Minding Our Beeswax with Brian Howell
Since learning to make his own candles and honey 22 years ago, Bee Man Candle Company founder Brian Howell has had a passion for all things bee. In his New York workshop, he preserves the tradition of hand-dipping beeswax candles, an art that has been practiced for over 10,000 years. Bee Man candles are crafted using a complex process that can take up to five hours depending on temperature, relative humidity, and wax type. Starting with small batches of colored wax that are carefully poured using glass pitchers, each candle is hand-dipped approximately 25 times for a smooth finish and exceptionally long burn time. We got the buzz from Brian about his candles, as well as his work as an advocate for native bee populations.
terrain: You began making candles when you were only 12 years old. Could you tell us a bit about how you got started?
Brian: I actually got started beekeeping first. My neighbor sold honey and candles, so I went with him to the New York State Fair and helped him restock his tables. The following summer, he offered me three beehives if I would help him harvest and pour honey, make candles, and sell at craft shows. Thus began my career in beekeeping and candle making!
The year after working with my neighbor, I wanted to start attending craft shows on my own. My parents weren't really supportive in the beginning and they didn't want me making candles in the oven. One night when they went out, I decided to use the microwave (since it technically wasn't the oven) to make candles. I ended up setting the microwave on fire and my parents realized that I was dead set on my ambitions. Since that day, they have been by my side and supporting me completely so that in high school I could begin selling molded beeswax candles to local stores. During college, I developed my dipping and color processes and refined my candle making skills.
terrain: Bee Man candles are naturally smokeless, dripless, and long-burning. What gives them their unique properties?
Brian: Beeswax is naturally smokeless, dripless, and long-burning. We source most of our wax from rural farmers in developing countries, which limits exposure to the pesticides and heavy metals found in much of the wax produced in places with modern agricultural techniques. If you pair beeswax with the correct wick and temperature of wax, candles can burn even longer. We sort of read the rule books and then throw out most of the rules when we make our candles. Our unique process allows us to have even longer burn times than most, and a molded look to our hand-dipped tapers.
terrain: You host educational workshops about the importance of bees in the natural world. Could you tell us about this project and why bees are so essential to the environment?
Brian: It has always been my goal to build educational programs and raise awareness about the role of bees in our ecosystem. This includes not just honey bees, but native bees like the orchard mason bee, bumblebee, and squash bee. There are actually around 20,000 species of bees on the planet and the honey bee family only contains about eight of those species.
Bees are important pollinators and indicator species for micro-changes in our environment. They have been used since the dawn of modern agriculture and are necessary to our entire food production system. As our systems are changing, whether because of increased farming, increased use of pesticide, decrease of biodiversity, habitat loss, or loss of bees to disease and monoculture agriculture, it's important that we build awareness for their importance and how the loss of these pollinators (not just honey bees) can lead to declines in entire plant species that support numerous other species in our ecosystems.
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I live in New York City and have just begun attending a beekeeping class with hopes of one day keeping my own hive and harvesting honey and wax. Where can I learn more about Brian Howells educational workshops?