Candles Are One Way To Use That Extra Beeswax
Beekeeping — Mind Your Own Beeswax
By Tom Theobald
Traditionally winter was a quiet time for beekeepers. It was a time to visit friends, for northern beekeepers maybe a time to head for warmer climes to attend one or more of the national beekeeping conventions. For some beekeepers, the cold days of winter were reserved for candle making with the year’s yield of beeswax. Here in Colorado, the tradition until recently was to hold the State Beekeepers’ winter meeting the first week in December somewhere in the Denver area. There were some practical reasons for this I think. In the early days we didn’t flit around the state pretty much at will the way we do now, roads were more challenging, particularly in winter and in the mountains. A December meeting allowed beekeepers from far parts of the state to attend before the really bad winter weather descended on us, and the Denver location gave beekeeping families the opportunity to do some Christmas shopping in the big city.
Things have changed dramatically in the beekeeping world during the past 20 or 30 years. For commercial beekeepers at least, winter is as hectic as summer and there’s no break in the pace, no tranquil winter respite. Those months that might once have been spent building new wooden ware, repairing old equipment, visiting friends, or taking a nap are now—round ‘em up, sort ‘em out and get ‘em on the semis to California. Some do this in the late fall, moving their bees to holding yards in California, while others wait until the last minute. Northern beekeepers frequently dig hives out of the snow, and then take them directly into the California almond orchards. However they do it though, most beekeepers of any size are focused on the money pollination contracts in the almonds bring and they do it. They do it, it keeps them afloat, but the traditional solace of winter has been shattered.
Beeswax is a by-product of honey production, the light new “cappings wax” that is cut from the comb to reopen the cells so the honey can be spun out. For a larger beekeeping operation that might be several hundred pounds of wax. Most larger operators ship their beeswax off to wholesalers where it finds a multitude of uses — cosmetics and salves, waterproofing, lubricants, foundation— the sheets of beeswax beekeepers use to start uniform new frames of honeycomb — and candles. The yield of beeswax is small, however, about a pound to a pound and a half for every 100 pounds of honey.
Beeswax is flammable, and that characteristic most certainly attracted the interest of our ancestors, at first maybe nothing more than a hollow stone or horn filled with beeswax with a bit of moss for a wick served to hold back the terrors of the night. I’ve come to wonder whether the reassuring glow of a beeswax candle might be deeply embedded in our genetic memory. I’ve had many people volunteer without any prompting from me that they find the glow of a beeswax candle somehow soothing yet they can’t quite explain why.