Beeswax, a natural wax produced by honeybees, is naturally white. However, it is very rare to find pure white beeswax. The most common color variation of wax is yellow. Yellow beeswax is a combination of pure white beeswax, honey, and pollen. Sometimes, this wax may turn dark brown or black. What makes beeswax turn black?
Debris in the beehive and honeycombs makes beeswax turn black. When rendering beeswax, you have to filter off a lot of debris to get pure wax. Brood combs are filled with pollen, pupa casings, moth cocoons, and other debris. All these components darken the beeswax, making it appear black.
You may also notice dark honeycomb in cells where brood rearing has taken place. Constant use of these cells causes the dark color. Additionally, a buildup of propolis and debris over time is likely to darken brood cells.
Black beeswax is not a reason for concern since it is perfectly natural and safe. If you are wondering what to do about dark-colored beeswax, read on. I will answer all your questions about beeswax, why beeswax turns black if you can eat black honeycomb, and what to do with this honeycomb.
Why Does Beeswax Turn Black?
It is not unusual to notice dark brood combs and beeswax in your hive after just one season of harvesting honey. Interestingly, honeycomb tends to remain light in color for a long time.
The brood comb which is the beeswax structure of cells, is usually dark in color. This is where the queen bee lays her eggs, and also where a new brood of bees is raised by the colony. There is a lot of activity happening at the brood comb.
That said, this high number of activities held at the brood comb makes it appear darker. This in turn translates to black beeswax.
To illustrate, imagine how busy the colony is. Bees coming and going in throngs to feed the growing larvae. Such bees are usually covered in pollen, dust, water droplets, and other components. All these materials darken the brood comb and consequently the beeswax.
Similarly, the buildup of bee cocoons inside the honeycombs also contributes to the dark color. When a new cycle of mature bees emerges, they leave a lot of sticky cocoons. A worker bee matures in 21 days.
Therefore, every 21 days, used cocoons are placed in the honeycomb. Older bees have a hard time getting rid of all this waste. This build-up of cocoons inside the honeycomb cells tends to make beeswax turn black.
Propolis is also another reason why beeswax may turn black. It has different color variations, but the most popular is dark brown. Bees use Propolis to polish up cells that the queen bee uses to lay eggs. Well, frequent use of Propolis makes the beeswax appear darker and darker over time.
Note that wax from the honeycomb is lighter than wax obtained from the brood combs.
Can You Eat Black Honeycomb?
Remember that honeycomb turns dark when bees use the comb cells repeatedly. Honeycomb is edible. Black honeycomb is also edible and a great delicacy too.
However, this honeycomb may vary in taste depending on the environment of the hive and which flowers the bees used for nectar. It also tastes different from a light-colored honeycomb with a strong nutty flavor.
Eating black honeycomb has some nutritional benefits. The two main components of black honeycomb are raw honey and wax. Raw honey is rich in antioxidants and enzymes. Beeswax, on the other hand, has long-chain fatty acids which are beneficial to you.
Black honeycomb also has a buildup of pollen, Propolis, and other honey residues which impart beneficial enzymes into the comb. All that debris is not essentially useless, you see. Unfortunately, most beekeepers discard dark honeycomb (maybe because it looks bad!).
You can eat black honeycomb on its own or pair it with something else. Several combinations can enhance the flavor of black honeycomb; For instance, you can eat your honeycomb with cheese or chocolate. It may be an unusual pairing, but it won’t hurt to give it a try.
You can also try eating your black honeycomb on bread or pancakes. It is also a great addition to cheese platters. Furthermore, you can serve seasonal fruits and nuts with a side of black honeycomb.
If you can’t stand chewing and swallowing the black honeycomb, consider blending it together with fruits and nuts for delicious smoothies. You can also blend it with some homemade ice cream. For a more hearty breakfast, consider adding chunks of black honeycomb into your yogurt.
Black honeycomb is also excellent for sneezes and cough. They treat sneezes and coughs much better than raw honey does. A good thing about this comb is that it doesn’t expire. This means that you can store it for future use, especially in the winter when cough, sneezes, and running noses are prevalent.
What to Do With Black Honeycomb?
Apart from eating, there are other uses of black honeycomb. Here are a few examples.
1. Swarm traps
Bees spend the better part of the winter season in their hives. However, when the weather gets warmer, they may decide to move elsewhere. Spring is the swarming season, and it’s common to find a swarm of bees perched on a tree or a pole.
Trapping a swarm of bees can be challenging. Nonetheless, you are in luck if you have some black honeycomb. Black honeycomb is an effective swarm trap.
To trap a swarm of bees, you need to line the inside of a dry and watertight box with black honeycomb. Ensure that the box is big enough for the bees to pick it as a potential new home, otherwise, they might fly off.
Lining the box with black honeycomb attracts bee scouts to it. Using some black honeycomb is a sure way to trap a swarm of bees. Most people who use this method almost always trap the bees.
2. Used to make black wax
You can render black wax from black honeycomb. If you are a beekeeper, you don’t have to discard your black honeycomb. Additionally, rendering wax from honeycomb saves you money since you won’t need to buy wax.
It is relatively easy to render wax from black honeycomb. Below is a step-by-step guide on how to render wax from black honeycomb. You will need your black honeycomb, a double boiler, a mesh strainer, cheesecloth, and hosiery.
Step 1: Wrap up the black honeycomb in a cheesecloth. Then put it into a pot of boiling water. The wax will melt and float out of the cheesecloth. Since you are using black honeycomb, the wax will be black. You can squeeze out any remaining wax with a spoon.
Step 2: The black wax will float on top of the pot. Wait for it to cool down before scooping it out. Cooling down may take several hours, so you need to be patient. It cools down and forms a disk of black beeswax. Avoid pouring the boiling water into your sink as beeswax debris may clog your drainer.
If you wish to further filter your wax. You can re-melt it following the following simple steps.
Step 1: Put the beeswax in your double boiler and melt it. A lot of debris was removed from the black honeycomb the first time you boiled it. However, this process doesn’t get rid of everything. Boiling the wax in a double boiler is a good way to clean it further.
Step 2: Empty the wax into a mold, through a filter. You can use a metal strainer to sieve the wax. This removes any impurities. You can also use a piece of cloth to strain the wax, although this will take a lot of time.
3. Black honeycomb for medicinal use
Pollen, bee larvae residue, vitamins, proteins, and minerals are components of black honeycomb. This makes it rich in minerals such as Calcium, sodium chloride, magnesium, iron, and potassium.
Black honeycomb is also good for the health of your gut. This comb has some residues of raw honey, which is a good prebiotic. Prebiotics activate probiotics which help improve the health of your gut.
Raw honey found in black honeycomb is also excellent for establishing a healthy alkaline balance in your body. It ensures that you have an ideal acidity level. I am sure you experience stomach acidity issues once in a while. Well, try using black honeycomb to help.
Furthermore, black honeycomb has raw honey in it, which is good at maintaining healthy PH levels. Your body PH is affected every time you consume something.
Food can either lower or increase your PH levels. Foods such as coffee, whole grains, and processed foods tend to increase the PH of your body. You can eat black honeycomb to help regulate ph. levels.
4. Protect your liver
Raw honey found in black honeycomb is great for your liver. It helps the liver neutralize toxins. The honeycomb contains anti-oxidants, such as peptides that help protect the liver.
You can also use black honeycomb in place of sugar. This is a good alternative for people sensitive to sugar.
What To Do With Old Brood Comb
Old brood comb isn’t entirely useless either. You can use it for several things. First and foremost, you can extract wax from old brood comb. Nonetheless, it is not advisable to use wax from old brood combs in body products.
That said, you can use this wax to make candles. Old brood comb usually has a dark color, therefore the wax you render from it will have a brownish tinge. You can also use this wax to paint the frames of your beehives.
Secondly, like honeycomb, you can use old brood comb as swarm traps. Instead of lining your beehive with honeycomb, use old brood comb.
Old brood comb can also be used as compost. Fertilizer from old brood comb is filled with minerals such as proteins and nitrogen. Such minerals are beneficial to plants.
Nonetheless, when preparing compost using old brood comb, be careful not to attract a lot of wax moths larvae. To avoid this, bury your old brood comb deep in the earth.
I advise that you cycle out your old brood comb around every 2 years. Brood comb that stays in the brood chamber for more than 2 years can be a breeding ground for diseases. Chemicals can also build upon this comb and affect your bees (no good beekeeper wants that!!).
How To Replace Old Brood Comb
Over time, you will have to replace your old brood comb with new ones. This is because comb gets damaged and worn out. Furthermore, old brood comb contains a lot of chemical and debris residue, which can be dangerous. Such residue may cause your bees to catch diseases such as Nosema.
You shouldn’t use a brood comb for more than three years. Although used brood comb is used to trap swarms of bees, it is not advisable to use old brood comb in a new colony. An old comb should be disposed of after rendering.
Here is a simple guide on how to replace an old brood comb. Before replacing our brood comb, you have to know which system you are going to use. There are two ways used to replace old brood comb:
- Bailey Comb Change
- Swapping old comb with prepared drawn comb
Using drawn comb is best for smaller types of brood chambers. It is easy to swap an old comb with a prepared drawn chamber. What happens is that a clean brood chamber is packed with frames of foundation and then placed over a queen bee excluder. When the comb is full of honey, they are extracted and stored for future use.
A bailey comb change system is ideal if you have a bigger hive or if you want to upgrade to a bigger hive. That said, here are steps to follow when replacing an old comb using this system.
- Make a clean brood box and fill it with frames of foundation
- Put the box on top of an old brood box
- Use thick sugar syrup to fill it. You can also use nectar if available.
- Find the queen bee and put her in the new comb. You can only do this after bees have drawn out the foundation.
- Use a queen bee excluder to trap the queen in the new brood comb
- Create a new hive entrance between the old box and the new box. This reduces spreading pollen into the new brood comb.
You can check on your hive after a month. At this point, you can remove the old brood chamber and leave the new one in place. The new brood will have hatched. If you need some beeswax, this is a good time to render the new comb.
You also need to clean out the brood comb frames. Good hygiene is essential in beekeeping since it determines how much honey you will get and its quality.
Here is how to clean your brood comb frames.
- You can start by scrapping off propolis that built-up. To do this, you need special hive equipment. Pay attention to the joints, but be careful not to loosen them.
- If your frame is too dirty, consider removing the wire mesh before cleaning. Fortunately, these wires are strong enough and won’t lose shape when cleaning them. Once the frame is dry, you can tighten it once more.
- Put the wooden frame in boiling water for a few minutes. Be careful not to scald yourself. Boiling water kills all dangerous microorganisms that may affect your bees. Additionally, it melts any beeswax that you may have missed to scrape off.
- Big boilers are ideal since they can fit the entire frame. If you have a small boiler, dip one end of the frame, then switch to the other end.
- Add caustic soda to the boiling water. It softens the water and also improves the quality of wax.
- Get the frame out of the water and shape it vigorously to remove excess water and wax.
- Place the frame on a clean rack under direct sunlight to dry.
This technique is suitable for wooden frames. If you have a plastic frame, the most popular way of cleaning them is by blasting them with water at high pressure for a few minutes. You can use either cold or warm water. Hot water is not advised since it may melt the plastic.
Another way of cleaning a plastic brood comb frame is by freezing it. This method is relatively new and most beekeepers don’t know about it. Freezing the frames also freezes the wax. Frozen wax is easy to scrape off. Furthermore, the chemical makeup of frozen plastic does not allow the wax to attach to it.
When the frames defrost, all you have to do is rinse them with small amounts of washing soda.
In conclusion, beekeeping is evolving. Nowadays, technology has improved beekeeping. The by-products from bees such as wax and Propolis are no longer discarded but are put into good use.