I really didn’t know what to expect when I volunteered to be a steward and was rather nervous when I turned up at Winterbourne at 8am last Saturday. However, putting on the smart white coat provided by Nat made me feel a bit more confident and official and soon, Abid and I were being introduced to the 2 judges in the Show tent. They were a supremely confident and professional pair of gentleman who had driven down from Yorkshire that morning. They competently organised us and introduced us to the art of judging. It turned out that our primary task was to accurately record their judgements for each class and dash round to deliver a paper copy to the team in the office tent, next door, who looked up the names of the winners and wrote out the results cards. But whilst doing this, we were able to watch the judges at work and get all sorts of insights into how they came to their decisions.
I was working with Peter who was responsible for judging all the even classes. He was great fun to be with, very enthusiastic and keen to share and explain his professional methods. He had brought with him a huge bag which he delved into to produce special equipment needed to help with his judging -including, for example, honey colour grading glasses, weighing scales, special cake cutting knives, wine glasses to name but a few.
I was amazed by the attention given to technical details before any comparison of the qualities of the entries. Many entries were disqualified on technicalities – for example every beeswax block was weighed, the diameter of every cake was measured and each pair of honey jars was scrutinised to check whether they contained honey from the same source.
Then when every flawed entry had been eliminated, the final judgement was made by the mysterious art of sniffing and tasting.
Overall, it was a really illuminating and fascinating experience from which I learnt an awful lot and thoroughly enjoyed. I certainly recommend it to anyone else interested in the judging process.
2020 has been an unusual year for beekeepers, and bees in so many ways. One surprise was dark honey flowing into hives across Birmingham in the late summer. But what was the source? Local beekeeper John Gale has been investigating and has come up with three possibilities.
Checking his pollen identification charts, John thinks his source is likely to be the majestic white and red horse chestnuts in his area.
A second option is that the dark nectar is in fact honeydew from the local lime/fir trees. Honeydew usually contains a higher antioxidant, antibacterial activity level, and mineral content than regular nectar honeys and is much prized in many parts of the world. However, for those of you who are squeamish look away now. The source of honeydew is essentially aphid poo. Yes you read that correctly as aphids feeding the sap of lime/fir trees extrude a sweet substance on which honey bees feed. Nice!
There is a third possibility. That the dark crop could result from the bees collecting acorn sap. This is similar to honeydew as it results from a weevil eating through the skin of the acorn and secreting a sweet substance which the bees then collect and process.
To help solve the conundrum John has sent samples of his honey off to the National Honey Monitoring Scheme. The aim of the scheme is to understand national scale patterns in the way honeybees exploit the natural environment. They undertake DNA analysis and provide both sugar/water concentrations as well as data on the habitats surrounding hives. If the dark honey is from chestnut trees the pollen will show up in John’s samples. If either the aphids or acorn weevil are responsible there won’t be any pollen.
Whatever the source, across the city we are savouring this very special honey which is silky smooth with a deep and delicious caramel taste.
Bee Sting Cake (Bienenstich)
Bee Sting Cake or Bienenstich is a German Custard Cake made of honey and almonds with a vanilla custard or buttercream/cream filling to suit.
Rumour has it, (or Wikipedia, rather!) there is a legend of 15th century German Bakers throwing beehives (poor bees!!!) at raiders from a village nearby. This worked as a successful deterrent and the bees were celebrated for their sacrifice, with this cake!
Feel free to celebrate the bees and maybe even this years successful honey crop, by giving the recipe below a try:-
For the cake mix:
150g caster sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla sugar
125g plain flour
2 level teaspoons baking powder
50g ground almonds
For the topping:
50g unsalted butter
Pinch of salt
50g sliced almonds
For the custard filling:
400ml double cream
1 (75g) sachet instant custard powder
Prep: 15 min > Cook 30 min
- For the pastry, add eggs to a bowl and beat until pale and fluffy (for about 6 minutes) Gradually add sugar and vanilla sugar whist beating.
- Preheat oven to 170 C / Gas Mark 3-4
- In another bowl, mix flour and baking powder and fold into egg mixture. Fold in ground almonds last.
- Grease a 26cm springform tin and dust with flour. Spread mixture in tin.
- For the topping: Put the butter, sugar, honey and salt into a saucepan and bring to a gentle boil. Remove from the heat and stir in the sliced almonds. Evenly spread this over the cake mixture.
- Bake in a preheated oven until golden brown for about 30 mins and let cool for at least 2 hours.
- Prepare the custard following the packet instructions, replacing boiling water with the double cream.
- Slice cake in half horizontally and spread filling.
- Refrigerate until serving.
Please feel free to comment and let us know if it tastes as good as it looks!
Usually our members are out and about at events talking about how amazing bees are and their importance as pollinators. However, this year has been like no other!
Finally though we got the opportunity to visit the amazingly beautiful baroque gardens at Castle Bromwich. Re-discovered in and brought back to life in the 1980s the gardens are well worth a visit.
Over two weekends Sam, Diana, Jan, Jane and an observation hive of around 3,000 bees visited the 350 year-old garden. In the late summer sunshine we talked to lots of visitors who were eager to find out more about bees. We enjoyed the ‘afternoon tea in a box’, the amazing apple orchards, enormous pumpkins and marvelled at the bee friendly borders.
A perfect day and we hope to be invited back next year.
This year’s National Honey Show, 22nd to 24th October 2020, will be a professional, online conference – the first event of its kind in the UK beekeeping world!
Everyone is welcome to attend the event, free of charge. Registration will go live in early October.
Attendees will be able to attend lectures, demonstrations, visit the trade hall and take part in other exciting activities. Planning for the virtual conference is evolving so visit the National Honey Show website and Facebook page for more news as content is added to the show over the coming weeks.
The show will feature a series of lectures and demonstrations, followed by live online Q&A sessions, with the opportunity to ask questions via the ‘chat’ facility.
Michael Palmer, A year at French Hill Apiaries
Etienne Bruneau, The honey market in turmoil
Jeff Pettis, Long live the queen, please! Why are queens failing?
Gwyn Marsh, Making Beeswax Wraps
Chris Park, Skep Making
Sara Robb, Making Beeswax Soap
John Goodwin, Showing Honey
Evening events will be hosted on Thursday by The Central Association of Bee-Keepers, with a live lecture by Medhat Nasr from the Canadian Prairies; and on Friday, Bees for Development welcome you to their live online Quiz evening.
All your favourite traders will be represented in the Trade Hall, where you will be able to keep in touch with their latest offerings.
We know the lack of a physical Show will be disappointing, as it is for us all, but we hope to offer an exciting armchair event, where the National Honey Show Community can come together online.