Harvest time! One of my favorite times of year and also one of the most dreaded. I love the fresh honey and the smells and the taste, but oh how I hate the sticky mess and the time.
Last year, I tried spinning the frames to extract the honey, and I hated it. My back and arms and shoulders ached long before I was even started (I get terrible headaches from muscle tension, and it was exactly two frames in when the headache started.). Not worth it, especially when that much tension will lay me up for a few days at a time. No thanks.
So… crush and strain. Simply pull all the honey and wax out, crush it, and leave it in a strainer to drain. Simple, right?
Yes and no.
I’ve been looking for the best way to do it for quite a while now. At first, I tried cheese cloth, which I like but is too expensive (about $4 of cheese cloth per “event,” which was roughly one gallon). I also disliked that I didn’t really have a place to hang it for the several days it would take to filter. If you leave it out too long, it starts to absorb moisture from the air or gets bugs and dust in it. Ew.
This last week, however, I tried a paint strainer. I took a five-gallon bucket, put a five-gallon paint strainer in it, and then dumped the remaining honey/wax I still haven’t filtered into it. Then I lifted the strainer off the bottom as high as I could and slammed the lid down on top of it all to hold the strainer in place. The top half of the bucket ended up being the suspended honey/wax mix and the bottom the catchment for the cleaned honey.
It works perfectly!
My favorite thing, though, is that I could move the whole thing to the front porch and let the summer heat do its thing. The heat warms the honey/wax up enough to flow freely without damaging the honey (I’m careful to NOT leave the honey in the sun as well), and the lid protects the honey from moisture, bugs, and dust. I’ve left the honey out there since Saturday, and I would venture to say it’s done straining. I’m thrilled. Even better, I’d guess I’ve pulled a full 95% of the honey out of the wax this way, which means no more waste (one of my biggest complaints about how I was doing it).
Tonight or tomorrow, I’ll dump the filtered wax into a pan and leave that on the front porch for the bees to raid. They do a great job of pulling the last of the honey. The last time I left wax out on the porch, they even took some of the wax back to the hives, which I had never seen before.
So… great success. If you like the crush and strain method, use those paint strainers. Oh, and I have heard that it helps to wet the strainer first and then shake as much water out of the strainer before pouring the honey in. Something about breaking the surface tension. My guess is that it would cost us about $3.50 to filter a full five-gallons of honey (20% the cost of cheese cloth) AND I think I can probably reuse the strainer, though I haven’t checked that yet. Either way… yay!
On to the lip balm.
Friday we made our first lip balm. This was surprisingly easy. Shockingly easy. We followed one of the recipes in Beekeeping for Dummies, which we like well enough. It took us about 1.5 hours to make 46 0.5 oz jars of lip balms. Easy, easy, easy. And enjoyable.
Here’s our recipe:
- 1 oz (weigh) wax
- 4 oz (volume) sweet almond oil
- essential oils
You mix the wax and sweet almond oil together in a double-boiler until melted, and then you add a few drops of essential oil. Immediately pour the mix into a container and let them cool. Cool them completely before capping, and there you go.
The first batch we made (a double-batch of 23 jars total) was a sweet orange. We put in 10 drops of sweet orange essential oil. My only complaint is that the scent of the oil faded pretty quickly and there is barely a hint of the smell anymore. The effect is still there, but the smell is not. I may experiment with more oils.
The next batch (another double-batch of 23 jars) was a peppermint eucalyptus mix. Remembering that the 10 drops of orange didn’t really do anything scentwise, we decided to go big. Twenty drops of peppermint and ten drops of eucalyptus. While everything is still hot, the scent is really strong, and I made the mistake of bending close to smell it. It just shy of took me to my knees!
After cooling, however, the scent is pretty mild and very pleasant. When you use the lip balm, it gives off a nice minty feel and a slight tingle on the lips. It’s great stuff and my favorite of the two.
I gave four jars (two of each flavor) to four people who are my test subjects. All four of have come back with positive remarks. We have 14 more jars to make, which will probably be lavendar or rosemary with a hint of another oil.
All in all, though, success!!!
Now all we need to do is roll our candles, and we should be ready to make a run at the Farmers Market in a few weeks. We still have plenty of wax to other products as well, and Courtney is really interested in some other ideas, such as healing salves, lotions, and so forth.
My goal is that we’ll make enough to fund doing a lot more of these kinds of things in the future. As a friend told me yesterday, YES, I’m really getting in to this beekeeping thing.