Candles and more at Hughenden’s Christmas Market

The Christmas Market at Hughenden Manor takes place the first weekend of December 2015 and is the first time the market has been expanded and open to crafts people from outside the National Trust.

The beekeepers have decided to have a stall with produce from bees in an effort to fund further expansion of the project.

We will be selling honey, candles and some notelets featuring scenes from our beekeeping.  We have some great pictures some of which are on display on the walls of the stableyard cafe.

My role has been to increase our stock of candles. Over the years the project has added to its store of moulds and I have also added to mine.  It can be a long process even once the wax has been purified.

I use a double saucepan to heat the wax but with the buffer of the hot water in the lower container. Due to the risk of fire, you have to watch the pan. It probably takes about 15 minutes to melt a large 500g lump.

During this time I insert the wick into the moulds. I use the TS moulds from Thornes which are excellent quality and can be used over and over again. I use a metal spindle or a wicking needle to push the wick into the holes in the base.  I have found that making a loop at the end and pressing the wick so it is double just at then end that goes into the hole in the base, it blocks the hole well enough that no wax dribbles through. I use some upholsterer’s needles to support the wick upright. I then try and check that the place where the mould is split to make it easier to remove the candle when it has solidified has fallen back into place so the design doesn’t have a discontinuity.  I use elastic bands to help keep the mould together.  The bands will need replacing as hot wax will spill on them at times.

Once the wax is melted, it is ready to be poured into the moulds. At one stage I decanted it into a container with a lip which helps when you are pouring into small apertures but you end up coating another container with wax and possibly wasting it so it is better if you have a steady hand and can pour directly from the pan.

The candle wax will gradually cool and solidify and change from translucent dark yellow to a solid paler yellow.

Don’t be tempted to try and remove the candles too soon.  You’ll probably end up damaging the shape or putting indents from your nails or even just losing some of the small details.



If you want to sell the candles, do look at the volume of wax each candle uses. A candle that looks twice as large as another can take four times the volume of wax. If you do spill wax, then once it has solidified you can collect the blobs and melt them later. If one of the candles doesn’t work out – perhaps because you tried to remove it from the mould too quickly, then you can at least melt the wax down and re-use it.



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Extracting wax

Beekeepers are good at recycling. Perhaps it is because we see the bees putting so much energy into creating beautiful wax we know we can’t waste it.

Some beekeepers save wild comb and cappings and exchange it for new beeswax foundation.

It is possible to extract and clean the wax and some beekeepers will then enter it in bee related competitions.

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Wild comb

We make candles, but it is a long process from the wild comb to the candle.

First all the bits of wax need to be boiled up with vinegar and water. It is unlikely you will want to use any of the pots or strainers for food production ever again so bear this in mind. Then it can be strained through a cloth and allowed to solidify. Some of the debris will settle at the bottom of the lump of wax and can be scraped away. You may want to repeat this process several times.  I usually bend a metal coathanger into a rough circular shape and stretch some old clean tights over to use at least in the initial stages.  The finished wax will take on the shape of the pan used.  It can be extremely messy and of course energy is used each time the wax is heated.

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Stages in refining the wax

The colour of the wax varies depending on the age of the comb used and all sorts of other factors.

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These lumps of cleaned wax weigh about half a kilo


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Nice little explanation video

We have been quite impressed by our Arnia equipment though we feel we are still on a learning curve.  It gives us valuable data and we need to learn then refine our interpretation of the data – we are probably still just using it simplistically.  This BBC video gives a good overview. BBC video, Arnia bee hive monitor

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Hughenden beekeepers join the C.S.I. Pollen Project by Janet Pascoe

Janet is sending the photos soon, but I thought I’d publish and add them later as it is so long since we posted.

Next time you see bees on flowers, look closely to try and spot the pollen basket contents on each of the bees’ hind legs: usually you’ll see a yellow blob, a mixture of dry pollen and nectar and/or honey.

Pollen is an important protein source for bee larvae (grubs): 120–145 mg is needed to rear a single worker from larva to adult and there can be up to 50 000 workers in a hive in summer. Pollen composition varies between different plants: 16–30% protein, 1–10% fat, 1–7% starch though little sugar, and many vitamins. It seems that pollen from many different plants may be needed to rear healthy bees.

Although an international study found associations between heavy colony losses and regions where bees have access to intensively grown flowering crops such as oilseed rape, it’s yet not known whether these losses are the result of pesticide use, or lack of different pollen types and thus poor colony nutrition.

We know little about pollen diversity in Britain and Ireland, so last year (2014) citizen scientists joined those from Europe and elsewhere to gather more information. Now, in 2015, thanks to the gift of three pollen traps from the C.B. Dennis British Beekeepers’ Research Trust, Hughenden beekeepers are taking part in this study.

When the trap is set, bees must pass through a vertical mesh screen to get into the hive – you can see the end of it on the right hand side – and the pollen is knocked off their legs into the basket below. After 24 hours we open the trap, collect the sample and count the number of different colours.

Probably every colour comes from a different plant (for example, black pollen is likely to have come from poppies), though this will have to be confirmed by examining the grains under a microscope. You can see that each colony has worked different plant combinations.

We’ve sent our data to the University of Graz in Austria where, together with everyone else’s results, it’ll be subjected to statistical analysis. With such a large amount of evidence we are confident that the information gained will help us improve survival chances both for bees and other pollinators. Disraeli’s assertion that ‘There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics’ definitely won’t apply to these results!

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Honey prices 2014

After a few years without much of a honey harvest, we at least have some for our visitors.  We find many visitors (especially the young) like a small jar they can obtain at pocket money prices but we do also have larger jars.  Rather than price them up we ask for donations with a guideline to avoid our bees work being undervalued too much.


I thought I’d look at supermarket prices of honey and was shocked to see prices as low as about £2.  We had a lovely note from someone who had a large jar of our honey saying it was the best honey she had ever tasted.  It is always so nice to receive some thanks and these days something by snail mail is at a premium especially when it is on pretty notepaper. It made me wonder about the quality of supermarket honey – perhaps a huge portion of the nation have only ever had supermarket blended honey and thus when given the real thing they are delighted.  On the other hand perhaps this lady is a real expert on local honey and her assertion means our honey really is really superior?

And is it harder for us beekeepers to charge a fair price when there are alternatives that are so cheap?

I’m going to add a couple of polls here.  If you are a beekeeper, let us know the price you are charging this year and if you are a consumer, let us know about your buying preferences.





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A magical day

Basking in the late summer sinshine, Hughenden seemed to have an air of magic today. The fruitfulness of autumn seemed to ooze from every nook and cranny. The earlier rain seemed to make the birdsong braver, louder and more insistent.  Families with children were just enjoying the warmth and space, no doubt all too aware that when term starts in a few days it will become harder to find time to to bide awhile in such a carefree manner.

Only two of the beekeepting team managed to attend this afternoon, Ray and myself.  So we spent a few moments making a plan of campaign.  There is honey to be jarred and we had both come equipped with jugs to ease the task.  However, with just two we felt we’d not be able to get through in one session and it made more sense to wait until there were more of us so we could get it done in one fell swoop.

I’d come with batteries as our hive monitors were both registering low batteries.  The gateway’s chunkier batteries had also been replaced and it had been sent back for an upgrade just a few days before.  Ray had wanted to be able to put apiguard on all hives but we were waiting for some to be replaced by one of the team who had borrowed some of our stock so only had 3 treatments. We decided that changing the batteries and putting on the treatments on 3 of the hives was achievable.

Some of the visiting families were intrigued to see us at the hives so we involved them in what we were doing, showing them the debris on the varroa board and there was the rare opportunity for them to see the actual monitoring equipment and the internal workings as I changed the batteries.

When I opened the second monitor I realised the batteries seemed to be loose rather than well held in place.  Possibly with the back panel reasonable tightly screwed the batteries still had the connections needed.  When the new batteries were inserted they did not seem to be held firmly either, in addition, though new batteries still shrink wrapped were used, they felt slightly moist almost as though they had been packed whilst the paint was still wet so I’ll need to monitor how well it seems to work in case we need to repeat this process.

At this time of year, I know the female school children, especially if they have brothers, seem to delight in how the girls deal with the drones as winter approaches so that is an anecdote I enjoy repeating.

We managed to finish about 4pm having accomplished what we intended, met some lovely visitors interested in our project and still with time to complete the errands we both had on our to do list.  As I left, the birds were just as much a joy to listen to as when I arrived.

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Honey harvest

After a few years with a disappointing amount of honey, we even had two supers on many hives.  Our 9 colonies were for the majority 2014 swarms so most honey came frrom the three that had overwintered.  We’d hoped to end up with about 60 or 70 lbs of honey so there was great teamwork.  My lazier role was to take some photos.

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In particular, our competition frame looks as though it could be in with a chance at the honey show.

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