in early October, then again at the end December and continuing into early March.

Every time we had a big storm I had to visit the out apiary just to make sure that the hives were still standing and despite feeling my house shaking several times during the night of one of the storms we only had one warre hive blown over. When I attended the apiary the boxes were split and the bees were wet, I did my best to reassemble the hive and scope bees up in the rain and although I didn’t see the queen amazingly the bees all pulled through and are flying again this year – they really are the most resilient little creatures.

One of the downsides to the bees not clustering is that by being more active in the hives they used their winter stores up far earlier than normal and there was a very real risk of starvation in all the colonies despite feeding heavy syrup in August and September.

Emergency candy was fed from the end of December, when I also applied the oxalic acid as mite control, up until early march when the girls were flying again and bringing in pollen.

Bees bringing in the pollen to feed the brood - Spring 2014

Bees bringing in the pollen to feed the brood – Spring 2014

My first proper hive check this year was at the beginning of April and I wasn’t sure what state I would find the colonies in but I was pleasantly surprised to find that they were all very healthy and the queens had been busy and there was brood of all stages on 9 of the 11 frames in all the hives as well as honey and pollen. I don’t recall the colonies being this large so early on in previous years, I added my first honey super and went back 10 days later to check how they were getting on. The bees have drawn the comb in the supers and they are about 70% full on each hive although not capped yet I can see the need for the next super in the next few days.

Last year I wrote about losing a colony to isolation starvation and the sadness that it brings to beekeepers to lose a single hive but it also brings great joy when they pull through the winter and you get to open up the hives with the sun on your back and feel the energy of the bees flying around you with the sounds and smells only known to those who spend time in the company of the bees.

During my first visit I removed the mouse guards and chicken wire used as winter protection, I also used this opportunity to replace the brood boxes for fresh ones and clear the floors although I use mesh on all hives and the bees do a good job of keeping these clear (or all the waste falls through) and I have been very busy with the blow torch sterilising everything since.

Lots of pollen being packed away for use in brood rearing

Lots of pollen being packed away for use in brood rearing

I have also been busy getting my spare equipment ready for swarm control as I am sure that the colonies will start making preparations soon and I have three national hives on standby for this purpose. I have also been making up new frames and re-waxing a few old ones. I decided to renew some of the frames that were donated to me when I first started out – these are quite old now and I think it is time to burn them. I am also phasing out the Manleys that I have been using – I made up twenty of these and have used them for the last three years but find that the bees heavily propolise them making it hard to remove them individually from the super for inspection or when extracting – they all get ‘glued’ together as one block so moving back towards the DNS4 frames.

Incidentally I popped into Thornes at Windsor and spoke to Bob, we were discussing bee space around the queen excluders and whether the zinc or plastic flat excluders were a disadvantage to the bees compared to the wired excluders in frames which have bee space.

He gave me a top hint – when making up brood frames clip the top corner of the wax on each side to take out a small triangular bite, not only does this make it easier to make up the frame  quickly as you are not trying to push the wax along the grooves and into the joint between the side bar and top bar but it leaves a small amount of bee space for the queen to pass between the frames. The bees will reduce it down but leave a ‘little doorway’ if you do this then having top space above the frame is not quite so important!

Can you spot the queen in this shot?

Can you spot the queen in this shot?

Anyway as the year starts I am a happy beekeeper, having seen all my queens, the colonies are healthy and strong and the bees are bringing in pollen and nectar and making honey. I have my spare equipment ready for swarm control and empty honey supers stacked up to collect the harvest…. so what could possibly go wrong? Well they say that every beekeeping season is different and I have certainly found that so far so sure I will be writing about something new and exciting very soon!

Hope you are all having a good start to the beekeeping year! @danieljmarsh

Hope you are all having a good start to the beekeeping year! @danieljmarsh

I hope to keep adding to this blog as and when time allows in 2014, thank you for taking the time to read my ramblings your continuing comments and questions – this makes it all worth while for me as the writer….

I can also be found at @danieljmarsh on twitter or British Beekeepers page on Facebook.

Dan

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Notes from a talk by David Rudland, ‘Bringing bees from winter into spring’


danieljmarsh:

Another excellent blog post from Emily in west London!

Originally posted on Adventuresinbeeland's Blog:

On Wednesday evening I went to a London Beekeepers Association (LBKA) talk by David Rudland on the topic of ‘Bringing bees from winter into spring’.

David and his wife Celia (who came to the meeting too) are commercial beekeepers in Surrey with around 180 hives, producing honey, selling bees and running training courses. David is also a FERA seasonal bee inspector. There are only about 350 commercial beekeepers in the UK, representing about 1% of total beekeeper numbers here.

His talk reminded me that you can never say “I know it all now” – researchers are constantly making new discoveries that have deeply practical relevance to the best way to look after our bees. This is a post about practical beekeeping – it may not make much sense to beginners and probably won’t be very interesting for non-beekeepers! You have been warned.

Winter management – jobs to do over the winter

“I like being…

View original 1,355 more words

Bee Venom Therapy – The Charlie Mraz Story


Bee Venom Therapy

Bee Venom Therapy

Having written a couple of articles about bee venom therapy (BVT) and sharing the experiences that my wife and I went through during the spring and summers of 2011 and 2012 to cure her rheumatoid arthritis I was really pleased to find this video on YouTube. It is an interview with Charles Mraz and although BVT has been around and used as a cure for thousands of years he is considered to be the modern godfather of this method and here he shares some of his knowledge and experience after literally treating thousands of people.

I have also previously recommended his book as one of the main texts that I read before we embarked on this treatment route. If you suffer from arthritis or Multiple sclerosis (MS)  and are thinking of doing this yourself I suggest that you too read this book, read my earlier posts, speak to your gp and take a few sensible precautions – bee venom can be vary dangerous if you have an adverse reaction so make sure that you are prepared, even if you have previously been stung by bees. Some beekeepers develop an allergy after many years of keeping bees so it is not a given that previous stings mean you are immune to anaphylaxis, please make sure you are not alone, that you have antihistamine, or even better an epi-pen, and can get to a hospital or medical center quickly if you need too!

Health and the Honey Bee

Health and the Honey Bee

I will keep adding to this blog as and when time allows in 2014 so feel free to subscribe if you would like an email to notify you of new posts, thank you for taking the time to read my ramblings your continuing comments and questions – this makes it all worth while for me as the writer….

I can also be found at @danieljmarsh on twitter or British Beekeepers page on Facebook.

Dan

Bee Venom Therapy – BBC Radio Kent interview


I have previously written about the Bee Venom Therapy that I carried out to try and cure my wife’s Rheumatoid Arthritis back in 2011 and 2012, if you didn’t read the two earlier articles I would strongly recommend doing so before listening to the attached radio interview from January 2014.

These articles can be found easily by clicking on the links below:

Bee Venom Therapy (BVT) …. is it a sting too far?

Bee Venom Therapy in action – does it really cure the pain?

Stings applied to joints on both hands

Stings applied to painful knuckle joints on both of my wife’s hands

In January 2014 my wife, Emma, was asked if she would go into the local BBC Radio Kent studio to take part in a live interview with Julia George on her morning show. Having suffered from aches and pains and swollen joints she was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis in 2010. Having overcome the illness through treatment she was happy, although a little nervous, to go along and chat about the experience of being stung by the bees and the outcome from the bee venom therapy.

Overall Emma had about 130 bee stings over the spring and summer months on each year – so totaling nearly 260 – and as a bee keeper who occasionally gets stung I know how painful it can be and am full of respect for her pursuing the BVT but then as you will hear in the interview the fear of a life controlled by drugs with some quite nasty potential side effects was enough for her to give the bees a  chance.

You can hear the whole radio interview (approximately 10 minutes) by clicking play below, however I should warn you that there is about 20 seconds of Boyzone on the audio before the interview begins!

 

 

I should also point that the BVT wasn’t carried out in isolation and formed part of a strategy to overcome the illness, other parts of this included nutritional changes, drinking Honeygar, acupuncture and increased exercise when her joints allowed.

Ultimately I hope that the earlier articles and this follow up radio interview will give others suffering from the symptoms of  arthritis some hope and help in your personal journey to find a drug free cure.

Bees don't get arthritis

Bees don’t get arthritis

I would love to hear what you think of the interview if you do take the time to listen…. feel free to leave a comment :-)

I hope to keep adding to this blog as and when time allows in 2014, thank you for taking the time to read my ramblings your continuing comments and questions – this makes it all worth while for me as the writer….

I can also be found at @danieljmarsh on twitter or British Beekeepers page on Facebook.

Dan

Happy Christmas to all you beekeepers and bee carers out there!


Happy Christmas to all  readers of my blog, and also to their bees! I hope that you have had a good 2013 and your bees are all set up well to survive through the winter if you are in the northern hemisphere – remember to check on them for levels of stores as well as during and after any adverse weather conditions that we may experience in the UK. Make sure that the hive entrance is clear of both dead bees so that they can fly and excrete waste on warmer days and also to avoid suffocation by snow when it arrives.

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(please note the attached photo taken in 2012 is just stacked honey supers and DOES NOT contain bees before you start to ask….)

I have been busy making bee fondant at the weekend using my normal  Fondant_recipe which can be downloaded from the link, I have found that the bees have happily taken this over the last few years, often not until late February or early March but I like to give it to the bees at Christmas just in case! We have had a warmer-than-average December and this may have affected how much of their stores of honey and syrup that the bees have used in the hives and I lost a colony last year to isolation starvation despite having fed them in the Autumn and given fondant over winter.

I will also be applying oxalic acid when we get a break in the heavy rains and gale force winds – I will aim to do this slightly earlier next year though following the most recent research from Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects (LASI) at the University of Sussex that indicate that between the dates of 10th December and Christmas is the optimal time for oxalic acid treatment. They also recommend that you check for sealed brood and destroy any, say, 48 hours before applying acid.

Checking the hive entrance during the winter months

Checking the hive entrance during the winter months

With many tales of beekeepers taking presents to their bees at Christmas I would be interested to know of anything that you do each year, feel free to comment…

I hope to keep adding to this blog as and when time allows in 2014, thank you for taking the time to read my ramblings your continuing comments and questions – this makes it all worth while for me as the writer….

I can also be found at @danieljmarsh on twitter or British Beekeepers page on Facebook.

Dan

Autumn’s here and my bees look like ghosts…


October has arrived, the leaves are beginning to fall from the trees and my apiary visits are becoming less frequent now that I have finished treating the bees with Apilife Var for the Varroa Destructor (parasitic mite) and feeding the heavy sugar syrup that will help to sustain my girls through the winter and replaces some of the honey that was removed back in August.

Apart from a  very brief cold spell it has been quite a warm autumn so far in the south and the bees are still busy, the queens in two of my hives are still producing brood, once hatched these will be the workers that remain with her over winter and into the start of the season next year, but all the bees are still flying and bringing in lots of pollen. I am very fortunate that my apiary is located in a semi-rural location and falls adjacent to a heavily forested area with plenty of ivy at this time of year, but my bees do not appear to foraging there, they are returning to hives looking like miniature ghosts dusted in white pollen and not only in the pollen baskets on their rear legs but also all over their thorax as well.

Sloes growing on the blackthorn trees

Sloes growing on the blackthorn bushes

After a brief check on the colonies last weekend I took a wander further down the valley to have a look at the sloes growing on the blackthorn and to see if they were ready to pick and seep in gin, as it was they looked ripe but still feel a little bit hard and its probably best to wait a little longer until they are holding a bit more juice before harvesting.

However as I wandered along the paths through the woodland I was greeted by a familiar buzz and could see my girls working the pink flowers scattered amongst the bramble, ferns and nettles.

A woodland path in the Spa Valley, blanketed in flower of the Himalayan Balsam.

A woodland path in the Spa Valley, blanketed in flower of the Himalayan Balsam.

These flowers are the ‘Himalayan Balsam’ (Impatiens glandulifera) and as the name suggests it is a non-native species that is considered by many to be a weed due to its fast growing and invasive nature. It will tolerate low light conditions and will rapidly displace other plants in the area if not controlled. However my bees seem to absolutely love it with virtually every forager returning to the hive wearing white overalls.

You can see from the two close-up images of the flowers below (apologies these were taken with a phone camera so not that great quality) that the hood-shaped flower invites the bee in to drink nectar held in the central ‘cup’ but there is a small pollen brush above with passes over the top of the thorax as the bees enter and exit, this is a very effective strategy for the plant in order to reproduce.

Himalayan Balsam Flower

Himalayan Balsam Flower open for business

Himalayan Balsam Flower

Himalayan Balsam Flower

I can’t help looking at this and being reminded of one of my favourite quotes from the film ‘Withnail and I’ where Withnails uncle Monty, played by the late Richard Griffiths, is having a rant and says ‘ Flowers are essentially tarts. Prostitutes for the bees.’

But what is good for the bees is not considered to be so good for other species and a biodiversity balance has to be struck, these plants local to my hives are self-seeded and appear to be spreading year after year and supply a rich source of late forage. In July 2011 the BBKA released a statement specifically relating to this plant that says:

“It is unacceptable (actually illegal) to actively distribute balsam seeds to encourage its spread, but this does not preclude the option for beekeepers to have some balsam in their gardens to provide the late nectar and pollen whilst carefully managing it so it does not spread to other gardens, agricultural land and especially watercourses.”

In my opinion it’s nice to see nature fighting back and giving something positive to the bees when there are so many other environmental pressures currently working against them, whether it be agricultural practises that are actively destroying the habitat that they require through removal of hedgerows and wild spaces, monoculture and the excessive use of dangerous pesticides (neonicotinoids) or the spread of parasitic mites and other bee diseases as well as the increasing threat of the arrival of the Asian Hornet in the UK.

I won’t be back to my hives for a  little while now, I hope that the weather holds and as the brood area reduces the bees fill all available space with stores as winter approaches to give them the best chance of surviving again (I lost one weaker colony to isolation starvation last year in the winter). When I return it will be to fit the metal mouse guards to keep out unwanted visitors, the chicken wire to keep the green woodpeckers away is already in place following reports of damage in Hampshire already this year!

Fly agaric

Fly agaric growing in the woodland adjacent to the apiary, October 2013

I hope you have enjoyed reading the blog,  feel free to contact me with comments, suggestions or general feedback, click on the right column to subscribe and receive updates when I next have the time between chasing the bees to write again.

I can also be found at @danieljmarsh on twitter or British Beekeepers page on Facebook.

Dan

 
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