Preparing Honey for Sale and Show

Moisture content in honey

Ideally, honey should contain less than 17.8% water. If the moisture content is higher than 20%, it may ferment due to the presence of yeasts in the honey.

Honey is hygroscopic and if it is not carefully stored in a sealed container it will absorb moisture from the air.

The internationally recognised standard is that honey should have a moisture content of less than 20%. (23% for Heather honey in the UK). With a high degree of accuracy, Beekeepers must ensure moisture levels in their honey is within the legal limits.

The best way to ensure your honey is ready to harvest is by only spinning out capped honey. Some beekeepers use a refractometer to check the moisture content in their honey is within legal tolerances. Here is a link to UK honey legislation. https://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2015/1348/made

General

  • Always maintain clean comb in your supers – use starter strips and about three full sheets per super.
  • Try to extract honey as soon as possible after it’s capped to avoid it setting.
  • Always use clean utensils and equipment.
  • Make sure the extractor is spotlessly clean.
  • Keep honey or comb covered to protect it from dust.

Clear Honey

  • After extraction, you may need to warm the honey to about 40c for about 4 hours before fine filtering. Then allow it to stand in a settling tank for about 48 hours to allow all air to bubble to the top. You may speed-up this process with a small heat source under the settling tank (about 60 watts – no more)
  • To keep honey clear, warm it for 10 hours in a cabinet at 40c. It will remain clear for about six weeks. Do not overheat as the honey will be spoilt and can only be used for cooking. Another way is to place your jars in a water bath on a piece of wood (to save the jars from breaking), bring up to 70c, turn off the heat, cover with a lid or newspaper and leave for 25 minutes.
  • When all the air has reached the top, you can use a plastic scraper to smooth the bubbles off the surface. If bubbles remain on the top of the honey in the settling tank, air will converge just above the tap and the last few jars will have all the froth in them. Another solution is to skim off the froth and use at home!
  • When bottling, hold the jar as close to the tap as you can so that as little air as possible is added as the honey falls into the jar.
  • Before labelling for sale, make sure the jar isn’t sticky.
  • Clean the outside of the jars with some form of glass cleaner or meths and polish with a soft cloth. Handle carefully so as not to put smears on the jar or lid.

Soft set honey

Soft set honey is also known as creamed honey. The benefit of honey prepared in this way is that it will always remain pliable. It is prepared by warming and then ‘creaming’ the honey with a blender as seen in Louise’s video.

Soft set is a good way of blending different types of honey. The creamer should never break the surface of the honey to avoid excess air getting into it.

Place your warmed honey (40c) in a settling tank, add any other honey you want to blend and mix together using the creamer until an even consistency is achieved. Allow the honey to settle for 12 hours. Then bottle the honey and label as soft set.

The remainder in the tank should be creamed again and allowed to settle for another 12 hours before bottling. This method keeps the air to a minimum and will minimise any frosting. This can then be sold as creamed honey and should be good for a considerable time.

Cut comb honey

When selecting comb for cut comb honey for show, make sure that the cappings are even and as white as possible. Of course, this also applies to comb for sale but in this case you don’t need a matching pair.

Avoid having honey on the surface of the wax and around the container. It looks unsightly and detracts from the appearance of a first-class product.

For combs with clear honey for show put the comb on a wire grid, wiping the cutter between each piece cut. For show, always cut in the same direction. You can be disqualified for failing to do that. 

Allow the comb to stand on the wire grid to let the surplus honey drain out. Then carefully place into the container. You do not need to take these precautions with heather honey as it is thixotropic.

Cut comb honey draining on a grid
  • Most shows require a matching pair of jars. This means jars of identical shape, mould numbers on the bottom and lids
  • Follow the show labelling instructions; if it says half an inch from the bottom of the jar; put them there!

re-queening a defensive colony

Re-queening a defensive colony

In the summer of 2020, led by Louise, Peter, Denise, Fiona and I went to Swanmore to deal with the defensive colony we moved from West End. Several allotment holders and passers-by had reported being stung at distance and the colony was also highly defensive during inspections.

Having moved the hive to Swanmore, we decided to find and kill the queen allowing the colony to raise a new one. The genetic attributes passed on by the queen influence the whole colony’s characteristics including productivity, frugality with stores, resistance to disease, swarming behaviour and gentleness. it’s hoped that by removing the queen, the colony will raise a new one with a more favourable temperament.

Louise arrived at Swanmore well prepared. She was wearing two suits, three pairs of gloves and had even decided against her usual wellies which have holes in the back! I filmed (some of) our adventures on my mobile phone. We had planned to make the first of a series of ‘how to’ videos for the website.

Unfortunately, the resulting film, despite its obvious comedic value, is not as useful as a teaching aid as we’d originally hoped. I decided not to wear full protective clothing, or gloves, as I needed to work the camera.

“How likely is it” I thought “that I’ll get stung when all I’m doing is filming?” Big mistake! Part way through, I had to abandon the others in order to get properly attired which meant I missed several of the key moments. Also, I wasn’t working the camera properly which resulted in several inexplicable close-ups; sorry Louise!

To make sense of the video, I have added these notes.

1. Assemble the necessary equipment some distance from the defensive colony.

We set-up about 50 metres from the troublesome hive. We prepared an empty brood box, a queen excluder, and an empty super. The super was placed on top of a plastic crate. The queen excluder was then placed on top of the super and the brood box on top of that.

2. Move the hive containing the defensive colony next to the prepared equipment.

Using a hive carrier, Louise and Peter moved the hive 50 metres away from its original site and placed it next to the prepared equipment. In this case, our hive had two supers on it and using the carrier again, these were immediately returned to a floor on the original site. This gave the flying bees somewhere to return to. The purpose of moving the hive is to substantially reduce the number of flying bees and therefore the potential for getting stung!

3. The hive is now positioned alongside the pre-prepared equipment.

The bees from each frame are shaken or brushed off into the empty brood box.

Worker bees crawl through the queen excluder (the flyers can then return to the original site) but drones and the offending queen will be trapped on the queen excluder.

4. Search the brood box to find the queen.

Many workers will escape through the queen excluder, drones sit listlessly on the grill but some workers will crawl up the side of the box. Every part of the box will need to be searched until the queen is found. Performing this task in bright sunlight is very helpful. We were doing it on a slightly grey evening and resorted to using a torch!When the queen is found, she can be caught and dispatched. If you have a swarm post or suitable low-hanging branch, you can squash her on to that. Her pheromone will help to attract future swarms making collecting them easier.

6. Now queenless, the hive can now be carefully reassembled.

Gently brush the bees back into the hive and return it to the original location. If it is a strong colony, it can be split, perhaps into a nucleus hive. If you decide to split, make sure there are eggs in both sides of the split. Ensure there are extra stores in the part of the split not placed on the original site as there won’t initially be any flying bees in that box.

Feed the bees if necessary.

Labelling honey

Here is a summary of the honey labelling regulations. For more detailed information, go to the website of Hampshire County Council. https://www.hants.gov.uk/business/tradingstandards/businessadvice/food/foodlabelling/labellinghoney

  • The word Honey is required
  • The weight must be on the label. It is a legal requirement to display the metric weight in a font at least 4mm high. If you decide to show the Imperial weight as well, the metric weight must be more prominent and it goes without saying, you must ensure your jar contains at least the stated weight!
  • You can specify the area where the honey is produced, for example, Hampshire
  • You can specify the type of honey. For example, Blossom, Heather, Borage. You must be able to prove the honey is at least 75% of the named type
  • If you are selling honey, you must have your name and address on the label. It does not need to be complete but you should be traceable from the information provided
  • If you are selling honey through a third party, you must have a lot number and keep a record of who you supplied it to.
  • You must have a best before date on the jar. We suggest five years from now
  • You must have a country of origin on the jar. Adding the country to the end of your address is not acceptable

Detailed information can be found at https://www.food.gov.uk/search?keywords=honey&fax=

In addition to the above (and this is not a requirement), you may wish to consider a granulation statement. This could be added to a label on the back of the jar. Here’s an example:

This honey was produced in (insert) Hampshire by bees working on local, flowers, trees and crops. This pure honey may granulate (become solid) in cooler conditions. You don’t have to keep honey in the fridge. Granulation is in fact the best proof of a honey’s purity. Honey can be returned to its original state by loosing the lid and standing the jar in a bowl of hot water. To microwave in short bursts, remove the lid, select low power and stir regularly.

Benefits of membership

Your membership of Meridian gives you automatic membership of the Hampshire Beekeepers’ Association and the British Beekeepers’ Association. Our members are also protected by insurance provided by Bee Disease Insurance Limited.

  • Membership of Hampshire Beekeepers’ Association Hampshire Beekeepers’ administer the British Beekeepers’ Association’s education and examination programme for Hampshire and run events and seminars in our area. Hampshire Beekeepers’
  • Membership of the British Beekeepers’ Association includes their excellent monthly magazine, national conventions and events. BBKA
  • Bee Disease Insurance Limited provides public liability and insurance for the replacement of beekeeping equipment should it have to be destroyed due to an incidence of a notifiable disease, such as European or American Foul Brood. Q&A

To join Meridian, please complete our application form or, if you have any questions about membership, please contact our membership secretary stevefallowfield@btinternet.com

To join Meridian, please complete our application form or, if you have any questions about membership, please contact our membership secretary howard.towl@btinternet.com

Introduction to beekeeping

Our next Introduction to Beekeeping course will run between 31 October and 5 December 2022 Read on for more information.

The practical session was magical, coming to the meadow in Swanmore.

June 2021 after the practical day

We honestly are delighted to have picked such a lovely caring group to be taught by. Thank you for enriching our lives so we can help with conservation.

June 2021 after the practical day

I really enjoyed the hive inspection, it was great, we saw all stages of the colony, even the queen! And also the eggs which seem to be quite hard to see, they’re soo titchy! The bees were very amenable with so many novices handling them!

June 2021 after the practical day

As a basic insight to beekeeping, I think it was right on the money!

June 2021

The whole day was very well planned with a lot of thought and effort going in. The session on performing an artificial swarm was particularly useful – the chance to handle and move equipment embedded the manipulation.

June 2021 after the practical day

I had read many books and seen numerous videos but the course really brought home lots of things I had been mistaken about.

March 2021

Being complete novices, we found it all very interesting!

March 2021

It brought home the importance of completing a course like this before mistakes become practice!

March 2021

The course introduces participants to;

  • what bees need
  • some key choices for beekeepers
  • a beginner’s guide to beekeeping throughout the year
  • honey bee pests and diseases and what to look for
  • key products from the hive
  • and a practical day with the bees at one of our teaching apiaries

Time: 19.15 – 21.15 with a practical day in the spring.

Course starts: 31 October 2022 and runs for six weeks.

Cost: £110

Venue: Botley Centre, High Street, Recreation Ground, Southampton SO30 2ES. A twenty minute walk down hill from Botley train station.

To register and for further enquiries, please contact Louise Evans on 01489 781155 Mobile: 07434 952900 or email Louise at louisewithbees@gmail.com

Mentoring

Meridian will appoint a mentor to guide you through the early stages of your beekeeping. Your mentor(s) will help you hive your first bees when they are ready and guide you through the early days by attending your first inspections and helping you understand what’s going on in your hive.

Feeding the Princesses

Your mentor (or somebody else from Meridian or another local beekeeper) will raise your first colony of bees. When those bees are ready, your mentor will;

  • help you ‘hive’ your first bees  
  • attend your first hive inspection(s) to help you understand your colony’s progress and what’s happening in the hive. Your mentor will ensure you know how to recognise a healthy colony and what to look out for.
  • be available at the end of the telephone to answer the questions that will certainly arise during your first season!
  • visit you at your apiary if it’s not possible to answer your questions during a telephone call.
  • from time to time, help you with hive manipulations as you encounter them for the first time; for example, a colony split or artificial swarm, collecting or hiving a swarm or queen introduction.
  • help you or provide advice if something in your colony doesn’t look right or is out of the ordinary.

Additionally, before your first bees arrive, your mentor or somebody else from Meridian will have helped you;    

  • select a suitable site for your apiary and advised you on safety and other considerations; for example; access and avoiding inconvenience to your neighbours.
  • guided you through the selection of your equipment and helped you choose what best suits your individual requirements

Your mentor will not;

  • look after your bees for you! A mentor is exactly that, a more experienced beekeeper who voluntarily gives-up his or her time to advise and guide you. It may be that a your mentor or another beekeeper is willing to help manage your apiary on a more permanent basis and we do have a buddying programme in place. Buddy
  • provide holiday cover. It may be that a member of the association is willing to help you look after your bees when you go on holiday but please don’t take that for granted.  

Robin on mentoring.

Membership renewal 2022

Zara, Phil, Catherine, Louise, Richard, Dawn, Colin, Nicky, Simon, Robin, Tom, Ceri (front row) Tim, George, Rachel, Denise (and Howard behind the camera); the attendees of Meridian’s last apiary meeting of 2021 at Swanmore on Saturday 11 September.
Existing members

On 22 January, we sent you an email containing a link via the British Beekeepers’ Association’s online system. To renew your membership in 2022, click on the link and check your details are up-to date. Then, select the number of hives you plan to run in 2022 and the membership category you require and your subscription will be automatically calculated.

If you did not receive the email, check your junk folder first then contact howard.towl@meridianbeekeepers.com.

The renewal link must be used for existing members. Please do not send your subscription without completing the online form as this may result in a delay to your membership. Any applications made after we have completed our return will result in a delay to your insurance cover and to the receipt of BBKA news.

Once you have submitted the online form, you can send your payment electronically to Meridian’s bank account as usual.

Meridian Beekeepers, Lloyds Bank, Bishops Waltham, 30-90-85, 00962116. Please use your surname as a reference.

New members and those wishing to rejoin

If your membership lapsed in 2021 but you would like to rejoin in 2022, please complete the application form: Membership application form 2022. This form can also be used for new membership applications.

Membership fees for 2022 have been increased by £1.00 and as as follows:

  • Full membership £39.00
  • School membership £39.00
  • Partner membership £18.00
  • Associate membership £17.00
  • Junior Membership £17.00

If you are considering joining Meridian for the first time or would like more information on what’s included in each membership category, please click here for a full explanation. Classes of membership and fees

Changes to British Beekeepers’ Association and Hampshire Beekeepers’ Association subscriptions

The BBKA has increased its 2022 subscription for full members from £19.00 to £21.00 and Hampshire Beekeepers’ Association (HBKA) is restoring its annual fee to £5.00 from £2.00 last year. As Meridian did not reduce your subscription in response to HBKA’s previous reductions, we have been able to absorb most of the £5.00 increase in subscription costs to HBKA and BBKA. However, in order to maintain Meridian funds for apiary and events costs and to support developments such as the proposed queen rearing programme, your committee decided on 16 September 2021 to increase subscription fees by £1.00 in 2022. This is the first increase in membership fees for many years and we hope you will understand the need for this change. For further details about each category of membership, please click here.

If you have any questions at all about membership, please don’t hesitate to contact howard.towl@meridianbeekeepers.com

Managing your apiary

Lisa at our Swanmore apiary

So you’re thinking about keeping bees? Well, we want to help you understand exactly what you’re getting yourself in to!

We’re also keen to ensure that your beekeeping is sustainable because for us, it’s all about the welfare of the bees! This page is to give you an idea of what time commitment would be required in your first year. It is of course, only an estimate; as the skill of the beekeeper increases, less time is needed to complete the tasks. Please note, the time estimates in 2 to 7 below are for one hive and you can roughly multiply the estimate for each additional hive.

Estimated time commitment per hive annually

  • basic training, 20 hours, usually autumn or winter (a one-off time commitment)
  • setting-up, 1 hour, spring
  • hiving your bees, 1 hour, spring
  • inspecting your bees, each inspection is typically 25 minutes; 8 hours, spring through summer
  • building, maintaining and cleaning equipment, 6 hours, usually winter
  • continuous beekeeping knowledge development, 20 hours, mostly during winter
  • extraordinary activity, 10 hours, any time!
  • total time commitment, per hive, per annum, approximately 66 hours
  1. Basic beekeeping training

It’s highly recommended that you attend a basic beekeeping instruction course run by your local beekeepers’ association Introduction to beekeeping. This one-off time commitment is usually an evening class, typically two hours per week running for 6-8 weeks. There is usually a practical session a few weeks later on, typically a weekend afternoon.

Once a new beekeeper has started, it is good practise to keep up-to-date with what’s going-on in the beekeeping world and to make time to improve your knowledge and learn new techniques. There is also an extensive range of beekeeping qualifications which can be pursued by more experienced beekeepers. Most beekeepers attend winter evening talks organised by their local branch and read the BBKA news. There are plenty of text books, websites and tutorials on Youtube but beware, some are of dubious quality!

There are also conferences and seminars for the more enthusiastic. Generally, those involved in beekeeping find it is such an engrossing topic that learning is not a chore but part of the pleasure! However, for the purposes of this page it is estimated that a new beekeeper will commit 18-20 hours per annum to continuously maintain and improve their knowledge.

  • Getting your equipment ready A pre-assembled hive will take approximately 1 hour to set-up. It is less expensive to purchase a self-assembly hive and for a novice, it will take approximately 4 hours to build it. A person experienced in woodwork will be able to complete the task quicker.    
  • Bees arrive When they are ready, your local beekeepers’ association (or another local supplier) will deliver your bees. Hiving your first bees is an unforgettable milestone and is usually very exciting and enjoyable. It will take less than 1 hour for your bees to be hived.
  • Hive inspections Each hive you have will need inspecting at regular intervals and how often a beekeeper opens a hive varies at different times of the year. Each time a hive is opened, it sets-back the bees by at least 2-3 days and best practice states that beekeepers should complete their inspections within 20-25 minutes per hive. You should always have a good reason for opening your hive and this page is not designed to cover how or why hive inspections are completed but simply to provide a guide on the time needed for beekeeping. In mid-Spring through to the end of the swarm season your hive will need inspecting a maximum of once every week for 25 minutes. Later in the season, this will reduce to one inspection per hive every two weeks until the bees cease flying in the autumn. The average time commitment for hive inspections (per hive) is therefore approximately 1 hour per month.

Building Equipment, hives and frames, maintaining equipment

Equipment will need to be maintained in the winter months. There will also be a need to build new equipment like frames. An experienced beekeeper can make a new frame in about five minutes and to make enough frames for a complete hive and two honey supers will take about 3 hours. It will take approximately 3 hours to remove, strip and clean a hive before returning the equipment to store.

  • Extraordinary activity Beekeeping is full of surprises and that’s what makes it so enjoyable. The novice beekeeper doesn’t have to worry too much about ‘extraordinary activity’ because in the early days there will be plenty of help and assistance available from your local beekeepers’ association. There’s also the BBKA, the National Bee Unit and the Bee Inspector; all there to play their part in supporting your beekeeping venture.  However, here is a non-exhaustive list of possible other events which may affect your beekeeping in your first year; Feeding syrup to your colony (4 hours), Collecting a swarm (3 hours), re-queening your colony (1 hour), supering-up for honey, unlikely in year one (1 hour), preparing for winter (1 hour)
  • The role of your Mentor Meridian will appoint a mentor to guide you through the early stages of your beekeeping. Your mentor(s) will help you hive your first bees when they are ready and guide you through the early days by attending your first inspections and helping you understand what’s going on in your hive. Your mentor (or somebody else from your association or another local beekeeper) will raise your first colony of bees. To find out more about mentors, please click here Mentoring
a little drink of water!

If you’ve decided that beekeeping may be for you and you’d like to enrol on our beginners course, please click her for further information Introduction to beekeeping

If it all sounds a bit daunting now, good; you’ve probably got the right attitude! We know that when you get your bees, you will probably thoroughly enjoy them and the many related activities; uncapping and spinning honey, candle and soap making and of course tasting your very own honey!

Enjoy your bees!