We use the 'crush and strain' method to harvest the honey and then purify the wax from the leftover crushed comb. We do this for a variety of reasons - crush and strain is low tech and easy, but it also helps to reduce the chance of disease occurring in a hive by not reusing comb. This harvesting method results in a lower honey yield, as the bees have to direct more resources into building wax rather than storing honey, but that's okay with us.
When we packed down our hive into 2 boxes for winter this year (see here) we removed the top box. Not all the frames in this box were filled with capped honey - parts of the comb were empty. The frames towards the centre in the harvested box contained very dark comb - not surprising considering that this was the original brood box and had been on the hive for 3 years. If it had been earlier in the season we'd have left the box on the hive and harvested it later. However we were packing down for winter so the box needed to come off. The box below had nectar and enough capped honey for the bees over winter. We'd noted that the hive had not really been putting on much weight over late summer and autumn - it had been holding steady for the most part. Being novices we wondered (rightly or wrongly) if as the nest moved down the hive over summer (we don't use an excluder), the bees would be less likely to continue to fill the uppermost box if there was ample room above the nest in the boxes below. I think they may have also used some of the stores in the top box. Whatever the reason, there was some empty comb in the box we removed.
We cut out the honey-filled comb from each of the frames and crushed and strained that. That left us with some empty, very dark coloured comb. This was the first time we'd had empty comb to deal with - in previous years all the frames had been filled out with honey. So what to do with that rather dirty looking comb? Well, after asking around here's what we did.
Firstly we mashed it up and added it to some water, then put it all in a double boiler on the stove. Here's what it looked like:
And here it is a bit later when the wax had melted. As you can see there was still lots of lumpy stuff in there that didn't melt.
Next step was to make a funnel-shaped strainer out of some metal flyscreen and suspend it over a clean plastic bucket with some water in it. The hot mixture was poured into the flyscreen funnel. The lumpy junk was caught in the strainer and the wax and water mixture dripped through.
We left it for 24 hours to enable the wax to properly solidify. There was a surprising amount of junk left in the strainer.
The wax separates out from the water as it cools. What you end up with is a disc of wax floating on dark coloured water in the bottom of the bucket. Being plastic, the bucket is nice and flexible so it's easy to get the wax disc out.
The wax had a bit of gunk stuck to the bottom, most of which was easy to scrape off.
It's now ready for the solar purification step...........when the weather warms up again.