Beekeeping – Beeswax Products


I unveiled these new candles at the Conrad Mansion Christmas Bazaar to great fanfare – actually to the point where I didn’t think I should add them to our website until I’d caught up filling the orders I received for them at the Bazaar!  But now I have, and here they are:

Honeybear Candle, $12 – approx 50 hours burn time

Rolled Beeswax Lookalike Pillar, $5 – approx 20 hours burn time

Wilderness Pillar, $12 – approx 50 hours burn time

This last one is proving to be an especial favorite here in Montana, as it features a deer on one side and a bear on the other.  Great for huntin’ camp!

All are now available at www.glaciercountyhoney.com.

And, kind blog readers, if you’re counting your pennies — and who isn’t? — don’t forget about our upcoming Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday deals – you can find the details here.

2012.  Glacier County Honey Co.  All Rights Reserved.

Before life dealt me the Beekeeper Card, I lived in Missoula, Montana, and intended to remain.  Oh, it was too crowded and too far from Glacier for my tastes, but I loved my employer and my friends there — both times around.

I relished the downtown scene, too, the rich, perfectly pulled Americanos at The Break; the grilled-cheeses-and-tomato-soups that so reminded me of my mother’s, at Worden’s; the hustle of the Farmer’s Market and the River Market on Saturday mornings; and that cutting-class feeling that Wednesday Out to Lunch in Caras Park always gave me, whether I was 22 and about to go float the Blackfoot River, or 29 and about to go conduct a mediation at the courthouse.

And then there was the window shopping, the sparkling earrings at Miss Zula’s, the quietly gleaming Le Creuset pots at Macy’s, the glittering engagement rings at Stoverud’s, and the sweetness of the wooden toys at the Walking Stick.  I am a walker-thinker, and whether or not I would ever meet the right guy and have children often crossed my mind as I peeked into the Walking Stick’s windows at a my customary dash, no doubt headed to the Bead Store to visit Claire, or to Layla and Rachel’s riverside apartment for wine and winning conversation.

Yes, I loved my life in Missoula, though I don’t miss it.

But I still get to visit, thanks to those beloved employers and friends, and to Glacier County Honey Co’s retailers in Missoula, including our newest one, Walking Stick Toys, which has picked up our beeswax and honey stix – Nature’s pixie stix!  From the pictures I’ve seen on Facebook, it looks like Erika Hickey, the Walking Stick’s owner, has already been crafting away with our all natural wax and a pile of happy kiddos.

Thanks for your support, Walking Stick!  Missoulians: head to 829 S. Higgins Ave for all your environmentally friendly toy, beeswax and honey stix needs, and the added warm fuzzy bonus of supporting two small Montana businesses at once!  Or give Erika a call at 406.543.1179.

2012.  Glacier County Honey Co.  All Rights Reserved.

It’s the time of year when folks start dropping by the Warehome to buy honey, meet the bees, and tour the extraction facility — unfortunately for our visitors, this far North we’re not even close to extracting honey yet — Honeydew and Keith are loading the first supers onto the truck as I type — so their tours are limited to what we call the Wax Room, where I bottle the-best-honey-you’ve-never-tasted and pour beautiful beeswax candles.  We’ve got a display of honey and wax products set up, and I’m noticing that a lot of our kid visitors don’t know that in addition to honey, bees produce beeswax.

So, here’s your science lesson for the week: bees secrete wax in flakes from their abdomens, and they use that wax to build what is referred to as comb, or honeycomb, comprised of interlocking beeswax hexagons.  Bees will eat about 8 times the amount of honey in relation to the wax they produce, so you know this is an intense process for them.  Wikipedia tells us that bees must fly about 150,000 miles — six times around the earth – to produce one little pound of beeswax.  Wow.

Anyway, in the hexagonal comb, the queen lays eggs, which become larvae/brood (there are a lot of interchangeable terms in beekeeping), and the worker bees store pollen and honey.  Pollen is harvested by the worker bees from flowers/plants and brought back to the hive in chaps, or saddlebags, on the bee’s legs.  Pollen can be an incredible array of colors, from brilliant blue to quiet yellow.

Honey is not brought back from the plant.  While working/pollinating the plant, the worker bee ingests the plant’s nectar.  Bees have several stomachs, and one of them is called a “honey stomach.”  The bee temporarily stores the nectar in its honey stomach, and … in a nutshell, special enzymes there begin to turn the nectar into honey.  Back in the hive, the bees regurgitate this substance, evaporate it down with their wings, and poof!  Honey!  Well, it’s really not that simple, but you get the general idea.

The workers store the honey in the comb, and when a particular hexagon is full of honey, they go back over it and seal it off with more beeswax.  Also, each hexagon that comprises the comb is tilted just slightly upwards, to keep the honey from running out while it’s liquid.  All honey does eventually crystallize in the hive.

Isn’t all of that just amazing?

So when we harvest honey from the comb, we are necessarily harvesting quite a bit of beeswax, too.  Beeswax has a myriad of uses, and I’ll get into that another time.  For now, here’s a few pictures to show you how we render this wax into a valuable product:

Here’s raw beeswax – it has been spun in our Wax Spinner to separate it from the honey, but that’s all the processing that it’s seen.  So, it has some detritus in it – there might be a little dirt, a few rocks, maybe a stick or two, a little bit of honey, some dead bees.  Nothing harmful or earth shattering, but that natural debris needs to be removed from the wax before it can become candles, lipbalm, or furniture polish.

So we heat it up, to liquefy the wax and make it easy to strain the debris, which is lighter than the wax and will float, off the top.  In our case, we heat it using Honeydew’s dad’s wax melter, that he made many moons ago.

This wax melter is essentially a heated, partially insulated tank with a baffle.  A sheet of heat lamps is suspended above the tank, and between the heating element in the bottom and the lamps up top, the wax, which has a melting point of about 145 degrees Fahrenheit, melts.  You don’t want to get it too hot, as the wax will darken and become discolored once you reach about 185 degrees.

Although this looks kind of gross, let me assure you that if heaven has a scent, it’s liquid beeswax.  It is the smell of every flower in Glacier County, from the tiny glacier lily, high on Logan Pass, to the alfalfa growing tall in the fields near Shelby, to paintbrush and sunflowers and russian sage and tulips and lilacs and camus and on and on and on, topped off with a bottom note of sunshine and good times.  When we’re rendering wax, the entire Warehome is saturated with this scent of summer, and we all walk around with goofy grins on our faces as a result.

We use a mesh strainer to separate the wax from the debris, and the wax strains back into the tank.  The debris that comes out of beeswax is collectively referred to as “slumgum,” and it is sticky, nasty stuff.  Uggh.

When we have a couple inches of liquid, strained beeswax, we drain that wax from the tank into large dishwashing bins.  That results in about a 20# block of clean beeswax.  At this point, one of two things happens: we market the blocks as “single filtered,” and sell them to soapmakers, candlemakers, and other crafters:

OR

I take the blocks, remelt them, and continue filtering them to eventually pour into small “triple filtered” wax blocks for crafters who need “finished” beeswax, or to make my own candles, lipbalms, etc, with.  Yes, that was a run-on sentence.

That’s my little wax melter, above.

And that’s how you take raw beeswax and turn it into a workable wax.  No quiz, but I hope y’all learned something new about the bees this morning!  Have a bee-autiful day.  We’re off to put the first honey supers on the hives, so it’s going to be a GREAT day for us!

Head ’em out!  Whoooooooooo.

2012.  Glacier County Honey Co.  All Rights Reserved.

On Easter Sunday, the rains finally lifted and Maggie Rose and I were able to accompany Honeydew and Keith on a queen cell mission.  I’ve written before that our 4 month adventure in California is two fold: first, we pollinate almonds with our bees.  After the bees are done pollinating, we remove them to our holding yards near Red Bluff and begin to requeen each hive.

Without interference, a hive of bees will raise a new queen every few years.  We think it’s best to give the bees a new queen every spring, and that’s what we’ve been up to for the last month or so.  Requeening takes time.

As I wrote in my last post on this topic, when requeening most beekeepers purchase queens from queen breeders.  With a little help from our friends in California, we’re able to raise our own queens from our best stock, and we’re grateful for the kind assistance!

In a nutshell, requeening goes a little like this: Honeydew takes a frame of freshly hatched larvae. Using a dental implement looking tool, he gently scoops the larvae out of the cell and transplants it into a queen cup.  This is called grafting.

This new cell is placed on a row with 20 other grafted queen cups and given to a hive of bees to tend.  These bees feed the larvae the royal jelly that will turn a regular ole bee into The Queen.   All of this process is very regimented and on a specific day, at a specific time, Honeydew will take remove the queen cups from the hive and place them into a incubator.

The incubator in this picture was once used for chickens, but you know how we folks in agriculture can repurpose anything.  Ta da!  A Queen Incubator is born.

Another certain amount of time passes, and then Honeydew returns to the incubator to withdraw the queen cups, now filled with queens on the cusp of  hatching.

This particular incubator is filled with many, many of these rows of 20 grafted queen cups.  Honeydew withdraws the ones that are his and holds each row to a bright light, visually inspecting each to determine if there is a viable queen within it.  This process is called candling, as it used to be done by candlelight, and not by halogen bulb.

Honeydew then takes a hot knife and cuts the viable cups off of the wooden slat, placing them gently into an insulated queen basket – very apropros on Easter morning.

Honeydew then selects the number of cells he needs – about 250 on this particular day – tucks the basket gently between Maggie’s car seat and the truck bench, and heads for the holding yards!

There, queenless hives wait patiently for their new queen, and he gently parts the frames with his hive tool to insert the queen cell, which should hatch that same day, or the next.

Assuming the bees accept their new ruler, and do not kill her (as sometimes happens), the new Queen will wait patiently for a day of nice weather – about 70 degrees or higher will generally do the trick – and then leave the hive for her mating flight.

I’ll get to those details next time.

2012.  Glacier County Honey Co.  All Rights Reserved.

When wearing my Honey-Bottler-and-Beeswax-Crafter-In-Chief Hat, I love making our 100% beeswax ornaments more than anything else.  How many of your ornaments are 100% natural and made from a renewable resource that smells like sunshine and honey?  Hmmm.  I thought so.

Early in the morning, in the quiet cool of what we call the Beeswax Room, I flip the switch on my portable burners, and set the golden wax to melting over a double boiler.  In an hour, the scent of summer fills the room, and I prepare the molds to receive ornaments for decorating, blocks for almost anything, and candles for lighting.

We offer a wide variety of ornaments, with more to come, but the ones that Don Grant, an artist and great friend of ours from Great Falls, recently crafted molds for, are my favorite ones of all.  While we’re not the only beekeepers who offer beeswax ornaments for sale, you can only find this particular set of eight ornaments at Glacier County Honey Co.  They’re significantly bigger than any other ornaments I’ve ever seen for sale, and I think they will be an incredible accent to your tree, chandelier, or topiary.

What do y’all think?

Tree.

Large grizzly bear track.

Small grizzly track.

Glacier National Park, with the Many Glacier and Going-to-the-Sun roads beautifully etched into the ornament.  Logan Pass is marked with a star.

Montana, with Glacier National Park marked with a star.

Montana, with Yellowstone National Park marked with a star.

Montana, with Babb marked with a star.  Dare I say these are one of a kind?  I’ve never seen a Babb ornament before!

And my favorite, a skep (old fashioned bee hive), proudly bearing the Glacier County Honey name.

Click over to www.glaciercountyhoney.com to get your orders in now – and if you enter EARLYBIRD in the comment box, I’ll refund you 10% of your total order.  And yes, that applies to anything you order, not just these new ornaments, as long as you have at least one Don Grant Collectible ornament in your order.  Offer ends at midnight mountain time, Wednesday, November 2, 2011.

2011.  Glacier County Honey Co.  All Rights Reserved.

Last year, Glacier County Honey Co. exhibited at the NorthWest Honey Festival.  While we were showing off our gorgeous water white honey and golden beeswax, Mama — a former journalist — got to chatting with a friendly reporter covering the festival.  Long story short – being the lovely Southern lady she is, Mama invited said reporter to come on up to Babb and take a peek at our bees and the crazy life we lead on the 49th parallel.

Well, he — Cecil Hicks — took her up on the offer, and a few weeks after Maggie Rose and the bees joined us for the summer, Cecil came to write a leetle story about Glacier County Honey for the American Bee Journal.  Or, we thought it would be a leetle story.  As in possibly a quarter of a side bar, waaaaayyyy towards the back.

Imagine our surprise when we went to the post office this week.

Wow.

Guess who is insufferable this week?

Yep.  That husband of mine has been a mighty fine pain in the rear for the last day or so.

I kid.  We’re all getting a pretty large kick out having him — and the Green Bay Packers supers Darling Summer Help 2010 painted us as a parting “gift” — on the cover of what we consider the premier beekeeping publication.

I look blonde.  Weird.

Anyway.  The article is far more than we ever dreamed of.

And on it goes …

Not gonna lie, I’m liking watching the stats on our website and our blog shatter every record we ever set, and I’m really loving watching the orders pour into my in-box.

To all of our new readers: thank you so much for your support, and your many kind words on the article in the ABJ.  We appreciate you more than you know!

And to all of our old readers: thank you so much for being with us, through the beekeeping, the babies, and the babbling, every step of the way.  We hope you’re enjoying the ride as much as we are.

2011.  Glacier County Honey Co.  All Rights Reserved.

This year’s Made in Montana Marketplace was a great one for Glacier County Honey Co, and made all the weeks of preparation, beeswax burns, and mindless honey labeling worth it!  However, as I wrote last week, I could not have done it without the help of many, many selfless folks in my life.  After my parents left, Don and Mimi Grant, Honeydew’s godparent-types from Great Falls, brought me lunch and a much needed break on Friday afternoon.

And then on Saturday, Brother Dear and Pseudo Sista filled in, on and off, all day long for me.  And I really don’t think I could have done it without them, especially considering that I lost my voice on Friday, Wholesale Day, and had no way to communicate to our fans and customers on Saturday, Retail Day!  Since Brother Dear and Pseudo Sista have, at one time or another, been at least peripherally involved in all aspects of the business of the Glacier County Honey Co, they were well suited to discuss honey production, beeswax filtration, and colony collapse disorder with the masses that visited our booth on Saturday – thanks to everyone who stopped by!

But especially thanks to Pseudo Sista and Brother Dear.  Aren’t they the best?

Another highlight of Retail Day: I finally got to meet one of my heroes-in-Montana-small-business, Sarah Calhoun, owner of Red Ants Pants, workwear for women, in White Sulphur Springs.  Sarah and I have exchanged countless emails about the highs and lows of s-corp ownership, and it felt so good to get an in-person hug from her.  Bless her heart, at the Marketplace’s conclusion, Sarah stayed behind to help us schlep all of our display items and the few beeswax candles we didn’t sell, back to the trailer.  Her mama raised her up right, y’all.  So good to meet you, Sarah!

And finally, thanks to Tammy Tamarillo, our artist friend from Costa Rica, for the moral support, and good luck, she brought to us at the Marketplace!  We’ll hope to be back for the 2012 Marketplace.

2011.  Glacier County Honey Co.  All Rights Reserved.

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