Sunday, September 27, 2009

Friendly Honey Competition

At our bee club meeting last week they had a friendly honey competition. It was a chance for all of us to bring in a jar of our best from the harvest to show off and to taste.

We all judged each others' honey using a paper made up from the real fair competitions. I hadn't spent any time thinking about this yet but the main things we were marked on were:

Correct Class (colour)
Flavour & Aroma
Fill Level
Density (moisture content)
Freedom from foreign material
Freedom from air bubbles either in suspension or as froth
Brightness
Appearance of container

One of the members even had a colour scale which showed all the shades that honey can come in, from very clear to a deep brown. It looked like one of those paint sample kits.

My honey did not win, but I did not expect it to so I wasn't disappointed at all. A couple of the judges brought a device called a refractometre (hope I got that right). It's used to measure the moisture content of the honey. I was very interested to know my honey's moisture level because I was suspicious that it was too high.

Mine rated at 19.10%. The ideal moisture content is anywhere between 17 and 18.5%. I was very surprised to learn that bees can and will cap honey that is higher than the correct humidity level (I need to find out more about this).

(photo - Dave from Dave's Apiaries checking the moisture content of honey with a refractometre).

What this means is that if we don't eat this honey up within a couple months it will ferment. This is very important to know as a beekeeper! Henry said the problem starts when the honey crystallizes--it's the remaining liquid between the crystals that ferments.

One of the beekeepers there told me how he lost a huge tank of honey and just had to pour it out on the ground. Trust me, he was pretty horrified at the loss. Ever since then he makes a point of dehumidifying his honey to be sure the moisture content is at the right level.

This was news to me. I assumed from all the books and research that if the bees cap it that the moisture level is correct. I did hear from Henry that uncapped honey could be put with a dehumidifier to cure it but what I didn't know is that beekeepers also place all their capped honey frames in a sealed room with a dehumidifier to lower its moisture level too.

(photo of the actual refractometre device - sorry it's a fuzzy photo).

Over half the members at the meeting - about 30 honey samples total--were found to have their moisture levels too high. The highest was 23%. I wonder if this is because of the especially wet weather we had this year.

Almost all the honey was the same colour. What I found the most fun was tasting the honey. It all looked the same but it didn't taste the same. It was like a flavour parade or an excursion and it was a delight to taste the subtle or not so subtle differences in flavour.

Scott and his wife won first place for the best tasting honey and the gentleman in the front (sorry I don't know his name) won for the best overall honey. Pictured also is Bob, the president of our bee club.

The advice for my already extracted honey is to keep it in the freezer to prevent it from fermenting. I think at some point I should invest in one of those refractometre thingies. It's probably not too late to leave the open jars in a room with a dehumidifier, but with our second batch of honey safely tucked away in the freezer (frames and all) I can leave that for a January project.

The focus of the meeting was on the competition but I did try to do some networking about my need for a new bee yard. Henry most graciously offered me one close to where he is. That would be over an hour's drive away so I'm hoping I can find something closer to home.

I've been calling orchards and berry farms but most of them are already locked up with long time relationships with commercial beekeepers from our area. I really don't want to compete with them--they're doing it for a living and I'm in this for the learning experience, the fun, the research, and a bit of honey at the end.

I'm sure something will come up.
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