You’ve done it. You’ve successfully brought your beehive to the point where you can reap the rewards. Congratulations! After you do a victory lap, we’ll look at the various products you can obtain from your hive, their uses and benefits, how to extract them from the hive, and how they can be used to generate some sideline income.
One word of caution: people with severe bee allergies should be cautious when using or ingesting any hive product. Supervision of a doctor or other medical professional is recommended.
The Three Basic Rewards
1 – Honey
The most well-known hive product is honey. Honey is widely used as a sweetener in tea, baking, or even on toast or pancakes. In some religions, honey is used as part of rites and rituals. For example, in Judaism, apples are dipped in honey on Yom Kippur (the day of atonement) to break the daylong fast and wish loved ones a sweet new year.
Perhaps less well known are its health benefits. Honey from a local source (and what’s more local than your own backyard?) is known to reduce seasonal allergies due to the pollen content. Essentially, it acts like a natural vaccine, building up the body’s natural antibodies and reducing histamine reactions.
The thick viscosity of honey is great for soothing a sore throat and also acts as a natural cough suppressant. It’s believed that the sweetness actually triggers nerve endings that protect the throat. If you’re still awake with a pesky cold, honey is also a known sleep aide.
Applied topically, honey treats wounds, burns, and dry skin and hair. As a natural antibiotic, honey applied directly to an open wound has been shown to prevent infections including treatment-resistant staph infections. It also contains antifungal properties, which over time cure skin rashes associated with dryness and dandruff. It’s protective properties seal a burn, prevent infection, and increase healing.
Unlike white sugar or artificial sweeteners, honey contains the perfect balance of fructose and glucose, which actually helps regulate blood sugar. Depending on the source pollen and nectar, many honey types have a low hypoglycemic index, meaning they won’t cause a jolting spike in blood sugar. This makes it a great sweetener for athletes to use as an ingredient in their during, and post- workout food intake. The “time-release” nature of honey’s sugar ensures athletes won’t crash and burn before they complete their workout.
Honey is also high in the antioxidants known as neutraceuticals which remove free radicals from the blood stream. This results in higher immunity to many illness and fatal conditions, including heart attacks.
With so many benefits, it’s natural to want to get the most honey out of your hive. Don’t forget, however, the bees made it to feed themselves through the harsh winter months. With that in mind, when you’re ready to extract the honey, check out our equipment list to be sure you have what you need for either spinning (framed hives) or crush and strain (frameless hives) methods.
Whether using spinning or crush and strain, the process begins by carefully removing the honey-filled comb from the hive. To do this, carefully pull out the frames or bars with honey-filled comb. Use your bee brush or hand to carefully brush away any bees still clinging to it and place in a bucket or other transportation device.
For framed systems, you’ll use the uncapping knife to carefully remove the top layer of wax, freeing the honey so it will fly out in the extractor. If you’re using the crush and strain method, either because you cut the comb out of the frames or are using a frameless system, the uncapping knife step can be skipped.
If using an extractor, at this point, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for loading, setting, etc. If using crush and strain, place a small amount of comb in the cheesecloth mesh bag and place this bag in the bucket with holes in the bottom. Place this bucket on top of the bucket with the spigot so that the honey can drain through into it. Using the crush tool, similar to a long handled potato masher, smash the comb to release the honey and let it sit so gravity to do the rest. Depending on temperature and amount of honey, this may take 24 to 48 hours. Repeat this process until all the comb and honey have been processed.
In both cases, bottle (or jar) the honey, label the containers with date, location, etc. and place in a safe place for storage.
2 - Wax
Beeswax has almost as many benefits as honey. Candles made from beeswax clean the air by producing negative ions when lit, whereas candles made from paraffin actually release carcinogens into the air. It also has wonderful benefits for diet and beauty products.
When used in lotions, balms, and creams, beeswax acts as a surface protectant against irritants, but still allows the skin to breathe and pores to function normally. It locks in skin’s natural moisture without clogging pores are leaving skin feeling filmy and coated.
Beeswax has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. These properties make it an ideal substance to treat acne, eczema, dry skin, and itchy rashes. Of particular note is beeswax’s ability to treat genital herpes and dryness.
The dairy industry uses beeswax to coat certain cheeses during the aging process. While it has no nutritional properties on its own, beeswax is chewy and many people chew it in place of sugary gum. Just like store-bought chewing gum, do not swallow beeswax gum. Ingesting beeswax in large quantities can cause severe digestive problems.
Other uses for beeswax include a natural water proofer for shoes, stimulate hair growth, and a thickening agent in pharmaceuticals, food, and cosmetics. When used in hair products, it leaves hair smooth, full, and healthy.
For the hobbyist, beeswax is most commonly used to make candles or blended into homemade lotions, creams, and balms.
Regardless of if you’re using an extractor or crush and strain, the process for obtaining wax is fairly simple. You may want to purchase a pot and other utensils for use specifically with beeswax as it doesn’t wash off terribly well. Once the honey has been removed, collect the comb left behind and place it in a large pot with an inch or two of water on the bottom.
Using low heat, the comb will begin to melt and separate. You will need to watch it and remove any sludge that rises to the top. This sludge is called slubgum and is an excellent fire starter for campsites, woodstoves, or fireplaces.
After all the slubgum has been removed and the wax melted, pour the liquid wax through cheesecloth covered strainer into a pan or other container where it will harden. It can be stored as is, broken into smaller pieces, or melted again for any of the above uses.
3 – Propolis
Bees make propolis from sap found in conifer trees. It’s the glue bees use to plug gaps or holes in their hive. It creates a very solid seal that helps insulate the hive from weather as well as invading germs and other contaminates. In warm weather, Propolis is soft and pliable, in the winter months it becomes hard and almost immoveable.
Like the other hive products we’ve looked at, propolis has antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory properties. It’s excellent for treating wounds and cold sores as well as helping the mouth heal after dental surgery. There is growing evidence to indicate propolis may also play a role in fighting cancer.
The healing properties of propolis also effectively treat certain intestinal parasites, and aide in digestion. Propolis contains 15 of the nutrients considered to be essential to bone health
Used topically, propolis can remove warts without burning. It has also been shown to effectively treat genital herpes and accelerate the healing rate of burns and other skin sores.
In warmer months, it’s fairly easy to break pieces of propolis off the hive, but be careful not to remove too much as the bees rely upon it to protect their hive environment. Although they can replace it, it takes time and energy away from foraging and honey making activities.
Once you’ve collected a small amount, you’ll need to create a tincture in order to extract the beneficial aspects of it. The instructions below use alcohol to create the tincture. If that’s not possible for some reason, it’s also possible to use apple cider vinegar the same way, but it may take two to three times as long as the alcohol based process. In addition, the color change mentioned in the alcohol based directions below will not occur since apple cider vinegar is already brown.
To create a tincture, combine propolis and alcohol (such as vodka) in a jar based upon the desired concentration using this chart. Tightly seal the top and shake well. Store the jar in a warm, dark place and shake it two or three times per day for two weeks (four to six weeks if using apple cider vindegar). The liquid will become brown or reddish in color as the potent properties are leached out of the propolis and into the alcohol.
After two weeks, pour the liquid through a coffee filter into a dark glass jar to protect it from sunlight. A drop or two at a time is all that is needed. Some people grind the propolis or break it down over heat. This is not recommended because these processes may impact some of the medicinal properties.
Each of these three hive rewards has extraordinary health benefits. They take a bit of work to extract, but for many backyard beekeepers, that effort is part of the fun. It’s also not necessary to reap any of these rewards. For some hobbyists, the joy of having bees is it’s own reward.
The three rewards of beekeeping discussed above are the most common and easiest for a new beekeeper to obtain and use. We’ll look at two more here, briefly and discuss them more in-depth in the future.
Unlike pollen from a flower growing in nature, bee pollen has had something special done to it. In the process of harvesting and storing the pollen bees add to or modify the flower pollen in ways science has yet to fully understand. The changes mean bee pollen has many health benefits.
It is often used in homeopathic and naturopathic medicine. Bee pollen cannot be synthesized in a laboratory, much to scientists’ dismay as it’s considered by some to be a super-food and nearly cure-all medicine. With bee populations on the decline, we’re at risk of losing this powerful product.
In the hive, royal jelly is used to feed brood during certain stages of development and is the exclusive food of the queen bee at all stages of life. In humans, royal jelly is thought to be an overall vitality tonic as well as providing specific benefits for PMS, asthma, skin health, insomnia, and much, much more.
With any hive product, whether used internally or topically, a bit of caution should be taken. If someone is part of the 2 percent of the population that reacts to bee stings with an anaphylactic system shut down, that person should steer clear of using any hive products unless under supervision of a doctor or other medical professional.
Making Money with Your Hive Products
Unless you’re a commercial beekeeper, the money you could make from your hive and its products will perhaps be enough to defray some of the costs of beekeeping, but it’s not going to be something you can use to quit your day job. With that in mind, there are some ways to make a little money from your hive.
Set Up a Roadside Stand
Depending on where you live, setting a small table by the side of the road may draw people to stop and purchase some of your products. If you use a lockbox and the honor system, it would not need to be staffed. Everything from honey to beeswax candles would sell well in this manner.
Many areas have a local farmers’ market. Each one has its own rules and regulations about who is allowed to sell at them and what products are admissible. You’ll need to do a little research and contact the organizers for the farmers’ markets in your area to find out if you qualify and what their fees are, if any. Since it’s a place where people shop for local items, selling items from your hive is likely to be popular with the patrons.
If you’ve got somewhere you can temporarily store the products from your hive, holiday craft fairs are an excellent way to promote and sell your products. There is usually an upfront cost to having a table at these fairs, but if you’re willing to pay that, many people will find honey and beeswax products a great stocking stuffer item.
Whether it’s etsy, eBay, or some other online store, the Internet can be an excellent place to sell your hive products. You will need to consider shipping costs as well as the costs involved with hosting and operating the store site. In addition, selling honey online is not advised. As a food product, it’s subject to regulations and laws that a hobbyist does not need to understand or get caught violating due to lack of knowledge. For non-ingestible products, such as candles, an online store can bring in a nice sideline income.
None of these will ever net you a living income, but they can provide a fun way to bring in a little extra money. In addition, by making use of all the products in the hive, you’re using it as the fullest resource possible and not allowing any of its value go to waste.
Whether you choose to sell your products in hopes of defraying some of the costs or give them away, there are many gifts the hive has to offer us in return for living in harmony with the bees. Honey, wax, and propolis all have amazing health benefits and are fairly easy to remove from the hive. Bee pollen and royal jelly are more difficult to obtain, but have numerous health benefits of their own. Wax also offers an entrée into other hobbies such as candle or wax figure making.
It is important to be mindful when removing any of these products from the hive. The bees made each of them to serve a purpose for their survival. If the bees are to prosper, it is necessary to ensure that enough of each product is left for their use.