A blog originally for keeping track of my hobby of being a Beekeeper which has evolved to include Home Brewing and even more recently to follow me and my families approach to "The Good Life". Eventually I hope to include baking recipes and stories of our flock of chickens also reporting on the success and failure at the allotments.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Wakefield and Pontefract Beekeepers: September Meeting

The time of year has come round again when my Beekeeping organization start holding their winter meetings. They are held every month from September through to March, excluding December, on the last monday of the month. This months meeting was held by Dave Shannon with the subject being "Preparing honey & wax for showing”

I set off to the meeting at just after 7 pm and arrived with about 5 minutes to spare before the meeting started. In this time I got talking to a few people who attended the same course as me and am pleased to say that they all seem to be making good progress. One of the guys who lives near me has upped his amount of hives and now has five. One of the others is still on just the one like me and has managed to extract a similar amount of honey as me. I also managed to have a quick word with the guy who ran the course and he seemed happy with everyones progress.

Once inside I got sat down and waited for the presentation to begin. As mentioned earlier todays was about presenting your products of the hive in shows. We were shown several different jars of honey giving an example of light, medium, dark, set and heather honey. Light and medium looked very similar, the difference being the colour; the medium was every so slightly darker. The dark honey was very dark, so much so that it was almost black; we were told that he didn't know what plant this honey had come from and has only managed to get it that dark once in ten years. The set honey was almost the opposite of the dark honey in that it was almost white; set honey is generally made from oil seed rape in this area and grows in abundance near my apiary. To get set honey you extract it as normal and then leave it to go rock solid in the bucket and once it's set hard you then mix it up making it spreadable. This seemed like hard work if done by hand but I've read somewhere that a lot of people consider this one of the best honeys. The heather honey was last to be described; heather honey isn't runny or set, it's gelatinous. The color was a deep red and it contained tiny air bubbles.

There it's quite a lot of criteria a judge loooks for when giving awards out for honey. One important element is to make sure the honey is processed to a high standard. It was recommended to use a heating cabinet to get the honey to about 35-37°C. At this temperature the honey will pass through your filters easier, with the finer filters being better. Once filtered and bottled all the air bubbles had to be given time to rise to the surface (apart from with heather honey) so the honey is clear and free from any imperfections. A tip that was given for removing any further debris that rose to the top of the jars was to use a clean tea spoon and roll it over the surface gently and this should capture any debris at the top. Other tips included making sure your jars are clean, lids are clean, wear a hairnet and do all your preparation plenty of time prior to the show. Another important thing to keep in mind is to carefully read the schedule as important information could be included. 

While talking about presenting honey a few pieces of equipment were recommended. The first was a refractometer; this is a small device that is used to measure the amount of water content in your honey. I think it was 17-19% water content for normal honey and about 25% for heather honey. This level of water is essential to stop the honey fermenting and going bad and honey that is not within this range should never be sold. I have since ordered myself  one for about £18, I'm calling it a early Christmas present for myself. The one I've ordered can also be used to measure the alcohol level so will be useful in my home brewing. Another recommended piece of kit was a smith cuter/scraper. This tool is used to cut the comb with honey in from the frame leaving just the foundation behind. This is useful for heather honey as you can't use normal extraction techniques with it being gelatinous. Once all the comb has been removed from the frames it can then be put in a press to squeeze the honey out, leaving you with plenty of wax. The final tool recommended was a simple LED torch which is used you look through your jars of honey and will help you to spot imperfections in the honey.

After talking about honey he moved onto wax for show. Again some points were the same, emphasizing cleanliness. Also the schedule is important to read for wax as it will give info on the weight of the wax cake your showing. The type of wax used for show is generally what is collected from cappings as this is the lightest coloured and most presentable. It will take me a long time before I have enough wax cappings to make a block for show! A tip given for showing wax was to make sure the mold is fairly hot before pouring the wax in so it all cools at the same time and makes the wax consistent all the way through.

When the talk on showing wax was finished there was a refreshment break and at this point I had to leave as I was working the night shift that night and it was already approaching time for me to set off.