Showing Honey at Fairs

Staff scientist, National Program Staff, Science and Education Administration, Beltsville Agricultural Research Center-West, Beltsville, Md. 20705.

Revised October 1980
Pages 103 – 106

Showing farm produce at the county fair or the State fair is a fine American tradition (fig. 1). Fair visitors can be so fascinated by attractive displays of honey and other apiary products, including observation hives, that we should surely make greater use of such opportunities to promote our products. Honey consumption in the United States is only slightly more than 1 pound per person. If no effort is made to promote its use, consumption could drop still further-and there could be a tendency toward lower prices.

FIGURE 1.-Large observation hive on display at a State fair. Access to the outdoors was provided by a clear plastic pipe

About 200,000 people keep bees in the United States. Most States have a fair and there are hundreds of county fairs. Beekeepers in some States do marvelous jobs of organizing displays at the fairs. The initiative for getting beekeepers’ displays on the fair prize list and then stimulating good, competitive response from the honey producers must come from State or local beekeepers’ associations. Persistent effort by a continuing committee can develop the talent for showmanship present in every community. Expanded use of the fairs could provide the beekeeping industry with an interesting and profitable way to tell many millions of people the good qualities of honey.

Honey Festivals

Ohio beekeepers have for some years worked with the Chamber of Commerce of a strategically located town to stage an annual honey festival lasting several days. Beekeeping displays, educational features, and booths where honey is sold are located in the streets and buildings in the center of town. Local sports events, band concerts, and other activities are all part of the festival. Thousands of people enjoy the festival and much honey is sold. More recently, Michigan beekeepers have followed Ohio’s lead and other States have shown interest.

The Prize List

In working with county or State fairs, beekeepers have to make practical decisions on the most appropriate competitive classes that will best display locally produced products and attract the largest number of competitors (fig. 2). Some State fairs may require an entry of 100 pounds or more in classes such as white extracted honey. This might be too much for good competition at a small fair where an entry of six 1-pound jars might be sufficient.

FIGURE 2.-Part of a display at a State fair. Cabin is made of beeswax.

Following are classes from which selections can be made, as appropriate to the area and the type of fair:

  1. Display of apiary products. Specify the floor or table space available for each exhibitor and the required products.
  2. Liquid honey with separate classes for major color types. Specify the number and size of jars for each entry.
  3. Finely granulated (creamed) honey.
  4. Section comb honey.
  5. Cut comb honey.
  6. Chunk honey (a piece of comb honey in a jar of liquid). Specify the number and size of jars to be entered.
  7. Beeswax blocks of specified weight and possibly an artistic display of molded or carved beeswax figures.
  8. Langstroth extracting combs of honey of specified color.
  9. One-frame observation hive containing worker bees, drones, a queen bee, and brood.
  10. A collection of pressed specimens of honey and pollen plants.
  11. Special classes of honey-baked products such as cakes, cookies, and preserves.

Objectives and Suggestions

1. Besides promoting the sale of honey, showing honey at fairs gives many beekeepers experience in preparing an ideal pack of honey in its most attractive form.

2. If at all possible, persuade the fair board to allow beekeepers to sell honey from their competitive booths. This can mean the difference between success and failure in the whole effort.

3. Try to avoid occasions for hard feelings among competitors. Judging can be made less personal if entries are unlabeled and brought to the judges so that they do not know the owners of the products.

4. Make the requirements for the classes in the prize list specific and complete. Aim for uniformity within classes. If requirements are haphazard and such things as size of container and color of honey are not clearly specified, the diverse entries cannot be properly judged and entries will not look attractive to the visiting public.

5. Don’t allow filtered honey in a nonfiltered honey class.

6. Have a class for smoothly granulated honey. Consumers need more information on the fact that this is another good form in which to eat honey.

7. Use advertising statements in displays that are bright, enthusiastic, and educational without straying into unproved statements about medical or nutritive properties of honey.

8. Encourage local newspapers to interview and report the winners and publish pictures of the displays.

9. Encourage special displays by 4-H Club or other young people’s groups.

10. Try to have the national honey queen in attendance.

Preparing Honey for Competition

Competition-particularly in white, liquid honey classes-can become quite keen, and some beekeepers become very expert in preparing honey for shows. Where competition is keen, beekeepers sometimes select the most ideal combs of honey, extract them in a hand extractor without the use of a honey pump so as to avoid incorporating air bubbles, strain the honey carefully and allow it to settle, and place it in jars free from crystals, bubbles, or specks of any kind. If show honey contains crystals, the honey may be heated cautiously until the crystals dissolve. Air bubbles may be brought to the surface by gently warming the honey for an hour or more. Moisture is best removed from honey by exposing combs to warm, dry, moving air before extracting.

Smoothly granulated honey is prepared for shows by seeding liquid honey with about 10 percent finely crystallized honey, mixing carefully, bottling, and storing at a temperature as close to 57°F as possible. If stored at the right temperature, the prepared honey will set firmly in about a week.

Judging Honey

It is sometimes difficult to secure the services of a competent judge, so it is wise to publish a fairly comprehensive score card in the prize list to help the judge consider all appropriate points. Following are some suggestions for judges:

1. Take along a container for water, several cloths, a drinking glass, toothpicks for tasting samples, an extension cord and light bulb to back-light samples, pencils, and record sheets.

2. At all major fairs, use a refractometer to measure honey water content and a Pfund grader or color classifier to measure the color of liquid honey entries.

3. Have samples in each class brought to a judging table. Keep arranging and rearranging the samples in order of merit and after some study the relative merits will stand out clearly.

4. Follow the rules and score card, but don’t be overly strict at smaller fairs where beginners need encouragement.

5. Beekeepers put their greatest effort into preparing displays, and prize money is greatest in this category so the competition may be keen. Points often are divided between the quality and appearance of the apiary products in the display and the educational or advertising value and originality exhibited. Some form of motion such as the use of a turntable containing a pyramid of honey attracts attention and earns points.

The following score card is more detailed than most, but because of this it should be more helpful in reminding judges of the important points to keep in mind when judging, and competitors of the more important points to keep in mind when preparing their entries. If judging standards are provided in the fair prize list, the judge should follow them.

Liquid Honey Points
Appearance, suitability, and uniformity of containers 5
Uniform and accurate volume of honey 5
Freedom from crystals 10
Freedom from impurities, including froth 20
Uniform honey in all containers of the entry 5
Color 10
Brightness 10
Flavor and aroma 15
Density (No additional points below 16 percent water) 20
Granulated (Creamed) Honey Points
Appearance, suitability, and uniformity of containers 5
Uniform and accurate volume of honey 5
Firmness of set (not runny but spreadable) 20
Texture of granulation (smooth and fine) 20
Absence of impurities, including froth 15
Uniform honey in all containers of the entry 10
Color 10
Flavor and aroma (such as natural flavors present and undamaged by heat 15
Comb Honey in Standard Sections Points
Suitability, uniformity, and cleanliness of sections (wood) 20
Completeness, uniformity, and cleanliness of cappings 30
Uniform and completely filled honey cells 30
Quantity, quality, and uniformity of honey 20
Cut Comb Honey Points
Accuracy and neatness of the cut edge of the comb 20
Uniform depth and filling of the honey cells 20
Complete, uniform, and clean cappings 20
Quality, quantity, and uniformity of honey 20
Freedom from leakage and general appearance of the pack 20
Chunk Honey Points
Uniformity, cleanliness, and general appearance of the entry 30
Freedom from impurities and granulation 20
Quality of the liquid honey 25
Quality and neatness of the comb honey 20
Uniform and accurate volume of honey 5
Beeswax Points Points
Color between straw and canary yellow (such as undamaged by propolis and iron stain) 30
Cleanliness (free from surface dirt, honey, and impurities) 25
Uniform appearance of all wax in the entry 15
Freedom from cracking, shrinkage, and marks 15
Texture and aroma (such as pure wax free from hard water damage) 15
Bees in an Observation Hive Points
Correct type and color of bees for the class 15
Queen: Size, shape, and behavior 15
Brood pattern 15
Variety: Presence of queen, workers, drones, brood, honey, pollen, and so forth 15
Correct number of bees for interest and ease of observation 10
Cleanliness and suitability of the combs 15
Appearance, cleanliness, and suitability of the observation hive 15
Display of Apiary Products Points
Educational value 20
Advertising value (normally for the products in general, not a brand) 20
Attractive arrangement (pleasing and eye-catching) 20
Originality and variety 20
Appearance and quality of products in the display 20
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