In the bleak midwinter….

… it’s time to get ready for a new beekeeping season!  For the first time in a while, we’re having a snowy, wintery day in Colorado.  This winter has been very dry and fluctuated from highs in the 60’s to highs in the teens.  On Thursday, it was close to 60° F and a local beekeeper reported that here bees were bringing in pollen.   Today it’s 14° F and snowing.  The bees are clustered in their hives waiting for the warm weather to come back.

14.2 degrees.  Brrrrrrr!

Bee yard draped in snow

The first meeting of the Boulder County Beekeeper’s Association for 2018 happened last Wednesday and beekeepers were busy ordering packages and nucs of bees.   There was talk about the upcoming season and how to make sure your bees have enough carbs and protein to survive until the flowers start blooming.   With the overall warmer weather this winter, the bees have been more active.  They have probably been eating more of their stored honey than usual, so it’s important to make sure they have enough food for the wild spring weather ride.

The snowpack for skiing has been pretty bleak this year and today would have been a good day to get out and enjoy some fresh snow.  But I’ve been skiing for almost 50 years now and I don’t enjoy skiing in cold weather so I decided to stay in and make some candles and lip balm. I’ll wait until the sun comes back out and it warms up a bit.

I’ve been rendering all the wax I’ve stored up over the years and have started making candles this winter.  We used to buy pure beeswax tealights for use when we meditate.  The best I’ve found are from Blue Corn (a local Colorado company), but at $8 for 6, it gets pretty expensive (we meditate a lot!).  So, I figured I’d try my hand at making my own (and not burn down my house in the process).

The hardest part has been trying to find the right sized wick.  I’ve tried a variety of sizes but never found one that burned well.  My friend Julie over at Happy Hour at the Top Bar sent me some candles recently and told me that she got her wicks from Brushy Mountain Bee Farm.  They work pretty well, but I’m not fond of the smoke they give off when you blow them out.  Most recently, I’ve tried ones from Betterbee (which are a little cheaper).  They are a bit thinner (1/0) but still give off more smoke than I’d like when you blow them out.  The Blue Corn ones don’t do that.  So, I’ll keep searching, but am using the Betterbee ones for now.

For candle making equipment, besides a couple of molds and a pouring pot that I bought commercially, I mostly picked up pots and pans from thrift stores. I put one pot inside another to make a double boiler to melt the wax.

Melting wax in the homemade double boiler.

A couple of safety notes.  Beeswax is extremely flammable.  You should never leave melting wax unattended. It can catch fire and ruin a perfectly fine kitchen.  Ideally, you would do all your melting outside on a hotplate, but given the weather (and the fact that I don’t yet own a hotplate), I use my kitchen stove.  Also, wax is very waxy and getting it off of surfaces you don’t want it on is difficult.  So, make sure you don’t get wax where you don’t want it and protect all surfaces.

Wax mostly  melted

For dirty wax (newly rendered, old candles, etc), you need to filter the wax.  I was using an old sweatshirt for that purpose, but I used that up and don’t want to use my Patriots sweatshirt just yet, so now I use paper towels (away from any flame).  The nice thing about paper towels is that since beeswax burns very well, you can use the leftover wax-infused paper towels for fire starters.  Now all I need is a fire pit.

Straining dirty wax

For dirty wax, I add a bit of water to it so that the honey, pollen and other impurities (bee parts) precipitate in the water and separate from the wax.  I use old milk containers for it to cool in.  Once the wax has been cleaned, I still filter it one more time into my pouring pot before pouring the candles.  Any impurities in the wax can cause uneven burning.

I use an old cookie rack (well now it’s old because I got wax all over it)  for holding the candle containers and put parchment paper under that.  Parchment paper protects the surface underneath (e.g. my kitchen table) from drips.  Any drips of wax pop right off of it when they cool so they can be melted down and used again.

Tealights and forms with parchment below

I generally let the wax cool a bit down to about 150-160° F before pouring so it doesn’t melt the wax on the wicks and also the candles set up faster.

My son got me a Rob Gronkowski football bluetooth speaker for Christmas this year.  So, to set the mood for candle making, I listen to Shiva’s Garden on the Gronk Ball while making my candles.  A little “Cowboy Hare Krishna” does the trick.

Making candles with Shiva’s Garden on the Gronk Ball

Once the candles are poured, for me, the hard part is waiting for them to cool.  The pillar candles take a while, but the tea lights are pretty cool in about an hour.   Then I like to squeeze the plastic to make them pop up – it’s almost as much fun as bubble wrap!  I found you can’t rush the pillar candles – last time I almost pulled the wick out of one removing ti from the mold because the candle hadn’t hardened in the middle yet.

Testing the wick size

Candles need to cure before using, so I generally let them sit for a couple of weeks.  Also, you need to make sure that the wick size you used fits the candle.  I find the online information to be a bit sketchy because most of the time they are rated for soy or non-pure beeswax candles.  The way to test the wick size is to burn the candle and see if it burns evenly or if you end up with a tunneling effect.  Tunneling means the wick size is too small.  You  don’t have to burn the whole candle if you see tunneling – just melt it down to use for the next candle with a larger wick!

So, today I was able to make 35 tea lights for about 5 bucks.  I think that’s a pretty good savings.  And, that should last us for a few weeks of meditation!  Now on to lip balm!

As I was writing this post, the snow was falling so beautifully.  So, I’ll leave you with a short clip of the snow and some sacred music (and a brief comment from Yoda the cat).



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5 Responses to In the bleak midwinter….

  1. Julie says:

    Bet all those candles make the bleak midwinter a lot less bleak.

    Although talking about a having a bleak midwinter, what’s up with the Patriots? Dang. My husband would have a fortune if he just placed bets on any team opposite the one I’m rooting for. Never picked a winner yet. You should just get rid of that sweatshirt.

    How do you like the molds? Do you have to spray the interior with anything before pouring? Or are they pretty non-stick?

    • Don says:

      Stupid Patriots. The defense just didn’t show up and the Eagles played a good game and didn’t let up in the 4th quarter like most teams do. I attribute their success to all the bling that your daughter made for your hubby! But there’s always next year! Maybe I’ll cut the sleeves off the sweatshirt and be more like Belichick.

      The molds work pretty well. I’ve got a 3″ pillar with embossed bees and a little bear on a skep. I do spray them with silicone before pouring, not sure if I need to, though. I’m thinking about trying some metal pillar molds with a wick hole insert just for something different. The pillars use a lot of wax though, so mostly I can get more mileage with the tea lights.

      One thing I’ve realized is that I should separate out my wax before melting. I want to use the new, white honeycomb wax for lip balms/salves and the older, darker wax for the candles. Right now, I’ve just been melting everything together.

    • Holly says:

      I have two silicone molds and they don’t need to be sprayed first. I have candles in my Etsy shop, so you can see how well they turn out:

      Don: The metal votive molds I have, the kind that use a pin to create a hole for the wick, are horrible. My candles stick to those pins fiercely. For some reason, the candles I make in them often develop a cavern while burning. It’s almost as if a pea-sized air bubble is inside the candle. Whatever wax is melted runs into the hole, resulting in a too-long wick, which produces a huge flame that produces a new pool of wax that either drowns the wick or, more often, pours over the side. Frustrating.

      Quick question: do you prime your wicks?

      • Don says:

        Thanks for the feedback on the metal molds, Holly! I think I’ll stick to what works for now. Although, I was talking to someone at work and telling her that I was making candles over the weekend. She said she used to use the Coors Light method – cut the top off the can and then use that as a mold. I might try that (but with an Avery Brewing Maharaja IPA can).

        Love the little bear – that’s the same one I use. I’m starting quite a collection of them. I only spray the molds because I read somewhere that I should. Maybe next time I’ll try no spraying and see how that works.

        I do prime the wicks I use in the molds by dipping them in the melting wax for about a minute. I’m using square braided wicks – 2/0 for the bear and #2 for the pillar. The tea light wicks I’ve been buying are already primed. I think they use soy wax.

        So far I haven’t had bubbles form in my molded candles like they say you will get. I think having smaller molds and letting the wax cool down a bit before pouring helps. But I’m sure I’ll run into that snafu at some point.

        Love your Etsy offerings!

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