How to collect the raw wax from the hive

Summary

Beeswax is a natural wax produced by honey bees of the genus Apis. The wax is formed into "scales" by eight wax-producing glands in the abdomen of worker bees. The worker bees collect and use it to build combs and to form cells for honey-storage. The eggs, larvae and pupae also develop in the wax cells into adult bees. Bees wax offers the opportunity to the beekeeper to generate extra income from the extraction and processing of the wax. This technology explains how to collect bees wax from the hive.

Description

Bees wax has unique physical and chemical characteristics which are exploited in a multitude of applications (candles, food processing industry, textile industry, pharmaceutical industry, etc.). Wax can be an additional source of income for beekeepers, therefore, it is important that beekeepers know how to collect and prepare the wax for further processing or for sale.

1. How the bees produce the wax

Young bees in the hive, after feeding the young brood with royal jelly, take part in the construction of the hive. Engorged with honey and resting suspended for 24 hours together with many other bees in the same position, 8 wax glands on the underside of the abdomens of the young bees secret small wax platelets. These are scraped off by the bee, chewed and masticated into pliable pieces with the addition of saliva and a variety of enzymes. 

Picture 1 : The white flakes on the picture are wax scales that fell on the bottom board

2. What kind of bees produce wax?

Many bee species produce wax but unless otherwise mentioned, only the wax of the honeybee species Apis mellifera will be referred to in this technology. Wax from other honeybee species (ghedda wax) is very similar, but has characteristics sufficiently different for it not to be used by the cosmetic industry. Even the wax produced by A. mellifera is not always the same.

3. Why bees produce wax?

Once chewed, attached to the comb and re-chewed several times, the wax scales finally form part of this architectural masterpiece, a comb of hexagonal cells, a 20 g structure which can support 1000 g of honey. Wax is used to cap the ripened honey and when mixed with some propolis, also protects the brood from infections and desiccation. Together with propolis, wax is also employed for sealing cracks and covering foreign objects in the hive. 

Picture 2: Honey comb with propolis

4. Physical characteristics of beeswax

Virgin beeswax, immediately after being secreted by the bees, elaborated and formed into comb, is white (see Picture 3).

Picture 3: Newly constructed white comb in a traditional log hive.

Wax becomes darker with use inside the hive and as pollen, propolis and larval debris are inadvertently incorporated. Sometimes, brood combs are completely dark (Picture 4).

 

Picture 4: Dark brood comb (top part)

Rendered, but untreated beeswax comes in varying shades of yellow (Picture 5). 

Picture 5: Cakes of rendered wax

5. Collecting wax

Old combs, honey combs and capping wax can be melted for further use.  However, dark old combs should not be melted together with fresh honey combs or capping wax.  Wax melts between 61 and 66 degrees Celcius.

6. How to extract wax from the combs

  • Using a solar wax melter:

The beekeeper can put the empty combs inside a box with glass cover to melt the wax (Picture 6). The heat of the sun accumulated in the box will make the combs melt.  The melted wax can be stored and processed later.

 

Picture 6:  Solar wax melter (left) and melted wax in solar wax melter (right)

Before processing, all comb or wax pieces should be washed thoroughly to remove honey and other debris. Soaking combs in water for several hours, or up to two days for older brood combs will be the best.

  • Melting wax by boiling with water:

It is also possible to melt the wax using fire. In that case the beekeeper uses a stainless steel, aluminium or glass container. Fill the container with water, add the pieces of comb and bring the water to boiling. The combs will melt. Once the wax is melted, remove the container from the fire and let the water and wax cool down. Because the wax is lighter than water, it will stay on the surface of the container. When the wax is cold (solified), warm a little bit the container again only to melt the wax in contact with the container walls to remove the block of wax (wax cake) from the container very easily.  Debris will deposit on the bottom of the wax cake.  The beekeeper should scrape off the layer of debris.  The wax can be melted again to remove more debris.

Wax should never be heated above 85 0C. If wax is heated directly (without water) or above 85 0C discolouration occurs. Therefore wax always needs to be processed in water or in a water bath. Wax should not be processed in iron or copper containers, since it will discolour from reaction with these metals.

6. Storing wax

Beeswax should only be stored in its rendered, clean form.  Uncleaned wax will quicly be attached by wax moths, which are able to destroy large quantities of waxin a short period of time. Clear wax in large blocks is not attached by wax moths.

Wax should be stored in cool dry places and never in the same room with any kind of pesticide. Wax will slowly crystalize over teim and as a consequence become harder, but this process is reversible without any damage, just as with crystallized honey. The white bloom, i.e. dust, that sometimes appears on the outside of a wax cake or candle consists of small wax crystals.  The crystals will dissapear when the wax is melted again. 

Picture 7: Wax comb destroyed by wax moth (larva)

Created date

Thu, 23/06/2016 - 16:47

Source(s)

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)
FAO's mandate
Achieving food security for all is at the heart of FAO's efforts - to make sure people have regular access to enough high-quality food to lead active, healthy lives.
FAO's mandate is to raise levels of nutrition, improve agricultural productivity, better the lives of rural populations and contribute to the growth of the world economy.

Organización de las Naciones Unidas para la Agricultura y la Alimentación (FAO)
El mandato de la FAO
Alcanzar la seguridad alimentaria para todos, y asegurar que las personas tengan acceso regular a alimentos de buena calidad que les permitan llevar una vida activa y saludable, es la esencia de las actividades de la FAO.El mandato de la FAO consiste en mejorar la nutrición, aumentar la productividad agrícola, elevar el nivel de vida de la población rural y contribuir al crecimiento de la economía mundial.

Organization des Nations Unies pour l'alimentation et l'agriculture
Le mandat de la FAO
Atteindre la sécurité alimentaire pour tous est au coeur des efforts de la FAO - veiller à ce que les êtres humains aient un accès régulier à une nourriture de bonne qualité qui leur permette de mener une vie saine et active.
Le mandat de la FAO consiste à améliorer les niveaux de nutrition, la productivité agricole et la qualité de vie des populations rurales et contribuer à l’essor de l’économie mondiale.

Country: 
Italy