Tips on showing Honey
We encourage every beekeeper to enter a Honey Comprtition. The discipline involved in preparing the exhibit teaches a lot about the proper way to present your honey and other hive products. There are many senior beekeepers in our association who are very happy to assist with advice, and handy tips on what is required for successful exhibiting.
Be aware of judging criteria:
Density : Measured on a refractometer; more dense honey scores high points.
Aroma : Judged when the lid is removed from the jar.
Flavour : The judge tastes a small sample.
Colour : in relation to allocated class, which ranges from : Light, Golden, Dark
Clearness and Brightness : Cloudy dull honey loses points.
Finish : Quality of jar ; No imperfections ; Appropriate air space under lid – fill to 6mm of the top.
Select your honey: During the year we all experience the excitement of producing a special honey crop – great flavour and aroma, very clear and dense. Right then is the time to put aside about 1.5 kg – make sure you select a frame of honey that is fully capped on both sides, and preferably gather the honey by hand, rather than mechanically extracted. First drain the honey through a colander, then strain through muslin. Store honey in a glass jar in a cool, dark place. Avoid exposure to moisture, air and heat. Tag jars with date, and source/site.
Prepare your liquid honey entries: A few weeks before the show take out your samples and decide which ones to enter.
Obtain 2 x 500g jars (with lids) for each entry. Wash jars in warm soapy water, rinse & dry well. Fill the two jars to the brim with honey, remove any blemishes, stand for 24 hours. During this time it’s good to stand the jars in direct sunlight for an hour or two – this seems to energise the honey. (Only place in sun if a glass jar is being used, not plastic). Skim off any froth. Make sure the level of the honey is 6 mm from the brim (this is a requirement of the judges). Remove a bit of honey until this level is reached. Check and clean jar and lid. Make sure this is completed a few days before delivery to allow for final settling. Always keep the jars still and upright. Deliver to the steward on time.
So the floral sources and the bees have done their best to produce a quality honey and you have added your skill in preparing it to its best advantage. It can take only one hive and one proud beekeeper to produce a quality winning entry.
Novice classes: This class can be entered by anyone who has not won first Prize in a Honey Show.
Children’s Classes (any child up to 16 years on date of Honey Show) These entries must be the child’s own work, with only age appropriate assistance given.
Faults which eliminate
- underweight – check weigh your empty jars, weigh your full ones and subtract.
- dirt / hair in honey / rusty lids / specks in bottom of set jars. Judges often uses a high power lens so as to be able to identify objects in the bottom of jars.
- not matching – includes jars, lids and honey, all must match as a pair or group.
- not in correct class – check colour.
- dirt or crystals on inside of lid – honey in the threads (honey + tin = black goo).
- scum of bubbles on surface of liquid. So skim carefully a day or so before the show. Jar should be over-filled enough to allow skimming to leave correct weight in jar.
- crystallisation in combs. Just one cell crystallised can eliminate an otherwise good comb.
- pollen in cut combs and sections, too much pollen in whole combs for extraction.
- crystals in clear honey – includes incipient cloudiness. Some judges take pollen cloudiness to be crystals, so don’t take this chance. Only enter truly clear honey.
- Wrong viscosity, usually too runny because water content above about 20%, which can lead to fermentation. A smell of fermentation will be a total eliminator.
Faults which downgrade
- lack of clarity – pollen in clear honey
- floaters, (apart from dirt), such as wax specks, little bubbles
- smears on glass, tipped honey on otherwise clean lid
- unevenness in combs – colour mixtures, lumpy cappings, un-flatness, caps below woodwork, not all cells full.
- liquid honey under cut comb
- poor aroma, or the lack of any.
- boring or poor flavour, or the lack of it
- low viscosity (and artificially high viscosity)
Tips for showing honey and other bee products
Extracted honey is segregated into three distinct classes, Light, Medium, and Dark. These categories are determined by the use of official grading glasses, usually held by the Show Secretary. To obtain differing shades of honey it is necessary to go back to the time of extraction. If all honey is extracted at the same time and mixed, we end up with a lightish or mediumish honey depending upon the season. There is nothing wrong with this. It simply means that only one class can be entered. If however, we hold the combs up to the light, prior to extraction, it can be seen that some combs will contain light honey, whilst some will contain medium or dark. In order to keep these colours separate, the combs must be segregated and extracted separately.
Liquid honey should be presented to the judge in clean, polished jars of a design as layed down in the schedule. The lids should be clean and polished with no honey adhering to the underside, so care needs to be taken in transportation. The honey should be clear and bright, with no foreign specks, signs of granulation or surface air bubbles. The jars should be adequately filled, which means no daylight can be seen between the lower edge of the lid and the surface of the honey. This sometimes involves slightly over-filling the jar during bottling, in order to allow for skimming off the surface air bubbles prior to showing. Clarity and brightness can be achieved by warming the selected jars of honey the day before the show. The usual reason for clarity being impaired is the early stages of granulation and/or minute air bubbles in suspension. Warming will deal with both of these problems, but in the case of air bubbles it must be remembered that they will rise to the surface and require removal. Foreign specks should have been dealt with during the straining process, but if further straining is necessary, this should be done well in advance of the show to allow time for the honey to settle, and air bubbles to clear. The judge uses a torch held behind the jar, and shining through the honey, so nothing is missed. The aroma is also important to judging. On removing the lid from the jar, usually the first thing the judge does, is to raise the jar to his nose to test the aroma. It is therefore undesirable to remove the lid of an exhibit on the day of the show, as the build up of aroma within the jar will be lost.
There are things however which are outside of our control, such as flavour and density. These can be influenced only by selection, but at the end of the day, it falls to the individual taste of the judge. A rejection at one show, can often win a prize at another and vice versa. On arrival at the show venue, a final polish of the jars to remove finger marks, show labels attached as per schedule, entries placed in their appropriate position on the show bench, and then go home to make room on the sideboard for the imminent trophies!
All the foregoing recommendations regarding jars and lids apply equally to set honey. Set honey is usually covered by two classes, Naturally Granulated and Creamed or Soft Set. Naturally granulated is, as the term suggests, honey which has been allowed to granulate in the jar. The honey should be evenly granulated with no streaks or swirls, and a smooth granulation rather than course, is usually preferred. One of the inherent problems of allowing honey to granulate naturally in the jar is that as it sets, it sometimes contracts away from the sides of the jar, exposing a surface, which will appear white. This is called frosting, and usually appears as streaks down the sides of the jars. Whilst there is nothing physically wrong with this, it does detract from the overall appearance. A little of this frosting in show honey is permissible, but preference is given to those entries without it, so selection is important.
Creamed or Soft Set honey is that which has been through the creaming process. This process overcomes the frosting problem found in naturally granulated honey. Once again, honey which forms course granules is to be avoided, and the jars should be filled well in advance of the show, as the surface should be soft set, not fluid, and needless to say, there must be no foreign specks in evidence.
The object of Chunk Honey is to present a chunk of honeycomb within a jar of extracted honey, so the comb must be clearly visible. We should therefore use the largest piece of comb that will fit into the jar. It should be perfectly capped, with the cells clearly defined, and sitting on the base of the jar, not floating. Once again, care in transportation is essential. Light honey is to be preferred to medium or dark. The piece of comb should be placed in the jar upright and in the same position as it would have been in the frame, so when viewed from the side, the cells are sloping upward from the midrib. When adding the extracted honey, some particles of wax caused when the comb was cut, will float to the surface. These, together with any air bubbles, must be removed.
Square wooden sections are usually the most popular for showing. Apart from cleaning the wood, there is little we can do to improve sections; therefore selection plays an important role. The ones to select are those that have been fully drawn, filled and capped right to the edges. As with all forms of comb honey, the capping should be as white as possible, so selection of the source from which the honey is produced is important. The whitest cappings are usually produced by crops such as Apple Blossom, Field Beans, Clover, and best of all Heather (Ling). Crops to be avoided are Dandelions, because they produce brown cappings, and any source that has a tendency to granulate in the comb, such as Oilseed Rape. The sections must be clear of any granulated cells, or cells containing pollen, and once again, a torch will be used by the judge to determine this. The hexagonal shape of the cells should be clearly defined through the cappings. The appearance of the face of the comb is governed by the bees of course, and some strains of bee appear to be better at it than others. When storing honey in the comb, some colonies will fill each cell to capacity, so that when the cappings are applied, they are actually in contact with the honey beneath. This gives the cappings a dark, greasy appearance, and is not best for showing. Other colonies however, leave a slight space between the stored honey and the cappings, leaving the face of the comb dry and white.
The other thing to avoid on the surface of the comb is “travel staining”. This is a yellowish stain, which usually appears when the comb has been left in the hive for some period after capping. It is caused by the passage of thousands of tiny feet, and can be avoided by removing the comb as soon as capping has been completed. Much of the judge’s attention when judging wooden sections will be concentrated on the wooden frame, as this is an area where our care in preparation can be clearly defined. On removal from the hive, these wooden parts will be covered with propolis, and this must be cleaned off, by scraping with a razor blade or something similar. Care must be taken during this process to ensure that no sawdust finds it’s way onto our pristine comb. When the selection and cleaning is finished, and the sections are ready for the show bench, they are placed into clean Section Showcases, (the right way up), and show labels attached as per schedule, (usually the bottom right hand corner). At the time of judging, the judge will remove the section from it’s showcase, in order to carry out a thorough inspection, so another identical label is usually placed on the wooden frame of the section itself, to ensure that the correct section finds its way back into its correct showcase.
All the foregoing recommendations regarding comb, cappings, and honey also apply to Cut Comb. The comb and cappings should be as white as possible with no granulated cells, and no pollen in evidence. In most honey shows, two containers of cut comb are called for, and these should be matching. They should therefore be cut from the same comb, with the cells running in the same direction. The face of the comb should be level and evenly capped, and care must be taken that there is no damage by wax moths. The weight of the comb is governed by the density of the honey and the thickness of the comb, but most schedules allow for a modest variation. Clearly, if the schedule calls for approximately 225 g, there is little point in entering a 600 g container.
When cutting the comb, the cells severed by the process will obviously ooze honey. This should be allowed to drain off before placing the piece of comb into its container. The containers used are usually the standard 225 g white plastic Cut Comb Containers. The comb should fit the container fully and snugly, but allowing for easy removal by the judge, who will want to inspect the underside. (No room for anything sneaky there then). To ensure the correct size, a plastic template is useful, cut from a margarine container or something similar, and don’t forget to trim the corners.
The frame will be displayed in a Frame Showcase, from which it will be removed for inspection. As with the sections therefore, it is necessary to place show labels both on the showcase and the frame to ensure that they remain together. One of the common problems in showing frames for extraction is that there always appears to be one cell, on the periphery of the frame, which weeps liquid honey. This sometimes marks the face of the comb, and always ends up as a sticky puddle at the bottom of the showcase. If the face of the comb is not badly marked it is best left alone, or gently patted with a dampened soft cloth, but to keep the showcase clean, a piece of kitchen tissue placed on the bottom, under the frame, will collect any drips during transportation. This can then be removed just before staging.
Wax Blocks: Most schedules call for five or six of these, usually displayed on a plate or doily. The preparation is exactly the same as the blocks prepared for market (see “Preparing Wax for Market”), but a denser straining medium is usually preferred. Surgical lint is a popular medium for straining show wax. A piece is placed in the bottom of the strainer, fluffy side up, beneath the nylon tights stretched over the top. This allows a twin medium straining process, which results in ultra clean wax. The lint should be kept warm, along with the other utensils, to ensure smooth passage of the molten wax. More blocks should be cast than required to allow some selection when they emerge from the moulds. Some might be marred by a bubble, while the odd speck of dust might have found its way into the mould to spoil an otherwise perfect block. Also, if the schedule calls for 1oz blocks, then the weight should be as near that as possible.
Needless to say, the wax used for showing should be of the best quality possible, which is usually produced from cappings at the time of extraction. Points, which the judge will pay special attention to, are cleanliness, colour, and aroma. Presentation is also important of course. When the blocks emerge from the moulds they sometimes have a sharp uneven edge. Running a finger around the edge can smooth this out, and then, just before staging, a quick polish with a soft, white, lint free cloth will give them that final lustre.
Producing a cake of beeswax for show can be considered pure indulgence on the part of the beekeeper. It is not a form in which one would normally produce beeswax for sale, and could therefore be thought by some to be impractical. Yet to produce the perfect cake of beeswax for the show bench is without a doubt, one of the finer arts of beekeeping showmanship.
One of the first requirements, which is more difficult than one might immediately think, is to obtain a mould in which to cast the cake of wax. The finished cake must be smooth and glossy, and free from any marks, scratches or blemishes, so the perfection of the mould is extremely important. So many bowls or basins have a rim in the bottom, or a manufacturer’s mark, or do not have sufficient glaze to give the wax that glossy finish. Beekeepers have been known to spend hours wading through crockery departments looking for the perfect bowl or basin to use as a mould. I use a stainless steel surgical dish, as used in hospitals, which is acceptable, but I still investigate alternatives, when confronted with a range of further possibilities. As with other forms of wax presentation, it is necessary to go through the process of selecting the best raw wax, and rendering and straining, but in producing a cake of wax there are a couple of other difficulties to cause frustration. One is the difficulty sometimes experienced, of getting the wax out of the mould, and the other is the tendency for the wax to crack during the cooling process. But let’s go back to the beginning.
In selecting the raw wax, only the lightest and cleanest cappings wax should be used. After allowing the bees to clean up any vestiges of honey, by putting the cappings on a tray, over the crownboard, the resulting crumbs of wax can be washed to remove any final traces of honey or propolis. It is often these residues, which cause the problem of the cake of wax sticking in the mould. Rainwater is to be preferred for washing cappings, as there is less likely to be any hard mineral content to mar our wax. The cappings should then be patted dry with a clean tea cloth. The show schedule will usually call for a cake of wax of a specific weight, so it is at this point that the cappings should be weighed. It is very difficult to be precise, but the judge will usually allow some tolerance. Some wax will be lost during the straining process, so a little extra should be added to allow for this.
Rendering and straining takes place in the usual way, with the melting pan being placed within another pan containing water, which is placed over a heat source, and the temperature raised sufficiently to melt the wax, but the water should not be allowed to boil. Over-heated wax will become hard, darkened and brittle. As mentioned earlier, show wax is best strained through surgical lint. A square of lint is placed in the bottom of a kitchen strainer, fluffy side up, with some nylon tights stretched across the top of the strainer. The molten wax will then flow through the tights, through the lint, through the strainer and into the pouring receptacle, (in my case, a stainless steel gravy boat). In order for this process to operate smoothly, all the utensils should be hot, so while the wax is melting, everything, except the tights, should be placed in the oven. We can now turn our attention to the mould. If the wax is free from any residues of honey or propolis it should not stick in the mould, but as further security, the inside of the mould can be treated with a release agent. One of the best things for this is washing up liquid. Apply it sparingly all over the inside of the mould, and ensure that it dries without smears or bubbles.
Now we have to face the final challenge of ensuring that the wax does not crack or split during the cooling process. When this happens, it can usually be attributed to the wax cooling too rapidly. There are several ways of achieving a slow cooling process. The method I prefer is the water bath method. A large pan of water (a preserving pan is ideal) is brought to just below boiling point, and then removed from the heat. The mould is then floated in this. The volume of water should be such that the top of the mould is just below the rim of the pan. The strained molten wax can then be carefully poured into the mould. If this is done over the back of a hot spoon, as one might pour cream into coffee, this will avoid the possible formation of air bubbles. Once the pouring is complete, the pan should be covered, in order that the heat is retained, and cooling takes place as slowly as possible. If the lid of the pan is used, care must be taken to avoid condensation from dripping onto the wax, and marking it, so a couple of sheets of newspaper, kitchen tissue or other absorbent material should be placed beneath the lid.
Now LEAVE IT ALONE. Any interference can result in an undulating surface to your cake of wax; so do not be tempted to take a peek. Leave it well alone until the next day, when it will be firmly set and cold. The lid and the paper can then be removed, and the mould immersed so that it sinks to the bottom of the pan. If left for an hour, this will have the effect of floating the cake of wax free from the mould. If this does not work, then putting the mould into a freezer for an hour will usually make the wax contract away from the sides. Once the cake of wax has emerged, it is almost ready for the show bench. If it has a hard, sharp edge, running a finger around it can smooth it. The cake will be presented upside down, so what was the underside, can now receive a final polish with a soft, lint free cloth, and the cake placed into a wax showcase. A showcase is not essential, and will not form part of the judging process, but if you have taken the trouble to produce a perfect piece of beeswax, it seems a shame not to present it in the best possible way. Needless to say, if a showcase is used, it should be perfectly clean, with the glass clear and polished.
How-To videos from Virginia Webb
Winner of numerous awards at local, national and international level competitions, Virginia has produced several articles on Preparing Honey Show entries.
Preparing Honey Show Entries – Strained Honey
Preparing Honey Show Entries – Chunk Honey
Preparing Honey Show Entries – Beeswax Block
Preparing Honey Show Entries – Beeswax Candles
Judging Honey Shows