Saturday, March 30, 2013

More than you probably want to know about beekeeping

In case you were wondering about the honey and beeswax in our soap and lip balm: they are what started Soapzilla. My first year as a beekeeper, my single hive yielded 100 pounds of honey, which is a LOT. There was a lot of wax, too, but I personally don't find it exciting to pour wax candles, so I looked into how else I might be able to use up all that beeswax. The internet informed me that I could make soap with it, which seemed appealingly Little-House-on-the-Prairie, so I tried it, and loved it. And the more I made, the more my friends wanted it, and they told their friends, who told their friends, and voila! Soapmaking business, just from a fun hobby.

But the beekeeping is still a huge part of it. I'm very proud of my bees, and I raise them using IPM, or integrated pest management, which is a practical philosophy of beekeeping. It boils down to the fact that I never use any chemicals, ever- not to poison hive beetles or mites, not to medicate the bees- and instead manage them year-round in ways that reduce their susceptibility to pests and diseases. The result is that the wax and honey I harvest from my bees to use in soap is as pristine as it's possible to be. Of course, bees are foragers and will travel up to two miles for a good nectar source, so they can come into contact with any chemicals used in my general area. But I'm very lucky, because my yard is full of good nectar sources and even a creek, so it limits how far my bees need to go to get what they need and reduces the risk that they'll come into contact with anything unpleasant.

I never used to think about the ingredients in my soap, because somehow it seemed more important to consider the ingredients in food. But in my time beekeeping, I've used honey for so many things- on scrapes and cuts, as an allergy remedy, etc.- and found it to be so effective, that it was hard not to think about how great an ingredient it is in pretty much anything. Raw, chemical-free honey and beeswax is so good for you, and so different from processed honey, that it's a no-brainer to put it in soap if you want to make something that'll make your skin happy. To understand it in terms of food ingredients, the chemical-free aspect is like the difference between free-range chicken and the poor chickens who live in boxes and get pumped full of medications, and the raw part is like the difference between ice cream and probiotic yogurt (that last example sounds less than delicious, maybe, but you get what I mean. Live ingredients are everything.)

Anyway, most of this rambling is a result of my happiness over catching a swarm this week. It's always great to have a  new addition to the bee yard, and rescuing a swarm means that the bees get a good home and proper management, instead of finding themselves a cranny in the wall of someone's house, unable to build a proper hive. And more bees here at Soapzilla just mean that we have more honey and beeswax to use in our soap and lip balm!

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