Talk about a baptism of fire!
One moment (obviously one of weakness), I’m listening to tales of past victories (and ignominious failures and disqualifications), the next and I’ve somehow found myself coordinating and setting up the Branch Cooperation class display at The Honey Show.
The Lancs & NW Honey Show is an annual celebration of beekeeping prowess in NW England. Members of local beekeeping branches from throughout Lancashire and Merseyside are invited to enter shining examples of honey, mead, waxes and other hive and honey products, as well as bee-related crafts and photos into any one of 42 classes (seriously that’s how many different uses the organisers have thought up for honey and wax – and some of the catch-all classes show that entrants are even more imaginative).
Of course, the focus is on honey – in all its glory. Honey of differing hue (light, medium, dark), consistency (runny, set, granulated) and forage crop, including the pride of the area: beautiful, rich, gloopy, vibrant orange heather honey. And wax – candles, wax blocks, wax cakes, even arrangements of wax flowers. But there are also classes for mead, other wines and bakery and confectionery.
And finally, 3 classes for Branch rather than individual entries: a Cooperation class (10 items made by at least 3 different branch members), a calendar of the “Beekeeping Year” (with images supplied by at least 4 members) and finally (of course) honey from the Club Apiary. We’d not entered this before but we had plenty of honey from the Apiary (thanks in most part to the pink Abelo and brown National hives), and we knew it was pure ambrosia, thanks to feedback from Carnforth Carnival goers.
And this is where I somehow came in – a Year Zero beekeeper. I started 2023 with zero knowledge, zero hives, zero bees … and zero idea how addicted I was to become! At the final Beginners’ practical session at the Club Apiary, Mark, Chris and Emma (total stalwarts who give so much time, expertise and enthusiasm to we “new-bees”) were discussing the Honey Show. My ears perked up when I heard that while the judges were barricaded away poking, prodding and sampling the entries, there were always two really amazing lectures about some aspect of beekeeping and that you could get tickets for just the lectures.
I should have suspected a trap when I saw on the “entry” form that entry to the lectures cost the same as entry of the lectures plus up to 10 classes in the competition, but no, I simply filled out the form (LECTURES ONLY) and coughed up the fiver.
How I chuckled at tales of competitors arriving in white cotton gloves to polish their jars and bottles, of competitors starting to prepare their entries at least a year in advance and the strict criteria against which the entries were judged – no smudges on the jar or lid, no air bubbles, no honey on the inside of the lid, no specks of pollen, all jars exactly the same size and shape and entry labels perfectly horizontal and precisely 2cm from the base of the jar! And laughed out loud hearing of last-minute (winning!) entries by Lancaster beekeepers in 2022, including 3rd place in the blind-tasting category by Emma Wright Crooks – well we all knew her honey was amazing, due no doubt to the incredible range of traditional native forage crops she grows on her allotment.
And then we joked that we should have some kind of really outré theme – something that would really make the judges sit up and pay attention. “Hallowe’en” I foolishly piped up, and that was all it took …
So, two weeks before the Show, I found myself tasked with persuading at least two other members to cook up Hallowe’en themed honey/wax products and frantically searching the stores for appropriate (and cheap) props and display items.
I just needed 3 jars of honey, 3 waxes/candles, 2 items of confectionery and 2 “other” products. I mean, how hard could that be?