Finn McSpool Minds His Beeswax

Those of you who have been with me a while know I share my backyard with a hive full of bees. The girls are all tucked in for the winter, but after realizing I could no longer close the freezer door due to all the honeycomb I’d been stashing away over the season, I decided time was well overdue for a round of beeswax rendering.

And, as you may have guessed, a certain monster was eager to supervise the process. Although I’m not quite sure who gave him the promotion to Supervisor from his position earlier this year as Assistant Beekeeping Beastie.

Still, with an eager monster ready to learn some new skills, I decided we’d discuss this new job title later so we could get our wax on.

Beeswax Beginnings

Some of my wax comes from shifting combs around in the hive especially toward the end of the season when I cluster honey-filled combs into one part of the hive so the ladies have an easier time getting their sweets during the winter. The honey-less comb is all mine!

Other comb comes from collecting honey during the season. With a top bar hive like mine, you remove the entire comb to extract the honey. Sometimes the comb isn’t completely full and the portion that has no honey in it simply gets cut off and tossed in the freezer (kills any icky-ness that might be lurking).

The honey-filled comb, however, gets crushed and squished to squeeze out that liquid gold my bees offer up as their rent payment. Okay, “offer” may not be quite accurate. More like, me trying to act cool and collected as I remove the comb, then having all dignity disappear when one or two bees get too close and I end up running away from the hive doing my oh-my-god-they’re-going-to-kill-me dance. I imagine the neighbors get a good laugh on honey collection days.

Once as much of the honey has drizzled out as I can get, the leftover wax gets added to the freezer pile. Since rendering beeswax is a pain in the stinger, I prefer to do it in one large batch rather than each time I remove combs from the hive….which is why the freezer ends up containing more honeycomb than my actual hive by the end of the season.

Let the Rendering Begin

Since freezer space needs to be allocated for the products of holiday baking, it was time to face the chore of rendering. Knowing how much I hate this task. Finn, boasting his new self-appointed job title, stepped in to supervise from what he called his “Executive Seat.”

Rendering needs to be done not only to melt down those perfect little hexagons into a more useable (and more easily storable) form, but, let’s face it, beeswax that has been used by thousands upon thousands of bees gets kind of gross and that gross-ness needs to be cleaned away if the wax is to be any use.

Why does it get gross? Because making babies is messy business.

The cells of a honeycomb aren’t used only for honey, but also for making babies. Wait, I should rephrase that….my honeycomb isn’t some sleazy by-the-hour motel. It’s more like a nursery where the baby bees grow from teensy tiny eggs into bees…and they do that growing within casings that get shed into the cell as the future honey makers change from larvae to pupae and all that other insect-y type of stuff you learned back in grade school.

Plus, bees are going in and out of the hive all day during the spring and summer. And I’ve yet to see one of these girls wipe their feet. So, even though bees are fastidiously clean, some dirt gets brought into the hive and left on the comb.

Rendering cleans away all this…after a while. To make the wax more liquid and easier to strain, you heat water and then melt the wax directly into the water. And let me tell you, this first melting is disgusting. All manner of muck (those casings I mentioned) comes out of the wax making a soupy mix so nasty even the most heartless Dickens character would hesitate to serve it to an orphan.

“Please sir, may I have…ew, never mind, I’d rather starve.”

This batch of witches’ brew gets strained, leaving most of the casings behind.

Blech!

The wax-water medley is allowed to cool and, by the magic of physics, the wax floats to the top while the icky water stays on the bottom. Finn, in his supervisory capacity, made a close inspection of the wax and declared it wasn’t clean enough yet.

Unfortunately, one round of melting-straining isn’t enough to fully clean the wax (you can see why I put this off, right?). It takes about three or four rounds of melting and straining fun, each time using finer straining cloth, to get the wax fully clear of muck. Of course, this would go faster if my supervisor would stay out of the sieve.

Even with Finn’s “guidance” I eventually got the wax clean enough for use. And what was that use? Well, since this has already turned into a lengthy post, you’re going to have to come back next week for the results of Finn’s waxy workings (no, Madame Tussaud is not involved).

“Um, Finn, that isn’t cheese.”
“I thought it tasted a little waxy..”

What about you? Have you gotten around to any projects you’ve been putting off? if you have bees, what do you do with your wax? Any favorite bee-related products? Go ahead and share in the comments!

Again, I’ll be back next Saturday with the results of all this rendering, and next Wednesday I’ll once again be seeking your opinion on some book covers, so be sure to drop by then and throw in your two cents…into the survey, that is, not the wax.

***

 

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peony, pink flower

Bloomin’ and Buzzin’, My Garden Beckons

This is one of those rare weeks when I have no new artwork to show you (although I am working on remedying that) and no new art news to share with you (although hopefully next week I’ll have something news-y to post).

Since I’m completely art-less, I figured I’d get snap happy in the garden and show off a few things that are blooming and buzzing, and providing some inspiration for future art projects.

First Stop on the Tour: Take That You Vile Slugs!

Since I have a rather shady garden, I have to make the most out of every millimeter of sunny space I can find. So, not only do we have raised beds for veggies lining our driveway, but the south side of my house is also decorated with a raised bed and plenty of pots.

tomato plant

A (future) bushel of tomatoes.

Sadly, at the beginning of the month, I mistakingly thought it was spring (silly me) and set about to planting all the veggies and fruits I’d started from seed. Days later, not only did the Portland area get slapped with a freakish cold spell, but the slugs made a buffets of all my babies. Once warm weather was back in the forecast, I had to resort to getting new veggie plants from the nursery. Continue reading

A Couple of Pieces That Are the Bees’ Knees

Since spring refuses to get sprung here in Portland, I’ve had to resort to creating my own springtime with my two latest bits of artwork that are chock full of big blooms and buzzing bees. If I could only get them to have the scent of freshly mown grass, I could almost fool myself that spring really has decided to show herself.

Painting #1: Sunny Bee

Who’s that hanging out on that big red sunflower? Why it’s Sunny Bee! Sunny Bee was based on a reference photo** that I’ve had in my to-paint stash for a long, long time. So long that unfortunately, I no longer have the photographer’s name to give him or her credit. Continue reading

bees, honeybee, topbar hive

Bees Don’t Sweat

And to all those who remember a certain deodorant campaign, no, bees don’t perspire either.

Although those of us in Portlandia are now suffering from a resurgence of icky, cold, rainy weather, we did get a brief taste of summer recently with temperatures soaring over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (that’s a sweltering 38 degrees to the metric folks out there). While I was able to cool off with a few gallons of iced tea and plenty of sweat (perspiration?), my bees are sadly lacking in both refrigeration technology and sweat glands.

So what’s a bee to do when the hot days hit?

Life Inside the Hive

Continue reading

Finn McSpool Enters The Land of Wine & Honey

As my loyal followers might remember, last year I delved into the wonderful world of winemaking, and that a few months ago I bravely bottled my boozey concoctions. Well, I recently hit the earliest aging time for fruit wine. Sure, sure, longer aging would lead to a smoother wine, but after having those bottles taunting me for six months, I had to have a sample.

wine, homemade wine, wine bottle

Of course, I didn’t want to drink alone so I invited my new friend from Dublin, Finn McSpool (created by Crawcrafts Beasties), to join me.

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But prior to getting down to our wine tasting, we had to check on the bees…not a chore you want to do under the influence. Continue reading