This page contains advice on how to prepare your entries to stand out on the show bench to give a better chance of producing winning entries. At present only advice on honey entries appear here but I will advice on wax, frames, sections and confectionary classes as soon as we can find someone to write an article.
As you can see both of the articles below were written a number of years ago but the advice is still good. The reference to “wads” may be new to some, it refers to the cardboard discs that used to be used as seals inside the jar lid in the days before we had the plastic flowed in seals that we use today, however the advice still stands the seals should be tidy, not discoloured or damaged and the lids should match, care in this area can still pay dividends.
GETTING INTO THE FINAL OF THE HONEY SHOW
by G V Barnes
At the AGM (1977) I suggested in my Honey Show Report that there was a need to encourage a new generation of exhibitors to replace the stalwarts of yesterday. I might have seen that I was thereby lumbering myself with the task of writing a series of articles with this in view! There has never been any difficulty in persuading newcomers to enter the Novice classes, but there has been some reluctance to take the next step and exhibit regularly in the Members’ classes.
I think that the main reason for this is that the same half-dozen or so names seem to dominate the prize list year after year, and one feels that in some mysterious way they have the monopoly of all the best honey in the area. This is not the case; what they have is merely the knowledge of how to present what honey they have in the best possible way. Learn a few simple rules of presentation and there is every chance that you will take their place very shortly. Once you have tasted success you will certainly want to continue; it is very easy, once you know how.
Imagine that you have taken a particularly nice crop of honey; you have already won a Novice prize, so it will have to go in the Members’ class for medium honey. Full of hope you make the entry, and when you come to stage your exhibit you find there are nineteen other entries in the same class. Unfortunately there is not a happy ending to the story because, as usual, X, Y and Z take the prizes. Let us see if we can find out where you may have gone wrong, by going behind the scenes and watching the judge at work.
The judge’s job is to reduce the original twenty entries to about three or four and then to put these in order of merit. The quality of the honey will decide this final order, but the initial weeding out is nearly always done on considerations of presentation alone. At his first glance he rejects three entries: one because the two jars are of slightly different sizes: one because the caps do not match: and the third because one of the caps is scratched and has a few specks of rust.
Next he studies the colour of the honey. Most are of about the same colour, but one is certainly lighter than all the others and two look much darker. These extreme colours are tested against his grading glasses, which give the official boundaries dividing light honey from medium and medium from dark. The light one goes out, it is in the wrong class; the other two suspects are all right, they come within the colour limits for a medium honey.
Now he produces a powerful torch and holds each jar in front of it. This examination is a real killer. Several entries show cloudiness in the bright light. In one case it is due to the fact that granulation has begun (fatal in a liquid honey class), another has a greasy film on the outside of the jar. This one has a film on the inside, probably a new jar straight from the carton which retained a film of lubricant from the moulding process; a film which resists rinsing and which only hot strong washing soda will touch. Next a foreign body has sunk to the bottom of the jar; could be a crystal of honey due to granulation in the comb; another foreign body halfway up the jar – pollen possibly. These last two could have been prevented by careful straining. Here is some more pollen, but no, the hand lens shows it to be a flaw in the glass; still someone should not have used this particular jar. Someone else must have had a granulation problem and heated his jars in a water bath; he got rid of the granulation, but not the water mark. The pile of rejects grows, only nine entries are left in now!
The caps of the remaining jars are carefully removed in turn. As he raises each cap, the judge samples the aroma and at the same time scans the surface of the liquid honey. He is looking for floating debris such as dust or hairs; he is looking for bubbles; he is looking for incorrectly filled jars, any that are under weight or any that are grossly over weight; he is inspecting the cardboard wads for cleanliness and noting the condition of the screw threads on the inside of the cap and on the glass jar.
Five entries out of the original twenty have made the Final. Only now will the contents of the jars be tested for density, flavour and possibly percentage sugar content. The best of the five will take first prize, but there may well be better honey among the rejects.
This picture of a judge at work may seem a little extreme and may be somewhat disheartening for the would-be exhibitor. I may have exaggerated a little and some of the faults might attract penalty points rather than outright rejection. The general idea is correct, however, and I was determined to work in all the faults that I have been rebuked for in the last twenty-five years!
LIQUID HONEY CLASSES
All honey, whether for show, for sale, for giving to your friends or for feeding to the family, should be put into absolutely clean jars, so the first job is bottle washing. If the jars are new straight out of the carton, they are first plunged into a bowl o hot water containing a good handful of washing soda, then a rinse, followed by a good wash in strong detergent with vigorous use of the mop. Finally rinse in several changes of clean water until all traces of detergent bubbles have disappeared. Leave upside down for about 24 hours in a dust-free place to drain dry. Never dry with a cloth. If the jars have previously been used, the screw threads should be scrubbed thoroughly with a stiff brush whilst in the detergent.
The caps, if new and straight from the polythene bag, require little attention apart from a good tap on the table to dislodge any loose shreds of material from the cardboard wads. Any previously used caps and ‘new’ ones left lying around the house since last year, should have the wad removed, even if it looks clean. The caps should be cleaned thoroughly in detergent, rinsed and dried off in a cool oven before being fitted with new wads. Any scratched or rusty caps should be discarded ruthlessly, they are not worth house room. The clean caps can now be put on the clean jars and all is safe until we are ready to bottle the honey.
The standard pattern of settling tank (ripener) makes no provision for straining honey, other than by the provision of coarse and fine metal strainers. Some people consider these sufficient, and it may be so for the bulk of your honey if you can afford to let the honey remain in the settling tank for a number of days. It only takes a few hours for the bubbles and light debris to reach the top, but heavy debris may take a very long time to sink below the honey gate. For show purposes, all honey must be strained through a cloth. I use a double thickness of butter muslin and put all my crop through it. The muslin is soaked in water and squeezed as dry as possible before being tied over the top of the tank, with the metal strainers fitted above. The reason for the damp cloth is that honey, unless thoroughly warm, will not pass through dry muslin. The little water that you add to the honey can be ignored if you are straining 50lbs. or so.
For your honeyshow, pick out matching jars without flaws and with matching caps. To match the jars, the easiest way is to look at the base of the jars and choose those with the same letter, number or heraldic device. Fill your selected jars carefully, not to the correct level but almost up to the brim. Cap at once. Mark carefully and stand them in a warm place. It is worth remembering that as the honey stands in the settling tank, the denser honey goes to the bottom, so your show jars should be among the earlier ones to be filled.
If you want to enter the thee liquid honey classes, light , medium and dark, you will have to work a little harder and get a lot stickier. You will need two jugs, two wire strainers and two spoons. As each comb is uncapped, look for patches of very light or very dark honey and remove honey and wax down to the mid rib, using the appropriate spoon. The comb then goes into the extractor. The bulk of the crop can generally be depended on to produce medium honey, unless your area is rather special. The samples of light and dark honey obtained will now have to be strained through muslin; since the quantity is small, you cannot afford to risk adding the least trace of water, so the honey will have to be warmed until it flows almost like water.
When your jars have stood for a few days, remove one or two teaspoons of honey and with it any bubbles or floating debris. Work in as dust free an atmosphere as you can. Repeat the process at intervals until you are satisfied that the surface is absolutely clean and bubble free. Remove as much more honey as will leave the jars correctly filled and replace the caps for the last time. Do not be tempted to take off the caps again to see if the surface is still clean. The next person to open these jars should be the judge.
Once your jars have been prepared, keep them in a warm place until the Show. A temperature of 75˚F should be sufficient to ensure that granulation does not begin. If unfortunately, the honey does become cloudy, showing the onset of granulation, you can either forget the show until next year, or you can apply heat to make the honey liquid again. Unhappily honey does not take kindly to being heated. A temperature of 120˚F maintained for about 12 hours will, however, clear the honey without noticeably affecting the flavour, but this requires a proper ‘hot box’ with temperature control. More drastic heat treatment, as in a saucepan of hot water, will clear the honey very quickly but will almost certainly ruin the flavour.
If you are doubtful whether your honey is light, medium or dark, you will have to consult a beekeeper who possesses grading glasses. These incidentally can only be depended on to give the right answerif used strictly according to the instructions. The main point is that the comparison can only be made in full daylight against a white background; so make sure you time your consultation accordingly.
Before going to the hall to stage your exhibits, clean the outside of the jars and the outside of the caps using a piece of closely woven cloth and a little surgical methylated spirit. When you handle a jar from now on, do so either with a gloved hand or a folded cloth.
When you jars are correctly labelled and put on the show bench, wipe over the outside of the jars once more in case of finger prints and leave it at that. Never remove the caps at this stage for a last inspection; there are very few dustier places that an exhibition hall at staging time!
CRYSTALLISED AND SOFT-SET CLASSES
These classes are somewhat controversial, but the controversy arises rather from the surrounding folklore that from the classes themselves: most people having their own techniques for improving on natural granulation. Actually the position is quite clear: crystallised honey is defined as honey that has granulated naturally in the jar. This is not the case if honey is seeded with fine granules or if, as is so often suggested in the literature, the honey is stirred occasionally during granulation. The honey resulting from these practices is softer than is the case in natural granulation and, though much more acceptable on bread and butter, is not so on the show bench. Nor has it the consistency of true soft-set (creamed) honey; it fall between the two classes and belongs to neither.
The class for crystallised honey is without doubt the most difficult on the schedule, and for that reason perhaps the most satisfying to win. This is because you cannot select your exhibition jars until granulation is complete and by then you cannot do anything to correct earlier mistakes. All you can do is to learn what the judge is looking for and select your jars to conform as closely as possible to the ideal.
For most of us, crystallised honey for this year’s show means last year’s crop; the exception is oil-seed rape and having no experience of this I shall ignore it. The best plan is to run through your store in early November, and pick your best jars. Any honey, which has not granulated fully by this time, is likely to produce coarse granules. Mark your selected jars and guard them well; it can be very frustrating to find that you have inadvertently eaten one or both.
Now what to look for. First, cleanliness as always. Check for cleanliness at two points. Turn the jars upside down and examine the honey as seen through the bottom of the jar; any debris is clearly seen. If it looks alright to the naked eye, have another look using a hand lens. Now remove the cap and look at the honey surface. It should be smooth and dry with a slight bloom. A powdery surface indicates that the liquid honey surface was scummy; a damp surface that fermentation is either under way or about to begin.
Suppose you have manyjars which pass this first inspection. What else should be looked for? First, not too much frosting, ideally none. Frosting is a perfectly natural occurrence, due to the fact that when granulation is rapid the honey clings to the glass in some places and pulls away from it in others; a little is usually not regarded as a major fault, but too much is definitely unsightly and will be marked down. A fine granulation is essential. Unfortunately, fine granulation and rapid granulation often go together so that frosting is particularly prevalent in such honeys. The colour of granulated honey enormously from pure white, through cream, primrose etc. up to quite a dark brown. Aroma and taste also come into it of course.
The very white honeys such as oil-seed rape and other brassicas score heavily for fineness of granulation and firmness of texture, but have very little flavour or aroma. The very dark stuff when you can find a fine granulation, I like enormously but it never seems to do very well on the show bench. On balance, I think the cream and primrose colour ranges usually provide the winner. Lastly and probably most difficult of all, your two jars must match identically.
Having picked your exhibit, there is not a great deal more you can do. Just before the show, clean the outside of the jars thoroughly with a cloth and a little surgical spirit, paying particular attention to the screw threads. With a thin piece of wood, such as a clean match or a cocktail stick, run round the inside of the neck of the jar, but be careful not to touch the honey surface. Finally fit clean caps and new wads.
Soft set honey is much easier and less of a gamble. Take the proportion of 5lbs of light liquid honey of good flavour and aroma to 1lb of finely granulated honey of as light a colour as possible. The granulated honey should be warmed slowly to 90˚F and held there until it has the consistency of porridge. You must be careful not to overheat or you may lose the granules altogether. Stir gently with a wooden spoon until it runs freely. Meanwhile the liquid honey should be warmed to about 70˚F so that it too runs freely. Pour both together into a bowl and stir gently with the spatula until the seed is evenly distributed. The stirring is a gentle process and should not be hurried. You often read instructions to ‘beat’ the seed into the liquid honey but this traps too much air. For the same reason don’t be tempted to use an electric mixer, the judge may think you are in the candy-floss business. However carefully you stir, you are bound to introduce some air, so cover the bowl and leave it in a warm place overnight. Next day skim off the bubbles and put the honey into clean jars, overfilling them a little. Keep the jars in a warm place (65˚ – 70˚F) for a couple of days. Remove any bubbles and excess honey so that the jars are filled to the correct level. Stand in a cool place (50˚F) for about a week, the jars I mean, not you. At the end of this time, the honey should have set to the consistency of firm butter.
The commonest fault is probably that of having an incomplete ‘set’. You should be able to stand the jar on its side, uncapped, and leave it all day! The honey should be absolutely smooth with not a trace of grittiness and should have the taste and aroma of the liquid honey. Apart from the show, this is quite the most delicious form of honey to eat.
ODDS AND ENDS
It is difficult to be dogmatic about the remaining classes in the show. The best general advice I can give is to keep your eyes and ears open at the Honey Show and ask the Judge or Stewards or other exhibitors to explain the merits and demerits of various exhibits. You may be surprised at the variety of answers you get.
In the classes based on comb honey, you are looking first for an exhibit that looks attractive, flat even white cappings to go right up to the woodwork. Prize-winning comb honey is quickly drawn, quickly filled, quickly sealed and above all, quickly removed from the hive as soon as it is ready. Now for a few specific hints.
It is not difficult to imagine a perfect shallow frame and once or twice in a lifetime you will come across one. The difficulty comes in deciding which of perhaps half a dozen less than perfect combs will give you the best chance. If, during the season, you see a comb which measures up to your requirements, take it off the hive at once and keep it carefully in a show-case (show-cases are designed to be bee-proof but not all are ant-proof so be careful where you keep it). Failing this, at extracting time put aside the first good frame you encounter, replacing it each time you find a better. Scrape the top and side bars carefully, but be careful that the scrapings do not fall on the comb.
Cut-comb and chunk honey are best taken from comb drawn in shallow frames on thin super foundation. Everyone of my supers has two such frames in it, so I usually have a fair amount to choose from. And what is not used for chunk or cut-comb is extracted in the ordinary way and the comb cut out of the frame and melted down with the cappings. Cut the comb in such a way that the vertical edges of the cells are parallel to the long sides of the container, and for chunk honey, put the strips of comb in the jar the right way up. If you need to adjust the position of a piece of comb once it has been placed in the jar, wait until you have filled up the jar with liquid honey; the buoyancy of this makes it easier to move the comb and lessens the possibility of damage. Incidentally, the honey you use for filling up should be slightly warmed so that it flows very freely, but not warmed sufficiently to soften the comb. Fill the jars well above the correct level. Just before the show, spoon out the excess honey, taking as many of the loose scales of wax as possible.
One of the points the judge looks for in cut-comb and chunk honey is a thin mid-rib, and if you feel you want to go one better than using this super foundation, you can try your hand at ‘wild comb’, by providing just a small starter at the top of each frame. If the bees produce a perfect frame of drone comb as a result, you are well away, but the more likely result is a mixture of drone and worker cells, plus storage cells of all shapes and sizes, and the whole thing looks horrible.
Now a few thoughts on sections. How often does one hear the complaint “my bees just wont work sections”? I think the fault can usually be traced to the way the sections are offered. If the section rack is put on in the same way as a shallow super, i.e. in advance of the colony’s requirement for room, they will have nothing to do with it until the brood chamber is full of brood and stores and by this time will probably already have begun preparations for swarming. I make my section rack particularly attractive by replacing each end row of sections by a ‘sawn-off’ shallow frame fitted with thin super foundation. This is very easy in a National 4 by 7 rack, and gives me 2 shallow frames and 20 sections. I find that the bees take readily to the shallow frames and then work evenly over the sections, giving me very few part-filled sections. See that the selected colony has sufficient super space, given in advance of requirement for room and wait until there is a good nectar flow and they are very busy in the super(s). Now replace the shallow super(s) by the section rack, cover this with a clearer board fitted with a porter escape and put the supers on top. When all the bees have gone down, give the supers to another stock.
An alternative is a variation on advice frequently given. If you come by a good strong swarm early in the season, hive it on foundation and feed generously. When the main flow starts give a section rack. Now suppose you manage to pick up another swarm. Hive it in a shallow super on as few drawn combs as will hold it. Unite on to the top of your sections through newspaper and an excluder. After about 48 hours find and remove the queen from the swarm and clear them down into the sections through a Porter escape. I once did this with a mid-May swarm, to which I added five other lots in June, and finished up with some very nice sections.
Cleaning up sections can be a tiresome job and can be made much easier as follows. When you make up your section rack, brush hot molten paraffin wax on to the exposed tops and bottoms of the sections. This way you get no propolis stains, and a few moments with a sharp knife is all that is needed in the way of cleaning up. Beeswax is another case where the only possible advice is to learn by looking, listening and experimenting. Just two suggestions: never polish a cake of wax (some will disagree with me over this) and don’t use a show case for wax. I like wood to smell of beeswax, but I don’t like beeswax to smell of wood.
Mean is a very personal affair. No two experts ever agree on anything. Don’t try to make your mead to suit the schedule. Make it the way you yourself like it. If your taste and the judge’s coincide, that is a bonus; if not, you can drink it and enjoy it. To make sure the judge gets as far as tasting your mead, don’t forget basic cleanliness. It is important that mead is shown in a sparklingly clean bottle and the cork is also clean.
I hope that my notes will encourage some of our newer members to ‘have a go’.
HEATHER HONEY FOR SHOW
By S G Trenchard
Heather honey, that is honey from the Ling heather, is often described as bitter-sweet to taste, rich, reddish, dark to amber in colour. It is the only honey allowed on the show bench with air bubbles. These should be spread evenly through the jars and I like to see large bubbles as this tells me the honey has not been over-heated. If it has, the bubbles break down.
Why are the bubbles there? Heather honey is thixotropic which means it is a jelly, and one should be able to take the lid off the jar, turn it upside down and the honey should not move. If you cut the comb with a knife the honey will not run out. If it does then it is not pure heather honey.
If heather honey is pure it will not granulate. If there are other honeys with it, such as rape, then you many have to heat it to prevent granulation. If so you must not take it above 140˚F or you may spoil the flavour and aroma and of course reduce the size of the bubbles.
All other honeys should of course be extracted from the supers before the heather comes into bloom.
Points to look for in heather honey for show are, as with the liquid honey classes already mentioned, good clean jars inside and out, a matching pair of lids of the same pattern with clean wads.
Now a careful eye at the honey. Make sure that there are no small pieces of wax or comb amongst the air bubbles. These can be missed so easily but are always found by the judge. If your bees collect a good heather crop and you make a good clean job of pressing it, fill your jars well, stick your show labels where your Show Secretary tells you to put them, and you may come home with a first prize.