If you have bees, you end up with beeswax. If you have messy bees, you end up with a lot of beeswax. No matter where the wax comes from, you’ve got to melt it to a) separate out any honey (there is always some), b) separate out any impurities (there are always some) and c) turn your lumpy wax into a nice block for use or sale.
After talking to a local beekeeper and doing a bit of online lurking, Frank and I created our own solar beeswax melter (okay, Frank created it, I supervised). It couldn’t be simpler:
2) Get 2 metal trays, one needs to be very dark (thanks Deb for the hand-me-down), the other should be deep (thanks to the Salvos for selling this one for a dollar). The trays will have to fit in the Styrofoam box (Frank had to use and angle grinder to cut the edges off of ours) so a big box and small trays is the look-out.
3) Drill a few holes in the edge of one of the trays.
4) Get a piece of glass (Frank cut down an old window).
5) Get some mesh.
6) Put the deep tray in the bottom of your styrofoam box. Set the dark tray on top of that (with the holes over the deep tray). Place the mesh over the dark tray (ours hangs out of the box to sort of keep it up off the tray though the majority of the mesh rests on the tray). Cover the box with a piece of glass. Set the box at a bit of an angle in the sun.
7) Load and reload wax into the mesh under the glass. It will melt really quickly on a sunny day even if it’s not overly hot outside.
8) Overnight (or when you bring it out of the sun) the wax hardens and you are left with a layer of honey topped by a layer of wax. There may be some impurities in the wax and you can either melt and filter again or just scrape them off and throw them away.
Because of the disastrous state of our hives, we ended up with just shy of 3 kilos of wax and 3 1/2 kilos of honey from our first harvest alone. Definitely worth the effort of melting all the “waste”.
The wax is great for making candles, furniture polish, lip balm, body lotion, or for selling back to the beekeeping shop to be turned into new foundations (and offset the cost of the foundation you need to buy to replace what you just cut out).
The honey is perfectly edible. It’s darker than the original honey and some people say the taste is affected by the heat. Ours tastes stronger but Frank and I are happy to eat it all up and it certainly will work well in baking.
On the left is a photo of the honey extracted from the combs in the normal process. On the right is honey that was separated using the solar extractor. The one on the left is dark for honey because it is a winter crop, on the right is really dark – the effect of the sun.
The Styrofoam box is painted black on the inside. That was done to make it trap more heat. That was a really dumb idea. The dark tray gets plenty hot enough. In fact, we now put light coloured cloth in the bottom of the Styrofoam box because it started to “melt” (shrink down a little) where the sun contacted the bottom of the box. It is hot, hot, hot in there!