It’s quite alarming how much honey and wax I used to lose before I purchased my Dana Api-Melter from Swienty. That particular piece of equipment is not cheap; a statement which applies to pretty well all the various machinery that can go into a honey extraction facility. How much? Well, mind your beeswax! Luckily, I got a discount. Nevertheless, I am very pleased with my purchase. Before, I used to chuck my super cappings away. I had no idea that so much honey was still in them, nor how much wax.
My attitude towards wax has changed. Back in the day, before electric lighting, and before the era of beekeeping walruses, wax was extremely valuable, and was one of the main reasons for keeping bees. Until recently, I was not interested in any ‘products of the hive’ than honey. Now that I can recover the wax after honey extraction, I’m beginning to realise the error of my ways. Apart from being beautiful stuff, which took many bees and much effort to make, wax can be a useful add-on to boost sales.
I have, in the past, tended to use plastic super frames; not the wood frames with plastic foundation, but the whole thing being plastic. These work well, when the bees are in the mood, but they must be coated with beeswax; much more generously than how they arrive from the supplier. So, I can utilise my wax to make my plastic super frames attractive to bees. Saves me having to buy it.
If you told me two years ago that I would be making candles to sell at a farmers market, I would have laughed. And yet, I have started to do this. For me, this is very much a Christmas-market thing at present. I am in a bit of a quiet time; the bees won’t be touched until their oxalic treatment in December, and I have these blocks of wax, so why not? I am a complete beginner at rendering wax and candle making, but you have to start somewhere.
The going rate for a 1 kilogram block of clean wax seems to be about £20. The prices of candles vary enormously, but I’m going to use the example of a nice church candle that I have seen online. It measures 14 cm x 5 cm. Using my elementary maths skills, I reckon it probably weighs about 283g (10oz). So, the wax in candle form is now selling at £53 per kilogram, rather than the £20 for a block of wax. I reckon you can charge more per kilogram for more ornate candles, such as those that I have made (Christmas trees and skeps). In fact, I have seen a pleasant set of 4 candles in the shape of fir trees going for £16.50, which I reckon works out at about £80 per kilogram of wax.
There are also tea lights and candle tins. I had a go at the latter, and had to learn how to repair the cracks that appear as they cool. Perhaps my wax is too hot, or the cooling is too fast, but my candle tins normally have the odd crevice in the wax. It’s easily repaired by melting the surface wax with a hot air gun.
My cunning plan is to put a jar of honey in a gift bag with a candle. Hopefully, if the presentation is good, these will make lovely Christmas presents. Many people are difficult to buy presents for, but who doesn’t like a gift of proper beekeeper’s honey and a beeswax candle? Probably quite a few people, but I remain optimistic that I shall sell out in record time, once the panicking late present buyers arrive. What to charge, though? I’m going to start at £20, and see how it goes. Seems a small price to pay to solve your “what shall I buy?” present problem.
Honey or Wax?
I managed to harvest 900 kg of honey in 2023 from an average of 35 hives, and only 8 kg of clean wax. The honey crop was a bit low due to the weather and the fact that I was making more colonies (see last week’s article). The honey gets sold wholesale, in jars, at about £14.50 per kilogram. The wax, in the form of candles, will hopefully fetch over £50 per kilogram. Maybe I should be prioritising wax over honey? I can’t though; I am programmed to keep bees and sell honey, not mess around with candles. Apart from at Christmas, of course.