Can beeswax even be organic?

There's a lot of hype surrounding everything organic these days. Organic [insert pretty much any product] is available everywhere. Even your average grocery store's generic brands have their own organic lines! It's awesome how accessible organics have become, not to mention the fact that the price points have been becoming a little more tolerable. I'm into it, especially when it comes to the product I'm creating for my customers.

But I immediately ran into a couple of issues when I began this beeswaxy journey. I wanted to include organic beeswax in my recipe. Could I even find organic beeswax? Does it exist?

The answer isn't simple, and it sort of depends on your point of view. My short answer (which is a completely unscientific opinion), is "ehhh, kinda." You can't exactly put a bee on a leash, so unless you're keeping bees within a closed-in organic facility, bees' honey and beeswax can't be 100% organic. Can it?

There is obviously an entirely different school of thought on how bee products can be certified organic. Because it actually does exist! You can totally find certified organic beeswax. It's a thing. And frankly, I'm pretty blown away by it. It's not a simple endeavour, I've found out, to have your wares certified organic in this field.

In order for a beekeeper to have his or her honey, royal jelly, beeswax, or other bee products certified as organic, some very strict guidelines must be followed. Essentially, it all comes down to the area near the apiary (the fancy term for where the bees are kept) needing to be organic or wild. In Canada, this area is a radius of 3 kilometres. This makes up the bees' "foraging" area - turns out they don't typically travel much farther than that while foraging, although a bee can fly farther than that in a single stretch if it wants to. In practice, this presents a bit of a challenge for beekeepers. How can you really be certain that contaminated nectar/pollen isn't brought back to the hive? You can't, really, but I'd say the restriction is still rather fair and reasonable.

It doesn't stop there. There are some other fairly intuitive regulations in place that the beekeepers must follow in order to call their wares organic. For example, they can't use synthetic products to control pests, nor use antibiotics to treat or prevent bee diseases, and the hives must be made of natural components. The smoke used to quiet bees down while handling the hives also needs to be non-synthetic.

There are also some regulations made with a nod to bees being left to their own natural devices. Really, I find these all to be good practices to follow whether you're going organic or not. Some key points are that beekeepers must leave the bees with enough honey to survive over the cooler months (fun fact, honey is actually made by bees as a way of storing food over the winter when there are no flowers). Also, you can't destroy the bee colony each year (yup, it's a thing. It's sometimes practiced to avoid having to overwinter hives. Overwintering is the practice of helping insulate hives to keep the bees happy and warm and, uh, alive during the cold winter months). I've also read that you can't clip the queen bee's wings (**what?!), although I believe this is technically an American standard.

Oh, and these practices need to go on for a period of one year before 'organic' honey or other products can be harvested.

My little blog post only provides a glimpse of the apiculture regulations that need to be met in order to become a certified organic apiary. It's no small task, and clearly a high level of care and commitment is needed. Given the strict regulations they need to adhere to, I guess it isn't really so surprising after all that so few beekeepers are able to get certified. Beekeepers are often limited by the land they already own, so if you aren't already operating on a property that can meet the 3 km radius rule, you might be out of luck. Going about your business without the helpful use of pesticides and antibiotics likely makes beekeeping quite a bit pricier, and is definitely a time vampire. It just isn't in the cards for everyone.

All in all, though, after researching the best I could, I gained a huge level of respect for the industry, especially for those who choose to have their products certified organic. And after thinking it over, the takeaway seems to be this: certifying beeswax and other bee products as organic really does promote healthier, more natural beekeeping practices. Even if the product itself isn't technically perfectly 100% organic (because really, there may be that one rogue bee who finds himself a synthetically fertilized flower and ruins it for everybody), it certainly has all of the attributes I look for when choosing products. Especially when animals - even insects - are involved.

**Sidebar.

I wanted to know why a beekeeper would clip her majesty's wings.

In addition to it being a good way of identifying her visually, clipping the queen's wings is primarily to keep her from flying away from her swarm (swarming is the process where a new colony is formed when the queen leaves the colony with a large group of workers). So in theory, that's not the worst thing. But still - ouch.

Turns out, clipping might not actually do a whole lot in terms of keeping her royal highness from taking off - she still has legs, after all. Apparently, though, it isn't super common these days. Phew.

Primary sources:

Canadian Organic Growers

Pacific Agricultural Certification Society

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