Beeswax Candles

Beeswax Candles

Target Grade Level / Age Range:

6-8 Art

Time:

Two 60-minute class periods

Purpose:

This lesson provides students with a direct connection between our local agriculture (bee farming) and creating crafts for our homes (natural beeswax candles) in our visual arts classes.              

Materials:

  • 12 oz. beeswax, roughly chopped (Contact your local beekeeper to buy or you can buy online)
  • 12 oz. palm oil/shortening
  • Mason jars (You can fill 4 half-pint jars with this recipe)
  • Square-braided cotton wick, size #4 or #6 (You can purchase on Amazon.com or your local craft store)
  • Kitchen scale for weighing ingredients
  • Large glass measuring cup
  • Stovetop or a hot plate (Used to melt the beeswax down)
  • Wooden skewers (Cut in half) or pencils: used to keep wicks in place
  • Newspaper for covering work areas

Suggested Companion Resources

Vocabulary

  • Beeswax: a natural wax produced by honeybees.  The wax is formed from the producing glands on the abdomen of the bees. 
  • Brood: the group of eggs laid by the queen to make the next generation of bees.
  • Drone: Male bee whose only function is to mate with the queen. They do not have stingers and do not participate in nectar and pollen gatherings.
  • Hive: the structure for housing bees
  • Honey: a sweet fluid produced by bees from nectar
  • Honey Cappings (Cap): a thin layer of new wax that bees build over the top of the honeycombs to preserve the honey. 
  • Honeycomb: a group of wax cells built by honeybees in the hive. Used to store honey, pollen, and brood bees.
  • Honey Frame/Hive Frame: a structure in a beehive that holds the honeycomb within the hive.  It can be removed by the beekeeper to inspect the bees or to extract excess honey.
  • Nectar: A sweet liquid from flowers gathered by bees for making honey
  • Nurse Bee: A worker bee that attended to the queen, the babies, or larvae of the hive.
  • Pollen: Dustlike cells of the anthers on the flowers
  • Queen: Female bee whose only job is to lay eggs (Usually the largest bee)
  • Worker Bee: Is any female bee that lacks the full reproductive capacity of the colony’s queen bee. They are responsible for collecting nectar and pollen from flowers.

Background – Agricultural Connections

The production of beeswax all begins in the field when the bees are collecting pollen and nectar from flowers. Most of the nectar is converted to honey once the bee returns to the hive. However, a portion of nectar is converted to beeswax. Beeswax is essential to the survival of a bee colony. Beeswax is what builds the honeycomb. A honeycomb is a hexagonal cylinder that is laid side-by-side and then back-to-back. The honeycombs not only store the honey but also pollen and they are used to raise the next generation of bees (brood).

After the field bees return to the hive with a load of nectar, it is typically then handed off to one or more of the younger hive bees with a tongue-to-tongue transfer. The hive bees (especially those that are 10-16 days old) are especially efficient at wax production. After consuming honey or nectar, wax is extruded as small flakes on their abdomens. It is then applied to the combs being constructed or repaired. In the hive, honey is stored in the honeycomb and the honeycombs are stored in "frames" that are easily removed so the honey can be extracted. A beekeeper can tell that the honey is ready to be harvested once the bees have capped off the honeycombs. This is how the bees pronounce that their nectar is transformed into honey. The cappings are the main source of beeswax in bee production. This is because the cappings must be removed to extract the honey from the underlying cells. Actually, the cappings must be removed from both sides of the cells. Bees need to consume between 6-8 lbs. of honey to make a pound of wax.

Interest Approach or Motivator 

Watch the YouTube video, “Honey Production Process,” https://youtu.be/n44o5cs2jac

If you can locate the resource such as samples of harvesting supplies, honeycombs, and natural beeswax to show student prior to introducing the candle-making process it would be beneficial.

Procedures

  1. Create a KWL chart on a large writing surface. Have students start brainstorming what they ­ Know about bees and honey production. Capture their responses under the K column. They ask students what they Want to Know about bees and honey production. Capture their responses under the W column.
  2. Watch the YouTube video: How Do Bees Make Honey? https://youtu.be/sCVR1MNgm6A
  3. Finish the KWL by completing the L column with things that students Learned about bees and honey production. Transition to the first activity by announcing that the class will be making their own beeswax candles.
  4. Review procedures with the class and then you can set students up in pairs or teams to work utilizing available resources and materials.
    1. Using the kitchen scale to measure 12 oz. of beeswax in a large glass measuring cup. Place the measuring cup into a pan filled with a few inches of water. Melt the beeswax over medium heat. Make sure not to heat the beeswax over high heat or it could ignite.
    2. While the beeswax is melting, prepare the wicks for your candles. Cut the wick that will be at least a few inches taller than the jars you’re using to make your candles. Once the beeswax begins to melt, carefully dip one cut wick into the wax. After dipping, carefully lay the wicks on a sheet of newspaper. Straighten each wick by holding the other end down with a skewer and gently pulling it. Allow time for the wicks to dry. Coating the wicks with beeswax helps your wick stay straight when you pour in the rest of the candle mix.
    3. Using the kitchen scale, weigh palm oil and set it to the side. Once the beeswax is almost completely melted, add the palm oil. Stir occasionally until it is all melted.
    4. Once the beeswax and palm oil mixture is completely melted, stir carefully with a skewer. Pour about ½ inch of hot wax into the bottom of one jar, then immediately place a wick into the center of the jar so it just touches the bottom. Hold the wick in place gently until wax hardens enough for the wick to stand on its own.
    5. Resting a skewer on top of each jar, gently wrap the wick around the skewer, make sure it is positioned straight. Once the wicks are secure, finish pouring hot wax into each jar. Leave a bit of space at the top.
    6. Set the jars aside to let them cool and harden completely. This takes approximately 12-24 hours.
    7. After the wax has cooled, cut the remaining wicks off. Leave them approximately ¼ - ½ inches long.
  5. While students wait to make a candle or wait for them to dry, have students create a logo and label for their candle if they were operating as a business that sold beeswax candles.
    1. The label should include at least one fact about bees and or honey production.

Essential Files (maps, charts, pictures, or documents)

Did You Know? (Ag facts)

  • Beeswax candles give off negative ions that actually purify, cleanse, and improve air quality.
  • Beeswax candles burn brighter and last longer than paraffin wax candles.
  • The average lifespan of a bee depends upon the hive's activity but approximately lives 40 days during the working season.
  • The queen bee lives approximately 3 years.
  • The drones live until they mate or for about 90 days.

Extension Activities

  • Set up a FarmChat® with a beekeeper or have the beekeeper come to the classroom as a guest speaker.
  • Sell your candles as a fundraiser. Have students create a large surplus of beeswax candles and have them sell their products to the community. You could set up their class as a business and their ending profit is split up amongst everyone in the class. This teaches a student how to run a business and how they can either make or lose money in their business depending on how successful they are and how much input costs are. They can learn marketing skills by creating a logo to place on the jars for brand awareness and they can learn how to effectively market their product to a consumer. They could also learn how to keep accurate records of sales and track receipts and costs. You can set up the class so the students earn the profits of the sales of their product. A student can see how input cost is factored into their total income and a business makes money or loses money based on input cost and total sales.

Sources/Credits

Authors

Hannah Pagel and Mona Kirchgatter

Organization Affiliation

Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation
Maple Valley Anthon Oto Middle School (Anthon, Iowa)

National Agriculture Literacy Outcomes

T3.6-8.i.  Identify sources of agricultural products that provide food, fuel, clothing, shelter, medical, and other non-food products for their community, state, and/or nation.

Iowa Core Standards

Visual Arts Alignment with the 21 st Century Universal Constructs

1: Students will understand and apply media, techniques and processes. (Critical Thinking, Creativity, Flexibility/Adaptability, Productivity/Accountability)

4: Students will understand the visual arts in relation to history and cultures. (Creativity, Complex Communication, Collaboration, Productivity/Accountability)

6: Students will make connections between the visual arts and other disciplines and Careers. (Critical Thinking, Complex Communication, Flexibility/Adaptability)   

Creative Commons License


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.