A honey competition.How tough could it be? My honey is great. Mom tells me it’s the best she’s ever tasted! How could any judge see anything other than what she would?
On Saturday, November 4 at the Michigan Beekeepers Association Fall Conference in Kalamazoo, Michigan, I learned volumes about what goes into showing honey and what it takes to be a competitor.
I had the pleasure of having my conference vendor’s table right next to Colleen Harnick. Colleen & her husband Ken have kept bees and been in the honey business for over 25 years. At this conference, Colleen would be the recorder and scorer as the judges analyzed and rated each competitor’s honey. Being placed next to the judging table gave me a unique view of what went into the judging process.
The judges were Chris Beck, District II representative and Norm Adams a seasoned honey judge with many years of 4-H competitions under his belt. They are two really nice guys who brandished the seriousness with which they took their jobs.
Once the judging began, an air of intensity surrounded the table as Chris & Norm got down to business. Tools like flashlights, hydrometers, digital scales and refractometers were implemented. Every flaw and imperfection was analyzed, given a score and recorded. Even the glass of the jars was inspected and scored or irregularities!
It didn’t take long to realize that I was in over my head! Seasoned veterans like Theresa Bristol-Miller and Dan Kuehn brought their “A” game. My friend, Anne Barrat-Fornell and I were caught like deer in headlights as it dawned on us that this was waaaay more than a, “who has the best tasting honey?” contest.
A small crowd had gathered about the table as Chris and Norm did their thing. It was made up of a few curious observers. The rest of us all had horses in the race. We were trying to hear what the judges were saying about our jars as some of us second guessed ourselves and began analyzing every step of what we did and how we did it. As I’ve always found in the beekeeping community, the ones with the most experience were willing to explain their tips, tricks & strategies as we all stood around. Although there were ribbons and bragging rights at stake, information and suggestions freely flowed amongst the competitors. Theresa was the most helpful to me. She gave me some great tips on how to improve my creamed honey process to get a smoother more ribbon-worthy product.
In my defense, I simply grabbed 3 jars of my creamed honey out of the basement to see what the judges might have to say. I thought that perhaps I might even win a ribbon. Wayne Gretzky says, ‘you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” Spoiler alert; I didn’t win a ribbon for my creamed honey. I couldn’t believe the difference between the creamed honey that both Theresa and Dan Storms entered compared to mine. The judges made it apparent though. Ouch!
I thought entering the contest would just be a fun experience where the judges would complement my entries and perhaps even acknowledge me with a few first-place ribbons. I got that wrong. I winced, I held back a few tears and a few times I acted like I had nothing to do with those hex shaped jars some rookie entered into the contest. But, what I gained was a new understanding and appreciation for what a truly great jar of honey should be. I have upped my game. I will now produce a better product thanks to the critiques of Chris & Norm. I met some great people, learned a ton and have already set my sites on next year’s competition.
I won’t have bubbles at the surface of my jar, I won’t let my honey touch the inside of my lid. I will meticulously examine my collection of jars to find the best of the best specimens to put my honey into. And, I hope that we can get even more to participate next year! It’s great way for us to improve our craft no matter where we’re at on our beekeeping journeys.