Dr. Kathy Enters the Honey Competition at the Frederick County Fair!

09/14/2011


Bees & Wasps    Beneficial Insects   

It is September and time to be thinking about what I might enter in the 2011 Great Frederick County (MD) Fair. (I have entered my honey, a bee photograph of some sort, and an insect photo or two for the past 5 years.)

I will stick to the entering the honey part of things for this blog! But first you need a primer about honey itself.

Honey 101: Types of Honey!

Wherever you buy your honey, it is likely to be different! Honey varies by region and beekeeper practices. Believe it or not, there are over 300 uniquely recognizeable flavors of honey in the US! In terms of color, health benefit and taste, honey is very much like wine. There is a spectrum of colors and tastes and health benefits of honey.

Color and flavor of honey differs depending on the flower nectar source (the blossoms) available to be visited by the honey bees. The bees will always visit those flowers closest to the hive, but can travel up to 5 miles away to visit a flower source.

Honey color ranges from nearly colorless or white honey to the more familiar ambers and dark browns; and flavors vary from mild to bold, depending on where the honey bees have buzzed. As a general rule of thumb, light-colored honey is milder in taste and dark-colored honey is stronger in taste. Darker colored honey has more flavonoids and antioxidants and therefore is supposedly (health-wise) “better for you.” Indisputably, honey is good for you regardless.

Near my hives in my area of Western MD, the bees buzz on maple flowers in January and February, dandelion and skunk cabbage flowers in March, cherry, apple and peach blossoms in April, locust, rose, privet, and wild berries flowers in May and June, clover and lavender flowers in July, not much in August, goldenrod flowers in September, October and November. And, of course, I plant my yard with various flowering plants with my bees and their almost year round visits in mind!

Anyway, as you have already read in my first beekeeping post, I extracted my honey in mid-July, and the honey I took was from the top supers of my hives and that which had been most recently manufactured by them at that time, so it was mostly locust flower blossom honey as a result.

In mid-August, I registered my anticipated entries online. Now, in mid-September, I pay $10 for every 3 items entered. In the honey and beeswax category, you must enter 3 jars of honey for judging to be done in a subcategory of color-either white, light amber, amber, or dark honey. I typically enter the white or light amber honey category. My locust honey seems to fit more of the light amber color category this particular year, but has been white color in previous years.

The judges (local beekeepers who volunteer) are looking for several things and will compare all three jars for consistency of these items.

First and foremost of course, is taste! I tend to score very well on this one-20/20 points, or at least I have in the past. This is because my hives are blessed to be located in an area that boasts good tasting nectar and thus honey. The flowers my bees visit from April through June (before I harvest in July) are largely locust blossoms, rose, lavender, various wild berries, dandelion and clover. So, technically, this is called wild flower honey. But, my honey has a very light almost white color and a light sugar and pleasant fragrance and taste, an indication that the majority of the blossoms visited were locust tree flowers! Good for honey indeed!

Color and clarity of the honey is judged next. I also tend to score well in this category, thanks to the locust trees and the double sieving to remove any unwanted particulate matter, such as wax, pollen, etc. They also look for any crystals forming. Locust honey seldom crystallizes with age due to its low water content. By contrast, clover honey crystallizes quickly. (BTW: Crystallized honey is not spoiled or bad. In fact, honey never goes bad! And some people prefer crystallized honey for glazes for hams or fish or other meats. But if you prefer liquid honey, simply, reliquify it by placing the jar in a pan of water in the oven at 120F for 20 minutes or so. Do not place it in the microwave! It’s still edible if you do, but the microwave will destroy all of the good enzymes in the honey, these are the enzymes that help you with fighting off local pollen allergies, and a reason you get local honey in the first place, and not some grocery store honey.)

Water content within the honey is then judged. The judges use a refractometer to measure the moisture content of my honey. I typically score well here in the 11-12% range. (Any honey over 18% is automatically disqualified.) Again, I have the locust blossoms to thank. Predominately clover honey has much higher water content and tends to crystallize faster than other kinds of honey. This is because clover nectar has more water in it to start with, and there is also a greater ratio of glucose to fructose  in clover nectar. Locust blossoms have less glucose. But, also in my extraction method, I try to extract on a lower humidity day, and I run the AC in my extracting area (read kitchen) the night before and all day of the process. I also immediately bottle and cap my honey tightly and do not let it sit out in a bucket overnight. Honey is hygroscopic and absorbs water quickly, increasing moisture content.

Then, presentation of the 3 bottles is judged. 1 lb. front paneled jars are expected. To allow fair judging, no labels can be on the jar, and nothing identifying it as yours other than the standard folded fair tag at the neck that is not opened until you pick it up. Is the glass or plastic panel without blemish or smudge or streaks of honey on it? Is it sticky or clean? It seems that glass jars often score better than plastic jars (in my experience), as that is where I sometimes seem to lose a few points.

And then, what seems to separate the girls from the women (or the boys from the men) is a judgment called fill line. And, each year I’m frustrated to find I lose points here. And, each year after the fair, I ask the judges what exactly is considered the fill line. And, each year each judge gives me a totally different answer!

So, my quest this year is to try and find the proper fill line and proper judge and get more than a 3rd, 4th, or 5th place ribbon if possible! I mean I’m very pleased to say that each year my honey has placed and gotten a ribbon in the five years of doing this! But, it would be nice to figure out this elusive fill line and get a first or second place for a change; on the other hand, the competition is stiff, and I know just to place is an accomplishment of its own accord!

In a week or so, I’ll be getting back to you with the scorecard results of my honey at the Frederick County Fair! Wish me luck! Oh, fill line, where are you?!






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