Preparing to Show

Much of show preparation has been dealt with in the section on “How to Prepare Honey for Market”. After all, the honey which we sell should all be of show quality. There are one or two things however, which the Honey Judge looks for, which is of little importance to the consumer. For instance, when judging Cut Comb Honey, the judge will require the piece of comb to fit snugly in the container, whilst the consumer’s principal interest is a piece of comb of the right size and price to suit his or her pocket, and if it correctly fits the container or not is of minor interest.

So let us deal with these finer points, which will influence the judge to decide in our favour. Remember, the judge’s task is a difficult one, and the larger the number of show entries, the harder it becomes. So he is looking for the slightest indiscretion, which will allow him to reject an entry, in order to concentrate his attention on a smaller number. Needless to say therefore, it is usually the exhibitor who can show that he has tried a little bit harder, who tends to win the prizes.

Most local honey shows run fairly standard classes, and it is these that we will concentrate on, leaving the more specialised classes such as wax flowers, or mead, to the more specialised publications. These shows will also have fairly standard rules and regulations. They should be studied carefully and strictly adhered to, as this is often an area where indiscretions occur, allowing the judge the opportunity to make premature rejections. Many classes call for a matching pair of entries, which means that the containers must match as well as the honey. Some honey jars for instance, have differing shoulder designs. Some have a serrated rim on the bottom, while on others it is plain. All minor points, but points which will allow the judge to rule out entries as contravening the regulations. On the face of it, these rules would appear to be petty and hair splitting, but it is important that every entry is standard, to ensure anonymity. Without this, the judge could be exposed to possible allegations of favouritism.

It is worth mentioning here, that although major honey shows, such as the National, are treated with a great deal of respect, and attract serious competition, honey shows at local level are usually viewed in a lighter atmosphere. That is not to say that one should not do one’s best, but the emphasis is on an enjoyable occasion with friends, and if you tend to be the fiercely competitive type, who finds it difficult to handle criticism, then showing might not be for you. As with all things in beekeeping, showing should be fun, and approached with a jovial outlook.

So let’s take a closer look at the basic classes, which appear in most honey shows.

Run Honey

Run honey is segregated into three distinct classes, Light, Medium, and Dark. These categories are determined by the use of official grading glasses, usually held by the Show Secretary, and available for use by exhibitors. To obtain differing shades of honey it is necessary to go back to the time of extraction. If all honey is extracted at the same time and mixed, we end up with a lightish or mediumish honey depending upon the season. There is nothing wrong with this. It simply means that only one class can be entered. If however, we hold the combs up to the light, prior to extraction, it can be seen that some combs will contain light honey, whilst some will contain medium or dark. In order to keep these colours separate, the combs must be segregated and extracted separately. Usually light or medium honeys predominate in this country, but occasionally, a few frames of dark honey can be harvested. When this occurs, it is a bonus to the honey exhibitor, and is quite often retained for entry in successive shows.

Run honey should be presented to the judge in clean, polished jars of a design as layed down in the schedule. The lids should be clean and polished with no honey adhering to the underside, so care needs to be taken in transportation. The honey should be clear and bright, with no foreign specks, signs of granulation or surface air bubbles. The jars should be adequately filled, which means no daylight can be seen between the lower edge of the lid and the surface of the honey. This sometimes involves slightly over-filling the jar during bottling, in order to allow for skimming off the surface air bubbles prior to showing. Clarity and brightness can be achieved by warming the selected jars of honey the day before the show. The usual reason for clarity being impaired is the early stages of granulation and/or minute air bubbles in suspension. Warming will deal with both of these problems, but in the case of air bubbles it must be remembered that they will rise to the surface and require removal. Foreign specks should have been dealt with during the straining process, but if further straining is necessary, this should be done well in advance of the show to allow time for the honey to settle, and air bubbles to clear. The judge uses a torch held behind the jar, and shining through the honey, so nothing is missed. The aroma is also important to judging. On removing the lid from the jar, usually the first thing the judge does, is to raise the jar to his nose to test the aroma. It is therefore undesirable to remove the lid of an exhibit on the day of the show, as the build up of aroma within the jar will be lost.

There are things however which are outside of our control, such as flavour and density. These can be influenced only by selection, but at the end of the day, it falls to the individual taste of the judge. A rejection at one show, can often win a prize at another and vice versa. On arrival at the show venue, a final polish of the jars to remove finger marks, show labels attached as per schedule, entries placed in their appropriate position on the show bench, and then go home to make room on the sideboard for the imminent trophies.

Set Honey

All the foregoing recommendations regarding jars and lids apply equally to set honey. Set honey is usually covered by two classes, Naturally Granulated and Creamed or Soft Set. Naturally granulated is, as the term suggests, honey which has been allowed to granulate in the jar. The honey should be evenly granulated with no streaks or swirls, and a smooth granulation rather than course, is usually preferred. One of the inherent problems of allowing honey to granulate naturally in the jar is that as it sets, it sometimes contracts away from the sides of the jar, exposing a surface, which will appear white. This is called frosting, and usually appears as streaks down the sides of the jars. Whilst there is nothing physically wrong with this, it does detract from the overall appearance. A little of this frosting in show honey is permissible, but preference is given to those entries without it, so selection is important.

Creamed or Soft Set honey is that which has been through the creaming process. This process overcomes the frosting problem found in naturally granulated honey. Once again, honey which forms course granules is to be avoided, and the jars should be filled well in advance of the show, as the surface should be soft set, not fluid, and needless to say, there must be no foreign specks in evidence.

Chunk Honey

Preparation of chunk honey has been dealt with in the previous section, so it is only necessary here to detail the points, which the judge will be looking for. Remember, the object of Chunk Honey is to present a chunk of honeycomb within a jar of run honey, so the comb must be clearly visible. We should therefore use the largest piece of comb that will fit into the jar. It should be perfectly capped, with the cells clearly defined, and sitting on the base of the jar, not floating. Once again, care in transportation is essential. Rules for the run honey used is the same as that for the run honey classes, and light honey is to be preferred to medium or dark. The piece of comb should be placed in the jar upright and in the same position as it would have been in the frame, so when viewed from the side, the cells are sloping upward from the midrib. When adding the run honey, some particles of wax caused when the comb was cut, will float to the surface. These, together with any air bubbles, must be removed.


Square wooden sections are usually the most popular for showing. Apart from cleaning the wood, there is little we can do to improve sections; therefore selection plays an important role. The ones to select are those that have been fully drawn, filled and capped right to the edges. As with all forms of comb honey, the capping should be as white as possible, so selection of the source from which the honey is produced is important. The whitest cappings are usually produced by crops such as Apple Blossom, Field Beans, Clover, and best of all Heather (Ling). Crops to be avoided are Dandelions, because they produce brown cappings, and any source that has a tendency to granulate in the comb, such as Oilseed Rape. The sections must be clear of any granulated cells, or cells containing pollen, and once again, a torch will be used by the judge to determine this. The hexagonal shape of the cells should be clearly defined through the cappings. The appearance of the face of the comb is governed by the bees of course, and some strains of bee appear to be better at it than others. When storing honey in the comb, some colonies will fill each cell to capacity, so that when the cappings are applied, they are actually in contact with the honey beneath. This gives the cappings a dark, greasy appearance, and is not best for showing. Other colonies however, leave a slight space between the stored honey and the cappings, leaving the face of the comb dry and white.

The other thing to avoid on the surface of the comb is “travel staining”. This is a yellowish stain, which usually appears when the comb has been left in the hive for some period after capping. It is caused by the passage of thousands of tiny feet, and can be avoided by removing the comb as soon as capping has been completed. Much of the judge’s attention when judging wooden sections will be concentrated on the wooden frame, as this is an area where our care in preparation can be clearly defined. On removal from the hive, these wooden parts will be covered with propolis, and this must be cleaned off, by scraping with a razor blade or something similar. Care must be taken during this process to ensure that no sawdust finds it’s way onto our pristine comb. When the selection and cleaning is finished, and the sections are ready for the show bench, they are placed into clean Section Showcases, (the right way up), and show labels attached as per schedule, (usually the bottom right hand corner). At the time of judging, the judge will remove the section from it’s showcase, in order to carry out a thorough inspection, so another identical label is usually placed on the wooden frame of the section itself, to ensure that the correct section finds its way back into its correct showcase.

Cut Comb

All the foregoing recommendations regarding comb, cappings, and honey also apply to Cut Comb. The comb and cappings should be as white as possible with no granulated cells, and no pollen in evidence. In most honey shows, two containers of cut comb are called for, and these should be matching. They should therefore be cut from the same comb, with the cells running in the same direction. The face of the comb should be level and evenly capped, and care must be taken that there is no damage by wax moths. The weight of the comb is governed by the density of the honey and the thickness of the comb, but most schedules allow for a modest variation. Clearly, if the schedule calls for approximately 8ozs, there is little point in entering a 12oz container.

When cutting the comb, the cells severed by the process will obviously ooze honey. This should be allowed to drain off before placing the piece of comb into its container. The containers used are usually the standard 8oz white plastic Cut Comb Containers. The comb should fit the container fully and snugly, but allowing for easy removal by the judge, who will want to inspect the underside. (No room for anything sneaky there then). To ensure the correct size, a plastic template is useful, cut from a margarine container or something similar, and don’t forget to trim the corners.

Frame of Honey for Extraction

All the foregoing regarding comb, cappings, honey and cleaning of wooden frames applies. In addition, the judge will be looking at the suitability of the frame for extraction. The thickness of the comb should stand just proud of the wooden frame, allowing room for an uncapping knife to work with ease. Older frames should not be ruled out as long as they are clean and sound with no evidence of wax moth damage, and the comb itself is new. Obviously, with all other things being equal, pristine new frames will take precedence in the eyes of the judge, but quite often, all things are not equal. Once again the dreaded torch will be brought into use, to look for signs of granulation or pollen in the cells, and as the comb is intended for extraction, the judge will want to ensure that wired foundation has been used, to withstand the stress of the extractor.

The frame will be displayed in a Frame Showcase, from which it will be removed for inspection. As with the sections therefore, it is necessary to place show labels both on the showcase and the frame to ensure that they remain together. One of the common problems in showing frames for extraction is that there always appears to be one cell, on the periphery of the frame, which weeps liquid honey. This sometimes marks the face of the comb, and always ends up as a sticky puddle at the bottom of the showcase. If the face of the comb is not badly marked it is best left alone, or gently patted with a dampened soft cloth, but to keep the showcase clean, a piece of kitchen tissue placed on the bottom, under the frame, will collect any drips during transportation. This can then be removed just before staging.

1oz Wax Blocks

Most schedules call for five or six of these, usually displayed on a plate or doily. The preparation is exactly the same as the blocks prepared for market (see “Preparing Wax for Market”), but a denser straining medium is usually preferred. Surgical lint is a popular medium for straining show wax. A piece is placed in the bottom of the strainer, fluffy side up, beneath the nylon tights stretched over the top. This allows a twin medium straining process, which results in ultra clean wax. The lint should be kept warm, along with the other utensils, to ensure smooth passage of the molten wax. More blocks should be cast than required to allow some selection when they emerge from the moulds. Some might be marred by a bubble, while the odd speck of dust might have found its way into the mould to spoil an otherwise perfect block. Also, if the schedule calls for 1oz blocks, then the weight should be as near that as possible. Needless to say, the wax used for showing should be of the best quality possible, which is usually produced from cappings at the time of extraction. Points, which the judge will pay special attention to, are cleanliness, colour, and aroma. Presentation is also important of course. When the blocks emerge from the moulds they sometimes have a sharp uneven edge. Running a finger around the edge can smooth this out, and then, just before staging, a quick polish with a soft, white, lint free cloth will give them that final lustre.

Cake of Beeswax

Producing a cake of beeswax for show can be considered pure indulgence on the part of the beekeeper. It is not a form in which one would normally produce beeswax for sale, and could therefore be thought by some to be impractical. Yet to produce the perfect cake of beeswax for the show bench is without a doubt, one of the finer arts of beekeeping showmanship.

One of the first requirements, which is more difficult than one might immediately think, is to obtain a mould in which to cast the cake of wax. The finished cake must be smooth and glossy, and free from any marks, scratches or blemishes, so the perfection of the mould is extremely important. So many bowls or basins have a rim in the bottom, or a manufacturer’s mark, or do not have sufficient glaze to give the wax that glossy finish. Beekeepers have been known to spend hours wading through crockery departments looking for the perfect bowl or basin to use as a mould. I use a stainless steel surgical dish, as used in hospitals, which is acceptable, but I still investigate alternatives, when confronted with a range of further possibilities. As with other forms of wax presentation, it is necessary to go through the process of selecting the best raw wax, and rendering and straining, but in producing a cake of wax there are a couple of other difficulties to cause frustration. One is the difficulty sometimes experienced, of getting the wax out of the mould, and the other is the tendency for the wax to crack during the cooling process. But let’s go back to the beginning.

In selecting the raw wax, only the lightest and cleanest cappings wax should be used. After allowing the bees to clean up any vestiges of honey, by putting the cappings on a tray, over the crownboard, the resulting crumbs of wax can be washed to remove any final traces of honey or propolis. It is often these residues, which cause the problem of the cake of wax sticking in the mould. Rainwater is to be preferred for washing cappings, as there is less likely to be any hard mineral content to mar our wax. The cappings should then be patted dry with a clean tea cloth. The show schedule will usually call for a cake of wax of a specific weight, so it is at this point that the cappings should be weighed. It is very difficult to be precise, but the judge will usually allow some tolerance. Some wax will be lost during the straining process, so a little extra should be added to allow for this.

Rendering and straining takes place in the usual way, with the melting pan being placed within another pan containing water, which is placed over a heat source, and the temperature raised sufficiently to melt the wax, but the water should not be allowed to boil. Over-heated wax will become hard, darkened and brittle. As mentioned earlier, show wax is best strained through surgical lint. A square of lint is placed in the bottom of a kitchen strainer, fluffy side up, with some nylon tights stretched across the top of the strainer. The molten wax will then flow through the tights, through the lint, through the strainer and into the pouring receptacle, (in my case, a stainless steel gravy boat). In order for this process to operate smoothly, all the utensils should be hot, so while the wax is melting, everything, except the tights, should be placed in the oven. We can now turn our attention to the mould. If the wax is free from any residues of honey or propolis it should not stick in the mould, but as further security, the inside of the mould can be treated with a release agent. One of the best things for this is washing up liquid. Apply it sparingly all over the inside of the mould, and ensure that it dries without smears or bubbles.

Now we have to face the final challenge of ensuring that the wax does not crack or split during the cooling process. When this happens, it can usually be attributed to the wax cooling too rapidly. There are several ways of achieving a slow cooling process. The method I prefer is the water bath method. A large pan of water (a preserving pan is ideal) is brought to just below boiling point, and then removed from the heat. The mould is then floated in this. The volume of water should be such that the top of the mould is just below the rim of the pan. The strained molten wax can then be carefully poured into the mould. If this is done over the back of a hot spoon, as one might pour cream into coffee, this will avoid the possible formation of air bubbles. Once the pouring is complete, the pan should be covered, in order that the heat is retained, and cooling takes place as slowly as possible. If the lid of the pan is used, care must be taken to avoid condensation from dripping onto the wax, and marking it, so a couple of sheets of newspaper, kitchen tissue or other absorbent material should be placed beneath the lid.

Now LEAVE IT ALONE. Any interference can result in an undulating surface to your cake of wax; so do not be tempted to take a peek. Leave it well alone until the next day, when it will be firmly set and cold. The lid and the paper can then be removed, and the mould immersed so that it sinks to the bottom of the pan. If left for an hour, this will have the effect of floating the cake of wax free from the mould. If this does not work, then putting the mould into a freezer for an hour will usually make the wax contract away from the sides. Once the cake of wax has emerged, it is almost ready for the show bench. If it has a hard, sharp edge, running a finger around it can smooth it. The cake will be presented upside down, so what was the underside, can now receive a final polish with a soft, lint free cloth, and the cake placed into a wax showcase. A showcase is not essential, and will not form part of the judging process, but if you have taken the trouble to produce a perfect piece of beeswax, it seems a shame not to present it in the best possible way. Needless to say, if a showcase is used, it should be perfectly clean, with the glass clear and polished.


There is no doubt that preparing honey and wax for show calls for a certain amount of time, effort and dedication, and many would say why bother. Well, there are several very sound reasons. First of all, it is a part of our craft, and a very interesting and absorbing part. Secondly, honey shows, up and down the country, provide us with a shop window for our craft, and if we don’t have the enthusiasm to keep these shows alive, then who will? Of course, we each know that our honey is without equal, but isn’t it nice to get this view reinforced by our peers. Honey shows bring beekeepers together from all walks of life, and it is a great opportunity for badinage and discussion, and when the judging is over, and we are allowed entry to view the exhibits, there is no finer feeling than to find a prize card placed against your entry.

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