Silvopasture and Agroforestry

Harvesting and processing Walnuts

Many of the productive native trees in the pasture are American Black Walnuts, Juglans nigra. Harvesting and processing is quite a physical, labor-intensive process. If edible nuts were the only goal, taking on those processes may not be too attractive. By making use of the the fruit in its entirety, the process makes more economical sense.

As yesterday’s post demonstrated, walnut husks are extremely effective and permanent dies:

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While I dyed my own living skin, the same process can be used to dye and preserve animal skins. By utilizing the water-soluble tannic acids present in great proportions in the hulls, animal hides can be preserved as well as tanned. This process is better known as tanning!

So in an upcoming series of posts, I’ll show my process of harvesting and processing the fruit of a Juglans tree. The tanning parts will have to wait until I have an animals skin to experiment with.

I am also working on creating a video series for the farm activities, but I have a lot to learn when it comes to shooting video, capturing the audio and all the work that goes into processing that data into a good product. I’ll keep you updated!

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Bees

My frustrating but entertaining woes in processing beeswax

I’ve had to trim some poor comb from my hives due to an oversight on my part. I accumulated enough to start learning how to process the wax.

First attempt

My first venture in melting wax was a hilarious disaster. I tried rendering the wax via a warm bath in an improvised mason-jar-in-pot-in-a-bigger-pot double boiler.

Problem 1: If the water level was too high, the jar would float, tip and take on water or raise the wax level above the hot water and just be ineffective in general.

Problem 2: With such a low water level, the wax would cool and solidify against the glass above the water level when I attempted to pour the molten wax through the strainer.

Solution to problem 1 and 2: Put a brick on the mason jar. Cumbersome when needing to stir the wax, but it worked.

Problem 3: As the wax was poured through the room temperature strainer, the wax quickly solidified clogging the metal mesh resulting sending the flow around and down the sides of the paper cup getting the nearly impossible to clean wax everywhere.

Solution to problem 3: Utilize yet up another large pot and stove unit for a hot water bath to keep the strainer hot. However this resulted in water dripping into the finished wax.

Problem 4: The wax coated the butter knife I used to stir it then solidified seemingly permanently. Not to mention the pots and jars exhibiting the same cemented wax.

I never wanted to touch wax again.

 

Prototype develops

One day after returning to my car parked in the sun, the figurative light bulb illuminated in my head. As skin burns when in contact with 140 degrees for 3 seconds, my truck had to be close to that point as I could not even touch the steering wheel without it feeling like my hand were on the verge of blistering. Beeswax melts around 150 °F/65°C so what if I simulated my car?

To test the concept, I placed a half pint mason jar containing a small chunk of comb on the black dashboard of my truck. I then angled the vehicle so the windshield faced directly into the sun. To my immense excitement, the wax was pooled when I checked an hour later.

For my next attempt, the prototype to my finished melter was created.  Since I am sharing my full design tomorrow, I simply set a cooler containing a wax-filled strainer atop a pot in the sun. It did not quite get hot enough, at least not within my attention span. So the wax softened but barely dripped. According to my digital thermometer it was at 130 degrees after a few hours.

Brainstorming a solution

The next iteration of my design was to replace the lid of the cooler with a piece of glass. I wrestled over where to source a discarded storm window after scouring the barn for scrap glass and even called an auto glass place looking for scraps. It was entertainingly hopeless trying to explain the intended purpose of glass. Then one day when I was at the locally owned hardware store for unrelated matters, I inquired about the expense of cutting a custom piece of glass at 14 inches by 24 inches to fit the cooler. For glass it was $5.60 and Plexiglas was $10.80. As the figures were far and away less than I was expecting, I waited 5 minutes for a piece of plexiglass to be cut. I was prepared to either paint or line the interior of the cooler black to match the effect of my dashboard in my experiment. In the end, this was not needed!

I’m glad I didn’t go with glass because during the first trial run, the wind caught the erect lid still attached to the cooler and knocked the whole melter over. Luckily this occurred early and the harvested comb was still solid as it spilled into the grass. Wrapping a bungee cord around the cooler to hold the window in place and utilizing a niche in a pile of extra gravel in the barnyard to cradle the melter. With the new additions, the wax was successfully melted in fifteen minutes during the hot August midday intense sun. Even better, the only wax that persisted to dirty the utensils were a thin coating on the pot and a small amount absorbed by the cheesecloth. No dirty pots, no crazy double boiler contraptions, no spills nearly-permanently coating the kitchen surfaces, and no cooking fuel used. Be warned though, anything that went into the melter was very hot so oven mitts are a must!

However one last issue remained. While the metal strainer successful withheld bee carcasses and large body parts from the rendered wax, many small impurities passed through. These impurities are not vital for most applications of beeswax, but do pose a problem for candle makers. If I ever produce a surplus and want to sell the wax, impurities become a more important consideration.

 

My solar wax melter

My final design is the exact same as before with the addition of cheesecloth attached to the strainer. This did the trick and resulted in relatively pure wax. I reclaimed the kitchen utensils from my first attempt that I initially thought were permanently coated in wax. The mason jars, stirring knives, clogged strainers, etc. wrnt into the solar melter and after wiped with a rag while still hot, came out clean and with only the lightest coat of anti-rust and anti-microbial beeswax.

 

Here is the melter in action! The detailed design will be posted tomorrow!

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