Wednesday, October 23, 2013

How to Build an Inexpensive (Cheap) Solar Wax Melter

Now that I am a couple years into my beekeeping adventure, without any honey to show for my troubles, I figured it was time to turn my attention to any aspect of beekeeping that could be a positive point of light.  Although all my hives swarmed this past spring and weren't strong enough to make any honey for the Good Wife, they all did survive the winter, which is a positive point all itself.  However, having a couple white boxes out in the horse corral that have bees in them, just isn't much to show for all the time and money put into this hobby, project, adventure...challenge.

One thing I did have was a couple small jars of burr comb and left over wax from scraping the frames and working in the hives.  It wasn't much, and it didn't look too appetizing.  However, lots of things can be made from beeswax, such as lip balm and candles.  Although, looking at the wax I had accumulated, I didn't really want to put my lips on it!

What most people do is filter the wax to remove all the impurities, and then use the filtered beeswax for the creative projects.  There are all sorts of plans and instructions on the internet for solar wax melters, but they would all require time and materials to build.  I wanted something cheap.  Something inexpensive.  And I had already been put on notice by the Good Wife that the bee equipment in the basement seemed to be multiplying and taking up more and more space.  So a large solar wax melter would be out of the question.

One day at work, a 4' x 8' piece of 1/4" EPS insulation with the silver reflective coating showed up and was going to be thrown out.  Being the pack rat that I have become, I volunteered to take it home and figure out some use for it.  Maybe cut it into strips and insulate the inside of the roof of the chicken coop.  That would keep them warm in the winter and cooler in the summer.  Maybe.  But then it hit wax melter!

So here is how I built a cheap solar wax melter and spent under $10 and take up less space than an inner cover when not in use.

I started with a deep hive body that wasn't being used.  Using a utility knife, I cut five pieces from the 1/4" EPS insulation with the silver coating.

Cut Pieces:
Qty: 2 - 18-3/8" x 9"
Qty: 2 - 14-3/8" x 9"
Qty: 1 - 20" x 16-1/2"

The two 18-3/8" pieces get inserted into the hive body against the long side walls, with the silver coating facing the inside of the hive body.  The two 14-3/8" pieces get wedged into the hive body along the short ends.  These will be a tight press fit, holding the longer pieces and themselves in place.  This makes it easy so you don't have to use any nails, screws or staples to hold the insulation in place.  This also creates a lip all the way around the top edge of hive body at the same level as the frame shelf on the ends.

The only thing I had to buy was one 18" x 24" piece of acrylic from one of the big box hardware stores.  You can buy acrylic, lexan or anything that is clear.  This was cut to size to fit the inside lip of the hive body.   Once cut to size, place into the hive body across the top.  It won't be easy to get out, but it doesn't matter as you won't be lifting the top to get into your solar wax melter.  I used a utility knife and made several cuts across the acrylic, then broke it on the mark using the edge of a work bench.  I did find out that a hacksaw doesn't work too well, although I may have had a blade with too large of teeth.

The 20" x 16-1/2" piece will go under the hive body when it is ready to be used.  The only other thing that is needed is a plastic container, rubber band or string to go around the top, and a paper towel or cheese cloth to go over the plastic container.

When ready to use your solar wax melter, place the 20" x 16-1/2" piece of insulation with the silver side facing up on a table outside where it will get good sun exposure.  Take your plastic container, put some water into it to cover the bottom, then place the paper towel on the top using the rubber band.  I used a tea cloth towel I absconded from the Good Wife.  Place your plastic container onto the center of your insulation piece.  Once it is positioned, place the wax you would like to filter onto the top of the cloth.

This is how mine looked.  And yes, this was put out at night.  And I do know that the sun doesn't come out at night.  However, I was going to be going off to work the next day before the sun came up, so I figured it could sit out there all night, waiting for the sun.

Then simply take your deep hive body with the insulation and acrylic cover and place it over the wax sealing it up on the bottom piece of insulation.

Mine was placed out on the patio table on the back deck.  You can't see it, but the acrylic piece is covering the top.  The next step is to wait.  Unfortunately, the next day was cloudy all day and rather cool, so it didn't melt anything.  I started to get discouraged.  It sat out all day and didn't do anything.

 It stayed there the next night and all the next day, which was sunny and warm.  It did condensate a bit on the inside, which is that "halo" forming around the center of the acrylic in the picture above.  One sunny day is all it took.

The wax all melted through the cloth and all that was left on top were the impurities left from the wax.  It kind of looks like a dog or cat got in there and took care of business.  It was very stiff and rigid when I took it out.  After looking at it for a minute, I decided to throw away the piece of cloth as it would take more effort to get it clean than it would be worth.  Next time I will use a paper towel.  The final product though, was golden, pure, filtered beeswax!

The water was put in the container to keep it from sticking.  I was able to lift it right out of the container without any problems.  It smelled sweet and pure like the beehive in mid-spring.

The one thing I will do differently next time, other than using a paper towel, is to use a cardboard orange juice container with the top cut off as my catch bucket.  They have a waxed coating on the inside, and don't need to have water put inside.  The wax can be stored in the container until ready to use, and it makes a nice block when the container is cut off the block of wax when you are ready to use it.

The best part is that when you aren't using the solar wax melter, you can pull off the acrylic top, and pull out the insulation pieces and stack them flat.  It hardly takes up any space.

It may not look like much, but it is all I have to show right now for two plus years of beekeeping.  The Good Wife and Youngest Son want to make lip balm with the wax.  A kit has been ordered with all the other necessary items.  I'll be sure to let you know how it goes.  This wax I wouldn't mind putting my lips on!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Deer Hunting Starts

October 5th was the start of bow season in Virginia and Oldest Son was ready.  Last year he got his first deer while hunting with our neighbor and his hunt club.  They were using dogs to run the deer and he got one using the shotgun.  All the time spent with our neighbor got him thinking that he needed to hunt with a bow, because it is more difficult, or more of a challenge, or more manly.  I'm not sure exactly the reasoning, but I figured he probably wouldn't be able to verbalize his desire to use a bow.

There is an advantage to using a bow, and in Virginia that includes crossbows.  The season for bows is the first phase of deer season.  Bowhunters get a full four weeks head start before muzzleloader season.  That means all the deer are still out and about in the mornings and evenings before they start getting spooked by the shooting and go nocturnal.

This season actually started in May, when we granted Oldest Son's wishes and bought him a compound bow for his birthday.  From that time until opening day, he had been practicing both at our house and with our neighbor.  This practice consisted of standing up on our back deck, and shooting down at targets at 10 and 20 yards away.  He would also go over to our neighbors house and shoot at targets off his deck at various distances, practicing his technique and form.  He felt that he was ready when the season started.

October 4th came and Oldest Son realized he didn't have any broadheads for his arrows.  A quick trip to the sporting goods store and he was ready for October 5th.  It was Saturday, I was ready to sleep in.  But that was not his plans.  Instead, I would be joining him for his first bow hunt.  Really?  On a Saturday morning?

5:15am on a Saturday morning comes way too soon when I would rather be sleeping in.  But being the supportive parent, I woke up Oldest Son and then got dressed in my best camouflage, if there is such a thing.  After spraying down our feet and legs with scent cover, we walked out to the double tree stand.  Yes, we walked out to the tree stand behind our house.  Actually our neighbor's house, but it was close enough not to drive.

We were in the tree stand by 6am so that we would be there and quiet before the season officially started a half hour before sunrise, which was at 7:05am.  About 7:15am I reminded Oldest Son that we would only be able to stay another 45 minutes or so before I would have to go and take Youngest Son to his soccer game.  The Good Wife was with Middle Son at his cross country meet.  It was a busy Saturday as usual once school starts.

Right then I saw a deer approach from the left side of the tree stand on the side I was sitting.  The deer walked behind some trees and I instructed Oldest Son to stand up.  Looking to the left, I could tell it was a buck.  I turned back to Oldest Son and he was standing with the bow drawn.  A few seconds later he let the arrow fly.

The buck let out a grunt and took off running.  As he ran, I could see the arrow in the back hind quarter of the deer.  He hit it, but not in the best position.  I wasn't sure if we would find this one.  After getting Oldest Son to sit down for a few minutes so he could stop shaking from all the adrenaline flowing through his body, we got down out of the tree stand and started tracking the deer.

Oldest Son put a new arrow in his bow in case we came upon the wounded deer.  While we were tracking the deer, he mentioned that the broadheads he bought have a money back guarantee if you don't find your animal.  I'm not sure how they verify that guarantee, but I thought we might get to try it.

After tracking the deer for about 45 minutes and 3/4 a mile, we found the deer.  Dead.  It had bled out.  The broadheads had done their job.

It was a big 11-point buck that measured out to about 140 points!  See the smile on Oldest Son's face?  It stayed there the whole weekend.  I could have asked him to do the worst chore I could think of, and he would still be smiling.

Luckily for us, the deer had run around towards the back of our house, so we only had to drag it about 200 yards to get it to our back yard.  After gutting the deer in the woods, we started pulling.  This thing was big, even after being gutted.  Now I know how older, out of shape hunters have heart attacks and die hunting.  It is getting the deer out of the woods!

It was unseasonably warm, even though we had gotten the deer out of the woods by around 10am.  After the neighbor came to congratulate Oldest Son on his potentially once in a lifetime trophy, we decided to get it mounted for him.

By the time we had it loaded on the truck and headed to the taxidermist, it was getting warm.  When we dropped it off at noon, the temperature gauge in the truck read 92 F.  Yes, that is not a typo.  It was 92 F the first day of deer season.  Deer season is supposed to mean fall weather, cooler temperatures and leaves changing color and falling to the ground.  Instead it meant deer meat heading south and flies all over the place.

I'm not sure how much of the meat was still good by the time we dropped the deer off.  The taxidermist was going to process what was left of the deer since the back end had gotten messed up pretty good.  At this point it doesn't really matter.  Oldest son got a trophy buck on the first day of the season hunting with a bow for the first time.  I'd say my 14 year old is becoming a man.  Well done Oldest Son.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Honeybee Update

A lot can happen with bees in a year. There were some good things that happened, some not so good things that happened, and things that just worked out.

First the good news. All of my hives made it through the winter alive! Not one of the hives died due to starvation or queen failure. It was such a sense of accomplishment to have all the hives survive.

This past February brought us some very unusual weather. We had two weeks that were in the mid-80's and felt like the middle of summer. This got the bees going thinking that spring had spring and it was time to start raising some brood. Which they did. However, the weather had different ideas.

The first blast came March 5-6 with a snowstorm.

It was deep enough to shut down the bee hives. Like most snows in Virginia, they don't last too long, and it had all melted. Thinking that this time spring had spring, some front entrance feeders were put on the hives to give them a boost and encouragement to get going. Again, weather had different ideas.

March 26th another snowstorm came through. You can see from the photo above, that the bees had already started to take the syrup in the feeders before the snow came. The bees must have figured that someone was playing a joke on them. Unfortunately, the joke was on me.
Although it was snowy outside, the bees were hard at work in the hive. So much so, that once spring did spring, the hives were so jam packed that they felt there wasn't enough room in the hives for everyone. Someone needed to go. The old queens decided they would swarm on April 14th.

Going out to check the hives that Sunday afternoon, I saw the swarms sitting on my fence posts. Quickly running to the house and grabbing two hive bodies and some frames, I did the best I could to brush the swarms off the posts and into two hive bodies, thinking they were two separate swarms. Once I got most of the bees into each of the hive bodies, I could see the workers on the entrance fanning the air, signaling that this was their new home. After leaving the hive bodies alone for an hour, I came back and found all the bees in one hive body. Apparently it was one hive that landed in two places and they hadn't decided which post they were going to stay at. So now I had all the bees in one hive.
My new job was having me travel the next day for two days. An entrance feeder was stuck on the hive and I left on my trip. Two days later upon inspecting the hive, there were no bees. Apparently my hive body was not appealing enough to them to stick around. It was a major success of hiving the bees, following by such disappointment on them leaving on me.
May 2nd the Oldest Son was riding his motorcycle around the horse pasture. He came running in the house saying that a swarm of bees were on the ground on one of his berms on his track. Grabbing a hive body and frames, I went out trying to capture another swarm from my hives. This involved scooping the bees up in my hands and dropping them into the hive. This continue for quite a while, attempting to make sure I got the queen into the hive. I saw her on several occasions in the swarm, but then lost sight of her. Once I saw the bees fanning, I went inside and left the hive alone for an hour. Coming back out, all the bees had moved into the hive.
Again, my new job had me traveling again for two days. But this time I wasn't going to lose my bees. Once night time came, I put an entrance reducer on the hive, put a front entrance feeder on, and stuffed a couple small marshmallows in the entrance hole that was left.

I also placed a couple twigs across the entrance for when they did get out, they would have to reorient themselves to their new home, trying to make them feel like this would be their home. Coming back two days later, they had started to take the syrup, were drawing comb and had decided that the hive I provided wasn't too bad after all.

We got another dusting of snow in mid-May, which was very unusual. All my hives had swarmed and were working on building up population. I was able to put a honey super on each hive in case they did build up size and were able to make some extra honey. All the hives filled about half of a couple frames and drew some comb in a few more. Not enough to extract which was disappointing.
By the end of a wet summer with lots of growth, all the hives are strong. I fed back the little honey that had been created in the supers during the summer. Did a mite treatment the first week of September using Mite Away Quick Strips. The hives are looking strong and doing well during this last little bit of warmth.

I'm in a good position for next spring. I have realized that beekeeping doesn't take a lot of time, but the timing is important. If I had put the honey supers on the hives during that two weeks of warmth in February, they may not have swarmed and given me a good crop of honey. Lesson learned. I would rather be early to give them more room than late next spring.
The swarm hive that stayed around is the strongest of my hives and now has two full deep hive bodies full of brood and honey and pollen stores. The hives overall are in good shape. I now have four hives at home and still have one hive at Possum's garden.

Towards the end of summer I set up my camera by the hive one afternoon and did a time lapse sequence. Watch out for the Sasquatch filling up the far hive top feeder at around the 12 second mark.

The last couple days I have been putting dry pollen substitute out for the bees and they have been going crazy for it.  The other day they took a whole pie pan full of the pollen sub.  I'm hoping this means that the hive will be full of sugar (carbohydrates) and pollen or pollen sub (protein) for the winter.  That will make the hive strong when spring comes and it is time to start raising more bees to build up for the spring flow.

The bees were a bit sloppy in picking up the pollen sub.  You could see many of them coated in yellow powder heading back to the hive about 80 yards away.  All the motion of the bees in the bucket also made quite a bit of the pollen come out of the bucket and land in the garden.  I hope they clean that up quickly as I need to get my winter garden going.  And yes, I am way behind on that.

Friday, October 4, 2013

General Update #2

Not being able to come up with a clever name for the title of this post, "General Update #2" seemed like an appropriate, although less than exciting title.  After going through photos from this past year there are some more items that need to be shared, whether you find them interesting or they simply put a smile on my face.

One task at the homestead that got done was actually done by my neighbor, not by me.  Although I did help, it was basically following orders and directions and doing what was told.  That seems to be the best way when you need your neighbors skills, equipment and time to get the job done.

The front of our property along the road has been eroding since we moved in over three years ago.  My neighbor, being the owner of an excavation company, New Day Corp., had all the equipment.

He called and asked if I had time one Sunday afternoon last fall.  Not wanting to look a gift horse in the mouth, I made time, even if it wasn't available.  He showed up with a full size dump truck with an equipment trailer loaded with two skid steers and an assortment of attachments.  The attachments would be able to scoop, grade, grate, compact, chop and throw.  This was a one man wrecking, or in my case excavating, crew.

Since I was so busy following his instructions by moving dirt around where he needed it to do the actual hard work, I wasn't able to get many photos.  I did get one as he was cutting down the angle of the front to make a nice smooth grade instead of the cliff that had been created through the dirt eroding away after each rain storm.

The boys weren't too excited about helping out, until my neighbor asked me why I wasn't letting the Oldest Son use one of the skid steers.  That is all it took for him to jump into one of the machines and start assisting.  We were done with a large part of the work, but he was able to drive it around and pick up all the debris that was pulled out of the top soil that was used to even out the area.

In the end, we were able to throw out some grass seed and use the attachment that chops and spreads straw to cover the seed.  It is a nice gradual transition and now is covered in grass and protected from erosion.

Having friends with the right kind of equipment is such a blessing.  At the end of the front property excavation project, my neighbor would not accept any sort of compensation.  Even though he provided the equipment, the grass seed and the straw to cover the seed.

Another friend was called on a couple times this past summer to do some work on the yard.  He had sold his property where he kept his horses and now lived in a regular neighborhood, but he had kept his tractor and was looking for opportunities to use it.  I just happened to give him those opportunities!

I had let the pasture grow a bit taller than I should have and it got beyond the height that my lawn mower would be able to handle.  He brought over his tractor and box mower and knocked it all down for me.  A couple weeks later he came over again, this time with his post hole digger to make my job of fencing in my garden a lot easier.

All this tractor work did help the Good Wife understand how useful a tractor would be in my own garage.  But that was a whole other discussion!

Last fall the Oldest Son was able to get his first deer while hunting.  He was with our neighbor and his club while they were running dogs.

Whenever I would question him if it was really a deer and not a dog because it wasn't too big, he just reminds me that, "Oh yeah, you didn't get one!"  That tends to shut me up pretty quick.  I better get something this year so I don't get shamed quiet again.

Although this post is already quite large with all the photos, I wanted to leave you with something to make you smile.  The Oldest Son and his friend went with me to a sporting goods store and they were looking for a camo jacket for hunting.  The only one left of the style and size they wanted was on a mannequin on the top shelf.  Being the responsible father that I am, I stepped back out of the way and turned on the camera, because something good was about to happen.  We like to refer to it as, "How many rednecks does it take to buy a camo jacket?"

Three.  One to be the base, one to stand on his shoulders and one to film the event, just waiting for something bad to happen!

Monday, September 30, 2013

A Year in the Life...

I'm back.  For those of you that follow my blog, you may have thought that I fell off the face of the earth.  Although some of the events that took place since my last post (October 22, 2012) made me feel like I had fallen off the face of the earth, I am still here.  The earth being a round sphere also makes it a bit difficult to "fall off" the face of the earth.  The best I could do is just run in circles.

So many things have happened and I want fill you in.  I'll hit the highlights in this post, and then give you additional topical updates on the bees, chickens and other things around the home in separate posts in the next week or so.  Here we go...

My posting vacancy started with a Thanksgiving week family trip to AZ to visit dear friends we left behind when we moved to VA.  The one thing that I wanted to do while I lived in AZ that never happened was put on the priority list of my visit.  I quick suggesting to my old college roommate, who was also my co-worker in Phoenix, and we were on our way to Antelope Canyon.

It really is that beautiful and amazing.  The colors that come down from above and bounce off the sandstone are incredible.  Our guide told us that when they have a flash flood through the canyon, it can add or remove up to nine feed of sand, raising and lowering the canyon floor.  NINE FEET!  It is hard to believe until you see footage of a flash flood in that area.

Our guide did a great job of keeping other tourists out of our photos.  During the busy months the five licensed tour companies take an estimated 1500 people through the canyon per day.  If you haven't been there and seen Antelope Canyon, I highly recommend it.

Upon returning to VA after our family vacation, I got laid off from my job.  How is that for timing?  Never having been laid off before, I was a bit nervous to say the least.  I think the Good Wife took it all better than I did.  My severance package took me through the end of the year, so at least I could enjoy the Christmas holiday.

First some friends from AZ that moved to WA before we moved to VA came to visit us for Christmas.  We happened to be touring through Washington, DC when the NRA was making their public statement after the Newtown shooting.  We got swarmed by foreign reports looking for sound bites.

I'm not sure why they latched onto us for questions, other than we were the only ones in the area wearing camo jackets and blaze orange hats.  They figured we must be pro gun.  They were right!

Once they headed back to WA after a very nice visit, I headed to WI with the boys.  Remember, I'm unemployed at this point, so why not?  I left the Good Wife home to work some extra shifts at the ER.  At least she said she was working!

They were having some very cold weather in WI during our visit to my parents, so the boys got to experience walking on water.  Or at least walking on ice on water.

Once we got back from WI, it was time to get to work.  Finding a job that is.  They say it is a full time job finding a job and I have to agree.  Sitting at the internet surfing job sites doesn't work.  Getting out and meeting people face to face and networking is what works.

We did take a little time out to go squirrel hunting at our friends cabin.  We saw tons of squirrels in the fall while hunting turkey, but didn't see any on this trip.  We did come across a snake though and Oldest Son dispatched it quickly.

I'll give a separate post later about the bees, but it was a good and bad year.  Good in that all my hives made it through the winter.  But bad because we had so much cold and rain in the spring with a couple weeks of mid-summer temperatures, that all my hives ended up swarming.  I'll elaborate more later.

I was able to find a new job here in the Richmond, VA area so we didn't have to go anywhere.  That started in mid-March, so I am finally settling into my new position and enjoying the work.

We did another batch of meat chickens this spring.  One of the Oldest Son's friends wanted to experience the butchering, and jumped right in and did a large portion of the killing.  He also got projectile pooped on during the process.

We took a family vacation, that was planned before the layoff, to Morocco to visit the Good Wife's parents.  We all had a great time and I will post separately about that.  Concerning our rural living experiences, the Oldest Son got to learn how to butcher rabbits.  That was a highlight for him on that trip.

Our egg chickens are doing fine, but we have a coyote or fox that is slowly picking off our chickens one at a time.  That is making us keep them locked up in their run for most of the day until the boys get home from school and let them out to free range while we are around.  Some of our broody hens hatched out a few chicks and the Oldest Son bought a rooster at a chicken swap.

Are you starting to see a trend here?  Oldest Son seems to keep getting us involved in more and more activities when we are trying to take more time to ourselves and slow down a bit.  I don't think it is going to happen until he heads off to college.  The scary part is, it will be less than four years!

I know this is a very abbreviated post since I finally broke radio silence after almost a year.  In the next week or so, I'll have more detailed updates on the chickens, bees, our trip to Morocco, meat rabbits and our garden.  I'm glad to be back!