Historic: The Great 1982 Beeswax Recovery Controversy...

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NickWallingford

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https://beekeeping.nz/NZBDA/timeline/1982_03_Wax_recovery_controversy.pdf

Here is a set of articles and letters from the NZ Beekeeper magazine, in 1982-1983. They highlight an issue that has probably always existed in beekeeping - that of an intensive versus an extensive approach to things...

The first article described Sandy Richardson's minimal input wax rendering system which avoided both boilers and presses.

But it was Stuart Tweedale's 'one stage wax processing' that caused the most controversy. Stuart was a WWII returned serviceman who got resettled as a beekeeper. But beekeeping in Taihape, the area he was provided, would have been hard work indeed. Stuart and son Don developed an admirable business in a difficult area through times of poor honey prices. Another returned serviceman, Peter Pegram, was also mentioned in the article (having made a similar wax processing system). Peter and later his son Keith developed a successful beekeeping business in similar circumstances near Wairoa. Neither business would have had a lot of loose capital through many of those years, and paid staff would have been minimal.

All's fine to here - but then Harry Cloake weighed in with the next magazine. He describes the previous equipment as "Heath Robinson", and claimed that the beeswax left behind by such units was significant.

Harry Cloake was a beekeeper who did most everything intensively - his hive management, his wax dipping, honey extraction, queen rearing. He employed considerably more labour than Tweedale or Pegram, and kept them over winter (not always common then). So his approach to wax rendering was the same - relatively high capital value for the equipment, and labour intensive - but with the expectation that the additional wax recovered would more than pay for it.

The next article described the unit (from Steve Robins - it had been originally made by Steve's father Len Robins) that Harry Cloake preferred. It was relatively involved, both in construction and in use. Cloake claimed that the pressing of the hot slum gum gave enough value to justify the costs.

By this time, Stuart Tweedale had taken exception to some of Harry Cloake's previous letter! His reply to Harry is a mildly-offensive delight to read. Stuart makes some obscure references (He refered to Harry's storage of honey in a plastic lined pit during a more than bumper season!) and effectively defends his wax recovery system. And it was really down to extensive versus intensive!

Harry used one last letter to the Editor to defend the intensive wax rendering systems.

But right at the end of the whole thing? Robin Jansen claims that it was *him* that made the rendering system that Stuart Tweedale was using!

Just about every beekeeper has to make those decisions about intensive vs extensive, for just about every aspect of beekeeping, I guess.
 
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today many outfits no longer use decappers, so they produce far far less wax for processing and sale. typically resulting in better comb on the frame and arguable more honey.
 

NickWallingford

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I guess there is probably an interesting history/story tracking the profitability of beekeeping against frame replacement rates. There were a lot of outfits, following the low-replacement-rates of the 1950s and 1960s due to low honey prices, that were really only good for melting up. Stuart Tweedale mentioned that, with lots of Simplicity frames, etc, being melted out at a dramatic rate once prices for honey had started to rise. I do know that the replacement rates now are significantly higher than they were in my time in the commercial industry. In my time, say, late 1970s, the anticipated replacement rate might be a low as 2 frames per hive per year. With the challenges brought by varroa and virus loads, that would not really be sustainable now, I would think. What would be a guess at current replacement rates?
 
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I guess there is probably an interesting history/story tracking the profitability of beekeeping against frame replacement rates. There were a lot of outfits, following the low-replacement-rates of the 1950s and 1960s due to low honey prices, that were really only good for melting up. Stuart Tweedale mentioned that, with lots of Simplicity frames, etc, being melted out at a dramatic rate once prices for honey had started to rise. I do know that the replacement rates now are significantly higher than they were in my time in the commercial industry. In my time, say, late 1970s, the anticipated replacement rate might be a low as 2 frames per hive per year. With the challenges brought by varroa and virus loads, that would not really be sustainable now, I would think. What would be a guess at current replacement rates?
i would say many small to medium crowds the frame replacement rate will be either zero or just replacing breakages.
i know a few gone 9 frame box and probably driving extractors nuts. most have cut costs like crazy. some have bought others out and gotten cheap gear, but thats back fired on some due to afb.
nzbeeswax would have a better idea due to their frame cleaning service, tho i can guess that its gone dead quiet.
 

Alastair

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An interesting article Nick, beekeepers are incredibly innovative always inventing new things, a lot of them prove no good but every so often something comes along that works well.

During your time at Airborne did you ever work in the wax rendering room? Their setup would have been modelled on the Robins system, very similar to the diagram in your article. I got the job a few times, melting the wax off excluders and there were thousands of them, and melting down "rummies" (old combs) The wax got poured off the top and as slumgum built up it was put into sacks and squeezed in the presser. It was an incredibly hot job but done mid winter so a bit of a relief from the sometimes bitter cold outside. The tank also served for mixing sugar syrup, the presser removed and a big electric stirrer put in place.

The slumgum after being pressed was dumped in a pile outside, trailer loads of it which some people took to put in their vege gardens. It was pretty hard to get every drop of wax out of it and the problem was that when dumping it, it was boiling hot and any wax was melted so you could not really tell if there was still any wax in it until it had cooled and any wax gone hard. I remember working away one day when Jasper came bursting in with a chunk of wax in his hand he had found in the slumgum "It's like finding ****dy nuggets of gold" he said, he was not a happy chappy 😮
 
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My father had a fairly high comb replacement rate compared to many beekeepers and brood combs were replaced when you couldn't see light through them. Cappings wax did not require pressing but just melting and settling. Old combs required pressing and ideally settling for several days. It was hot dirty work which I used to really enjoy. Broken frames went to fuel the wood fired boiler while unbroken frames were de wired, cleaned up,and then re wired , re waxed and reused sometimes many times over. Slumgum was used both for the garden and also for firing the boiler.
We didn't but many beekeepers used to store all their wax and only sell it when they had a very poor honey harvest to help out with cash flow.
During the Korean War when wax prices were very high my father melted out most of his honey frames and these went back on just a tiny strip of foundation for a starter. I suspect that wax prices (adjusting for inflation) were much higher in the old days.
 

NickWallingford

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Jasper liked me too much... I was only there for the last of taking off honey and wintering down. Some autumn requeening (they were trying to stay on an 18 month queen replacement rate.) But I remember the wax room, pretty much the same as the one that Cloake's had. I was kind of surprised in Harry's contribution to the wax recovery argument he championed the original-type Robins (manual) press. The ones at Airborne and Cloake's were both air presses, so you could just apply the pressure gradually and steadily. Timing it right meant you got good recovery from one press while unloading then reloading the other.
 
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NickWallingford

BOP Club
293
425
Tauranga
Experience
Retired
During the Korean War when wax prices were very high my father melted out most of his honey frames and these went back on just a tiny strip of foundation for a starter. I suspect that wax prices (adjusting for inflation) were much higher in the old days.
@John B : Just came across this that your Dad wrote after the 1983 NBA conference (Nelson). The NBA caught a lot of criticism from esp John Scott, from MAF. It led directly to the Industry Plan in the next year, one of Ian Berry's shining acomplishments...
1707944986973.png
 
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