Tag Archives: honey

2015 in retrospect

The winter solstice seems like a good time to look back over the 2015 beekeeping year. With the day length about to start increasing, what went right and what went wrong? Back in March I wrote that my plans for the year were different from the usual OSR – swarming – queen rearing – summer flow – harvest – Varroa treatment – feed-’em-up and forget ’em routine as I was moving to Scotland in the middle of the season. Some of these things happened, though perhaps less than in a usual year.

Mid-season memories

Mid-season memories …

Spring – better late than never

Cloak board ...

Cloake board …

The OSR yielded poorly as the spring was cold and late. I didn’t even look inside a colony until mid-April. Colonies were only getting strong as the OSR flowers went over meaning that most of it was missed. The weather was unseasonably cold, with mid-May being 2-3ºC cooler than average. Queen rearing started in the third week of May and although grafting went well, queen mating was really hit and miss, with low temperatures and lots of rain lasting through May and June. On a more positive note, I used a Cloake board for the first time and was pleased with the results (I’ll write about this sometime in 2016 after using it a bit more). I didn’t use any mini-nucs this year as I didn’t want the hassle of dealing with them mid-season when moving North. Instead, I did all of my queen mating in 2-5 frame nucs, often produced as circle splits from the cell-raising colonies. This worked well … and considering the lousy weather was probably a lot less effort than using mini-nucs which would have required constant attention and lots of feeding. Using poly-nucs I could prime them with a frame of brood and a frame of stores and adhering bees, dummy them down and leave 3 frames of foundation (or wherever possible, drawn comb) ready to be used on the other side of the dummy board. Once the queen was mated the colony would build up well and if – as often happened this season – the queen failed to get mated or was lost (drowned?) during mating flights it was easy to unite the queenless unit with a queenright one, so not wasting any resources.

Go forth and multiply

Split board

Split board …

Beginners often find the coordination of colonies for queen rearing, and the apparent difficulty of grafting (it isn’t), a daunting prospect. When I’ve been involved in teaching queen rearing it’s clear that the relatively small scale approach I use (queenright cell raiser, grafting and – usually – mini-nucs) is often still too involved for the very small numbers of queens most beekeepers with just a couple of hives want. It was therefore interesting to raise a few queens using vertical splits, simply by dividing a strong colony vertically and letting the bees do all the work of selecting the best larvae, raising the queen and getting her mated. It has the advantage of needing almost no additional equipment and only requires a single manipulation of the hive (and even that can probably be simplified). Having documented the process this season I’ve got a few additional things I’d like to try in 2016 to make it even easier and to allow better stock selection. After that it will be incorporated into queen rearing talks and training.

Changes in Varroa treatment

The big change in Varroa treatment in the UK was the licensing of Api-Bioxal. Whether or not you consider the 50-fold or more cost of VMD-approved oxalic acid (OA) over the generic powder is justified is really a separate issue. Oxalic acid is an effective miticide and, if administered appropriately, is very well tolerated by the colony. Despite the eyewatering markup, Api-Bioxal is significantly less expensive than all other approved miticides. For the small scale beekeeper it’s probably only 20% the cost of the – often ineffective – Apistan, or either Apiguard or MAQS. Under certain circumstances – resistant mites, low temperatures or the potential for queen loss – there are compelling reasons why OA is preferable to these treatments. If we hadn’t been using OA for years the online forums would be full of beekeepers praising the aggressive pricing strategy of Chemicals Liaf s.p.a in undercutting the competition. Of course, if we hadn’t been using generic OA for years Api-Bioxal would probably be priced similarly to Apiguard 🙁

Sublimox in use

Sublimox in use …

I’ve used OA sublimation throughout 2015 and been extremely impressed with how effective it has been. Mite drops in colonies treated early in the season remained low, but increased significantly in adjacent colonies that were not treated. I treated all swarms caught or attracted to bait hives. Some were casts and there were no problems with the queen getting out and mated (though the numbers of these were small, so statistically irrelevant). Late season treatment of colonies with brood also seems to have worked well. Mite drops were low to non-existent in most colonies being monitored through late autumn. Colonies get mildly agitated during treatment with a few bees flying about under the perspex crownboard (you can see a couple in the image above … this was a busy colony) and a few more rapidly exiting the hive after the entrance block is removed. But that’s it. The colony settles within a very short time. I’ve seen no loss of brood, no obvious interruption of laying by the queen and no long-term detrimental effects. Sublimation or vaporisation of OA can – with the correct equipment – be achieved without opening the hive. I expect to use this approach almost exclusively in the future.

Moving bees

Moving colonies from the Midlands to Fife was very straightforward. Insect netting was an inexpensive alternative to building large numbers of travel screens. It’s the same stuff as Thorne’s sell for harvesting propolis so I’ve got enough now to go into large scale propolis production 😉 The colonies all settled in their temporary apiaries well and I even managed a few supers of honey during the latter part of the season.

Small hive beetle reappeared in Southern Italy shortly after the honey harvest was completed there. Che sorpresa. This was disappointing but not unexpected (and actually predicted by some epidemiologists). As I write these notes the beetle had been found in 29 Calabrian apiaries between mid-september and early December. It’s notable that there’s now a defeatist attitude by some contributors to the online forums (when not if the beetle arrives here) and – since not everyone are what they seem on the interweb – there are some playing down the likely impact of the beetles’ arrival (and hence the demand to ban imports) because they have a vested interest in selling early season queens or nucs, either shipped in or headed by imported queens. I don’t think there’s any sensible disagreement that we would be better off – from a beekeeping perspective – without the beetle, it’s just that banning imports of bees to the UK (admittedly only a partial solution) is likely to cause problems for many beekeepers, not just those with direct commercial interests. I remain convinced that, with suitable training and a little effort, UK beekeeping could be far less dependent on imports … and so less at risk from the pathogens, like small hive beetle. Or of course a host of un-tested for viruses, that are imported with them.

And on a brighter note …

Bee shed ...

Bee shed …

The new development in the latter part of the year was the setting up of a bee shed to house a few colonies for research. This is now more or less completed and the bees installed. It will be interesting to see how the colonies come through the winter and build up in spring. The apiary has colonies headed by sister queens both in and outside the bee shed so I’ll be able to make some very unscientific comparisons of performance. The only problem I’ve so far encountered with the shed was during the winter mite treatment by oxalic acid vaporisation. In the open apiary the small amount of vapour that escapes the sealed hive drifts away on the breeze. In the shed it builds up into a dense acidic hazy smoke that forced me to make a rapid exit. I was wearing all-encompassing goggles and a safety mask so suffered no ill effects but I’ll need an alternative strategy for the future.

Due to work commitments, house, office and lab moves, things were a lot quieter on the DIY front this year. The Correx roofs have been excellent – the oldest were built over a year ago and are looking as good (or as bad, depending on your viewpoint) as they did then. They’ve doubled up as trays to carry dripping supers back from the apiary and I’ll be making more to cover stacks of stored equipment in the future. Correx offcuts were pressed into service as floors on bait hives, all of which were successful.

With well-fed colonies, low mite counts, secure apiaries and lots of plans for 2016 it’s time to make another batch of honey fudge, to nervously (it’s got hints of an industrial cleaning solution) try a glass of mead and to finish labelling jarred honey for friends and family.

Happy Christmas

Lomond Hills and OSR

Lomond Hills and OSR

Making soft set honey

Soft set honey was often called creamed honey before that description was effectively outlawed – at least for labelling purposes – under the trade descriptions act because it ‘contains no cream‘. It’s the stuff that’s spoonable and spreadable, it feels like velvet on the tongue because the crystals are so fine (hence creamy) and it remains looking good for a long time. The long shelf life more than compensates for the (relatively small) effort required to produce it … you don’t have to sell it or give it away quickly before granulation takes over and the appearance is spoiled. Winter is a good time to prepare soft set honey as it requires low temperatures.

Granulation

Granulated honey label

Granulated honey label

All honey granulates. At least, all honey that hasn’t been subjected to the sorts of heating and filtration used by commercial packers to produce a uniform and sometime bland product with a very long shelf life. The rate at which honey granulates is related to its composition. Honey with a relatively high glucose to fructose ratio – such as oil seed rape – granulates faster. Granulation is also influenced by temperature and particulates (e.g. pollen) that acts as a ‘seed’ for granulation. My honey carries a label indicating that granulation is a completely natural process and is a sign of high quality honey.

Soft set honey

Soft set honey is honey in which the granulation has been controlled. A small amount (~10%) of honey with a soft, fine grain, is used as a ‘seed’ for liquid honey. As the latter granulates it takes on the consistency of the seed honey. The principle is straightforward and an industrial process was patented by Elton Dyce in the 1930’s. However, this requires rapid heating and cooling of bulk honey, something most beekeepers are unable to achieve. There are some good descriptions online about making soft set honey, including a useful video by ‘BeekeeperDevon’ on YouTube. There are also a lot of conflicting methods published and some that are, frankly, either nonsense or wrong.

This is how I do it … followed by some details on a few of the critical bits.

  1. Extracted honey should be left to completely crystallise in honey buckets. This might take several weeks. The honey, particularly if it’s OSR, is likely to be spoonbendingly hard. In the following description I’m assuming the honey has only been (at least) coarse filtered on extraction, so will almost inevitably still contain bits of wax and the odd leg or antenna.
  2. Melt a full bucket of crystallised honey completely. For a 30lb bucket I find this takes about 24-36 hours at 50ºC in my honey warming cabinet. Stir it once or twice during this period if you get the chance – this speeds up the process. Honey should not be kept at elevated temperatures for extended periods to avoid the build up of HMF.
  3. Filter the honey into a clean food-grade bucket. I use the double stainless strainer and nylon straining cloth from Thorne’s.
  4. Cool the filtered honey to 35ºC in the honey warming cabinet. At the same time, warm the seed stock (see comments below) to 35ºC in bucket with a tap. By keeping the temperature below about 40ºC the all-important fine crystal structure of the seed stock will not be destroyed.
  5. Add the filtered bulk honey to the seed stock. Mix gently but very thoroughly. The intention is to completely disperse the fine seed stock crystals throughout the mixed honey. You can use a stainless steel corkscrew and drill, or a honey creamer. Of the two I prefer the latter. Try and avoid incorporating air during the mixing (hence ‘gently’) to avoid frosting in the final product.
  6. Cool the honey to less than 14ºC, mixing every 12 hours or so. It’s easy to achieve this temperature in winter in an unheated outhouse, pantry or conservatory. In the summer you can do this by adding a succession of freezer blocks to the warming cabinet (but it’s hard work). The honey will get increasingly hard to mix and will – within a week or less (and possibly within a couple of days) – set. This is soft set honey.
  7. Re-warm the bucket of honey to 35ºC and bottle it. See comments below.

The seed stock

You need about 10% by weight of a suitable seed stock to make soft set honey. You can use more or less, it’s not critical. Much less than 5% and it won’t be enough to ensure even crystallisation, or will take a very long time to finally crystallise. More than 10% is unnecessary and you’d be better saving it for another batch of soft set honey. If you’ve not got a seed stock of a suitable consistency (by which I mean of the consistency you want your final soft set honey to have) you can make, borrow or buy some.

Pestle and mortar

Pestle and mortar …

To make your seed stock grind hard set crystallised honey using a pestle and mortar until it has a wonderful, even consistency. It will start as hard unyielding lumps and end up with the consistency of thick toothpaste. This is hard work but you might only need to do it once, so do it well. You can borrow your seed stock from a neighbouring beekeeper who has something suitable, returning the same amount after you’ve prepared your own soft set honey. Finally, you could even buy your seed stock from a supermarket. If you insist on buying the starter, at least steer clear of the “mix of EU and non-EU” honeys (why don’t they just state “sourced from goodness knows where”?)  which could have just about anything in them. You are aiming to produce a top quality product. The type of honey you use as your seed stock is immaterial; it will only comprise a small amount of the final product, the consistency is what matters.

Bottling soft set honey

At 35ºC the prepared soft set honey will barely flow through the honey tap. However, with a little effort, and a long handled spoon to gently stir it, the thixotropic honey can usually be made to flow sufficiently to get it into jars. Again, to avoid frosting try not to mix air into the honey; hold the jar just under the honey tap with the bucket slightly inclined.

Miscellaneous notes

Spatula spoon

Spatula spoon

Keep about 3lb of your first batch of soft set honey – I use these useful sealable plastic containers – to use as the seed for your next bucket. This might be the following week or the following year – I’ve just used up the last of my 2014-prepared seed stock. If you’re preparing batch after batch of soft set honey on a weekly basis you can simply leave the seed stock in the bottom of the bucket with a tap. I’ve found silicone spatula spoons really useful for mixing honey, for getting the last few ounces out of the honey bucket and for quickly removing all the honey from the last three 1lb jars after you realise you’ve just bottled the seed stock for the next batch 😉

 

Future promise

Winter-sown OSR

Winter-sown OSR …

With the days getting shorter, the weather worsening and the bees hunkering down until the spring there’s little to do in the apiary. The warm weather, weekly inspections, swarm collection and queen rearing are months away … and it feels like it 🙁  However, things are already happening in the fields that hint at the season to come. The winter-sown oil seed rape (OSR) has been through for at least a month and is now 4-6″ tall. There’s a field just outside the village with acres of the stuff and it will be good to watch it develop into a sea of yellow next spring.

I have a few colonies well within range of this field, as do at least a couple of other beekeepers. Using a Google Maps Area Tool I measured the field at about 17 hectares. Although primarily self-pollinated there’s evidence that the yield and quality (i.e. the percentage that germinates) of OSR seed or its oil content, are all increased if honeybees are present at a density of about 2 colonies per hectare. So, ample to go round for the colonies I’m aware of in the immediate vicinity. Furthermore, if colonies are located close to the OSR field boundaries, honeybees forage for a considerable distance across the field – certainly hundreds of metres. This is in contrast to wild pollinators – like solitary bees and bumble bees – which tend to decline in density away from the field margins (see also this recent paper which reports the same thing; PDF). Whilst this is a compelling argument for wide, species-rich field margins and smaller fields, the reality of modern farming is unfortunately very different. However, the benefits of honeybees (and for honeybees) mean that it might be worth having a chat with the farmer and moving a few colonies onto the field.

OSR honey isn’t to everyones taste and it certainly involves more work for the beekeeper. It must be extracted soon after the supers are collected or it crystallises in the comb. In addition, unless it’s converted into soft-set or ‘creamed’ honey it will inevitably set rock-hard in the jar, resulting in many bent teaspoons. On a more positive note, the availability of large amounts of pollen and nectar relatively early in the season helps colonies build up strongly. With good weather it’s an ideal time to replace comb, getting the bees to use the OSR nectar to build brand new comb – perhaps on foundationless frames – free of diseases for the season ahead. A great way to start the year.

And finally, a reminder of what’s to come …

Early May 2015 OSR ...

Early May 2015 OSR …

Easy honey marmalade

Remelt or reuse

Remelt or reuse …

Clear honey usually recrystallises during storage if it’s not sold, given away or scoffed in time. Although you can remelt it again you can easily convert this – perfectly delicious but a bit unsightly – honey into honey marmalade. Rather than peel loads of oranges or lemons you can use the ready-prepared washed, peeled, sliced and diced stuff available from Lakeland. I doubt anyone trying it would be able to tell the difference (and, if it was a gift, they should be too grateful and polite to mention it even if they could) and it takes a fraction of the time to make.

The instructions* are on the side of the prepared tinned oranges or lemons. The water content of honey is about 20% (not a good enough answer for the BBKA module examinations, but good enough for our purposes). Therefore 5 lb of honey is effectively 4 lb of sugar plus 1 lb of water. The Lakeland HomeCook prepared fruit specifies adding 4 lb of sugar plus 425 ml (3/4 pint) of water … that means you can simply replace the entire sugar and water content of the recipe with 5 lb of honey. What could be easier? Any sort of honey will do, but something with a distinctive flavour is better than a bland OSR mix from early in the season. Heather honey makes very fine marmalade if you’ve got any spare though it’s a bit too overpowering for my taste. I’ve used both the orange and the lemon prepared fruit, both are delicious.

Ingredients

Ingredients …

Honey marmalade keeps well, so it can be prepared now for Christmas gifts. The addition of a splash (or two) of good whisky – or, for Irish readers, whiskey – makes it particularly good. This should be added right at the end. Take the pan off the hob, allow to cool for about 10 minutes, stir in about 50 ml of your chosen tipple and then dispense into pre-warmed jars. To avoid the fruit settling unevenly, give each jar a gentle stir with a teaspoon 15-20 minutes later. A single tin of prepared fruit together with 5 lb of honey and a splash of whisky makes six full 1 lb jars plus enough left over to have on your toast for a week 😉

Bon appetit


* almost every batch I have prepared has needed a few minutes over the 15 minutes recommended for the ‘rolling boil’ to ensure it sets properly. Ensure that it readily forms a skin when you put a teaspoon onto a chilled plate before bottling the marmalade.

I love the smell of propolis in the morning

[to paraphrase Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore] … actually, I love the smell of propolis more or less anytime. During the quiet winter period the warm, spicy scent of propolis is a lovely reminder of hive inspections during warmer times. It’s one of the characateristic smells I associate with beekeeping, along with the lemony scent of the alarm pheremone – something best avoided – and the pretty rank smell of brood frames sterilised in the steam wax extractor (definitely best avoided).

Clearer boards

Clearer boards …

A couple of night ago I extracted the summer honey collected by the bees since moving to Scotland. There were only a small number of supers to extract; many of the colonies I brought North were nucs and have only recently moved up into full boxes, coupled with it being a rather poor summer. I’d added clearer boards under the supers the day before removing them then stacked the supers on top of my honey warming cabinet for a couple of days until I had time to do the extracting. By keeping the supers warm – the temperature in the headspace above the top super in the stack was only about 30ºC – the honey is much easier to extract than when cold and viscous.

The other effect of warming the supers is that the propolis softens and then sticks to just about everything it comes into contact with. The frames in these supers hadn’t been moved for 6-7 weeks and were heavily propilised to the runners and each other. Inevitably, prising the frames out and manhandling them in and out of the extractor meant my hands got covered with propolis. Like cooking with onions, the smell of propolis lingers well into the following day, irrespective of how well you wash your hands.

It’s been a rather poor second half of the season and many of the frames were uncapped. However, the honey – even when warmed – couldn’t be shaken out of the frames indicating that the water content was low enough to not ferment (and when measured it was almost all about 17%). The honey was sufficiently runny to filter through coarse and fine filters directly into 30 lb honey buckets for storage before jarring. This is the first honey produced by my bees in Fife and I’ll have to get some new labels designed that correctly lists its provenance.

Fondant block and Apiguard

Fondant block and Apiguard

Finally, before disappearing for a few days to  Andalusia I added a queen excluder and an empty super to every hive to accommodate a 12.5 kilo split block of bakers fondant. This is a really easy way to feed colonies up for the autumn. They take the fondant down more slowly than they would take thick (2:1 w/v) syrup which I think ensures that the queen has ample space to keep laying – these will be the important winter bees that get the colony through to the next season. It also doesn’t seem to encourage either robbing or wasps – perhaps because there’s nothing to spill. It’s also a whole lot easier to prepare … just slice a block in half with a breadknife. I simply add the fondant face down over the queen excluder, reduce the entrance if the colony isn’t at full strength, close them up and walk away*.


 

* I also added a tray of Apiguard to a couple of colonies as the first stage in autumn Varroa treatment. The majority of the colonies are going to receive vaporised oxalic acid but I wanted to do a side-by-side comparison of the effect on queen laying, so two colonies in one apiary received Apiguard.

Frosting in honey

Honey with frosting

Honey with frosting

Frosting is the name given to small air bubbles that get trapped between honey and the side or shoulder of the jar. It spoils the appearance of the honey, but doesn’t alter the flavour or the quality. Frosting in honey usually starts as a small white streak or crescent on the shoulder of the jar, but gradually spreads during storage, sometimes covering most or all of the inner surface of the jar.  Some buyers don’t mind it, particularly if they’ve tasted your honey before, but I suspect that it puts others off (unsurprisingly, no-one receiving honey as a gift ever murmurs a word of complaint if the jar is frosted … funny that). Because I think set and soft-set honey looks better if the jar isn’t frosted I try and prevent it forming in the first place, or do my best to remove it in jars for sale.

Prevention

I’ve yet to find a foolproof way of preparing set or soft-set honey that definitely will not develop frosting. Some batches I’ve made have remained ‘frosting-free’ for months, but most do in due course. However, the following things are supposed to work and probably help:

  • Use a settling tank to let the honey stand for a day or two after preparation. I decant honey to be jarred into 30 lb plastic buckets with a tap, and leave it for 24-48 hours in the honey warming cabinet at about 30-37°C.
  • Pre-warm the jars for bottling. I put cleaned jars inverted in the oven at the lowest heat setting to dry, removing them a few minutes before use.
  • Hold the jar immediately below the honey tap so that as little air as possible mixes with the honey during bottling. I run the honey down the sidewall of the jar, only placing the jar onto a zeroed weighing scale as the last ounce or so is added.
  • Do not jar more than you need in one session. It’s better to jar in 30 lb batches, rather than keeping 150 lb of jarred honey for a long time during which frosting is likely to occur. Of course, if you sell it (or give it away) in 150 lb batches then you’re hardly likely to be reading this looking for advice …

Of the four suggestions above, the last one is probably the most dependable. 30 lb buckets of honey are easy to store and take up little space. 30 lb of jarred honey weighs about 43 lb (assuming 1 lb ’rounds’), takes up a lot more space, requires much more handling and will usually develop frosting during extended storage.

Cure

Warm jars with set honey to about 37°C for 24 hours. The honey should become less viscous and would pour very slowly from the jar if you inverted it. Don’t 😉 You do not want to melt the honey, but instead just warm it sufficiently so that it can be stirred. Using a clean long-handled teaspoon – both for leverage and to stop getting honey on your fingers – gently stir the honey sufficiently to mix the bubbles in, working carefully round the sidewall of the jar to ensure it’s mixed evenly. The honey should be thick enough to stand the spoon in it, so you need quite strong fingers. Scrape excess honey from the spoon back into the jar using a small flexible spatula. Return the jars to the honey warming cabinet for another 24 hours, then store as usual. This is quite a bit of work and you really should try and avoid having to do it. However, if it makes the jarred honey more attractive and helps sell more jars then it’s a worthwhile investment of time.

Soft set honey

Soft set honey

250 jars

12ox hex jar with clear (runny) honey. The Apiarist

12ox hex jar …

I usually sell honey in 1lb ’rounds’, the classic honey jar with a gold screw lid. These jars are easy to fill, with no nooks and crannies for bubbles to get stuck. However, many beekeepers are now selling in 12oz hex jars. These look a little fancier and are usually sold at a premium price. They’re also a bit harder to fill neatly as bubbles can easily get trapped at the shoulder. Since I have several hundred 1lb rounds and a similar number of printed labels it’ll be a year or so before I have to make a decision to stick with the rounds, or switch to the smaller jar.

Soft set and clear honey

Soft set and clear honey

My small-scale bottling typically involves preparing a 30lb bucket of honey in my warming cabinet, bottling about 28lb (using my bucket tipper) for sale with the bubbly dregs going into unlabelled jars for home consumption, cooking, marmalade or making mead. I rarely get orders for more than 25lb of honey at a time (but will happily accept them). However, I recently received an order for 250 4oz hex jars of local honey to go into “goody bags” for guests celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the University of Warwick as I have bees in the university apiary and on the surrounding farmland.

As I discovered … 4oz hex jars, if filled to above the shoulder, actually take about 5oz of honey. I additionally discovered that the irritating, bubble-trapping, shoulders on 12oz hex jars are just as irritating but a lot smaller on 4oz hex’s. Bottling this lot took quite a long time …

250 4oz hex jars

250 4oz hex jars …

However, the finished products, with tie-on labels designed by the university, looked great …

 

Honey warming cabinet plans

Plans

Plans

I have previously described an easy-to-build honey warming cabinet. Having reviewed the links that bring visitors to these pages it’s clear that many are Google searches for honey warming cabinet plans. Despite the original pages having a reasonable straightforward description I’ve put together a set of plans and basic building instructions. If you intend to use the cabinet to pre-warm supers prior to extraction then the box needs to be a suitable size to stack two supers side-by-side. I use National hives and the plans describe a cabinet that is of a suitable size for these.

The plans and the illustrations on the original pages describing the honey warming cabinet are pretty-much self-explanatory. If you get a local wood merchant to cut the ply to the correct sizes the only tools needed are a screwdriver and a drill. All joints should be glued and screwed. Once constructed the cabinet is very strong. I’ve stacked 18 full supers on mine and regularly stand on the top when stacking things on the shelves behind it. Most of the 5cm thick insulation (Jablight, Kingspan etc.) can be cut easily with a sharp long-bladed knife. However, most of these types of insulation are easily damaged so cover all the exposed edges with strong self-adhesive duck tape (or similar). If you intend to add a small mains powered fan to improve heat circulation you will need to add another hole for the wiring. With the fan installed and a thermostatically controlled Ecostat heater element temperature control is extremely good.

Honey warming cabinet. The Apiarist

Honey warming cabinet …

Honey show (partial) success

Our local association honey show is always held in mid/late October. At the beginning of the season it feels like a lifetime away. With a long, hot summer being anticipated, the short October nights and the preparation required is just about the last thing on my mind. By the second honey harvest it’s a lot closer but there’s still no urgency … and then, suddenly, it’s four days away. How did that happen?

Soft set honey

Soft set honey

Our honey show has friendly rivalry, good natured competition and – usually – sympathetic (verging on the generous with my entries) judging. The good exhibits are often very good but care is taken not to discourage those with less-than-perfect entries. All the usuall classes are represented – light, medium and dark honey, soft set and set honeys, frames ready for extraction, wax, mead, ‘products of the hive’ gifts and photography. One of the most keenly contested classes is the honey cake which uses the relatively simple recipe used – I think – at the National Honey Show.


Honey cake

Ingredients

200g/7oz self-raising flour, 175g/6oz honey, 110g/4oz butter, 175g/6oz sultanas, 2 medium eggs, 110g/4oz. glace cherries (halved).

Preparation

Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F /gas mark 4. Cream butter and honey together. Beat eggs well and add them alternately with sifted flour then fold in sultanas and cherries. A little milk may be added if necessary. Bake in a buttered circular tin, 16.5 -19.0 cm (61⁄2-71⁄2 inches) in diameter for approximately 11⁄2 hours. Timing is for conventional ovens and is a guide only as appliances vary.


A few years ago I’d competed and won the beginners class (always generously judged) and been placed second in the ‘cottager class’ for those with 5 hives or less (I think this page will generate some disappointment if it turns up on a Google search for certain words in the text). Despite a clashing appointment on the night of the show that meant I missed all the judging I prepared entries for the light and medium honey classes – using the same batch of honey as I had no grading glasses so ‘hedged my bets’ – the soft set, the honey judged on flavour alone (the jars are covered with a tight-fitting sleeve, though the judging isn’t conducted blindfold so a few stray wings or legs in the scummy surface layers might still be offputting), the photography, the ‘products of the hive’ gift and the honey cake.

And the winner is …

Let’s deal with the failures first … I clearly misjudged what was needed for the ‘products of the hive’ class. I entered a jar of delicious lemon honey marmalade. In my view this is better than honey on toast in the mornings. However, almost every other entry was a stunning wax sculpture or a beautifully presented candle. Nil points as they say. Don’t let this put you off honey marmalade though … it’s fantastic and I’ve never had anyone turn it down as a most welcome gift.

Overcooked

Overcooked

The honey cake was a disaster. I cooked three in advance to get the cooking conditions right. The first one was badly burnt and essentially inedible. The recipe above is spectacularly wrong with regard to timings. The second was much better, although still a bit overcooked (shown right). My team at work wolfed it down. The third was better still but by now I’d realised that the diameter of my cake tin was 0.5″ smaller than specified (judges can be both pedants and generous in equal measure). The flavour and texture were very good and it was again scoffed with thanks by work colleagues. The day before the honey show I found a tin of the correct diameter and used it to prepare the – I hoped (Ha!) – winning entry. Big mistake. The cake rose better … but then sank like the Titanic to create a near-doughnut shaped entry. The judge didn’t trouble himself with the tasting. Wisely … it was undercooked.

Waspkeeping

Waspkeeping …

On a brighter note one of the photography entries got a ‘Very Highly Commended’ though I’m not sure which of the two prints I entered was favoured. I suspect it was “Waspkeeping” (right). In addition, I managed two third places; one for honey judged on flavour alone and one for light honey. I’m particularly pleased with the former as this is the primary reason most people like honey … because it tastes good. Finally, my soft set honey achieved a second place which was also very satisfying. Making soft set honey (or creamed honey as it is sometimes called) is a bit of a palaver but it keeps well. If you can avoid frosting – something I’ll discuss again sometime – it’s well worth the effort and very popular.

If you’ve not previously entered a honey show have a go. At the top level it’s no doubt cut throat with all sorts of trade secrets to produce the perfect jar. I have no trade secrets … use good quality 1 lb ’rounds’ without obvious defects, make sure the thread is scrupulously clean and that there is no honey on the underside of the lid (take clean lids with you ‘just in case’, but try not to open jars to retain the aroma in the headspace), make sure the jar is filled so there is no visible space between the lid and the honey surface. Stick the label on level and at the right height from the bottom of the jar. Avoid using jars containing parts of bees 😉

Then, with a bit of luck and a generous judge, you can prefix the text on your honey advertising with the important words “Prizewinning local” honey and be prepared to be inundated with orders.

 

4 oz hex jars aren’t

I discovered yesterday that 4 oz hex jars take considerably more than 4 oz of honey if they are to be filled properly. I’ve had an order for 250 and this is the first time I’ve used jars this small. By my calculations 4 oz of honey is 113.5 g. The closest I could get was about 115 g on my scales, which left the honey surface a few millimetres short of the shoulder of the jar. Very unsightly. If you follow the advice for filling standard 1 lb rounds, ensuring there isn’t a gap below the lid and the surface of the honey, then you actually need to add about 140 g of honey to fill these small jars.

4 oz hex jar

4 oz hex jar …

These jars were supplied by Compak who indicate they have a volume of 116 ml. Perhaps my honey is particularly dense? The jars are attractive and make nice gifts. Just make sure you prepare sufficient honey to fill them properly. My initial calculations of needing 62.5 lb of honey (i.e. two slightly overfilled 30 lb buckets) for the 250 jar order is out by about 15 lb.