We often think of honey as “liquid gold” because it is such a hard-to-make, highly sought-after honeybee product. Pollen and propolis, the “bee glue” made from tree resin, which are collected and processed by honeybees, are two other incredibly healthful and nutritional products to come out of the home of Apis mellifera. But above all those hive components perhaps the most critical, and most challenging to produce, is beeswax.
How Bees Create Wax
At around 10 days old, a female worker bee’s wax glands, located on the underside of her abdomen, have reached maturity. For the next week of her life, that worker bee will remain in the hive and produce the wax necessary to build and repair brood comb and honeycomb. This is a very important job, as the future of the colony depends on rearing the next generation of workers and housing the winter stores of honey and pollen—all things that happen in the tiny hexagonal cells of the comb. But here’s the most amazing part: It requires nearly 8 times the amount of honey, by mass, to produce beeswax. It’s harder and more time-consuming to make wax than it is to make honey. Any beekeeper will tell you, wax is truly the unsung hero of the hive.
And as beekeepers, there will be times that we have access to excess wax, even if we try our best to conserve its harvest from our colonies (as we should). After a honey harvest, we’ll have extra wax from the cappings and sometimes comb. If we lose a colony and have discovered it before the wax moths have had a chance to take over, we can salvage the old comb then, too. When inspecting my hives, I keep a small mason jar in my bee basket to scrape off the excess burr comb that collects while I’m making my way through the frames. Believe it or not, this bit of wax adds up!
Sooner or later, we all end up with a little bit (or a lot bit) of extra wax, and we need to do something with it. Here are a few ideas:
1. Make Candles
Historically speaking, this was the main purpose for wax and one of the primary driving forces for humans to attempt to domesticate the honeybee. Before electricity, humans used the light of candles (and other means of keeping a flame lit) for light. Making candles today is simple and fun. Although pure beeswax candles will burn with the pleasant, sweet smell of honey, you can even add organic essential oils to your candles for an aromatic twist.
2. Make Personal Care Items
Beeswax is the perfect carrier for myriad medicinal products, skin soothers and other toiletries. Here are just a few homemade, DIY ideas to get you started:
- bar lotions
- lip balms
- body creams
- hair pomade
- solid perfumes
- shaving cream
- pregnant belly balm
- a variety of healing salves (for bug bites, burns, cuts, scrapes and more)
Beeswax is extremely versatile and the possibilities are endless!
3. Make & Sell Bricks
Some of us aren’t handy, and that’s OK. My first attempts at making a lip balm failed disastrously, and I threw in the towel for homemade products that year. But you may know others who are looking for a natural product, want to support local beekeepers, and will purchase your wax for the price it commands. This could be a win-win for everyone.
4. Give It Back to the Bees
Nothing says you have to hang onto that wax. If you don’t care to make something from it, or don’t have the clientele to sell to, give it back to your bees. They’ll appreciate having a leg-up on the next season of comb-building.
There are dozens of other wonderful ways to use wax, but these are by far the easiest, most fun and, when it comes to giving back to your hives, the most responsible. Whatever you choose to do with it, don’t let it go to waste! Save that wax, or even gift it to someone who will use it. It’s valuable stuff.