The Origin of Beeswax
Beeswax is a joy from the hive. We love to look at it and smell it. But, where does beeswax come from? Pure beeswax is a product like no other. It engages the senses of touch and smell.
When I am presenting a display of beeswax, everyone loves to touch it. The waxy texture gives way under pressure from inquisitive fingers. A light honey aroma permeates the air when a block of wax is nearby.
It is hard to believe that honey bees actually make this wonderful substance. Yes it is true, honey bees really do make beeswax. Aren’t they wonderful ?
The Mystery of Honey Bees and Beeswax? – I was curious
Everyone is familiar with beeswax and its association with the bee hive.
How honey bees produce wax is one of the first things I learned in beekeeping. What ? Bees “make” wax – no way I thought. After years, the wax production of bees still amazes me.
In the beginning of my beekeeping journey, I assumed the honey bees collected some type of material that was transformed into wax. I was really, really wrong.
Honey bees produces wax from their own bodies. They form fresh wax into combs that are the actual hive structure.
Beeswax honeycomb cells hold food and young bees. It gives the bees room to cluster.
But, bees are not the only ones that love beeswax. We use it too ! It is used for so many things but the bees are not making it with our arts and crafts in mind.
Where Does Beeswax Come From – Who Makes It?
When we say that honey bees make wax, we mean they actually produce wax.
Beeswax comes from the “bellies” of bees. Ok, technically the process is a bit more involved.
Female honey bees have special glands on the underside of their abdomen. These wax glands produce clear scales of wax. The wax scales become white as they harden.
Do all bees in the beehive make wax? No. Only female worker bees produce wax.
Young adults are the best wax producers but the older girls can also produce wax when needed.
The soft wax scales are “chewed” and shaped into the beautiful wax honeycomb that we associate with honey bees. The honey bees actually hang in “chains” to construct the comb. We call this “festooning”.
Over time, the white wax will absorb the colors and aroma of honey & pollen. This is why beeswax in the hive darkens over time.
Beeswax acts much like a sponge and can absorb many substance inside the bee colony. Unfortunately, beeswax will also absorb many of the chemicals used by beekeepers to fight honey bee pests.
Making Wax Is A lot of Work !
It’s important to realize the effort that honey bees have to expend to produce wax.
As part of my journey towards becoming a better beekeeper, I have also had the opportunity to see how important beeswax is to our honey bees.
It is the actual foundation (structure) of the bee colony. Comb constructed of beeswax holds food stores (nectar/honey and pollen) and precious baby bees who grow to maturity encased in wax. We call this structure “honeycomb”.
Honey bees must consume large quantities of honey to promote wax scale production. Some reports say that bees must consumer 8 pounds of honey to produce 1 pound of beeswax. That is over 3 quarts of honey!
A colony that has to produce a lot of fresh beeswax each season produces less surplus honey.
Because beeswax production is an expensive undertaking for the bee colony, a honey jar containing comb is more expensive.
The bees and the beekeeper had to give up a lot of honey for that beeswax. It is also why new beekeepers should keep new colonies well fed as they are building their comb.
What is the best way to buy pure beeswax?
Its best to purchase it from your local beekeeper. You want beeswax that comes from naturally managed hives. This is the best chance of avoiding large amounts of chemical residues in the wax.
However, not everyone is lucky enough to have a local supply. I sell small bars in my Etsy store.
If you need larger quantities, Amazon is a good place to shop. Beeswax is often mixed with paraffin to stretch the product further. Read labels carefully and purchase from reputable sources.
One of The Mysteries of The Hive
Beekeepers love to watch bees. We actually obsess over them at times. If you are a beekeeper, take the time to watch your bees. Watching the colony entrance can be a very fulfilling activity.
With experience you can learn much about colony conditions without even opening the hive.
Recently, I got a shot of one of my worker honeybees with wax scales showing on her underside. I was so impressed. You Go Girl !
Beeswax Is A Valuable Hive Product
Extra wax is one of the best benefits of beekeeping. Learning about the various products of the hive is one of the true pleasures of beekeeping.
I love it. I love the way it smells (especially when heated), the way it feels, the different colors of natural beeswax and the wonderful ways it can be used in my soaps, balms and pure beeswax candles.
Beeswax can vary in color from light to dark but if you are seeing snow white beeswax products- the wax has probably been bleached. Bleaching can result in a beautiful product but it does often remove the natural honey fragrance.
When creating beautiful wax crafts you should be especially concerned about the origin of your raw beeswax. Not in relation to the bees that produce it but the country of origin. Insist on American beeswax.
Can You Eat Beeswax?
Even though pure beeswax is edible, we have no firm data on any nutritional value. The wax monoesters that make up the wax are poorly digested in the gut of humans and other mammals.
However, the experience of eating fresh honeycomb filled with honey is a delight. After removing the delicious honey, beeswax has been used for many human purposes over thousands of years.
The Properties of Beeswax
Beeswax is a tough wax made up of many different compounds. We make use of it’s special properties. It is commonly melted down to be used in many ways.
With a melting point of around 147 °F, beeswax can be gently melted to retain all of its aromas and desirable properties. Most people advise the use of a double boiler when melting beeswax. This is a safety precaution allowing the wax to heat gently with less fear of over-heating.
Pure beeswax that is heated for a long period or to a temperature over 185°F may darken and lose some of its golden color. Making things with it is easy and fun but it is flammable.
When exposed to temperatures near 400°F beeswax can cause fire . Some candle makers use a modified fryer for wax melting. If you choose this path, use extreme caution and constant supervision. Otherwise, you could ruin your wax or burn down your house.
Always use care and constant supervision when working with beeswax and do not over-heat.
Have fun, be safe
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