Business Planning · Home Remedies · Lazer Creek Apiary

Soaps, Lotions, and Salves

We’ve had the book Beeswax Alchemy for quite a while, but we had to build the workshop before I could start refining wax and trying different recipes. My large workbench is ideal for refining wax and making candles, and I thought I’d make everything there but realized it was less than ideal for some projects. I made the first batch of lye soap outside because of the fumes, but that wasn’t such a good idea as the breeze made getting all of the lye into the water a challenge. That first batch turned out okay, but then we had to move the soap to a dust-free environment where it also wasn’t in the way. I’ve since moved lotions, salves and soaps to the RV where I have lots of previously unused cabinet space and air-conditioning! We may as well put the RV to use for more than 4 weeks out of the year!

I first experimented with the massage lotion bars from Beeswax Alchemy. It’s an easy recipe that uses beeswax, cocoa butter, and sesame oil. It’s a lot softer than a lotion bar that a friend bought me last year and therefore very good for foot and shoulder rubs. It’s also been great for moisturizing sunburned skin. It stops my dry-skin itchiness without leaving a greasy feel on my skin or my clothes. At night, I wipe what’s left on my hands onto my face and it seems to be working as well as my store-bought night creams. I don’t add any scents because I love the chocolatey smell of the cocoa butter, but I have started to infuse the sesame oil with calendula blossoms.

Next up was Beeswax Alchemy’s Itch Soother salve. This is still a recipe for beginners, but the first step is the most difficult for someone like me as it requires patience! I had to wait a few days for my herbs to arrive and then an additional two weeks for the herbs to infuse the olive oil. I was like a kid waiting for Christmas looking at, rotating, and sniffing the mason jar far more often than was necessary! After that, it’s pretty much just a matter of mixing the oils with melted beeswax and the salve is done. At first I was disappointed because it doesn’t do much for winter-dry skin, but I’ve since used it on bee stings and fire ant bites and it works wonders. I’ve twice had a stinger left stuck in my skin (bee in the pants and bee in the jacket) and had the normal two inch diameter red spot. I applied the salve twice in that day and the next morning could not even see where I was stung. (Recovering from a bee sting is normally at least a 3 day process for me.) Friends have used it for tick and mosquito bites and been equally pleasantly surprised.

My first attempt to make soap used a recipe I found on Pinterest from My Frugal Home. It uses melt-and-pour soap base and honey — that’s it! I love the simplicity of the recipe and the soap. This is a recipe I would make with kids as the only thing to worry about is warming the soap base, but I want to use our apiary products, so I had to step up to making soap with lye.

I used another Pinterest recipe for lye soap attempt one. The Nerdy Farm Wife has a recipe for Chamomile Almost Castile Soap that I made without infusing the oil with chamomile simply because I don’t have any yet! I did however use chamomile tea, so I was halfway there. The biggest issues were overcoming my nerves and the need to rapidly change containers when my “sturdy” plastic bowl started to distort due to the heat! I’ve been using a small bar of soap from that batch even though it really needs another two weeks to cure, and I love the way it makes my skin feel and lathers up.

I wanted to try a soap that used beeswax and honey next, so I turned to Honey Crafting by Leeann Coleman and Jayne Barnes — a birthday gift from a wonderful friend. The Honey Castile Soap was easy to make and the directions were very well written. Of course, I was missing an ingredient for that one, but we just finished our first bar that does not contain nutmeg and it’s Hubby’s favorite so far. I made another batch today with cinnamon and nutmeg in addition to the honey and beeswax; it turned out even better than the first attempt. I’m getting better at setting up my workspace and learned a couple of lessons with the last soap I made, and the experience showed in better blended soap that I poured before it set up too much!

So that last batch of soap — back to Beeswax Alchemy, but this time to an advanced recipe. Part of what makes it advanced is that it uses four oils in addition to beeswax and honey. It’s also a larger batch, and that led to uneven mixing, which led to a bar not setting up.

Today I took care to mix in what was up around the edge of the bowl and, even with the easier recipe, was surprised by how much oily mix there was. That’s two-fold problem as the lye and oils need to be in correct proportions for the saponification process to occur correctly. If the balance is incorrect, the soap can have too much oil (messy) or unprocessed lye (dangerous). I ended up one small bar of soap from that batch that was oily because I filled the mold with what I scrapped from around the bowl, but the rest were fine, although we haven’t tried that one yet because it needs another four weeks of curing time. I’m eyeing a few more recipes, but first our friends and I need to test-drive what I’ve made already and I have to calculate the costs for each type of bar. While this is fun, and I can see many benefits of making soap for our own consumption, it would make no sense to make soap to sell if I can’t make a profit.

Meanwhile, the bees are storing nectar and capping honey; the chickens are starting to cluck and change into their adult feathers; the blueberries keep looking like they are almost ready to harvest; and, of course, life is always good on the farm!

Bee Rescue/Removal · Lazer Creek Apiary · Products and Vendors

Bees in Trees – 80 feet up!

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After an hour or so, the bees were down on the ground.

Sometimes it seems that bees know just when I’m wearing a dress and heels or when we have ice-cream in the back of the car after a grocery run — they just know when to make swarming more of a challenge for us.   Then I have to think back on the swarm that moved into an empty NUC while I was checking bees last fall to realize that maybe we just remember the inconvenient swarms better!

This swarm initially looked like 4 smaller swarms, but it turned into one of the biggest swarms we’ve had.  We last inspected the hive on Sunday.  They had barely started working the honey super and we made a split to give the queen open frames to lay fresh brood, but by Friday they had the honey super about 30% full, multiple frames had hatched, and they were still storing nectar in the brood boxes.  Even with the bees in the trees, the hive was still rocking it!   The nectar flow is good this year, and we need to recheck some other strong hives again as soon as the coffee kicks in this morning.

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Some bees flew even higher up into the tree

The swarm was pretty high up in a pine tree, so it took some brainstorming, which included discarding crazy ideas while building upon them, to get the branch down.   We even very briefly considered chopping the tree down!  Hubby managed to drop the swarm right onto the tarp we’d laid down with multiple boxes on it.   We’d baited all of them with Swarm Commander and I’d put a frame with nectar, brood, and bees from the original hive in the 10-frame.  After they’d recovered from the fall, they started pagenting in to the 10-frame and one of the NUCs.   Some of them returned the tree, just higher up than before.    They spent the night out there, but they are still alive and kicking!

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This morning, bees are checking out the swarm-capture hives

After a while, we shook the remaining bees from the tarp into the 10-frame and just crossed our fingers.    Now that’s it’s warmed up, bees are migrating down from the tree to the two capture-hives.   Of course, we won’t know for a few days whether they are just regrouping in preparation of another escape attempt or happy in their new home, but we consider this capture a success, an adventure, and a wonderful example of how well Hubby and I work together.

We both took one sting each (for swarming bees they were relatively well-mannered) and the anti-itch salve I made from a Beeswax Alchemy recipe worked wonders.   It was the first time we’d been able to try it on a bee sting — I’ve wanted to know if it works for a long time, but not enough to intentionally get stung.    I’m not so sure that the soap I tried last week is turning out as well, but it is the most complex soap recipe I’ve tried yet.   More about soaps, lotions, and salves next blog….