Thursday, April 28, 2016

Honeycomb adventure

There was a honeybee hive growing on two of our chickoo (choko, Sapota, Sapodilla) trees and with the fruits ready to be harvested, it was quite tricky to pluck them without disturbing the hive. So we finally decided to remove the hive. With no idea how to go about it- the general consensus was to burn the hive down. 
This is something that really bothered me. One is, bees are in decline and although they are not classified as endangered they are rapidly falling in numbers  (thanks to all the chemical farming methods and climate change )
The second reason being, it is these bees that had pollinated our fruits and vegetables and we need them to continue pollinating them- How could I burn them ? 

Fortunately for us we came across an elderly acquaintance of ours ,who just knew the technique of harvesting a honeycomb without killing the bees.  Just what the doctor ordered. 

So below is the video of how he went about it and he took me along (the trainee) to teach the method. It was simple, take a sharp knife, tie it to a long pole and cut the branch on which the bees have built a hive. Then run... 

Well, we just did that, and a few minutes later, most of the bees had abandoned their fallen hive. The few remaining ones were not just bothered as we picked and handled the hive. 

I must admit here that although no bee stung the master- one bee did sting the apprentice. It was darn painful. Well initiation ceremony perhaps. But I was happy to know that no bees were killed in making of this story (except the one that stung me )

The bee hive was quite old, so the bees had used about 85% of the honey they made. So despite the size of the hive we only managed to squeeze out about 45 ml of pure wild honey.

Well now we had a big hive to take care of and a hive has something very precious in it- Beeswax. 
Beeswax is used to make premium candles and pure natural beeswax also gets used in the making of high end cosmetics. Most of the off the shelf cosmetics use paraffin a much cheaper option.

Gram for gram bees wax is many times expensive than honey itself.  

So this is how I got the wax out. The hive was placed in a cotton cloth and a bundle made of it. The bundle is tightly knotted and put in boiling water. I used an old vessel, since once the process is over, the only thing the vessel can be used again is to make more beeswax.

I boiled the entire thing for 10 minutes constantly pressing it with a spatula to squeeze out the molten wax from the bundle.  

 10 minutes later the water turns brown and yellow waxy stuff appears. Take out the bundle and squeeze out all the water with a pair of tongs. All that remained in the cloth were dead bees and unhatched eggs.

Let the water cool down. Since it was a hot day, I refrigerated the vessel for 1 hour and the wax solidifies.

 The wax formed a nice rim and is smooth and can form a lovely salve for dry-skin in winter.

Well enough adventures for the day- the next honeycomb- for another day. This time the apprentice will be the master.

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