Organic Beeswax Foundation
Another way that we are implementing sustainable business practices at Volcano Island Honey Company is by making wax foundation from our organic beeswax.
We have partnered with Michael Krones of Hawaiian Queen Company on the project, and we were fortunate to receive a grant from Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education to help us purchase equipment and develop and spread knowledge about the lost art of foundation making.
Unless you are a beekeeper you are probably asking yourself right now, "What is Wax Foundation?" and "Why Do I Care?"
Wax foundation is a thin sheet of beeswax that is embossed with the hexagonal shape that the bees naturally form for their honeycomb.
The wax foundation is placed in a rectangular wooden frame with two wires across the horizontal center that holds the wax foundation in place. (See photo at left)
The bees "draw out the comb" by adding wax on top of the foundation to create hexagonal cells, which is where they store honey and pollen as well as where the queen lays her eggs (in separate cells!)
The reason we care about organic foundation is that most beeswax foundation is contaminated from the use of toxic chemicals used by beekeepers in the hives to treat disease. The chemicals remain in the wax, which is processed into wax foundation. Most beekeepers purchase this commercial foundation for use in their hives. Organic standards allow plastic foundation dipped in organic beeswax, but many beekeepers including VIHC and Hawaiian Queen Company, feel strongly that plastic should not be used in bee hives.
We believe that organic wax foundation creates healthier, stronger bee hives, thereby increasing honey and queen production. Strong, healthy bees also mean that trees and plants are pollinated which increases the agricultural productivity of orchard crops (macadamia nuts, citrus) and maintains the health of non-native (kiawe) and native forest (ohia).
By making wax foundation from our organic wax we are also increasing our local self-reliance by not having to ship in commercial wax foundation from the U.S. mainland.
Making beeswax foundation in a small-scale farm setting is a lost art, there are not many people who know how to do it as the process has been industrialized in developed countries. The fact that it is not possible to purchase organic foundation makes this project a necessity for apiaries who do not want to use plastic foundations.
Michael Krones, owner of Hawaiian Queen Company, first learned to make beeswax foundation in 1974 in Costa Rica from a local beekeeper that had 50 years of experience beekeeping and making foundation. Michael has been working with Richard Spiegel and the staff at Volcano Island Honey to re-create and refine the process.
After much expermentation at Volcano Island Honey Co.to perfect the process we held a workshop in August 2009 where we taught people how to make wax foundation.
Download our detailed instruction manual on making organic wax foundation. (PDF)
Clean wax is melted in a water-jacketed wax melter.
Wood boards, which are cut and marked to the desired wax foundation dimension, are dipped in the melted wax.
The waxed boards are then cooled in water and the wax sheets peeled away from both sides of the board.
The wax sheets are then run through the table top embossing mill, which imprints the sheets with the hexagonal shape that the bees naturally form for their honeycomb.
The wax foundation making crew tested the foundation in our hives, we found initially that the foundation was not embossed deeply enough and adjusted that in subsequent runs. The wax foundation can be embossed with different cell sizes. The cell size we are currently making is 5.1 mm. We are very interested in the possible impact of cell size on the control of the varroa mite. Varroa was not previously present in Hawaii, but was found on Oahu in 2007, and now in some hives on Hawaii Island.
At Right: Don't try this at home kids! Richard Spiegel gets his shirt stuck in the gears of the foundation mill.
The organic beeswax foundation project was successful. That being said, we found out that making beeswax foundation requires a high degree of flexibility and will be different for each farm. We were able to perfect and document the process steps, and teach it to others, but we also learned that the quality of the wax, the ambient temperature, and the equipment itself were important factors that needed to be adjusted for each foundation run.
This project was funded by a grant from the Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Porgram.