Preparing Beeswax from the Hive (or the valiant effort anyway)

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There wasn’t any honey to take because my bees died of starvation by all appearances.  But the seventeen frames of wax ought to come in handy for salves, lotions, and candles if I could get them melted down.  I planned on transferring the strained, melted wax into empty milk cartons.  The milk cartons would act as molds and once the wax hardened I could simply peel off the paper and cut into useable pieces, yes?  Ah, if only it were that easy.

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I began with a pile of wax and filled one pot (that cannot ever be used again for cooking since it is permanently a wax cauldron.  I made a double boiler by placing that pot into a big canning pot filled with boiling water (careful not to splash any water into the wax) and melted it that way so not to burn the wax.

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It seemed like the combs were going down and I would add more.  Pretty soon, I smashed and stirred and looked for wax and found none.  The blackened combs just seemed burnt (before I put them in oddly enough) and they just fell down into a mass.  If the wax was there it sucked back into the remaining combs.  I thought the entire honey comb was wax.  Am I wrong?  I must be because hours later I only had half the frames in the pot and a pot half full of blackened mass, and about two teaspoons of wax.

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I did eventually give up and placed the pot by the door with the wooden spoon which met its demise during this process as well.  What happened?  What did I do wrong?  I still have about eight left but no pot to waste.  The black parts of the comb make me wonder if that was normal, if I should have separated out the lighter comb.  Did I give up too soon?

Oh who knows.  The top bar hive I knew nothing about, the bees that came and passed, the black not-so-much wax, and a mere pint of honey out of all of it.  I think we can consider my bee keeping venture a complete failure at this point.

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Next year, we will try again.

The Day the Village Died

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A week ago we became suspicious.  They had been flying here and there and buzzing in the trees fine a few weeks ago.  I meant to get into the hive on the next nice day.  The last really nice day may have been Easter and I didn’t do it.  What made us wonder about the health of the hive was the fact that there were so many dead bodies on the front porch of the hive that a few were having trouble getting in and out.  The icy wind kept howling and the temperature wasn’t quite right at all this past week so I just moved the door minimizer and used a stick to move some of the bodies out of the way.  I suppose we were too late at that moment.

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The air was cool yesterday morning as I gathered dandelion flowers.  Doug came out and resolved that he would look in the hive.  It seemed too cold but we had a dark feeling about it all anyway.  He suited up and opened the roof of the hive and began to pull off each slat.  Each empty slat.

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Each slat had an empty honey comb on it.  The closer he got the front we noticed the heavy combs were black.  Not sure what that means.  The combs were empty all the way to the front of the hive even though we had left them nearly twice as much as is recommended to get through winter (17+ frames after we decided to not get any honey).  Apparently not enough.

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It was a sobering sight to see six inches of dead bees across the bottom of the hive, piling out onto the front step of their village.  The nanny bees died where they stood, stuck to the comb surrounding the last small section of brood.  Died in place as if a great disaster in this medieval kingdom brought their lives to a stop in a just second’s time.

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The hive was so prolific for most of the winter that they must have eaten more than a smaller village would.  I should have checked earlier to see if I should supplement sugar water.  Perhaps I could have saved them if I had checked on Easter.

There is no place for procrastination on a homestead.  I should know this by now.  Whether it is checking a bee hive, getting the produce harvested and preserved, getting a free load of wood to the house before someone else takes it.  Homesteading is all about timing.  One can so easily miss the window of opportunity.  In the busy months of homesteading one ought to be prepared to be up until one in the morning canning, or drop everything to drive to Denver in a broken down truck to get precious wood, or be up at dawn watering the gardens.  This life runs our schedule for the next three seasons and this loss only reminds me to pay attention and focus on each task as it calls.

Next time I will not use the top bar hive.  I will buy a traditional Langstroth hive.  There are so many more colorful, comprehensive books on the subject, and many more bee keepers to ask.  Most folks didn’t know how to answer my questions because the top bar method is just not that popular.

Well, if life is all about learning, and a homestead is its own classroom then I have learned valuable lessons this week.  But at the expense of a beautiful village.