Amanda and I just came back from the North American Beekeeping Conference in Galveston, Texas, the annual confluence of the brightest minds and most wilful beekeepers you can imagine. This is the time of the year when beekeepers tend to charge up their minds; for the most part, the bees are in bed for the winter and there is a brief respite before we go into spring preparations. It is the time when we are supposed to get caught up on equipment repairs, update the business plan, reach out to new customers and suppliers, and catch up on all that reading we’ve put aside for those “quiet times”. It doesn’t always work out that way. This year, however, we made sure to take some down time by literally going away to the NABC conference.
It was a conference heavy in discussion about the issues currently affecting beekeepers: pesticides, including new research on how neonicotinoids are having a growing effect on bees; the cockamamie plans by both Health Canada and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to label honey as high in “added sugars” (which will only continue to undermine consumer confidence in the world’s oldest natural food!) and the never-ending problems of dealing with varroa mites and their vector-borne viruses.
There were a lot of interesting research papers also presented by Canadian bee scientists and researchers at the North American Bee Research Conference, which ran concurrently with the NABC. I’m looking to bring in some of those speakers for the 2017 B.C. Honey Producers’ Association Annual General Meeting and convention in Kelowna on Oct. 27-29.
While we were in Galveston we brought down our award-winning amber Harvest Moon honey and entered it in the American Beekeeping Federation’s annual Honey Show.
We’re quite proud of this honey. It has placed first in B.C. in its class four years in a row. But we were skeptical about how it would do in the ABF show, where competition is fierce. Imagine our surprise when our entry placed third in its class.
Yes, it is not a “blue ribbon”, as the folks down here call first place, but it was nonetheless a pretty big deal for us.
We found out later that we were docked marks for not filling the jars to the top of the fill line – a matter of an eighth of an ounce or so. A good lesson learned.
We were the only Canadian entry, and what is just as shocking about getting a ribbon was that our honey later sold at auction for $120 US a bottle! The funds go to the American Beekeeping Federation’s Honey Queen program.
The winner in our class, Timmie Melancon of Gueydon, Louisiana, seemed just as surprised that she took the blue ribbon; it was her first entry. Karen Belli, of Wadsworth, Illinois (on the right) is an old pro at this and she had entered more than eight classes – and won in many of them.
After the show, all of the honeys are auctioned to the highest bidders. The thing that floored us was that our bottles, at a respectable third place, went for higher prices than those of Melancon and Belli. People glommed on to the fact that this was the only Canadian entry. It didn’t hurt that Amanda told the auctioneer that this honey had been “smuggled” into the United States. Everyone had a good laugh at that. (No, it wasn’t really smuggled in.)
I told each of the buyers later that this honey had also won first place in B.C. at the BC Honey Producers 2016 Conference contest in October, and they seemed to appreciate it.
The only honey that sold for higher prices was the top “white” or clear class. Those topped out at $300 a bottle.
After the judging, and before the sale the entries hung out on the ABF’s backlit wall of honour. It was interesting to see the various colour variations; it was a reminder of the incredible diversity of forage that bees will seek out. From almost-clear fireweed to jet-black buckwheat, the honey colours reflected the great diversity of forages bees look for.
I think what pleased Amanda and I more than at least taking a ribbon was that the folks bidding on the honey seemed to really appreciate where it came from.
We learned many lessons and tricks to showing honey. One obvious one, from the photos, is to make sure you bring the right sized labels. American honey shows use a “queenline” style bottle. Our labels were made for standard round jars. They didn’t wrap the bottles too well.