One of the very first tasks a colony needs to accomplish when setting up a home in a new hive, it to create wax. The wax is formed into “scales” by wax-producing glands in the abdominal segments of worker bees. Once secreted, a different bee will harvest it, and use it to build comb. One of the amazing things that bees sometimes do when making wax is called festooning. This is when bees hanging together, leg-to-leg, between the frames of comb. Some beekeepers say this is done to get new comb to area of the frame in need. Others think that this chaining is a way for the bees to measure out what space needs comb. Either way, I think its neat to watch them work together to get things done.
An interesting thought about wax. It’s said that a bee will use 10 pound of sugar (artificial or nectar derived) to produce 1 pound of wax. That makes wax a huge commodity! Much more so then honey itself.
The obvious issue in harvesting this commodity its the availability, and harvestability. In a standard Lang hive that uses wax foundations with wire support, the process of harvesting the wax can become a tideous task. The alternative might be to use the removed capping when harvesting honey, but this is a limited volume. That said, the National Honey Report indicates that on average honey goes wholesale for $2 a lbs, where wax yields $3.50 or higher depending on color and cleanliness. It might be of significant value to save those cappings even if it might take a while to collect enough to use.
One of the biggest reasons I choose to learn top bar beekeeping was to be able to harvest wax much more readily. Without the use of foundation and wire supports, it is pretty easy to remove a start of new wax before the bees even begin to use it. I currently use wax in my artistic adventures, and continue to find new ways to try and include wax as a selling point in both encaustics and candle making.
It’s crazy what these ladies have to offer!