Preparing for the Honey Show

Preparing for the Honey Show

Preparing for the Honey Show

Hive Products For Show by Duncan Weaver

This article appears courtesy of the Beekeeping Editors Exchange Scheme (B.E.E.S.). First published in ‘Beekeeping’ (the magazine of Devon Beekeeper’s Association) September 2000.


Autumn is the traditional time for honey shows, so all the spare time released from beekeeping could well be utilised in the preparation of show exhibits. A few comments on this subject may encourage a few more beekeepers to enter at least their local show. Only very little effort is required over that which should be expended on preparing products for sale: just attend to a few fine (some will say finicky) details.

Comb for extraction

During extraction of the honey crop, watch out for that extra special comb. Beautifully drawn out with a flat surface on both sides, with all cells filled and capped except a few around the frame edges, with clean white cappings. Because show schedules usually specify “comb for extraction” it should be drawn out proud of the frame woodwork so that it can be uncapped with a single pass of the knife and it should be on wired foundation. The cells should be either all worker or all drone. There should be no pollen – to check this shine a torch through; honey is transparent, pollen is opaque.

When a frame is found approximating to this ideal it should be put in the freezer to prevent crystallisation and to kill off any braula or wax moth larvae which would spoil the cappings. To prevent physical damage to the comb while in the freezer, a simple wooden box can be made to hold one or two frames securely. A case will be required for showing the comb. This should be glazed on both sides and have a removable lid so the judge can remove the comb for examination. Suitable cases can be bought, or can be made by those with woodmaking skills. In addition to the items mentioned above, the judge will be looking for a clean frame, so scrape off all the accumulated propolis. He will also open one capped cell to sample the honey and check for granulation.

Extracted honey classes

Extracted honey can be presented as run, creamed or naturally granulated. For show purposes, run honey is divided by colour into light, medium and dark. It is important it is put into the correct class, so borrow some honey grading glasses. Put the honey against a white background in good daylight and compare with the glasses. One glass indicates the borderline between light and medium, the other between medium and dark.

Extracted honey should be filtered free from wax and bits of bee straight from the extractor and stored in buckets. Its subsequent behaviour decides for which of the types of honey it can be used. If it granulates quickly with a fine grain it can be used for run creamed or granulated. If granulation is slow, in which case it will be with a coarse gritty grain, then it is only suitable for run honey.

Run honey

Preparation of run honey for show starts in exactly the same way that honeys for sale is produced. Liquefy the set honey by heating the buckets in a warming cabinet at 130°F for about 24 hours. Stir occasionally to even out the temperature, speed up the process and avoid overheating in localised hot spots. Remember, honey is spoiled by heating, and should never be heated above 140°F or there is a risk of caramelisation of the protein it contains. When completely clear, filter through the finest available nylon filter (200-micron mesh). The honey is then suitable of bottling for sale.

However, it still contains pollen grains and minute particles of wax, which show up as bright specks when a torch is shone through. For show purposes these must be removed by further filtering. Kitchen paper is a suitable filtering material. Clean a jug – it must be spotless and hair free, so follow cleaning instructions for jars given below. Push the paper down into the mouth of the jug to form a conical filter and hold in place with an elastic band. Filtering takes forever at room temperature so do the filtering in the warming cabinet at 100 – 110°F. Only a few pounds are required for show so this is not too long a job.

If already bottled honey run honey is to be used, first heat it to 130°F for an hour or so to remove incipient granulation and then fine filter it. If jars from different batches are used, make sure the filtered honey is well mixed to give a uniform colour. When sufficient honey has been filtered it should be bottled immediately, warm, into warm jars. This helps the few bubbles that occur during pouring to rise quickly to the surface, where they can be popped with a needle. Small bubbles tend to cluster and refuse to pop and should be removed, with a little honey, with a spoon. Bubbles can be minimised by pouring down the side of the jar with a minimum of drop. Make sure that the jars contain no less than a full pound of honey: electronic scales allow the weight of the jar to be cancelled; with old fashioned balance type scales put an empty jar on with the one pound weight.

The judge will be looking for a clear bright honey with no sign of granulation or specks of dirt, dog hairs, bits of bee etc. There should be no scum or bubbles on the surface. He will check the water content (i.e. viscosity); so make sure you extract only sealed honey. Flavour and aroma are most important, but you have to rely on your bees to produce something the judge likes. The judge will also look at the jars and lids, so read the comments below on these, and he will check the weight.

Creamed honey

Creamed honey is a set honey, which has been subjected to physical treatment to break up its crystal structure so that it does not set rock hard, but has a consistency something like clotted cream. There is no special treatment for show: a batch of creamed honey is prepared and jars selected from it.

A bucket of fine-grained set honey is heated at about 120°F and checked regularly. When about a third has liquefied it is removed from the heat. The unmelted mass is broken up with a wooden spoon and the whole is then “creamed” with a creaming paddle. This is a circular metal disc with an array of holes. It is fixed to the end of a metal rod with a handle. It is plunged up and down vigorously in the partly liquefied honey for five minutes or so. The honey is forced through the holes and this breaks the grain structure. The paddle should be kept below the surface to minimise the formation of bubbles.

The creamed honey is then left for 24 hours for any bubbles to rise and is then bottled. At this stage it is liquid enough to pour from a tap, or alternatively it can be ladled in. After 24 hours or so remove bubbles that have risen to the surface; the surface will reform. Over the following few weeks the honey will stiffen up but never become hard.

The judge will be testing flavour and aroma obviously. However, the texture and consistency are important in this class. The honey should be stiff enough not to move when the jar is tilted, but be easily spoonable. There should be no grittiness on the tongue. No bubbles or scum should be on the surface, and of course, no visible specks of dust etc. All set honeys are prone to fermentation and there clearly should be no hint of this.

Naturally granulated honey

Naturally granulated honey has been bottled immediately after extraction and allowed to set in the jar. It has therefore to be known from previous years that it is likely to set with a fine grain. Nothing is certain because forage can change from year to year. Given that fine grain is likely, filter the honey from the extractor. Do not “super filter” it – the pollen grains are needed to initiate the granulation process. Bottle straight away and remove bubbles after 24 hours. Again there is no special treatment for show, just selection from a batch. A problem with granulated honey is the phenomenon of “frosting”. When it sets, honey shrinks. This can cause a very thin film of air to form between the walls of the jar and the honey. The film reflects light and so shiny patches appear round the jar. This has absolutely no harmful effect on the honey but just looks unpleasant.

Fermentation is even more of a problem with this type of honey than with creamed and should be guarded against. It shows up by smell and also streaks of bubbles up the side of the jar, and a bubbly surface to the honey. The judge will be checking the same things as with creamed honey, except that the consistency will be hard.Previously set honey (i.e. in buckets) cannot be used for naturally granulated because the process of re-liquefying alters the granular structure so that it never sets to the hard state – it becomes “soft set”.

Cut comb, chunk honey and sections

The production of cut comb (and hence of chunk honey which contains cut comb) and sections require forward planning and appropriate management during the summer. It is too late for this year. Give thought to try to produce it next season.

Jars and lids

It goes without saying that jars and lids should be spotlessly clean. Wash jars in hot water and detergent, rinse well and dry upside down in a warm oven. Never dry the inside with a cloth; strands of cloth will certainly be left behind to show up later in the honey. Lids should be washed and dried. There should be no scratches, chips, and dents or other blemishes on either lid or jar.

Most show schedules require two matched jars of honey. The honey must be the same in both, but it is also important that the jars match. Jars have manufacturers ‘logos and numbers on the bottom: make sure they are the same. Lids should be of the same design. Some have cardboard wads, others have flowed-in plastic seals. There are those with perfectly flat tops, others with a raised lip around the circumference. During transport to the show, lids on run honey in particular often become splashed with honey on the inside. It is a good idea to take along spare lids and replace any which are sticky. These details may seem over-fussy, but when two exhibits have honey of equal quality, it is these details of presentation, which will decide the final order.

Wax for show

The wax classes at shows usually include: a number of matching 1oz blocks; a single larger block, 8oz or 1lb; and candles. Wax blocks and candles for sale can be made from wax stained with propolis and pollen as obtained from old combs in a solar wax extractor. This is not good enough for show. Wax for show should be new and clean. Only use wax from cappings obtained during extraction.

Drain the honey from the cappings by straining through muslin and dunk them in water in a bucket. Let them soak, drain off and repeat a couple of times. Mead enthusiasts will use the washings for mead production. It is important to melt down the cappings as soon as possible. If they are kept for any length of time, even after washing, they will develop a black mould. This is impossible to get rid of, and will give wax obtained from the cappings a dirty grey tinge. However once the cappings have been melted into a block, the mould will not occur and the wax can be kept until required.

An old enamelled saucepan is ideal to melt cappings. Fill it about 1/3 full with soft water, and heat to about 175°F (never more than 195°F or the wax will be spoilt). Heating should be done on an electric ring, never over a naked flame. Wax vapour is very inflammable – that is why candles burn. Add the cappings and stir with a stick until they melt. Add more cappings until the pan is full. Have on one side some clean aluminium food trays. Put about ½” of hot (160 – 170°F), soft water in them. Pour in the molten wax and water mixture and allow to set. When cool remove the wax blocks. On the underside will be a layer of impurities, which should be scraped off. Keep the blocks in plastic bags until needed.

© D.Weaver & North Staffordshire Beekeepers Association.