Tag Archive for: Beeswax

Beeswax Candles

One of the fringe benefits of beekeeping is that, as a beekeeper, you have the means of creating your own beeswax candles. Candle making is an especially enjoyable hobby for the winter months.  There are a variety of candle types that can be made from different molds, from votive candles to tealights and pillar candles. As with any process, however, there are some quirks when using beeswax to make your own candles.

While it is possible to use raw beeswax straight from the hive, beeswax generally requires filtration before being used for candle making.   If you are using your own wax, it will likely need to be cleaned, filtered and purified first.   This means that the wax will need to be melted, then run through a strainer.  Some small-scale beekeepers utilize a solar wax melter, in combination with various filtering techniques to clean their beeswax.

The easiest and fastest way to obtain filtered beeswax for candle making, of course, is to purchase beeswax that’s already been processed, which can come in a whole block to be grated, or pellets that are ready to melt. Because beeswax is slow to burn, you need a strong, thick wick that can stand the test of time. There are many nuances to candle making with beeswax, as there’s a balance to find between the type of beeswax, size of your jar or container, and the type of wick – but as with any hobby, practice makes perfect.

The payoff, however, is the final product – a genuine beeswax candle!

Lighting a beeswax candle doesn’t just provide a calming ambiance; it actually helps to pull toxins like dust, pollen, and odor from the air. When beeswax is burned it produces negative ions, which attach to positive ions like indoor toxins. Many people who have asthma or allergies can benefit from lighting beeswax candles, as they help eliminate allergens like dust and dander, creating a cleaner atmosphere in any home or office space.

The benefits of beeswax have been recognized for millennia, with prescriptions including beeswax found dated as far back as 1550 B.C. Beeswax candles were widely used throughout history as well, in Greece, Egypt, China, and Rome – where the Roman Catholic Church required the use of only 100% beeswax candles. In fact, many large churches kept their own apiaries in the monastery to supply their large demand for beeswax candles.

Beeswax candles have continued to grow in popularity as the advantages and benefits become more well known. For instance, it’s been found that other types of wax candles, such as paraffin, can contain carcinogens like benzene or toluene. Beeswax, however, is a pure substance that’s 100% eco-friendly and safe.  Beeswax candles burn clean, are soot-free, and burn longer overall when compared to other types of candles.

Pesticides In Beeswax

Here at Wildflower Meadows, we have occasionally had some of the beeswax in our colonies tested for pesticide residues.  Most of the time, our results come back relatively clean.  This is not surprising, since many of our apiaries are located in organic avocado groves.  Plus, we ourselves stay clear of chemical miticides, such as amitraz and fluvalinate.

That said, it is surprising how often traces of pesticides – and even miticides – do show up in our wax samples.  We’ve seen trace counts of fungicides and exotic pesticides that we have never even heard of and had to look up online to learn out what they were!  Where in the world did these come from and how did they get into our hives?

The problem with bees is that they travel everywhere and pick up everything that is attractive to them.  The pesticides, of course, come from wherever our bees go, and these toxins enter into the hive with the bees.  Our bees, while technically under the control of Wildflower Meadows, are actually very independent-minded workers; they go wherever and do whatever they want during the day.

What’s worse, is that honeybees are tiny little Mother Nature machines for concentrating their food.  Their honey is concentrated nectar, their bee bread is concentrated pollen, and their royal jelly is concentrated bee bread.  Their metabolism concentrates nearly everything.  As a result, the pesticides get concentrated too.  So even if honeybees pick up only trace amounts of pesticides when foraging, the effects become concentrated over time as they synthesize their food.  This food, of course, gets stored inside of the beeswax combs.

And, unfortunately, the problem with beeswax is that it too tends to concentrate its contents, and itself acts like a filter for impurities.  Therefore, it is far too easy for contaminates to enter the beeswax, but very difficult for these same contaminates to escape.  Over time, these impurities naturally build up and concentrate in the wax.  Another issue with beeswax is that the bees are constantly moving it around and recycling it inside the hive.  Being the busy bees that they are, honeybees are constantly repairing old honeycomb and building new comb.  Thus, the honeycomb and any of the toxic residues within it are easily spread once inside the hive.

When beekeepers use miticides, the residues of these miticides, along with their carrier chemicals, tend to get trapped in the wax.  These residues build up over time and can often lead to problems in queen viability, drone health, and worker longevity.  Even though we ourselves, here at Wildflower Meadows (and you, the reader), may not use amitraz and fluvalinate, which are the most common varroa miticides, you may be surprised to find that your beeswax will sometimes show traces of these miticides (or in the case of amitraz, it’s metabolites).  This is because these chemical residues are hardly ever cleaned out of beeswax.  If you purchase hives from other beekeepers, the wax almost certainly will carry these residues.  Even if you purchase brand new plastic foundation, the foundation is usually coated with beeswax.  This beeswax itself is typically recycled and reprocessed wax from other beekeeping outfits.  Unfortunately, these chemicals never seem to go away.

There’s really no escaping it.  The best that we as beekeepers can do is to be conscientious in our own endeavors, to occasionally replace our old honeycomb frames, and to get the word out about how dangerous pesticides can be to our bees and their wellbeing.

The Solar Wax Melter

Over the course of a beekeeping season, you may find yourself collecting scraps of beeswax and not knowing what to do with them.  For example, when you scrape away burr comb or lids, or when you scrape away honey cappings during your honey harvest, you will collect perfectly good beeswax.  For a small-scale beekeeper this is not going to be a huge amount of wax and hardly worth the time.  Let’s face it, you probably are not going to be able to start a Fortune 500 candle company with your meager wax scrapings.  However, if you save up enough wax, little by little, over the course of a year you should have eventually gathered enough wax by the end of the year for a few wonderfully scented beeswax candles.

How do you transform your messy wax scrapings into usable beeswax?  Enter the solar wax melter.  The solar wax melter sounds like a high-tech piece of equipment, but is actually hardly more than a sturdy box with a glass lid.  When placed in the sun, the glass lid enables the box to heat up to the melting point of beeswax (145 degrees Fahrenheit).  The wax then neatly collects and organizes itself at the bottom of the box.  At that point, you have nice amount of quality beeswax, free of charge!

From there, it is just a simple matter of purchasing a candle mold or two.  Add some wicks and you are well on your way.

Nearly all beekeeping supply companies sell ready-made solar wax melters.  However, the design of these is so simple that it often is just as easy and economical for a beekeeper to construct their own.  For a handy beekeeper, a simple internet search will come up with more than enough plans for constructing a basic solar wax melter that works perfectly fine.

Photo of solar wax melter used with permission, courtesy of Dancing Bee Equipment.

Festooning Bees

Once in a while, when examining a bee colony, you might notice bees hanging together in a kind of chain.  This is called festooning.  Festooning is seen most often when bees are constructing new comb or repairing old comb.  The bees hang together between the frames that they are building, connected to each other by their legs.  In a festoon the bees hang together in a single line, only one level deep – which is different than a typical “clump” of bees, which is many layers of bees deep.  It appears that festooning bees are creating some sort of scaffolding from which to do their construction work.

Scientists do not really have a consensus as to the purpose of the festoon.  Festooning behavior is clearly associated with wax production and comb building, yet why?  Some believe that the purpose is mainly to scaffold, others believe that the festoon is a method of measuring distance between combs.  (Precise distance between combs is very important to honeybees.)  Others believe that it somehow is responsible for starting or increasing the flow of beeswax.  Whatever the reason, the festoon is fun to watch, and is a sure sign that the bees are now in “construction mode.”


Pictured above is some genuine Wildflower Meadows’ beeswax that we recently cleaned and filtered.

Bees produce beeswax from several glands in their abdomens, which they use to build their honeycomb.   Usually beeswax production is at its highest when honey is flowing in.  It takes an extraordinary amount of honey to produce an equivalent amount of beeswax; most estimates are that up to twenty pounds of honey are required to generate a pound of new wax.  At times of the year when honey is not flowing strongly, the bees prefer to recycle existing wax, moving it around for comb repairs and other needs, rather than generate new wax.

At Wildflower Meadows, our bees do not produce much surplus beeswax.  As a company dedicated to queen rearing, our bees are not necessarily optimized for either honey or beeswax production.  Rather, we have many small mating nucs, which are designed to raise queens rather than collect surplus honey.  Occasionally, however, especially during strong honey flows, our colonies can get clogged up with beeswax.  The bees get so excited about the incoming nectar and honey that they start building wax everywhere!  We often have to clear wax out of the area in and around the feeders so that the feeders do not get clogged and unusable for later in the season, when the bees will need to be fed.

If we collect enough beeswax – a little at a time – we sometimes can end up with a tray or two in a season.  When the surplus wax is cleaned and filtered, it is a joy to behold.  The beeswax is soft and fragrant, naturally golden like the flowers it was sourced from.  Beeswax has been used for millennia, primarily for candle making and cosmetics.  Most beekeepers will agree: there are few things quite as satisfying as slow-burning, fragrant beeswax candles made from your own beeswax!