Beekeeping Wednesday : Beeswax

by Peter Cole

Do you know what the honey bee’s most precious resource is? It is Beeswax!

If you have studied or seen the anatomy of a Honey bee you should have noticed that bees have six glands on the bottom of their abdomen. These glands secrete a substance called bees wax. Bees need to eat 7 to 9 pounds of honey to make one pound of wax which can store 22 pounds of honey in 35,000 wax cells. In optimal conditions it takes three days for 10,000 bees to make one pound of wax.

Honey bees have many uses for beeswax. The most common ways bees use wax is for storage; bees need a place to store honey and pollen, they store it in beeswax. They also use wax for reproduction, the queen lays her eggs in cells of wax and the bees go through their larvae and pupae stage in that cell. Bees have a certain width of space between almost everything known as bee space, this amount of space allows only a couple bees to fit in that area. If there is a space smaller than bee space the bees fill it with propolis, while if the space is bigger than bee space the bees will fill it beeswax till it is the right size.

Wax is not only valued by the bees, it is also valued by humans, but we can’t make it, so we take it from the bees. There are many different ways for beekeepers to harvest beeswax. The most common is while extracting honey, the bees make honey by dehydrating nectar. To prevent rehydration once it is dry enough, the bees will cap it with wax. To extract from a Langstroth hive we cut the capping off the cells, scrape them open, or melt the very top. Most people dispose of the wax but some people save the wax for other things. Extracting from a top-bar hive is different since the frames won’t withstand an extractor the wax has to be crushed and since crushed wax can’t be put back into a hive a lot of people will recycle the wax.

Humans have many uses for beeswax, one of the many uses for wax is selling it as honey in the comb. Special frames are designed to allow the beekeeper to remove a round of honeycomb with the honey once it is capped, this method leaves the honey in the comb, which many high end restaurants or grocery stores will sell to customers.

Another use for beeswax is candles. Beeswax is flammable which makes it one of the preferred candle ingredients. When beeswax burns it releases negative ions. Most dirt, dust, and pollen carry a positive charge which is how they float. The negative ions released from burning beeswax negate the positive charge of air contaminants, and the neutralized ions go back into the burning candle or fall to the ground.

Beeswax is also used to coat cheese, blocking the air to prevent spoilage. Beeswax is used in many cosmetics, lip balm, salves, and hand creams. Beeswax is also an important ingredient in hair pomades, and mustache wax.

Beeswax is super important to bees, but not only bees. We have harvested and found many uses for beeswax. The most important resource for bees is their wax because it is so hard to make it, and because they have have so many uses for it. I hope this article helped you, I learned a lot while writing this article about beeswax.

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