Solar wax melter

I thought I had already written about my homemade solar wax melter. But as I responded to a question on beesource, I did a search of my blog and realized I hadn’t! So I perused my list of posts and found this one under “draft”. See? I knew I MEANT to post about it…

You can buy a solar wax melter and it will cost you anywhere from $60 to over $100, it will be fancy and bulky and you will have to find a place to keep it! Mine cost about $6 and is easy to disassemble. I don’t want to take sole credit for this, what I use is cobbled together from other people’s ideas I came across while researching the topic. One very important tip, do this on a very warm, sunny day, preferably in the 80’s.

I use the following:

-a pane of glass (edges taped to prevent cuts)

-styrofoam cooler

-a plastic bin

-paper towel

-rubberband

-dirty wax!

Simple parts + sun + yellow cake of wax in front.

Simple parts + sun = yellow cake of wax in front.

The plastic bin has a little water in it to keep the melted wax from sticking to the bottom. A paper towel is placed over the top and a rubber band is used to fasten it in place. Set the bin inside the cooler, like so:

DSC04439

 

Then the glass goes on top:

DSC04440

 

Set it in a spot that gets sun all day, it works better if the temperatures are in the 80º’s. The wax will melt and drip through the towel leaving the brown sludge you see above (that is after melting, the wax is in the water below). That yellow cake of wax is the result at the end of the day and the debris that remained in the paper towel is called slumgum. I use the slumgum for my smoker in combination with pine needles and it works like a charm. The whole contraption cost about $6 because I only needed to purchase a cooler and a piece of glass. You can increase the intensity by lining the inside with aluminum foil or by painting it black. It gets very hot in there and I have never needed to enhance the melter’s effectiveness, but it may help if you expect part of the day to be cloudy. The resulting brown sludge is a combination of cocoons from brood frames (plus poop as the larvae defecate before spinning their cocoons), detris from the hive, some pollen, whatever has collected on the wax. If you use only wax from honey frames there will be less slumgum. Try it out and let me know how it works for you.

Remember the blueberries?

So a few posts ago I mentioned that I saw honey bees eating the blueberry pulp of my backyard over-ripe blueberries. I took a few pictures that day and I wanted to share. There’s one of a wasp and one of a honey bee.

DSC04416

DSC04415

Cool, yes?

Honey Harvesting, Part Deux

Once the supers were inside, the messy part began: uncapping. Oh my goodness what a mess but at least it was contained, I happened to have a very large cookie sheet that served as the “honey catcher” fairly well: we uncapped the frames while resting the frames on the sheet, any honey that ran out was collected on the tray and later scraped into the strainer. My husband was excellent at that, he wanted every bit of honey we could get! We did 2 sessions of harvesting and the picture below is from the second one. Remember, all pictures can be enlarged by clicking on them.

You can see the cappings roller on the right, I think it's supposed to perforate the cappings but it gets so filled with cappings and honey that it was useless after the first few rolls. I went back to my capping scratcher. It was also a real pain to clean, if you wanted to keep any of the wac or honey.

You can see the cappings roller on the right, I think it’s supposed to perforate the cappings but it gets so filled with cappings and honey that it was useless after the first few rolls. I went back to my capping scratcher. It was also a real pain to clean, if you wanted to keep any of the wax or honey.

You can see how some comb was EXTREMELY thick. Some of it had been drawn out twice! Meaning the bees had drawn, filled and capped honey, then drawn, filled and capped AGAIN over the capped honey. Bizarre.

DSC04422

Wax and honey in the filter, in my canning pot., the only pot large enough to hold the filters. I let this sit in water over night and fed the resulting honey water back to the bees. Once I drained the filter, it sat on my counter with a rag underneath to catch any moisture. After a few days the wax was dry and ready for melting.

Wax and honey in the filter, in my canning pot, the only pot large enough to hold the filters. I let this sit in water overnight and fed the resulting honey water back to the bees. Once I drained the filter, it sat on my counter with a rag underneath to catch any moisture. After a few days the wax was dry and ready for melting.

This year, I've only packaged my honey in one pound jars.

This year, I’ve only packaged my honey in one pound jars.

The jar on the right is known as a victorian square and it’s my favorite. But it’s very pricey as I can only get it online and the shipping costs double the price of the jars. The muth jar (with the cork) is extremely attractive as it has an embossed skep on the back and also “One Pound of Honey” embossed in the glass. The middle jar is one that I bought for home at the request of my husband. He wanted an easy squeeze plastic bottle for using on biscuits, etc. I made bread yesterday using this bottle and I have to say it was extremely easy to just squeeze it out, rather than pouring it from a spout that would get sticky as a result. The lid is a dripless lid and you store the bottle on the lid with no leaks! But I’m not a fan of storing items in plastic, so we’ll see if I use these again. 

You can see I’ve added a shrink band to the muth jar: the cork makes me nervous when customers pick up their honey, I always worry the cork is going to come out. So I started using the shrink bands to ease my mind rather than as a “no tamper” indicator, though that doesn’t hurt.

The victorian square is sporting a tamper-evident seal from Brushy Mountain which I love. It says “USA Honey” on it, and I like that my customers know their honey has been untouched after bottling. I have a beekeeper friend who told me a woman came up to his honey stand, opened the bottle and stuck her finger in it!!!! Needless to say, she had to buy that bottle. Crazy people.

The plastic jar has a seal inside the lid that fastens itself to the jar when the lid is screwed on.

I’m seriously considering going with a regular queenline glass jar (shape is the same as the middle jar) and just buying black lids. Queenlines are the ones most beekeepers here use. But what I like about my honey is the packaging: it’s like nothing you normally see for sale at fairs and festivals. I think I’m going to take this winter and design my own labels too, ones that I can print at home. The labels in the picture are from myownlabels.com also known as evermine.com. What I especially like about these labels is that they are waterproof vinyl, so if someone puts their crystallized honey jar in a pan of hot water to liquify it, the label remains intact. It is also repositionable, and that is an appreciated feature.

So much to think about this winter, jars, labels, and making my own soap. Next time: my homemade solar wax melter!

Foraging for berries

Going out to our backyard and “foraging” for berries and veggies is a favorite activity of ours. But guess who’s been joining us?

A week or so ago I saw yellow jackets on the blueberries splitting a few open and enjoying the contents of the berries. I happened to spot a honey bee working on the pulp of an already open berry. Figured it was a “sweet-fluke”.

I just went out to take a quick peek at the blueberries and saw quite a few little things flying about and worried they were wasps. As I got closer I was stunned to see honey bees! A few dozen working on the pulp of split blueberries. Sweet is sweet I guess. We need that goldenrod to start blooming now!

Harvest time! Post part 1

Well, I think you may know that my harvest over the past couple of years was paltry, a mere 20lbs each year. Folks, this is a banner year! Two Saturdays ago my friend Connie, her husband and mine all helped to harvest 65 lbs!!! Mind you we had to return uncapped honey for them to finish off but even with this initial harvest, it blows the other years out of the water.

I was telling some folks that I started calculating how much I had spent on this hobby since starting. Once I got to 2K I stopped counting, couldn’t handle it. Between buying frames, foundation, more supers, hive bodies, covers, ventilated inner covers, sugar, feeders, etc. it all adds up. I hope that a few years of selling nucs and honey will help even out the cost. I hope that at some point the hobby will pay for itself, I don’t expect to make a profit, but if it could just cover its own expenses, that would be appreciated.

Anyway, I need to tell you about the debaucle that occurred harvest day. I knew I had more honey this year so my old method of brushing bees off would be difficult due to the wonky comb they made and it would be very time consuming. I decided, to my great disappointment as you will learn, to try a fume board.

Fume boards, for those who don’t know, are essentially pieces of wood with metal on the outside and cloth on the inside. The metal (when used on a sunny day) will heat up the cloth and whatever nasty smelling liquid has been applied to the cloth will warm up and vaporize into the super, driving the bees down and away from the supers. In a few minutes you can remove the super confident that most, if not all bees, have vacated the super. As the nasty smelling stuff can taint the honey if left too long, I decided to use the pleasant smelling alternative which claims to be “Natural and bee friendly.” Uh huh.

Well, it was a lovely sunny day, mid-70’s, an ideal bee-working day. I applied the spray, put on the fume board. Remember that wonky comb I mentioned? When the nectar flow happened, I didn’t have enough drawn comb to add to the hives because I certainly never expected to need 80 frames of drawn comb (2 supers per hive)! So I added the foundationless frames I had on-hand and hoped they would drawn them out. I didn’t add them during the heavy flow so they never did draw comb on those frames, instead they built out the comb that was next to it and just made the cells super deep. Not really an issue PER SE but certainly messes up any honey super inspections.

Turns out that bulbous comb and the queen excluder were areas causing “log jams” resulting in masses of bees dying as they rushed to get away from the fumes. That explains why, when I lifted the board after a few minutes, a waterfall of bees came out of the hive as they tried to escape. And then I sealed their doom as I set the board back on, not understanding what was going on :( If I had only known… Typing this makes me angry at myself all over again.

I only had 2 fume boards so the teal and purple hive were spared this experience. After I removed the fume boards and found all those dead bees in the crevices of the comb and trapped in the queen excluder, I had to think of another solution but could only think of the brush. Connie suggested the leaf blower and that’s exactly what we did.

We took the super off of the hive and set it down on the grass a little away from the hives (end bars toward the ground) and blew them out. It actually worked really well, I was able to get most of them out and the cluster of bees in the grass dispersed and went home, there were some in the air too but they all left. No dead bodies. One person used the leaf blower, one brushed off any stragglers and then another person would cover the super quickly, any remaining stragglers would come to the top of the frames and when the cover was opened, they normally flew off. It actually worked really well.

We moved away from the hives and checked the boxes again because these were being brought into the house and I did not want angry bees in my home. Any final stragglers were removed and the frames checked for readiness to harvest. About half we put back to let the bees finish capping. The supers were left by the back door and were brought in when bees started investigating.

And then the mess began…. Will post more later!

Too much “boosting”

This past Saturday I checked the nucs and found that #1 had built out all 5 frames, while #2 only worked on 3 frames. One frame happened to be plastic foundation and I suspect there wasn’t enough wax on it for them to draw it out. Given the disparity I decided to take out one of the drawn frames from Nuc #1 and give it to #2, trying to balance it out a bit. The frame was quite bulbous and didn’t allow other frames to be added so Nuc #2 had 4 frames and Nuc #1 had 5 frames, of which one was brand new wax foundation. Sunday I would have everything I needed to separate the nucs and move them into new hive bodies, 10 frames each, so that was the plan.

Sunday came around and I was looking forward to moving them. But then came the conundrum: do I stack them on top of each other with a double-screened bottom board between them or move them away from each other? If I left them on top of each other, inspecting them would become a problem. So I decided to move them apart, one nuc in between each set of 2 main hives. At the same time, I had given a boost of brood to the smaller nuc as the strong one was certainly going to town on the frames. They had already started to draw out one side of the new frame I gave them just 24hrs ago!

Here comes the problem: I left Nuc#2 in the original space PLUS I had given them a frame of mixed brood. I moved Nuc#1 (the stronger one) over to the other hive stand, in between the original two hives I started with. Can anyone guess where all the foragers would come home to? Yes, the original location. So not only did I give the “weaker” nuc #2 more brood, I gave them more foragers.

Over the next few days the difference at the entrances became abundantly clear and so did my error. I could have easily left the nucs as they were (in regard to frames and just not moved any brood at all) and just moved the stronger Nuc #1 over to the new location, it would have lots of bees still, and the foragers would return to #2, boosting its numbers that way. Now as I watch the entrances, I can see that over a minute there are a couple of bees leaving Nuc #1 whereas #2 is like an airport. Oh brother, why didn’t I think of it before? Nuc #1 is now filled with nurse bees whereas #2 has nurse bees and foragers. So this begs the question: Do I switch locations or move a frame of brood from #2 to #1 in a (final) attempt at equalization?

Nuc #2 on the right (your right) and #1 on the left.

Nuc #2 on the right (your right) and #1 on the left.

ACK!

The black locust has started to bloom and the bees are going nuts. We have been extremely fortunate to have remarkable weather: most days have been sunny with temperatures in the 80’s and below. A little rain to supply the plants and the reservoir, the vegetables and fruits.

I had added honey supers a few weeks ago and the bees had diligently started filling them up, drawing out the foundationless frames.

But when I saw my first black locust bloom last Wednesday and then progressively more black locust, I knew I needed to check the hives this weekend and man, was  I right! Oh my gosh, what was supposed to be a full inspection turned into a rapid honey super check with a mad dash to add supers and frames.

There were unassembled frames I was able to put together on Saturday, but I had to drive down to Jim’s on Sunday morning to get more supers and even more frames. A friend and I assembled frames and supers, I put small-cell foundation in the deep frames while she was given creative license to paint the supers at will. She seemed to enjoy that and I loved how many supers and frames we put together: 3 supers and one deep box, 40-50 medium foundationless frames and 30 deep frames. And everything was painted! What a relief, a crazy and productive weekend.

But I haven’t even updated you on the nuc! After aborting full hive inspections I wanted to look at the nucs. Hoping but not expecting to find queens, I pulled a frame out and hot-damn, found eggs! Also found the queen and marked her with a neon green dot.

Checked the other nuc, it still hadn’t built out one of the frames, whereas the other had biult out all of the frames. I wasn’t sure about it but when I pulled it out…eggs! Then I found that queen and marked her as well. Four strong hives and 2 good nucs!

I think I’m going to donate a nuc to a local nature center if they need it, otherwise, I may sell them. This may be a nice way to offset the costs of beekeeping, selling a few nucs every spring. This is an expensive hobby but I have to say, I just love it.

Queenless question answered

Last week when I looked at the purple hive, I wondered if it was queenless because all I saw was capped brood. I decided to take a quick peek yesterday as whether it was queenless or not would help me decide what to do with the new nucs. First I wanted to see how the honey supers were shaping up.

To encourage the bees to work in the honey supers (which were separated by queen excluders) I put in a frame of left-over capped honey that I had. This did the trick to entice them into the supers. I also gave them a mix of drawn comb and foundationless frames. Needless to say, the value of drawn comb cannot be overemphasized…they already started packing the available cells with nectar and while they working on the foundationless frames somewhat, it looked like most of their energy was going into the already drawn comb. I actually gave them some very ragged frames where the edges of the cells were jagged and torn, it was neat to see how the workers straighten and neaten the edges. Remember that the bees need lots of open cells to be able to hold the nectar while they evaporate the water content, as the water content is reduced, the nectar takes up less space. I’m going to make more of an effort to have drawn comb available for them. I may do that this fall when I’m feeding them.

Onto the purple hive. There were lots of bees coming and going, my first indication that things may be okay here. I popped off the inner cover and was faced with LOTS of bees. Hmmm…I took out the first frame and saw loads of drones, this is okay if the hive is fine, but if it’s not fine, lots of drones can be a bad thing. Was the queen there but a drone layer? I checked the next frame, capped worker brood, PHEW! Next frame, open brood and capped worker brood, C-shaped larvae and then eggs. THEN I spotted the queen with her pink dot wearing away. Remember, we don’t need to see the queen, just evidence of her presence.

I’ve noticed that this has happened to me sometimes, if the light isn’t right and I miss seeing eggs and/or if my inspection happens to fall at the point in the egg-laying cycle where the brood has just emerged and the cells are being cleaned and readied for the queen, I wonder if the hive is queenless. You know what the best answer is to this? Close them up and check them a week later.

Next task: making a Taranov board, I think I’m going to need it.