Topical Tips – “The National Honey Show” – by Malcolm Wilkie

High Weald beekeepers make a clean sweep in all Sussex classes at the National Honey Show and win all 5 trophies

This is an outstanding achievement for the High Weald. Only a few years ago it seemed nigh on impossible that I would even be able to present my honey well enough for it to be judged.

However, Helen Hadley and I persevered and after a couple of years of attending the National Honey Show, we worked out what was required. That is to say, no black specs in your honey, a jar filled up so no air gap can be seen between the lid and the rim of the jar and a clean top. Incipient granulation is the top sin if you are presenting a runny honey and if you enter the soft set category, the honey does actually need to be set.

All quite obvious really and not so very difficult to achieve if you are a beekeeper who gets a good quantity of honey and can choose from different batches. One of the most straight forward categories is honey that is naturally crystallised. Even a little bit of frosting does not seem to count against you. It’s simply what your bees collected at a particular point in time and that is encapsulated in your jar. The texture can even be crunchy but if the judge likes what he is tasting, you are on to a winner. Surprisingly even the top does not have to be perfect!

One of the most interesting points that came out of this year’s show was what a poor season it had been. A lot of honeys had a high moisture content and where judges did make comments these honeys were said to be ‘thin, typical of a poor season’. Some judges even used a refractometer, and the moisture content was recorded in the comments section. I have never seen this done before.

Dave Rudland of East Surrey Bees told me that this year he had extracted capped honey and its moisture content was 22%. Usually, capped honey is a guarantee that the moisture content will be below 18%. So, this year the yeasts in a lot of honeys will probably turn them alcoholic after 2-3months.

However, despite the difficult season several of us did enter what we could. There is a certain palaver in showcasing your honey (refer to my previous articles) but a group of us did put ourselves through the process.

For me personally it did turn into somewhat of a saga as when I was taking up my honey and Lesley’s honey to Sandown Park on the Wednesday part of my exhaust fell off. The boxes of honey were in the boot and, as the AA man jacked up the car on one side to do his repair, I had visions of all our ‘runny’ entries being spoiled as the honey touched the lids of the jars! In the end, no damage done fortunately.

COVID of course had had an effect and there were fewer entries. Judges, however, don’t award a prize if the honey does not meet their requirements. In the soft set section of the Sussex classes for example I was awarded a second, but no first prize was awarded. Cups are awarded based on the number of points you have obtained so entering more Sussex classes definitely gives you an edge. Lesley entered more honey and pipped me to the post. Rob entered both honey and wax and deservedly clocked up the most points, just gaining one more point than Lesley herself. Although I had put down on my form that I was entering wax blocks, I just ran out of time and didn’t make them. No use crying over spilt milk, but those wax blocks might have made the difference … The three of us all had a good laugh about it.

Phil Edwards definitely had the right competitive spirit and seemed to be entering loads of classes including the Sussex classes. He deservedly won the Berry cup for the best novice in Sussex and he also won the PJ cup for his mead. Phil only learnt to keep bees three years ago so a great achievement. Sandy Infield, a beginner last year, won a first prize for her medium honey beating me, Rob, Lesley and Phil. Her apiary site is on the edge of the Ashdown Forest so her honey will be similar to Helen Searle’s who often wins with her honey at our shows. It’s the addition of heather that gives it such a characteristic taste.

Now our own honey show is coming up on Sunday 28th of November. It has been a poor year for a lot of people so if you have any honey at all it is worth entering it. Check you have a clean top. Apart from the judge I don’t think anyone will be tasting honey due to COVID. Wax products and even bee equipment can be entered. Check the schedule.

You will also find out about the queen rearing that is going to be taking place next year. It would be helpful to see you if you want to be involved or even if you think you might need a mated queen if your swarm control goes awry.  As training officer for the association, I want every member to learn about getting spare queens as once you have worked it out your beekeeping improves by leaps and bounds.

We are also exploring how the association apiaries can be used more by members. Helping out at the club apiaries is also a way individuals can progress their beekeeping- so easy to plateau after one or two years and this may be a way forward for some.

So, there is a lot that will be discussed, come and join in and enter your honey. Finally, I need to say one’s own honey is the best, whatever an individual judge may tell you - just remember that and bring it along.

Silverware!

Rob Gore with the Lady Denman Cup, Lesley Francis with the Crawley Cup, Malcolm Wilkie with the Mrs Matthews Cup.
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Phil Edwards receiving the Berry Cup (he also won the PJ Cup for mead)
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A Close Shave for runny honey
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Rob's super frame of honey
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Rob's Wax Blocks
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Phil's block of beeswax
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Jo Gore's honey biscuits
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Sandy Infield's win
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Some of the Winners!
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Malcolm Wilkie – 29th October 2021

Look at these previous articles to get some insight on how to present your honey and other products:

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