Malcolm’s Topical Tips – 2019 Oct 29

“The High Weald Beekeepers Association conquers the World” - by Malcolm Wilkie

Nothing wrong with a bit of hyperbole now and again. Our Honey Queen, Helen Hadley has won a first for her lovely medium honey in an open class of 67 competitors at the National Honey Show in London. This class (class 5) is open to beekeepers from around the world and if you look carefully at the photo of Helen the range of honeys can be seen behind her. Not only that but one of our beginners (Victoria Chesterfield) was awarded a third for her ‘lovely’ light honey in the same class.

Amazing that the HWBKA should be classed first and third in such a huge World class. We surpassed ourselves.

A person standing in front of a store

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Now our dominance is not yet complete. Several of us entered the Sussex classes (which for many years have not attracted many entries). The honey Queen won a first for her soft set, Lesley Francis a second for her soft set, Rob Gore a second for his light honey and a second for class 252, which is a novice class. I got a VHC for my medium honey, John Miller a third for his medium honey and Lesley a highly commended for her medium honey. Kirsty Cable a second for her dark honey.  I got Lesley to enter cut comb honey and I did so myself. I have never made cut comb before! She got a first prize and I got the second prize. Thank you, Helen, for all your advice and guidance. On top of that Lesley entered her naturally crystallised honey and that won another first prize.

The surprise is that as Lesley did so well in so many Sussex classes, she was awarded The Crawley Cup.

This cup is awarded to the person in Sussex with enough points to be placed second overall in all the Sussex classes. She strongly believes this is in no small part due to the fact that the High Weald did so well in the Sussex classes that the usual contenders (the same names appear on the cups year after year) were denied points thus enabling her to win this prestigious cup. Thank you, therefore, all of you who entered and won prizes.

So how was all this achieved? Runny honey should have no Incipient granulation (sugar crystals beginning to form). Heat the honey either in a warming cabinet, an oven or in a Bain Marie on the hob. Lesley left her honey overnight in the oven at 45 degrees (an accurate Miele oven), Helen used a Bain Marie. She brings the water with the honey jars in it up to the boil and switches the heat off. She repeats this until the honey clears. I have a warming cabinet. I mistakenly left Alan Rough’s honey in the cabinet for 3 days at 43 degrees and the judges’ comments were very complimentary! It certainly cleared the honey. One of Victoria’s jars showed IG and in desperation I shoved it in the oven for half an hour. Not so hot that I couldn’t lift if out the oven with my bare hands, but I would have been unable to hold it for long. Sorry but I don’t have an accurate oven. That did the trick, though I thought I might have sunk her chances as the jar had already been labelled and the label looked somewhat grubbier after it had been in my oven. Sorry Victoria (giving me your honey to prepare is a bit like Russian roulette; you never quite know what is going to happen). Still, Victoria, third in the world isn’t bad!

The cut comb was a fiasco. Last year on Helen’s advice I had purchased some Manley frames and this year I bought thin wireless foundation. At extraction time these went into the freezer to stop granulation happening. A week before the show these were defrosted, and I butchered the frames. I made a template and cut round this only to find that my wretched square of comb did not weigh enough (minimum 200g). Lesley was the beneficiary of my experience and when she prepared her own a plastic ruler was used and a more generous piece cut out. That could have ended in tears as having left the piece of comb to drain overnight, her mother pops round, enters the kitchen, sees the cut comb and promptly prods it! Ban family members where honey preparation is taking place! Fortunately, no damage done this time. As I assumed, I might be disqualified for underweight cut comb I drizzled a little honey into my box to achieve the requisite weight. That could have backfired, but it didn’t!

A big personal thank you to Helen for her advice (cut comb, soft set honey) and also to Maggie Pratt for her talk on preparing honey for show.

Now we have our own honey show on the 23rd of November. It is your bees and not you that are being judged. This is the comment that Jo Gore made to me about making soft set honey: ‘you know, Malcolm, I thought that if you were able to make soft set honey then I would have no trouble making some too’. She’s right, none of the above is very difficult.

So, if you have any honey, enter it. It has not been an easy year and you should be proud. All beginners should bring along their own honey in whatever sized jar they have. We all taste them all and vote for our favourite. It’s good fun.

Some links to Malcolm’s “Topical Tips” from previous years:

2018 Honey Show (includes some tips)

2017 Honey Show (includes a lot of preparation tips)

N.B. A word about heating honey

  • Enzymes
    Honey should not have been heated in such a way that the natural enzymes have been either destroyed or significantly inactivated (Enzymes start to break down at temperatures above 45°C).
    Heat to 50°C until liquid and clear (this can take from 1 to 3 days depending on the amount and type of honey)
  • Breakdown products
    The chemical composition of honey slowly changes over time. These changes are accelerated by heating.
    The most important breakdown product is hydroxymethylfurfural – HMF (formerly known as hydroxymethylfurfuraldehyde). Allowable limits in honey are 40 ppm (40 mg/kg).

Malcolm Wilkie 29th October 2019

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