If you extracted your honey weeks ago, but still have sticky bowls of cappings lurking in your kitchen, you’re not alone! What to do with the cappings is a perennial question in beekeeping.
Tried and tested methods
There are a few commonly used ways to deal with cappings at extraction time and in choosing the method that suits you best, bear in mind that beeswax is a valuable item. Did you know that the bees must eat 8 to 10 pounds of honey in order to produce 1 pound of beeswax? It deserves our respect!
Melting and refining cappings
My preference for dealing with cappings is always to melt and refine them so that I can have honey-scented blocks of natural beeswax to use. I love beeswax, even more so than honey. It has an aura of the exquisite about it.
Wax recovery and refining does require some patience and attention to detail, especially if you are aiming to enter the results into a honey show. But the process itself is simple and doesn’t require any specialised equipment.
You do need some basic health and safety common sense because beeswax is highly flammable – so you need to be very careful when melting it. More on that later . . .
Prepare the cappings
I am by no means an expert in beeswax! However the following method has served me very well.
First, clean the cappings. They will be full of honey for a start, plus bits of bee, probably some pollen, propolis etc. If you are doing this for the honey shows you will need to pick over the cappings and remove any dark ones that could spoil the beautiful pale, luminous finish that you are aiming for.
In most places it is essential to use rainwater to wash the cappings rather than hard tap water (otherwise you can end up with a soap-like substance). Hopefully you have a water butt! Fill your kitchen sink with rainwater and scrub the cappings with your hands, separating them from any honey clumps as you do so.
The melting pot
Set up a double boiler and bring it to a gentle simmer. Put the dry cappings into the top part and let them melt gently. NB: don’t stir them and don’t put a lid over them as it will cause the wax to heat too quickly, which could be a fire hazard.
Have ready an old measuring jug or even a large plastic water bottle with the top cut off. Cover the top with a nappy liner using a rubber band (or a J Cloth), and push it down slightly to make room for the wax that you are about to pour in.
As soon as the wax is melted, pour it from the double boiler into your receptacle. Once the wax has filtered through and any remaining impurities have been removed, you can pour it into your chosen mould which could be anything really – a piece of glass or crockery or a mould you have purchased.
Put the filled mould into a draft-free place to cool.
You will want to protect your kitchen while doing this! I have several sheets of aluminium foil that I use every year, particularly on my stove top and on the floor.
Warning: beeswax is highly flammable
Although beeswax melts at a relatively low temperature (62 to 64 degrees C), if you don’t watch if carefully it can overheat and reach a flashpoint where it gives off enough vapour to ignite in air. The flashpoint of beeswax is 204.4 degrees C. Never leave it unattended, ensure that the wax cannot come into contact with direct heat, never put a lid on the pot and never put beeswax in the oven while the oven is hot! It definitely is NOT a good idea to try to melt the cappings in the oven.
Just a few things that you can do with your beeswax:
- Make candles – they are great Christmas presents
- Make simple lotions and potions at home – e.g. lip balms
- Make beeswax polish – equal amounts of turpentine and melted beeswax (smells lovely)
- Enter blocks into honey shows!
- Give small blocks as gifts to others who want to make candles etc.
- You can even make your own foundation though this requires special equipment for embossing the sheets
- Or you could simply save the wax and trade it for next year’s foundation.
There are also others that I haven’t tried, like making beeswax wraps as a substitute for cling film. I haven’t explored that one yet but it sounds brilliant. (There is a workshop on this at the National Honey Show this year but it has already sold out!).
Next time: how to deal with wax from the wax extractor . . .