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Processed and Clean Beeswax - Nate Loper

How to Process and Clean Beeswax

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Old beeswax in tray to be cleaned - Nate Loper

Old beeswax in tray to be cleaned.

There’s no doubt beeswax is an amazing resource with a wide variety of applications.   Discoveries in archaeology show us beeswax has been collected and used by cultures for thousands of years.  Even the ancient Egyptians used it as part of their haircare, creating cones of beeswax scented with perfumes and aromatics that would melt down over their hair (often a wig).  Nowadays, we typically use beeswax quite differently.  It’s used for things like lip balms, candles, waterproofing, conditioning, and more.  Even though we might have found additional uses for it today, the process of cleaning beeswax is actually quite similar to what we’ve found in archaeology — heat, water, and a filter.

As a beekeeper, there are a few different methods you can use to help clean and process even old comb into usable wax.  One of my favorite methods is cheap, simple, and involves aluminum double roasting pans.  At nearly any grocery store you can obtain all you need for this process.  Grab a couple roasting pans, one deep, one shallow.  Make sure the shallow one is large enough to fit on top of the large one, with space in between.   I think I found ones that were the same length and width, but one that was half as deep.

Processed and Clean Beeswax - Nate Loper

Processed and Clean Beeswax.

Take your shallower roasting pan and punch holes all in the bottom of it, from the inside out.  Next, take your large roasting pan and fill it with water 2-3 inches deep.  Place the smaller, perforated pan nested into the larger one.  Place a single layer of paper towels on the inside of the shallow pan.

Now, place whatever beeswax, comb, or cappings you have into the shallow pan and place the whole thing in your oven.  The melting point of beeswax is about 150 degrees Fahrenheit, so I usually set mine to 200 degrees.  The flashpoint for beeswax is around 490 degrees.  Definitely don’t heat it too high, or it might not be safe and any impurities in the wax are likely to start “cooking” and make your wax smell bad.

Beeswax with scum in it - Nate Loper

Beeswax with scum in it from stiring it up while setting.

Check on your beeswax periodically until it’s all melted down through the top pan.  The paper towels act as a filter and catch much of the dirt and impurities.  After it’s all melted down, turn off the oven and let it cool, ideally overnight.  Don’t take the pan out or stir up the water and wax in the bottom pan.  If you stir it up too much, the scum will mix with the wax and cool together.

If you leave it to set, the beeswax will float atop the water bath, with a layer of “scum” on the bottom of it.  This scum can be scraped off with a knife, leaving you with a nearly-pure cake of clean beeswax to either further refine by repeating the process, or use right away.

There you have it!  An easy way to process and refine your own beeswax for use.  Now get out there and make something with it 🙂

Nate Loper

What do bees do during the winter?

What do bees do during the winter?

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What do bees do during the winter?Spring is nearly here!  Although we just had a pretty good snowstorm here in Flagstaff which dropped 16 inches of new powder, the days just afterward have been nice and sunny.  Already we’ve heard birds starting to be more active and visit our backyard feeders.  Getting really excited for the warm season around here!

After the long sleep of winter, it’s great to get out and about and explore the world around.  That’s the same thing our Flagstaff honey bees will be doing soon!  So, what do bees do during the winter? Unlike most of the Arizona honey bees further south that can stay active year-round, ours tend to “hibernate” and hang out in their hive through the cold of winter.  During that time they will continue to stay alive by feeding on their stored honey.

What do bees do during the winter?To keep warm they ball together as a group and collectively vibrate their tiny little bee bodies to produce warmth, slowing moving in and out in a spiral-like fashion around the queen to keep her warm.  Penguins often do a similar thing in the Antarctic, rotating in and out of the central warmth.  Pretty clever, eh?

What do bees do during the winter?People often ask if our bees do well through the winter.  And the answer is a resounding YES!  As long as beekeepers aren’t selfish by taking all the honey stores, but leave the bees their fair share of honey to live on, they’ll be just fine.  Maybe the colder winter temps up here are what have helped keep much of the Africanized bees from moving in.  We certainly see far fewer than fellow beekeepers do in the south side of the state.  Sounds like a good research project…

Enjoy the warming weather!

dead bees on snow

When dead bees are a welcome sight!

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Dead bees a welcome sight?

Yeah, you heard me right.  Now let me explain…

dead bees on frameUsually seeing dead bees is a terrible thing to behold for a beekeeper.  A good deal of sadness whelms up when opening up a box and finding the colony dead or having absconded.  It’s like losing a friend…or 30,000 of them.  But yesterday it brought me a glimmer of hope and resulted in a very positive confirmation. Why in the world would that be?

It’s winter up here in Flagstaff. And that means snow. And more snow. And then it snows again.  Welcome to life in the mountains, my friends. This potentially creates a problem for both bees and beekeepers alike.  When winter sets in there’s a very real chance that some hives may not make it through the long cold.  Bees have been given a great deal of intelligence and can often survive in most cold environments for a period of time.  But extreme cold or extreme length of winter can spell doom for our little friends.

Bees do have a coping mechanism, however.  Much like antarctic penguins, the bees will ball up in cold times, and will rotate from outside to inside in a slow spiral dance, while vibrating their bodies to produce heat and keep the bee-ball warm.  Of course, right in the middle of this dance is the main lady of the royal ball…the queen.  They rotate around her, ensuring she is kept warm, while other bees take turns pulling food stores from the comb to bring back to feed her and other bees.  They can keep this up as long as they have the energy received from food supplies in the hive, or as long as it doesn’t get too cold to keep things warm.  That was my fear recently.

You see, we recently had some VERY cold temperatures.  When I was out in Parks last week I recorded -24F degrees.  That was the coldest I’ve ever seen in my life!  And that is a potential danger for losing a hive.  Even for local native bees here in Flagstaff.  But what a difference a week can make!  Just one week later we went from near-record cold to near-record high temps for this time of year.  Nearly 60 degrees and sunny yesterday all around the region!

dead bees on snowAfter spending the day at the Grand Canyon I decided to check in on our Parks pollination colony on the way back to see how things were.  Since it was so warm I knew a quick curious peek wouldn’t harm them and chill the hive.  As I tromped through the snow and approached the hive I noticed it…DEAD BEES ON THE SNOW!  Now, most would be saddened by this, but I was glad.  Why?  Because dead bees can’t fly themselves out of a hive and onto the ground.  What the dead bees outside the hive meant was that the colony was probably pretty strong and had been “cleaning house”.  Yes, throughout the winter bees will die in the hive, and they will drop to the bottom of the box awaiting the undertaker.  When the weather warms up other worker bees go about cleaning up the place.  They will carry dead bees out of the hive and drop them on the ground.  They will also use the time to fly out of the hive and use the bathroom outside.  They’re pretty clean that way.

As I walked up to the hive I saw a lone bee flying back and forth to the entrance and back out again and I knew there was hope.  So I popped open the top lid, and what did I see?  Bees packing the entire box and all the way up to the top frames of a double deep stack of boxes.  Not a few bees.  Not sick, lethargic bees.  But LOTS of bees, moving all around the frames just how I left them in the Fall!  I must say I was surprised, to say the least.  Having not checked in on them since October and having multiple nights of subzero temperatures I was sure they had frozen to death or had eaten all their honey stores in futility while trying to generate heat to stay warm.  But there they were, a golden moving carpet on every frame, as healthy as a bee can be.

Nate setting up the Community Garden hive in Parks

Setting up the Community Garden hive in Parks

So, to you who are new beekeepers. Don’t fear should you see a few dead bees outside the hive during winter, especially after the reprieve of a warm sunny day.  Should you see a pile of dead bees, rest assured that the undertaker is well at work, the workers peppering the ground have now crossed the river Styx, and your bees are probably alive and buzzing about on the inside just awaiting the new spring blooms and sweet nectar once again!

Different honey varieties. What’s behind it?

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Different Honey Varieties Flagstaff

9_beesWhy are there different honey varieties?  What determines the taste of a particular honey? While out collecting pollen and nectar from various flowers the worker bee will travel around a 3-mile radius from the hive.  That’s a lot of work!  Each tiny sip comes from whatever plant is flowering at the moment and she decides to land on.  The flowers will change throughout the season, giving subtle variation to color, taste, and even viscosity.

That’s one of the really fun things about our Flagstaff wildflower honey, the different honey varieties and variation in taste is a direct reflection of what’s growing right here in Northern Arizona!  Sometimes honey will even vary from one side of Flagstaff to the other.  For example, we have a hive 20 minutes west of Flagstaff in a little area called Parks.  When we pulled honey from that (very productive) hive this summer the honey was very light in color and in taste.  People told us it was their favorite honey ever!

Flagstaff Arizona Bee Sunflower PollenSo what was the secret?  Nothing we’ve done.  It’s nature, plain and simple.  In that particular area, there were huge fields of Prairie Sunflowers growing.  Could that have been the main source of the bee’s nectar they were turning into honey?  Perhaps.  This may have been the dominant nectar source for the Flagstaff wildflower honey that we pulled from this hive.  I suspect it was because we also collected some extra honey from a bee removal in Bellemont nearby that was surrounded by these flowers and tasted very similar.

When you see different honey varieties there really is a lot to it!  Honey that’s labeled “Clover Honey”, “Orange Honey”, “Buckwheat Honey”, or even “Mesquite Honey” means those are the dominant flowers the bees are foraging on.  Typically hives are placed in orchards or areas where those flowers are in abundance, so those flowers are what is used by the bees to create honey.

Honey made from these various sources each have different tastes, colors, flow, and even sugar content.  Clover honey tends to be somewhat light in color and taste, while some varieties like Buckwheat honey is very dark and thick, with a taste somewhat similar to molasses.  It is considered to be the highest in antioxidants and minerals of all honey produced in the US.  In contrast, Catclaw honey is VERY light and sweet and tends to be a favorite of tea drinkers as it sweetens without adding too much honey flavor or bitterness.

Different Honey Varieties

Like different coffee roasts, various honey lovers have their own favorites.  We encourage you to get out there and try it!  Visit your local farmers market where you can often sample various honey from the area and find your favorite!  Whatever you do, don’t buy the cheap grocery store “honey”.  The truth is it’s probably not even real honey and certainly doesn’t taste anywhere near the same!

Flagstaff Honey delivery serviceOur honey is produced right here in the beautiful Northern Arizona mountains of Flagstaff and we think it’s the bee’s knees!  We have easy online ordering and hand-deliver all our honey right to your doorstep. We even have a Hive2Home monthly delivery service to bring you our wildflower honey blend on a regular basis. It’s a popular movement with many people who have tried our honey here in Flagstaff.

Try it.  We guarantee you’ll like it!


Flagstaff Arizona Raw organic honey


Musical Bees!

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Did you know that bees make music?  Perfect pitch, rhythm, and everything.  It’s true, and simply fascinating!

One way they do specifically is called “piping”.  Piping describes a noise made by virgin and mated queen bees during certain times of the virgin queens’ development. Fully developed virgin queens communicate through vibratory signals: “quacking” from virgin queens in their queen cells and “tooting” from queens free in the colony, collectively known as piping. A virgin queen may frequently pipe before she emerges from her cell and for a brief time afterward. Mated queens may briefly pipe after being released in a hive.

Piping is most common when there is more than one queen in a hive. It is postulated that the piping is a form of battle cry announcing to competing queens and the workers their willingness to fight. It may also be a signal to the worker bees which queen is the most worthwhile to support.

The piping sound is a G (aka A). The adult queen pipes for a two-second pulse followed by a series of quarter-second toots. The queens of Africanized bees produce more vigorous and frequent bouts of piping.  Pretty amazing isn’t it?

In another segment, I’ll write about how and why bumblebees often produce a perfect “Middle C” note and what it’s used for.

Click here for a video of what this sounds like when a queen bee is piping!

What is Colony Collapse Disorder?

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Imagine suddenly during one winter over 1/3 of the population in the United States was no more. That’s over 100,000,000 people. Not just died, but disappeared. Without definite cause or circumstance. Simply vanished. And the remaining population appeared too weak and disoriented to help rebuild the sudden collapse of the social structure within our country. Imagine that, and you might have an understanding what it’s like to be a bee today.

What is Colony Collapse Disorder?

 Colony Collapse Disorder-Dead_bee_winterThere is an epidemic facing today’s bees. One without a sure cause and without a sure cure. Beekeepers and apiaries have always faced periods of decline. Oftentimes this is attributed to weather-related issues, overfarming of bees leading to scarce food supply, parasites, disease, or other related phenomena. Usually, the cause is determined and the bees have always bounced back. But more recently a new a frightening occurrence happened in 2006/2007 alone, with the mysterious loss of around 800,000 bee colonies — accounting for tens of billions of bees. And this sort of loss has continued every year since. This pale horseman of the beepocalypse has been dubbed Colony Collapse Disorder or CCD.

CCD has presented itself in ways unlike other diseases or problems we’ve seen in the past. Instead of simply dying off, the bees completely abandon their colonies and disappear. In collapsed colonies, CCD is suspected when a complete absence of adult bees is found in colonies, with no or little buildup of dead bees in the hive or in front of the hive. A colony that has collapsed from CCD is generally characterized by a number of things occurring simultaneously:

  • Presence of capped brood in abandoned colonies: Bees normally will not abandon a hive and swarm until the baby bees have all hatched.
  • Presence of adequate food stores of both honey and bee pollen still remains in the hive.
  • Presence of the queen bee. If the queen is not present, the hive died because it was queenless, which is not considered CCD.

Sometimes there are signs that may arise before the final colony collapse, including:

  • Insufficient workforce to maintain the brood that is present
  • Workforce seems to be made up of only young adult bees
  • The colony members are reluctant to consume provided food, even things like sugar syrup and protein supplement.

Colony Collapse Disorder-Abeilles-mortes-dead-beesThis mystery disorder and disappearance is happening on a grand scale unlike anything ever seen before and is why, around the world, beekeepers, organizations, and entire nations are gathering together to help address and solve this problem.

So what causes Colony Collapse Disorder?

We’ll address this in our next segment on CCD, and why it can be such a mystery to figure out…


 Colony Collapse Disorder-Abella037eue

Pollination and Bees

It has often been said that bees are responsible for one out of every three bites of food we eat. Most crops grown for their fruits (including vegetables such as squash, cucumber, tomato and eggplant), nuts, seeds, fiber (such as cotton), and hay (alfalfa grown to feed livestock), require pollination by insects.
Pollinating insects also play a critical role in maintaining natural plant communities and ensuring the production of seeds in most flowering plants. Pollination is the transfer of pollen from the male parts of a flower to the female parts of a flower of the same species, which results in the fertilization of plant ovaries and the production of seeds. The main insect pollinators, by far, are bees, and while European honey bees are the best known and widely managed pollinators, there are also hundreds of other species of bees, mostly solitary ground-nesting species, that contribute some level of pollination services to crops and are very important in natural plant communities.

Why are bees good pollinators?

Bees make excellent pollinators because most of their life is spent collecting pollen, a source of protein that they feed to their developing offspring. When a bee lands on a flower, the hairs all over the bees’ body attract pollen grains through electrostatic forces. Stiff hairs on their legs enable them to groom the pollen into specialized brushes or pockets on their legs or body, and then carry it back to their nest. Individual bees tend to focus on one kind of flower at a time, which means it is more likely that pollen from one flower will be transferred to another flower of the same species by a particular bee. Many plants require this kind of pollen distribution, known as cross-pollination, in order to produce viable seeds. The business of collecting pollen requires a lot of energy, and so many flowers attract and also reward bees with nectar, a mixture of water and sugars produced by plants.

Where and how do bees live?

Most bee species dig nests in soil, while others utilize plants, either by boring holes in pithy plant stems or wood, or by nesting in galleries made by wood-boring beetles in trees or other preexisting cavities. Bumblebees are known to nest in abandoned rodent burrows and feral honey bees are known to nest in tree hollows. Bees use a variety of materials to build their nests. Most bees line their nest cells with a waxy material they produce themselves, but others use pieces of leaves, small pebbles mixed with resin from tree sap, or mud to form the cells in which they lay their egg.

Why do bees need flowers throughout the growing season?

Many bee species are solitary (each female produces offspring in her own nest) with only one generation of bees produced per year. However, other species nest communally (several females share a nest) or have elaborate social structures with the division of labor within the colony (usually with a single queen and many workers). These kinds of bees produce multiple generations per year. This means that bees that produce multiple generations each year need food resources (pollen and nectar) across most of the growing season to produce strong colonies. Providing plants in a landscape with overlapping bloom periods will help these bees survive and prosper.