2015 Isle of Man Beekeepers Honey Show
It’s been years since I last visited the annual Honey Show. FOUR years in fact. I don’t know where the time has gone but I was told while helping myself to tea that my absence had indeed been noticed. Way back in 2011 I was freshly graduated from the beginner’s beekeeping course but had yet to start up my first hive. I had it on my mind though and visited to learn more about honeybees and beekeeping.
The Isle of Man Beekeepers Federation is comprised of three regional groups – Southern, Northern, and West – and they all join together once a year to display honey and beeswax as well as crafts and recipes that fit under the same theme. It’s also a time to meet friends, learn something new, find inspiration, and show off a bit. You’ll notice that though four years has passed, many of the winners for awards back in 2011 are the same as in 2015. This is undoubtedly a highlight of the year for many!
One of the most interesting things you’ll notice straight away about the honey displayed at the show is how colourful it can be. Some of the lightest is nearly as clear as water and the darkest is almost black. Most people think of honey as being golden brown and that’s generally what you’ll find for sale in most supermarkets. However, the colour and consistency of honey is dependent on what types of flowers the bees have been foraging on. For example, Rapeseed honey is generally very light and will generally ‘set’ into an opaque honey that can be spread like peanut butter. Heather honey, also called Ling Honey, is thick, bitter-sweet in taste, and in colour ranges from amber to deep red.
Wildflower honey is often from honeybees that are foraging on a wide range of flowers but not all of them are ‘wild’. Bees LOVE visiting your back garden as well as the patches of wild space left in the countryside. Sadly, most of their natural foraging area has now been taken over by farmland with many crops completely deficient in food for wildlife. It’s up to us to grow plants that will help honeybees survive all year long. Though many insects go dormant in the winter, honeybees are active and will come out to forage on bright sunny days.
This is why the exhibit for flower arrangement is my favourite – the rule for the entry is that it is an arrangement of flowers and foliage associated with the honeybee. Being freshly picked, they show just how many flowers can be grown for honey bees even in Autumn including Asters and Ivy and very hardy Fuscia and Poppies. Some even include fruits such as rosehips and blackberries that are dependent on honeybee pollination to grow.
There were less entries this year than in years past but still enough to create conversation and show what is possible with hive products. Cough syrup, cakes, preserves, artwork, candles, furniture polish, cleaned beeswax, and a full frame of honey were laid out next to jars of pure honey. After the awards ceremony was finished I had a walk around the room, looking at entries and chatting with beekeeper friends. I got to speaking to Cilla, of the Gardens of Cregneash, about my experiment with putting mason jars into one of my hives. It could be an interesting entry for meets to come!
This year I also brought along a friend who is interested in taking the beginners beekeeping course in January. With her Pandora honeybee dangling from her wrist she walked around with me with the same excitement I had back in 2011. I was also delighted to speak to Ian, a beginner beekeeper who jumped into the game this July – his well written write up on a beginner beekeeper’s experience can be found here.
The last time I attended the show I didn’t stay for the presentation at the end. This time I’m glad I did! Michael Young MBE presented an eclectic slideshow of beekeeping in Northern Ireland with an emphasis on keeping our apiaries clean and tidy. What interested me most about his talk were the tips he gave on making Mead – honey wine.
I’d like to try next summer when the house is more consistently warm, which will help fermentation, but what I’ve gathered is that 4-5 pounds of honey need to go into the main wine body and that as fermentation slows, you keep feeding more honey until the wine yeast gives up. Spices such as cloves and cinnamon can also be used and Michael seems to wholeheartedly vouch for their added flavour. I’ll run with that since he’s not only a beekeeper but a professional chef.
For me the show was a lovely opportunity to catch up with folks I hadn’t seen in ages and to let them know I’m still alive and being stung. I also have a couple of leads on beeswax I can purchase off of other beekeepers – I can’t produce nearly enough for my handmade beauty products. It’s also inspiring to be around so many enthusiastic people and I’m excited not just for myself for my beginner beekeeper friends who won’t have been able to help catching the bug!
I congratulate all of the winners of this year’s show, and that goes out to everyone who participated. It’s a rewarding experience to visit an event like this as a spectator but when you push yourself to submit entries you’re putting yourself and Manx beekeeping forward. It’s also hosting the tea service, presenting the ceremony, and even washing up and putting chairs away makes an event like this possible. Thank you for making the Honey Show a wonderful event and for having me there too.