Within the full line of herbal skin care products featured in our shop, you can find several balms and salves that contain beeswax. Beeswax is a wonderful addition to an oil-based type of product, especially one that you might store in your medicine cabinet. The wax we use at Jillian’s Apothecary is minimally processed and retains all of the beneficial properties that the bees put in it, even after it’s been cleaned and strained. Beeswax is hydrating, and holds in moisture by creating a thin barrier between our skin and the outside elements. It also attracts water, and our skin soaks up this extra moisture when it’s dry. The beeswax in our skin care products is used to store honey and pollen in the hive, and although the large particles are strained out when the wax is cleaned, trace amounts of these important building blocks for a healthy beehive remain behind. Beeswax is amazing stuff!
I’m a beekeeper, and a good part of the beeswax that goes into our products comes straight from my own beehives. When I run out, and have to wait until the next honey harvest to gather more wax, I purchase it from beekeepers in surrounding towns. My beehives contribute to so much in my life—not only do the bees provide wax for our products, they provide honey for our tea, and they pollinate the garden and apple orchard. Just as important, they help deepen my connection to our natural world. To raise bees in a way that primarily benefits the bees is to truly be a student of nature. I will be in awe of bees for as long as I live.
This week I checked on the beehive, the first time since last fall. The warm temperatures (up to 60 degrees!) prompted the bees to crawl out of the hive and take a short “cleansing flight.” They never take a restroom break inside the hive, so they store it all up during the winter months, waiting (anxiously, I imagine) for a day that’s 50 degrees or higher to go out and relieve themselves. Yes, this is all true! Crazy, right?
Since they were out and about and obviously not freezing, I weighed the risk of opening the hive to check on their food supply. I have patties I can feed them if they run low in the winter. The bees need enough food to make it until spring, but they also need a warm, draft-free hive to keep them warm and dry during the winter. Bees make a glue-like substance called propolis and seal up all the cracks in the hive so they can stay warm. If I open the hive to check their food supply, I’ll break the seal, and since it’s “off season” for them, they can’t seal it back up. They’re not in the business doing serious hive maintenance until we have consistently warm spring days. A few weeks from now, at best.
So the gamble is, do I open the hive to feed the bees and let cold air through the cracks, or leave the hive alone?
I put my ear to the wall of the hive and listened for their hum. In the winter, they don’t spread out all over the hive, but tend to cluster into a tight ball to stay warm. As they empty the honey comb, their cluster moves in an upward direction, moving on to the next set of full honey cells. This week the hum of the group was pretty close to the top of the hive, which means they’re running out of food.
I decided to open the hive and feed them the patties. The patties are made up of a thick, sticky substance that’s designed specifically for honey bees. I don’t make it, I purchase it from a beekeeping supply company. The consistency always reminds me of the inside of a fig newton, but I’m sure it’s significantly healthier than one of those cookie bars.
I’m happy to say that overall, the hive looks good. Some dead bees, but not a lot, and a lot of happy, healthy living ones. They have enough food to make it until the warm weather, so I’m hoping the cold won’t kill them. Crossing my fingers, tightly!
And check out these cuties… the bees weren’t the only ones out and about this week. Our 13 chickens are pretty happy about the warm weather too.