In July 2015, I visited the Southern Show in July where I met and had a wonderful conversation with Norrie and Esther Mills. As I live in Ramsey was encouraged to speak with Pat Shimmin after the show.

As a result of Pat’s encouragement and Pat and Kaerron advising on my proposed garden apiary I joined the Southern association. Despite living in the North and joining the Southern group I hope to attend some of the other groups in the near future.

After my meeting with Pat to discuss whether I could start as a Beekeeper straight away or whether it would be better to wait for the spring training I decided to start keeping bees in August 2015 by taking on 3 hives purchased from a retiring beekeeper. This was a great decision, a big thank you to Pat for her patience, clear answers and reassurance of support when needed.

I also made a visit to see Harry and Audrey Owens to purchase some filters and buckets and was all set. I extracted my first honey in September with the help of a loan extractor and settling tank from Pat and Kaerron.

The honey was delicious and unlike any I had tasted before. I shared some Honey with the neighbours who were pleased to receive it and kindly invited the bees to visit their gardens. 

The Southern meetings have been very interesting and informative, I recommend any beekeeper to attend their local meeting. The meetings are very friendly and lots of tips are shared on keeping the bees healthy and on preparing for the honey show. 

I attended the Food and Drink event at Villa Marina on the Sunday to help out in the Beekeeper’s tent. It is a great way to learn more about how the wider public see our hobby and try and answer some of their questions. I was really pleased to meet so many children with a keen interest and knowledge of bees and enjoyed converting a few non-honey eaters to both try and buy some of Pat and Kaerron’s delicious Maughold honey.

 The Honey Show

 Last Friday night and Saturday the Honey show took place and with the encouragement of the other members I entered my honey to be tasted and compared to others from across the Isle of Man.

The variety of honey on show was fascinating, colours varied from pale straw, through medium to almost jet black. I was salivating during the judging, regretfully we couldn’t all taste along with the judge and the steward, David. I will gladly volunteer for David’s job next time, including the tea making. 

Michael Young MBE was our judge and he did an outstanding job of keeping us entertained and informed as he judged all the categories except for the 12 jars late into the Friday evening.

Judges concerns and some testing 

It was unfortunate that some entries were rejected before tasting due to the flow seal in the lid degrading and “contaminating” the honey with white particles. I will be doing some experimental testing to see what the root cause of this is so we can all avoid it in future. Michael has also experienced this himself recently. If anyone else has had this problem please let me know how you prepared your lids and where you purchased them from.

Michael had another concern about the weight of some of the entries. When weighed the weight of full jars was 1 Pound, 6 and 5/8 Ounces, Michael was concerned this was underweight as he expected an empty British Standard Squat Honey jar with lid should weigh 7 Ounces. I challenged this as I have experience in manufacturing and I am aware of various glass lightening and glass saving projects carried out in the industry to save cost of materials, energy and shipping. On the Saturday Kaerron brought in a box of jars and I weighed a sample from the box, they were all under 7 ounces. I have since received a donation of old jars for recycling next year and will clean and measure these and report the findings. I have looked into the jar specification and find that BS 1777:1956 and reissue in 1981 are now both discontinued. If anyone has a copy of the standard I am very interested to borrow one to read as they are expensive to purchase.

Checking the grading of clear honey into light medium or dark categories is another test the judge performs. Specialist glasses are used to define the boundaries of the light and dark ends of the colour range for medium honey. If your honey is lighter than the lightest glass you have light honey, if it is darker than the darkest glass it is dark honey. Everything else is medium honey.

As a consultant in process improvement I am interested in measuring things that are difficult to measure and in the quality of decision making. It was interesting to note that Michael was also concerned that the original BS 1656:1950 standard grading glasses looked quite a bit different in shade to more modern plastic honey grading “glasses”. It is easy to assume that the glass with a standard labelled on it is the correct shade but this may not be the case. The 1950s glass with dye may not be optically stable over time or with repeated exposure to light they may have been bleached or have darkened. The modern plastic items may be produced to the correct standard, with a stable modern dye that will not fade. The reverse for both glasses may also be true. The key thing with measuring anything is to know whether your measuring instrument can be trusted. A steel rule only measures accurately at 21 degrees C. A pair of callipers with scale only measures accurately if the tips are not worn away. I will look into this issue but might need to borrow some glasses.

My show entries – Honey

I entered the New Beekeepers category with a single jar of clear honey and one of naturally crystallised honey. I also entered 2 jars into the medium clear honey category as I wanted to see how well my bees had done compared with those of much more experienced keepers. I didn’t realise before the show that this would be the most highly contested category with more entries than any other. On reflection, it should have been obvious that there will almost always be more medium honey than other varieties unless great care is taken to selectively extract.

I am delighted that my bees have produced some great honey this year, I know as I have been enjoying it every day since extraction. I was shocked to find on Saturday that my honey had won 2nd place in the 2 Jars of Medium Honey and 2nd place in the New Beekeeper categories. Thanks again to the members of the Southern group for all their encouragement and support.

My crystallised honey was commended but didn’t win a prize as it was still partly liquid. This was due to me transferring it from a jam jar to a squat honey jar and not allowing enough time for it to fully set again before the show. I have learned something for next year. After the competition, Michael kindly tasted another jar of my fully set crystallised honey, it would have won a first if it had been in the correct jar, something else I have learned for next year.

My show entries – wax and other categories

My bees had also provided lovely wax from the cappings that I melted and cast into bars. I melted them again and made a wax cake for the competition. This is tricky to do well as it needs to be cleanly filtered, more than 25mm think and not overheated. It took a few attempts to cast without specks and cracking. I was commended for my attempt this time and learned some great tips to improve next year.

I entered a lemon and honey cake in the own recipe category, it wasn’t a traditional honey cake but it was highly commended this time. Next year I will try the other competition categories with fixed recipes. This will have to be on one condition that they contain butter and not margarine. I don’t use margarines and cannot bring myself to put synthetic margarine with beautiful natural honey. I make a request to the committee to please switch to new recipes with some wholesome Manx butter.

I also entered a photograph of one of my Drones hanging on the edge of the hive which was taken with my mobile phone. Many people have a mobile phone and the quality of the cameras now is superb, my snap was able to be blown up to A3 size with no degradation. There was only one other competition entry and while I was pleased to win first prize, I think we need many more entries to make for a more exciting competition and for the win to feel worthy. I hope more people will enter next year, if you have a phone there is no real excuse not to have a photo of your Beekeeping activities next year.

Other entries

The show also has many other categories where the talents of the Manx beekeepers are on display. Esther and Norrie were the sole exhibitors in some categories but had some tough competition in others.

There were three cast candle exhibitors, all of these had some minor issues with the flame height due to the wick used. Michael gave us some great advice on wick thickness and how the use of a Mordant to pickle the wick is needed to produce a high quality candle with a beautiful flame. Michael also demonstrated the correct way to blow out a candle and avoid splattering molten wax by placing your index finger in front of the flame and blowing onto your finger.

There was only one dipped candle entered by Norrie but the comparison of this with all the cast candles lit together was a great demonstration and Michael provided lots of great information on how to improve both cast and dipped candlemaking.

Norrie exhibited a lone entry in the encaustic art category, a beautiful painting, I am looking forward to seeing how this is done in January.

There were a few entries in the furniture wax and furniture cream categories that Michael tested before selecting a winner. The Cough mixture category only had a solo entry as did the needlework which was won with a beautiful cross stitch / tapestry by Esther. There were several lovely flower arrangements providing a challenge to identify all the plants included.

There were many entries in the cake and confection categories but there could easily be more, Michael shared some of his many years of baking experience and told us a secret knowing how to mix a cake to perfection.

I am sure I have missed describing some categories and some of the entries but before I finish I need to mention the craft entries that the Brownies and Guides made that decorated the hall. The pompom bees, collages, drawings, puppets and hats were fantastic and really brightened the hall.


I have never entered anything like this before but beekeeping seems to have grabbed hold of me this year, I thoroughly enjoyed the reading, learning and practical hobby with great rewards.

It has been a fast 3 months but I am really pleased to have made some new friends, learned a little about beekeeping, taken part in some new activities, made some mess in the kitchen with honey and wax and won some awards for my efforts.  

I have a long list of things to do next: Woodwork on my hive supers to correct the bee space; make a display case for wax; make a case for displaying a comb. What a fantastic wide ranging interest beekeeping can provide. There is so much more to learn.

If you want to continually improve the quality of the honey and honey produce then the best people to learn from are the judge and your fellow beekeepers.

Thank you again to Michael and to my fellow Manx beekeepers for your friendship, enthusiasm and open knowledge sharing to help me get started. 

Ian Buxton

(This article was approved for circulation by the President of the IOM Beekeepers Federation and the Isle of Man Bee Disease Officer.)


3 Responses to A New Beekeeper’s Journey to the Honey Show

  1. Kate says:

    This is a very interesting post for someone with a newly developing interest in beekeeping – thank you

  2. […] This year I also brought along a friend who is interested in taking the beginners beekeeping course in January. With her Pandora honeybee dangling from her wrist she walked around with me with the same excitement I had back in 2011. I was also delighted to speak to Ian, a beginner beekeeper who jumped into the game this July – his well written write up on a beginner beekeeper’s experience can be found here. […]

  3. Janet Thompson says:

    Congratulations Ian – it was really nice to read your article and see how enthusiastic you are – hope you beat me next year in the medium honey class! Janet

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