Have you ever wondered how honey is harvested from beehives? This fall, Michael and I got to find out firsthand while visiting our friends, Jerry and Mea, at Draper Farms in San Anselmo.
The hives are wooden frames with beeswax starter cells. The bees fill the cells with honey and, as each cell fills up, cap them with their own beeswax. When the hives are full of honey and ready to harvest, the beeswax caps are removed from both sides of the frame with an electric heated knife. This was the first part of our demonstration. The hives had already been gathered into the barn prior to our arrival and the bees sent on to create new hives.
Next the frames are placed into a centrifuge, where they will be spun to extract the honey. The honey flies out from the combs onto the sides of the centrifuge and then runs down the walls and out a spigot into a waiting bucket.
We all got to take home a jar of raw honey. Mmmmmm… but my question was what happens to all the leftover beeswax. Jerry said they make it into candles… or lotion, in small quantities. And that got me thinking. Because I’ve been looking for plastic-free hand lotion.
Burt’s Bees makes a hand salve that comes in a metal tin and contains beeswax. A member of my Green Sangha group uses it and really likes it. There is a small plastic seal around the lid, but this would be a minor plastic offense to me if it weren’t for the fact that the Burt’s Bees Company was bought by Clorox this year.
Clorox, if you’ll recall, bought the U.S. division of the Brita water filter company back in 1988. And whereas today, the European Brita filter cartridges are being recycled in a comprehensive take-back program, the U.S. Brita filters are not recyclable and the Clorox Company has no intention of providing a way to recycle these hunks of plastic. Read more about my communications with Brita here and here. (Isn’t it ironic that a company that specializes in producing chlorine bleach also sells a product to take the chlorine out of the water?)
So I don’t have much faith in what Clorox will do with Burt’s Bees, I’m afraid.
I did go ahead recently and buy a Burt’s Bees lip gloss, which comes in a glass jar with a metal lid and is also made from beeswax. It feels nice on my lips and tastes pretty good. But I think it’ll be the last Burt’s Bees product I buy. So, what to do about lotion?
I found a tin of Moon Valley solid lotion bar at the Ecology Center in Berkeley, also made with beeswax and other natural ingredients. I like the idea of a solid lotion (as I do solid shampoo) which makes bottles, plastic or otherwise, unnecessary. And the Moon Valley lotion seems to work well and smells great. But it’s a bit pricey. And probably not available everywhere. So what if I could make my own?
I found a simple recipe for hand cream at RachelsSupply.com:
2 ounces beeswax (I found beeswax in a bulk bin at Juniper Tree in Berkeley and also at Whole Foods in the herbs and teas bulk section. I brought and filled my own bag.)
1 cup sweet almond oil (I actually used regular Spectrum almond oil from Whole Foods, which comes in a glass bottle but does have a plastic cap.)
1 cup water
10 drops essential oil (I chose lavender because I had some on hand)
Heat beeswax and sweet almond oil until the wax melts. In another container, heat water until warm. Both mixtures should be warm, but not so hot as to be uncomfortable to the touch.
Place warm water in a blender. Cover the blender, leaving open the small opening in the cover. With the blender running on high speed, slowly pour in the beeswax-oil mixture in a thin stream. When most of the oil has been added, the mixture should begin to thicken.
At this point, add the essential oil. Continue to add oil and blend until the mixture is sufficiently thickened. Turn off the blender. You should have a thick cream. Spoon into salve jars or metal tins.
And here is my creation. It’s pretty solid when it cools, so it’s not the kind of lotion you could squeeze from a plastic bottle or dip your fingers into. You kind of run your fingers around the top to get some on your hands and then rub your hands together. I’ll experiment some more. But for now, I think this will do. Thank you, bees.
03/10/2008 UPDATE: A reader tells me that she had a hard time cleaning out the blender pitcher afterwards. Turns out, her pitcher was made of plastic. My blender has a glass pitcher, and I had no problem cleaning it out with soap and hot water. Plastic, on the other hand, attracts oil, so maybe a blender with a plastic pitcher should not be used with oils.
Any suggestions for how she could get the plastic pitcher clean now that it’s all gunked up with beeswax and oil? Please read the comments for more info about what she’s already tried.