“The National Honey Show 2022” aka “An eyelash, silk and freezer blocks” – by Malcolm Wilkie

Living with a perfectionist is not easy at times but when entering the National Honey Show it is a distinct advantage.

Over the past few years Lesley and I have entered our honey into the Sussex classes at the National Honey Show. Our attitudes to entering are a little different. I am just pleased if I have something acceptable to enter whereas she studiously reads up online exactly what she needs to do to satisfy the judge.

This difference was highlighted this year in the wax block we both made. I mistakenly thought the quantity of wax would impress the judges and made a 1 kilo block (only a 1lb block was required). I used some brood frame wax and passed it twice through some old t-shirts in order to clean it up. I thought the wax looked good but despite all my efforts to clean it up there was one of my eyelashes on the surface of the block and an evident black speck on the rim. Lesley polished it for me with some silk and I felt pleased. The wax Les chose to use was more yellow in colour and I cleaned it up for her : twice through an old t-shirt. She poured her block and it was evident it was not clean enough. So once again I melted her block and passed it through another piece of t-shirt. Is this really necessary, I thought?

On a trip to Eastbourne she purchased a metal pie dish and used this for her mould. The wax was cleaner this time but despite having used washing up liquid to grease the dish the surface was mottled and the wax did not come cleanly out of the mould. I was all for entering it anyway but Les is determined and does not give up. The next attempt was a Pyrex bowl. A bit better but the surface was a dull matt and the wax stuck to the mould. The fourth attempt was on the Tuesday night. And I was taking the exhibits up the following day! Before pouring the wax this time Les placed her Pyrex dish in hot water and then poured the wax. The next morning we placed the bowl in water, hoping the wax would float out. It didn’t! So Les gave it the ice treatment. Presumably this shrinks the wax away from the sides of the bowl. An hour later (Les was at work) I gave it an almighty thump to get it out. Nothing. Then another almighty thump. Still nothing. It came out on the fourth attempt. And the top was shiny and smooth except for a few imperfections. Hallelujah, I thought. I dried off the wax and gave it the silk treatment.

Rob Gore also enters and he and I were whatsapping each other about our relative progress on the wretched wax block. On Tuesday his was looking worse than ours ( that’s good I thought). He was evidently going right up to the wire as he was still cleaning up the wax in the small hours of Thursday morning. By then my entries had already been delivered to Sandown.

In the event he was unable to enter his block as it resolutely refused to come out of his mould in the early hours of Thursday morning. We had a good laugh about that. In fact he did take it up to the show on Thursday morning still in the mould in the forlorn hope that it might release on the way up. It didn’t!  During the heat of the day, however, it fell out of the mould in the car! But too late to enter the block! Rob, it’s all about the wax block!

There is a friendly rivalry between Rob, Les and myself. Rob got the top cup (the Lady Denman cup) last year as he gained the most points for his entries ( and he entered loads of classes including all the wax classes) so we weren’t going to get caught out this year. Both Les and I entered everything we could. I had even bought a display case so at least one of us could enter a whole super frame. I had stupidly extracted all my frames so I entered her Manley frame (believing however that it would not be judged as the rules stated it needs to be a wired frame). This was a last-minute decision as I had to collect the display case from the glaziers at 9am on Wednesday morning before setting off for Sandown. In the end Les got a second for her unwired Manly frame and 5 points, which was crucial.

If you have not made soft set honey before, it’s quite easy. We had kept some rape honey from the Spring with a fine granulation. We each chose the strongest tasting honeys we had and gently heated these in the warming cabinet to dissolve all sugar crystals. Then two days later gently heated the rape honey for a couple of hours and mixed the two together. The honey that you are going to make into soft set needs to be room temperature as it is important the rape is not dissolved as you mix the two. Too hot and the crystals you want will be dissolved, too cold and the two honeys won’t mix together very well and you may risk frosting as the honey granulates unevenly. You want the crystals of your entry to be the size of the rape crystals thereby guaranteeing a smooth texture on the tongue. The honey once combined went into plastic boxes with ice blocks as granulation takes place most rapidly at about 14 degrees. These were repeatedly renewed and it was touch and go whether the honey would set properly as October temperatures were way above the norm. The warming cabinet was used for this as it helps keep the honey cool once the cabinet is switched off.  In the event both honeys did set but Les’s was firmer and she got a second in the Sussex soft set class behind Rob. Rob had made his a few weeks previously so it was perfect and when he let us taste it after the show we could see why he had been given the first. It’s great when members of the same association go up as at the end you can taste each other’s award-winning honeys and compare notes.

Deborah Park joined us this year and entered loads. She discovered how precise you need to be in presenting the honey and had a good half hour discussion with Hazel Blackburn, one of the main judges at the show. You have to fulfill the criteria set otherwise the jar just won’t be opened! Rob, who got the top cup in Sussex last year for the most points in the Sussex classes had clocked up those points without winning a first in any class. He was able therefore to enter the Berry cup this year and robbed (no pun intended) Deborah of that particular glory. She came a well-deserved second.

In the end due to the wretched wax block Lesley got 29 points and Rob only 27 points. How different that could well have been. I myself had only a dismal twelve points well behind Phil Edwards. Becky Champion (some may have taken the basic with her),  however, deprived Phil of getting the third cup, the Lady Matthews cup. If he had just had a few more points for the honey he entered he would have pipped her at the post. She is a seasoned competitor who only entered four classes but got a first for each entry. She therefore achieved 24 points and the third cup. He did however get the PJ cup for his mead : he is an excellent mead maker.

What were the highlights for me? Jo Gore’s honey sponge was just amazing. This got a first in an open class which is no mean achievement. Rob entered a photo of a crowd of honeybees on a Passion flower. This also was an open class and he too got a first prize. It’s an amazing photo. And finally, I too managed a first in class 5 which is an open class. Achieving a first against 30 other entries is no mean feat. However, although the honey was lovely and gleamed, it did smell of old socks to my mind. There is no accounting for a judge’s taste! In her comments she even said the honey had a pleasant aroma - not sure about that!

Now we have our honey show on the 27th of November. Surely everybody you have got some honey this year? Enter it. In the end it’s not you being judged but your bees. I look forward to seeing you all and comparing notes. The different honeys that turn up from members of the High Weald never cease to amaze me. Come to the show and showcase the effort your bees have made for you this year. It’s the least you can do to show your appreciation to the bees for what they have done. Look forward to seeing as many of you there as possible.

Malcolm Wilkie – 6th November 2022

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