You can’t grow money, but you can grow avocados. And that’s pretty close.
I’ve developed a peculiar, but useful talent
It started in December, after a trip to Hawaii for my brother’s wedding. Just in front of the balcony of our rental was a 40 foot mature avocado tree, heavy with thousands of thin-skinned fruits. When avocados are $3-$5 a pop at the green grocer, foraging for them is like finding money.
Even our full house couldn’t use the ten or more that were falling each day. What we didn’t eat was enjoyed by the feral chickens. Or taken with me as a pre-flight snack.
The neighbour wasn’t even interested. He had his own productive looking suburban orchard. I offered him some and he just shook his head and chuckled at my haul of green money fruit, ‘Oh, that tree‘. Imagine a life where you have all the avocados you could eat.
How to spot an avocado tree
Back in Sydney, I can’t stop spotting avocados trees. It helps to know what they look like. Look for large trees with straight, light coloured trunks, long green leaves, and dense, haphazard canopy. Often spotted near fence lines or on verges. Taking slower forms of transport means you’ll have time to size up each potential specimen. The most telltale sign is shiny green fruit up in the canopy, or on the ground.
The best time to plant an avocado tree is seven years ago
Planting the seed of an avocado is either an act of good planning for the future or a bit of a novelty, depending on your climate. An avocado tree in Vancouver has about zero chance of producing avocado toast, but people still get a kick out watching them sprout and will keep them as houseplants. Odds are better here in Sydney. In fact, there are more than five mature trees within two blocks of my address.
I’ve planted a few seeds myself. Good things take time, and avocados are no exception. I’ve been asked why I would plant something that might take seven years to bear fruit. An understandable question, programmed as we are to instant gratification, short lifecycles and let’s be honest, frequent house moves. And the answer I give is that I might just be here in seven years. But even if I’m not, someone else will be.
After all, building community is about doing something to benefit someone you may never meet. What helps you, helps me too. Also, this tree is a year and a half old now, so seven years is now only five and a half years from now.
Beeswax wraps are the thing, no question. But what happens when they wear out? Don’t let it be landfill – it’s pretty simply to bring them back to like-new.
Whether you buy beeswax food covers or make your own, the coating will wear out over time. How quickly depends on how often you use and wash them. It’s reasonable to expect them to work well for a few months. A year is a proper stretch based on my own experience. Unused in a drawer maybe.
Sometimes they crease, sometimes they crack, and sometimes the coating flakes off. This is all easy to remedy, and wear out isn’t actually a terrible thing (I’ll explain more below). First let me tell you why tossing your beeswax wraps is no bueno.
Could cotton be worse than plastic?
Yes, if it’s treated as disposable. Cotton is a chemical laden crop that has no great end of life option. it follows that it’s best to keep textiles that have useful life in them in use.
Cotton = water + pesticide extravaganza. Cotton may be a renewable resource – it is a plant, after all – but a thirsty and pesticide-laden crop. Calling cotton a natural fibre is like calling a potato chip a vegetable. i.e. only partly true. And natural isn’t synonymous with harmless anyway (asbestos is a natural fibre). Natural also isn’t the same thing as sustainable. Witness the Aral sea before and after decades of irrigation for cotton production, if you need further convincing.
Textiles are not readily recyclable. There are technologies here and there, but for the most part, textile recycling is not a thing yet. We can compost some materials, but that’s more of a mitigation strategy than a boon to the soil microbiota.
Beeswax wraps are a better solution than plastic wrap, but only when they are kept and reused over a long period of time. We’re not just trying to break even by making these sorts of switches, but improve things.
Here’s what to do when your beeswax wraps wear out
Here’s how to revitalize beeswax wraps that have seen better days:
A quick hit in the oven: The simplest trick to refresh your beeswax wraps is to pop them into the oven on a baking sheet on low heat to remelt and distribute the wax. This will deal with any creasing and cracking. I reuse the same compostable parchment sheet from making the wraps to do this. If there’s a bit of wax still left on the parchment from making them the first time, all the better.
Deep clean and re-wax: If you want to clean up grubbier looking wraps, take the opportunity to do a hot soapy wash of the fabric. This may cause some of the wax to come off, which we normally try to avoid, but once in a while it’s okay. Hang the fabric in the hot sun to lift any stubborn stains, then follow either this simple wax recipe, or the more involved pine rosin formula to add a bit of wax back to the fabric.
Keep using it in its half worn out state: If the fabric is in an awkward stage between waxed and worn out, it can still be used as a handy (and lightly water resistant) cloth for buying food on the go.
With the occasional refresh, your beeswax wraps will last a long time
If you’re thinking, this is too obvious to write about, I beg to differ. Especially since many people will be receiving these as gifts, and won’t have the experience of discovering just how easy they are to make or remake at home. I also see sellers promoting them as lasting ‘up to a year’, which implies an expiry on the wrap rather than just the coating. Also, a personal experience – a friend tossed hers after they wore out and only told me afterwards. The truth is that these could and should last an incredibly long time and are nearly endlessly reusable.
We’re all doing beeswax wraps, but do you ever wonder if that mysterious ingredient, pine rosin, is essential? I set out to find out.
Anatomy of a beeswax wrap
Beeswax wraps at their most basic are just beeswax infused cloth. The wax gives the fabric a water resistant coating which helps keep food fresh while still letting it breathe. Wraps can be used to store halves of fruit and veg, cover bowls, insulate rising bread dough, wrap up sandwiches, and so on. In short, anytime you might have once used plastic cling wrap or a ziploc bag.
The easiest way to make beeswax wraps is with wax only
The simplest, can’t-go-wrong recipe is beeswax grated over a cloth, melted in the oven on low heat. That’s it – you don’t need an actual recipe do you?? The wax melts and seeps into all areas of the cloth. If you see any dry patches, add a shaving or two of wax.
It will be flimsy and floppy when just out of the oven, but once it cools it will become hard yet pliable. This style of wrap will not have the tackiness of the versions you’ve probably seen at the farmers market or in shops, but it’ll be easy to clean with a texture that works perfectly for wrapping around full loaves of bread, or cookies.
I had been making my wraps this way for some time, but I found they didn’t work well in all situations. They don’t self-adhere, so they don’t work as well when you want to cover the end of a half a pumpkin for example. To compensate, I’d add a rubber band around something I’d wrapped up. No biggie, but I was curious about how much better I could make these by using the same ingredients as the commercially sold varieties. The real catalyst was me promising my girlfriends I would teach them how to make their own beeswax wraps. I wanted them to be really happy with the results.
Add tackiness to your wraps with pine rosin
If you absolutely must have that more tacky feeling of store bought wraps, the ingredient you need is pine rosin, which is tree sap. It also goes by pine resin, colophony or Greek pitch. It’s not that readily available in shops, but you can find it online. I bought a large bag to share with friends.
After experimenting with pine rosin added to the formula, I can confirm that it achieves a different result than beeswax only. It makes the wraps behave more closely to plastic cling wrap, which is what most people are trying to find a replacement for.
Which formula you choose depends on how you want to use your wraps, and whether you can find some pine rosin, which can be challenging depending on where you live. Pine rosin is also used in carpentry, art, and for musical instruments, but if you’re buying from a specialty shop, be sure to inquire whether it’s food safe.
Beeswax only wraps are best for beginners who want a simple to make versatile wrap. Make them in a large enough size to fully enclose your food. I use these to wrap entire loaves of bread and to pack snacks to take on the go.
Beeswax wraps with pine rosin are best for recovering plastic cling wrap addicts.
They can be made in relatively small dimensions and still be useful since they will adhere to themselves or the hard surface of the food you’re wrapping. Making them is a more involved process, and you will need more ingredients and equipment.
How to make beeswax wraps with pine rosin
Set up your fabric: Place your washed and dried fabric onto a baking sheet covered with a piece of compostable parchment paper (I have If You Care). You can reuse the sheet each time. I don’t bother with the parchment for wax only wraps, but pine rosin is very sticky. Preheat your oven on medium low – around 150 Celsius.
Melt the mixture using a double boiler: A double boiler is simply a metal or glass bowl placed on top of a pot of hot water, as pictured below. The metal bowl is an op shop find I reserve for this purpose. I use this method to avoid ruining my cooking pots and to have greater control over the heat of the ingredients.
Combine the beeswax, pine rosin and jojoba in a double boiler on the stovetop to melt, then stir to combine (proportions are noted below in the ingredients section). It could take a little time depending on how large your chunks of wax and rosin are. If your rosin is a fine powder, avoid inhaling the small particles.
Infuse the fabric: Drip or paint the mixture onto the fabric, then place in the oven for a few minutes on low heat. I’ve experimented with dipping the cloth directly into the bowl, but the coating was too heavy, and I ended up having to redistribute the wax mixture to additional pieces of fabric to soak up the excess. Some people prefer to place the fabric between two sheets of parchment and used a hot iron to melt.
If my fabric is larger than your baking sheet, I just fold it over on itself. The mixture will permeate and distribute through the fabric when heated in the oven.
A reader tip is to use the double boiler method, then pour into moulds and let set. When cooled, these harden and can be grated like beeswax blocks. Very handy to have on hand for re-waxing and a good idea for any excess mixture you’ve prepared.
Hang the waxed fabric to cool: Remove the fabric from the oven. Check that the wax has saturated the fabric evenly and there are no dry patches. If there are, add more of the mixture and reheat. Remove from the oven and drape over a drying rack to let cool, which only only takes a few seconds.
Ingredients for beeswax wraps with pine rosin
Here’s what I approximately use to infuse one 25cm square cloth – bit of an inexact science though! I got to this measure by making a larger batch and dividing by the overall square centimetre-age of fabric.
40g pine rosin
10g jojoba oil
This mixture is essentially a pine salve, which is a traditional antibacterial ointment (and survivalist favourite), so use any leftover on your hands and elbows.
If you don’t have rosin, it’s not the end of the world and there is another way to achieve some extra tackiness – just use oil and wax, melted to combine using the above method. Adding a touch of oil helps soften and leverage the beeswax’s subtle tackiness.
I make these for myself and friends, not commercially, so this is simply what worked for me. In future I might experiment and re-wax mine with a different formula by using more oil and less rosin, seeing as the latter seems to be a bit of a trick to track down for many people. Have a read of the comments as many readers have helpfully shared what’s worked for them.
Tips for choosing the right fabric
100% cotton fabric, preferably organic. Lightweight and tightly woven, no stretch. A blended fabric *might* work, but watch out for heating up polyester or acrylics, since these are made of plastic fibres, and I doubt the fumes would be good for you.
Patterned or darker coloured fabrics help disguise any marks left by food drips and drops. Whatever you do, don’t go with white!
Beeswax usually has a yellowish cast – this will colour your fabric, so choose one that won’t clash.
Care and use of your beeswax wraps
They’re not designed to be used with hot or very drippy foods.
The warmth of your hand on the wraps is what allows them to shape around things. It’s easiest when they’re at room temperature.
Wash with warm soapy water, not hot.
Don’t wrap raw meat.
Please don’t toss the cloth when the wax wears off in six months to a year. Creased and otherwise worn looking cloths can be re-waxed indefinitely at home, and reuse is the whole point, isn’t it?
Update: please have a read of the comments below. Many readers from around the world have contributed wonderful tips and tricks that may help you with sourcing, substitutions, troubleshooting and determining recipe proportions.
I took in a pile of candle jars that someone had cast aside. Where others saw trash, I saw an upcycling opportunity.
Saving old wax-covered candle jars from landfill
The first step in making these eyesores useable was to clean up the waxy goo, and de-uglify them. As you can see, there was plenty of wax remaining in each one.
I used an old razor blade from my safety razor spent pile to scrape away the exterior labelling from the smooth glass.
To get the wax off candle jars use heat or cold. One trick is to put the container in the freezer to encourage the wax to harden, contract, and pull away from the edge. It’ll make the wax easier to chip off. I think it depends what kind of wax you’re working with.
It didn’t work for me here, so instead I placed them on a tray in an oven on low heat. When the wax had softened, I scraped it out and then wiped with an old rag. As I’m not sure what kinds of chemicals were used for the candles, any chunks of wax remnants went in my landfill container. The last step was to wipe the jars with some homemade vinegar all purpose cleaner until each one had nice shiny glass.
Ways to upcycle old candle jars
And now for the fun part. There are plenty of uses for clean, de-waxed old candle jars, aside from the obvious possibility of reusing to make your own candles. Here are a few things I did and you could too:
Use as a planter for succulents
There is no drainage, so water minimally, or add some rocks to the bottom before you add soil to keep roots from suffocating. Succulents and cacti are a great choice because they barely need watering.
Use as a container for rags
These rags are made from a worn out tee shirt, cut up into small pieces. I use these plus a small bit of coconut oil to remove eye makeup at the end of the day.
Store looseleaf tea
This candle jar can with an airtight lid, so I use it for storing looseleaf tea. You could store anything in it though.
Your turn, what would you do with old candle jars?