With the recent snow fall staying on the ground, and the air temperature staying in the region of below the freezing point of water, I can say with a weatherman’s confidence, winter is here. Hound Sarge has also informed us on several occasions that “it is winter; it is cold; I would rather poop in the living room.” With my thumb healing up, I was able to get the hives winterized only two weeks after I had wanted to get them buttoned up. The Hygienic Italians (in the photo, the one on the left) will need to be checked on mid-winter. The Carniolans swindled them out of honey, and I am concerned they might run low. Other than that, the bees will be left to their own devices for the winter.
And, so, what is there to do that is bee related this winter, you asked inquisitively?
The short answer is soap and candle making with beeswax.
The last several days, I have been melting and filtering beeswax through cheesecloth. My first attempt was with our convection oven, but the temperature settings did not step finely enough to not be concerned about causing the wax to darken (which occurs after 190 degrees fahrenheit). I switched to using our conventional oven which can step at 5 degree intervals and go as low as 170 degrees. I settled in on 185 degrees; at this temperature I was able to, with in reason, melt the wax relatively quickly.
Melting, round one, was a mixture of wax, dead insects, and what is pejoratively called "slum-gum", a thick mixture of wax and heavy honey – mostly from decapping comb. This first round of filtering through cheesecloth yielded 9 oz (by weight) of beeswax and 14 oz (by weight) of thick honey. Honey so thick, it had characteristics of taffy.
The wax made it through two more filterings and was finally molded into a brick by using a non-stick bread-pan.
Melissa will, with hope, be posting about our soap making endeavor. The plan is to make an olive oil, beeswax, and palm oil soap – most likely – several pounds worth – in the coming week. I have been reading up on the saponification process of taking triglycerides and combining them with strong base (in our case, sodium hydroxide – NaOH – or "Lye") all at a certain temperature with the hopes of making soap. If it fails, you end with a blog of fat or a brick of drain cleaner. Lets hope we end up with soap and not a blog of fat.