High Weald beekeeping Association has achieved new dizzying heights at this year’s National Honey Show

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Bill Turnbull presents Lesley the Berry cup

Our own Lesley Francis has been awarded the Berry cup for two identical jars of her wonderful honey. This cup is awarded to a new Sussex beekeeper who has never won a first prize at the National honey show (novice class 252).

Several of our members entered Honey this year and we picked up several awards. In the Sussex gift class (248) Helen Hadley was awarded a second prize, Lesley a third prize and I was awarded a highly commended for our honeys. I was awarded a second for my soft set honey (class 245) although the credit for this should really go to Helen as she was the one who made it for me on the beginners’ extraction day. John Miller and Jo and Rob Gore (who were on the beginners course this year) entered class 5 as did Lesley, myself and Helen. This class is for two jars of liquid honey. Judges comments are given in this class only. There were over 60 entries and John was awarded fourth prize for his excellent presentation and lovely honey tasting of summer flowers. The judge said of his honey that it gleamed.

Is this not amazing for a beginner in our association? Of course now I am going to tell you how that was achieved. If you have read my article last year you will realise the shenanigans that goes in to present the honey as the judges require. And of course as John is a beginner I prepared his honey for show. His light honey was completely granulated (funny how some honeys granulate after only a month whereas others, like the Gores’s or Lesley’s, never seem to want to granulate) so I put it in my warming cabinet for four days. This did not have the desired effect (it had begun to melt but was streaky with granulation) and so on Tuesday night (the show was on Thursday) I decided radical measures were required. Wednesday was a committee meeting so Tuesday was my window. So the choice was microwave or oven. I opted for the oven and at 7pm put my gas oven on its lowest setting. My own honey was in the oven as was the Gores’s, as having done the torch test there was ‘incipient granulation’ and as we all know the judges consider this to be a disease!

At 8pm I had a look. IG was still present. At 9pm I had a look and IG was still present. The Gores’s honey looked clear as did my own but John’s was still cloudy. I removed all honeys except John’s from the oven.  I now ramped up the oven and looked at the 10 O’Clock news. At 10:30 PM I opened the oven for the third time and miraculously John’s granulated honey had decided to clear! It was really warm but I could remove it from the oven without any oven gloves. As I had done for all the other honeys I took the lid off. There was stickiness around the outside rim and around the inside rim as well. So I carefully took a clean J cloth and wetted it and then removed the honey as best I could. There were one or two tiny flecks of dirt in his honey so I got a sharp knife and carefully removed them. I then spooned our some honey as the jars were overfull. For the National honey show a jar needs to be full enough so that you can see no gap between the honey and the lid. It mustn’t  contain too much either because if the honey touches the metal lid it can taint the honey and give it a nasty flavour. If there is an air gap honey will often not be judged because they do not think you have put the right weight of honey into the jar. I then took a spoon and carefully cleared away all the cream and the bubbles that were on top of his honey. I placed a new lid onto the honey and went to bed.

The rest is history as he won his award. Both he and the Gores and Lesley got good comments although I was told my own needed to be presented better! Evidently I had not taken as much care over my own as I had with the everyone else’s honey.

Here is Lesley’s advice to you all.

When doing your extraction, make sure everything is as clean as it possibly can be. Judges tend not to like legs, thoraxes, heads, or other bits of bees! Extraneous material doesn’t improve your chance of winning.
Run your jars through the dishwasher before filling. Clean your hands before touching your jars.
If you have no warming cabinet, improvise!
A good, accurate, fan assisted oven works wonders!
Don’t let Malcolm’s grubby fingers wander over the jars!
Remove the cream and bubbles from the top of the honey.
Choose one of your most recent extractions as you want the aroma to be good.

Now we have our own honey show this coming Saturday afternoon. Many beekeepers have got honey this year. When you first start beekeeping it can be hard to actually get honey and if you are a recent beekeeper you should be proud if you managed your bees well enough to get honey. So bring it along. If you have never won a first prize then you can enter the novice class. We don’t ask for it to be presented in a pound jar. Even if you are a new beekeeper you can enter the other two classes if you have the honey (ed: If someone has entered the Novice class then they cannot enter any other honey class. They can enter the other 3 and then not the novice.) I have been asked to judge one of the categories (not the novice class as that is judged by everyone present tasting the honeys and then voting for their favourite one). I do not require your honey to be pristine and gleaming. Flavour is what matters and only your own bees have control over that. In a way it is not you that are being judged but your bees. I like dark, medium and light honeys so everyone stands a chance.

There is one proviso though. If there is extraneous material in the honey (and I know some might argue it is extra protein) I shall take a dim view. Last year there was one honey that I liked, and would have awarded a prize to, but the extraneous material present counted against it.  At least take off the lid and look at what is on the surface of your honey before bringing it to the show. The careful use of a tea spoon or knife can do wonders. That is as it should be because if you ever sell your honey to the public bad presentation like that will put them off buying your honey in the future.

There are classes for candles and Johannes no longer is with us so anyone with candles stands a good chance. The cut comb class is for the experts. If you are entering that class you have really arrived as a beekeeper.

I look forward to seeing as many of you as can possibly make it. Most of the afternoon is given over to tea and cake and a good social.

Sam and Amanda would like the form filled in with your entry to speed up the afternoon. However honey or products will be accepted on the day. You may just get a black look! But don’t tell them I told you!

Malcolm Wilkie - October 2018

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N.B. Spoilage of honey can be through overheating. Prolonged exposure to heat causes enzymes to reduce and HMF to increase, affecting colour (darkens), aroma and flavour (too much heat toffee flavour). A storage temperature of 21-27°C will prevent granulation and deterioration but destroy enzymes and raise HMF levels. 60°C for 45 minutes can be used to retard crystallisation but 60°C for two hours causes noticeable degradation.

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