Following on from the disappointment of the two dead hives and the drone laying queen I wanted to get the frames and equipment cleaned, sterilised and ready to be useable as soon as possible. I also wanted to recover the wax from the frames and as it is barley 13 degrees C and looking some way off hitting the temperatures needed to use the solar wax extractor I made last year I decided to make a simple steam wax extractor so I could recover the wax without the help of the sun.
As I had some pieces of plywood kicking around I decided to construct a simply plywood box with two batons fixed to the sides so I could suspend nine frames inside. Some people use old brood boxes for this job but I think an old brood box should be repaired and made into a good brood boxe. Also the steam could be too harsh on the timber and damage the box. The roof was a simple piece of foil covered insulation with a hole for the pipe delivering the steam and two bricks holding it in place. The steam was generated by a small wallpaper stripper. I have had this one for many years but they are about £20 to buy.
So what I did was I simply place nine frames in the box leaving a gap for the pipe. Push the pipe into the lid and on my first attempt filled the stripper with collected rain water and turned it on. After about 5-10 mins of steam entering the box the wax started to flow and it was an OMG moment and very exciting.
After about 20 mins the flow reduces to a trickle and a quick check by allowing some of the trickling liquid to run onto the back of a brick and cool it was clear wax was still running from the extractor so another ten mins and it was obvious the wax now coming out was very low and no point continuing.
I remove the lid and you are met with a real mess as what is left inside. It’s a big pile of all the pupa casings from the numerous brood cycles. Some remains in the frames but most falls to the bottom of the extractor.
So whilst still hot you remove each frame in turn and scrape most of the mess off and into a bucket and remove the majority of the mess from the box. The frames come out surprisingly clean and although no way ready to go back into a hive they were not as bad as I thought they would be.
As the wax comes out it mixes with the steam and in some cases honey and as the flows are not steady and the cool temperature you don’t get nice even blocks of wax. What you do get are lumps of wax that are also carrying a reasonable amount of small and medium particles of the pupa casing turning the wax darker than what may be considered a nice wax colour.
So the wax needs to go through a filtering cycle to remove the rubbish. So with a pan and a small amount of rain water in the bottom I tied a rag from an old bed sheet to the pan so I could sit the blocks of wax on. As the wax melts the rag will filter the wax and I should have a nice clean block of wax in the pan. At this moment I had very little rainwater so a quick message to the two people responsible for my conversion to wax recovery Bill Fitzmaurice and Jude Earl both from Harrow Beekeepers and who both run wax workshops and lucky to do one of their wax workshops earlier in the year and written about here by Emily Scott in her Adventuresinbeeland blog. Both Bill and Jude are experts in my eyes regarding the world of wax so good people to ask if tap water was ok as I seem to remember when water produces stream the nasty’s in tap water that spoils wax are left behind in the boiler and they confirmed I would be fine but to use rainwater if putting water in the bottom of the pan to aide wax removal after cooling.
It was clear that despite my best efforts at stirring the last bit of wax was not going to go through the cloth so I let it cool and pealed it off once cool. And it was clear why as all the debris in the wax was blocking the filter. So a quick scrape and that small block of wax can be fine filtered at a later date but the block in the bottom of the pan was a wonderful clean block of wax. It should be possible to incorporate a filtering system of the wax direct from the extractor to eliminate the need to do the process twice and I may incorporate this in the future but for now no great trouble to filter the wax with a 2nd operation. And even a third fine filtering just prior to the wax going into a candle mould ect.
It’s at this moment I started to fully understand what a wonderful natural material wax is. Not only do the bees create it and mould it into the most wonderful shapes and in my opinion comb building is equal to them producing honey but it’s also a very forgiving material. It sits embedded within old black comb for many years and yet simple heating it melts runs out mixes with water and honey separates and then reforms. You can then reheat it filter it and produce wonderful products from candles, polish, soap hand creams, cosmetics and perhaps the list goes on. It will allow you to heat it a number of times but to many and overheating will in time damage the wax but on the whole its verry forgiving and a wonderful material.
So after working my way through all the frames and filtering the wax I ended up with 3.5 kg of nice clean wax to perhaps turn into lovely candles and 1 oz blocks that will compliment my craft stall as I hope to do a few later in the year along with honey and the spoons I have been carving.
My conclusion to this method is it is fast and you could do this most times of the year but it is time consuming, a bit messy and although the results are good I think you get a lighter wax from a solar wax extractor. It’s a good tool to have at your disposal and had I not used it I would have had a big frame storage problem waiting for the sun to shine to use the solar extractor especially if I wanted to reuse the brood boxes they came from.
I am a bit concerned about the disposal of the very big bucket of pupa casings left. Although I am very confident I had no real nasty disease AFB or EFB the disposal of this is a worry to me. Last year I composted some, work’s but is it the best thing to do? I tried burning some of this batch and as it was wet and damp it needed a big hot fire to burn it and that won’t work in a suburban garden in a no smoke zone. So I decided to bury it as I did a bit last year and similar to composting. I dug a good ten inch deep trench and spread the casings in the bottom breaking them up with the spade and buried them. It just so happens is where I will be planting my French beans this year so who knows bumper crop. I think in future I will try and burn them somehow as it feels as it’s the right thing to do.