Besides being well known as the busiest creatures that ever existed, bees are also famous for producing the sweetest thing in human history. Well, that’s not the only thing they produce. Bees produce beeswax, another popular product in numerous industries. This might be yet another reason why bees are always so busy!
Beeswax is made by young worker bees as soon as they attain maturity. They begin to produce wax from the special glands on the posterior of their abdomens. Upon getting exposed to the air, the liquefied wax becomes hard, thin scale like formations. The wax-secreting glands lose their functionality as the worker bees age.
Whether you are considering becoming a beekeeper, wondering why the bees make wax, or just curious about how the colorful candles lit at your dinner table got manufactured, you are in the right place, so read on. It’s time to feed your curiosity, gain more wisdom for a prospective profitable beekeeping business idea, and get all the answers you have been seeking.
How do Bees Make Beeswax?
Adult but young worker bees produce beeswax through special glands located between the 4th and 7th segment of their abdomens. The wax-secreting glands produce a liquefied wax at a hive temperature of between 33° and 36°C. The wax solidifies upon getting exposed to the air, forming light yellow scales that darken over time. The young worker bees start producing from the age of 18 days until when the abdominal wax glands atrophy.
From the moment a worker bee from the Apidae- honey bee– family matures to begin producing wax to the time they age, they can produce eight scales (dried wax) within 12 hours. This is during the peak of their production phase, and only if the bees are healthy. The worker bees exist solely to collect nectar and produce wax. Once they die or after their glands atrophy, new and younger ones take over the task and the cycle continues.
The bees then move the already hardened wax from their abdomen to their mandibles using stiff hind-leg hairs past their middle legs. Using their mandibles, they chew on the wax to mix it with saliva to make a pliable material, which they use to build some honeycomb for their colony. Usually, they use their mouths to shape the soft and flexible wax into the desired shape and size.
Are Bees Harmed In the Making of Beeswax?
The making of beeswax is a natural process for the bees, which causes them no harm. Bees produce wax to make a home for their young ones and storage for their food. The wax-making process is totally harmless, that is until human beings get in the picture with their desire to harvest honey and beeswax.
First, it takes bees a lifetime to produce wax and make honeycomb. As I mentioned earlier, a bee at its best can only make eight scales in 12 hours when healthy. Farmers then harvest the same thing the bees worked so hard to produce for their use. For this reason, worker bees get overworked trying to replace the harvested honeycombs.
The process of harvesting honey and beeswax, which happen at the same time, can leave the bees feeling weak and compromised health-wise, therefore susceptible to death and attack from other predators. During harvesting, beekeepers use smoke to create the illusion of the beehive being on fire. This causes the bees to panic, feast on honey, and get drowsy, therefore, becoming less aggressive and harmless to the farmer.
As I stated earlier, the honeycomb made using wax are both storage for honey and home to bee larva. The future of the bees is in the development of their larva, which gets endangered every time farmers extract honeycombs for beeswax and honey. If the farmers get the brood combs, they risk wiping an entire generation of bees still developing inside the combs.
Are Bees killed for Beeswax?
Sometimes bees may die during the time farmers harvest honey. Mature bees get smoked, which weakens their immunity and their ability to defend themselves against other predators and enemies. Young ones may also get scooped out of their colony, as farmers harvest honeycombs for wax (or even squashed by the more careless beekeepers).
The practice of acquiring beeswax might harm bees directly and indirectly, but most of the time it depends on the discipline and knowledge of the beekeeper and whether they are worried about sustainable beekeeping.
How is Beeswax Harvested?
First, it’s worth noting that most beekeepers harvest beeswax when harvesting honey. Bees store honey inside honeycombs and seal the cells using wax caps. Here’s a step-by-step guide to harvesting honey/ beeswax.
1. Aim to remove the wax caps from the hive between 9 am and 4 pm.
During this time the bees are normally out hunting for pollen. For this reason, you will have less trouble accessing the hive or getting stung.
2. Arm yourself with a beekeeper’s outfit.
Make sure your body is fully covered and that the gear is secured at the back. This will minimize the stings. Make sure the net on your face is set away from your skin. If it’s in contact with your skin, then you will get stung.
3. Smoke the bees
Light your burning fuel of choice inside the smoker and pump the smoke out via the hose. The bees will settle at the bottom of the hive to feast on the honey after getting the impression that the hive is on fire. Use the moment to remove the lid.
4. Get the flat frames
Using a hive tool, remove the frames and carefully inspect for any bees. Brush any of them from the caps gently using a hive brush to avoid hurting them.
5. Using an uncapping knife, scrape all the wax caps
The top caps contain most of the beeswax. Scrap them out using a hot uncapping knife. You can use hot water to heat the knife while keeping it clean. If you are not harvesting the honey, remove the caps carefully and return the frames to the hive. The bees will make new wax caps to secure their honey.
6. Place the caps inside a bucket or container.
Place the caps inside a container and let them rest for half an hour. This will naturally separate the honey from the wax. Many beekeepers like to use a honey spinner that will spin the frames quickly to extract the honey.
7. Render the caps immediately
Separate the wax from the honey, a process also known as rendering. You shouldn’t wait for too long as the wax caps might get taint your honey-extracting process, which would make it more demanding and difficult.
To render your wax, wrap your caps inside several pieces of cheesecloth to prevent debris from getting through to your wax. The cloth helps you filter insects and debris. Place the cheesecloth inside water and make sure it’s fully submerged. Heat the water to melt the wax in the caps. To extract more wax from the caps, use a pair of tongs to squeeze the wax caps still contained inside the cheesecloths. Drain all the wax from the caps and throw away the debris. Leave the water and the wax to cool down. The wax will solidify and you can pour the water to get your wax.
What Do Bees Use Beeswax For?
Bees use beeswax to build their colony comb. The colony is made of hexagonal cells. They use the wax for the following purposes;
i. To store pollen
ii. As home to raise and brood their young ones.
iii. As a store for excess honey.