Blog: A Permaculture Language

Let There Be Light

Guest Post by permaculture yogi Sarah Keown. Sarah is a yoga instructor in Saint Louis, MO and works for Real Earth Design.

Every morning I have a ritual that I start my day with. I wake up, light a candle and incense, and sit on my meditation cushion, watching my breath until the incense goes out. When I light the candle, then sparking the incense with the flame, I wish for peace and well-being to envelop the hearts, minds, and bodies of others. The candle is central to this daily ritual. 

My partner and I inherited a honeybee hive when we moved into our new rental home last year. It was relatively neglected, and lacked essential components for the health, and ultimately the success, of the hive. While we were unable to save the hive, we were able to collect what honey wasn’t robbed by other bees. 

We set the whole comb in a paint strainer and let the honey drip through into a bucket on a hot sunny day, pressing the remainder through with our hands. This left us with a giant ball of beeswax that we knew exactly what we wanted to do with.

I’d processed comb before for making salve, but was excited to take on the more careful task of candle-making. The comb sat for many months as our busy lives carried us away. Enter the global COVID-19 pandemic and everything was forced to stop. My job shifted and I found myself spending almost every hour at home. It was a blessing in disguise. I finally had time and energy to take on all the things I didn’t have time for, including candle-making! I didn’t have fancy tools or supplies, but was able to use what was on hand to get the job done.

Wax separating in water using the ever useful yogurt tub

I filled our tallest pot halfway with water and brought it to a simmer. I took a third of the comb we had in a paint strainer and let it simmer in the water. As the comb heated up, the wax melted through the strainer and into the water. After 20-30 minutes of squeezing out all the wax, I composted what was left in the strainer and poured the water and wax mixture into yogurt cups. I repeated this step with the other two thirds of the wax until all of it was processed. The wax and water separated almost immediately. As it cooled in the quart yogurt cups, the wax hardened on top of the water. After it fully cooled, I poured out the water and patted dry the thin discs of wax that were left on top. At this point the wax still had a lot debris from the honeycomb in it.

Beeswax discs before final filtration

To get the wax pure enough for candles I melted and filtered it one more time. I took all the wax discs and melted them in a double boiler. I then strained the wax through a reusable coffee filter into yet another infinitely useful quart yogurt cup. 

In addition to the wax from the hive, I’d also been saving all of the remnant beeswax candles we burned from our morning ritual over the years. I filtered a second batch with those bits and pieces. It was amazing how much wax was generated from that alone.

Beeswax blocks fully purified and ready to make candles

With all of the wax fully purified, it was finally ready to be poured into candles. At this point I had been using our cooking pots to melt the wax and it was quite a pain to get all the beeswax off the pots after use. I ended up ordering a pot that was specifically made for melting wax, which made things A LOT easier. I also bought premade wicks and a pillar candle mold. 

I melted both blocks of wax together in a double boiler, which took about 30-40 minutes. While it was melting, I dipped the metal bottoms of the candle wicks and placed them in the center of the mason jars I used for some of my candles. Setting up the pillar candle was a little different and didn’t require a metal tab (it’s important to oil the inside of the mold so it’s easier to get the candle out once cooled).

After everything was set up and the wax was melted, I poured it into the pillar mold and mason jars. I made sure to pour slowly and with control so the wicks stayed in place. After I poured, I made sure to adjust the wick on each candle so it was in the middle. It’s also important to keep the wick taut, but not too taut that you pull the metal bottom off. After the candles fully cooled, I cut the wicks to ¼” in height. 

Finished beeswax candles

Through each step of the candle-making process I felt a connection to the nature in my neighborhood and a deep appreciation for what bees do in the world. Each candle I made was imbued with a promise to acknowledge and support these life-giving creatures. 

Now my morning ritual is that much more special since the candle I light is a candle I made. I think of the darkness that exists in the world during these pandemic times, and I’m reminded of all the bees out there buzzing and dancing about. In addition to the many other functions they serve, the bees let there be light. For me, and by extension through my candle lighting wish each morning for the world, this light is right on time. 

Jason Gerhardt

Permaculture teacher, designer, do-er. Jason Gerhardt has professionally applied ecological design for over 15 years from hyper-arid deserts to lush temperate forests to dense urban centers. He applies a keen study of ecosystems, human culture, and design to this blog.

Jason GerhardtLet There Be Light