Honey Grade and Color Classifications & Good News for the Atlantic Region: Canadian Report on Wintering Loss

Friday 18 September 2020

As we enter fall, preparing our hives for winter becomes the beekeeper's priority.  Fall management is a strong determining factor on winter survival of our honey bee colonies.  With the bees already facing severe drought conditions in some areas of our region, extra care is needed to manage winter losses going into spring 2021.  This year's CAPA report is hot off the press with winter loss data for 2019 / 2020.  Read on to find out how beekeepers from our region and across the country did last winter.  Also, this week, we continue to talk about honey with some additional information on grades and classifications.  

Honey Grade and Color Classifications

If you export, import or trade honey interprovincially, you must have a grade name on your honey.  Honey produced in Canada may have a grade name of Canada No. 1 Canada No. 2 or Canada No. 3.  To avoid confusion on country of origin, imported honey will have a grade name of No.1, No.2 or No. 3 with the word Canada removed.

To be classified as Canada No. 1, honey must meet the criteria as set out in the Government of Canada’s “Canadian Grade Compendium: Volume 6 – Honey”.  We already know about moisture content generally from previous blogs but specifically for Grade No. 1 honey, a moisture content of at or below 17.8% must be achieved (18.6% if labelled as “pasteurized”).  Also, Canada No. 1 honey must: “have a diastase activity, determined after processing and blending, as represented by a diastase number on the Gothe scale of:

(i) not less than eight if the hydroxymethylfurfural content is not more than 40 mg/kg; or [normally this would be the expectation for our wildflower honey]

(ii) not less than three if the hydroxymethylfurfural content is not more than 15 mg/kg; [this second category is for specific floral honeys which are naturally low in diastase].”

What is diastase activity? Well, diastase, is a major enzyme found in honey which comes from the pharyngeal glands of the honey bees.  An enzyme is a substance which acts as a catalyst to bring about a chemical reaction.  In honey, diastase helps convert starch into short chain carbohydrates.  This process, when measured under laboratory conditions, results in a numeric indicator (Gothe Scale) of this enzymatic, conversion activity.  This enzyme is damaged or destroyed by heating and hence the reason why honey must have a minimum amount to show that it has not bee overly altered by processing.

Hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) is a furanic compound (furan is a compound that occurs in food products that have been heated and from sugars undergoing thermal degradation).  Theoretically, this number should be zero in fresh honey!  So, when the enzyme levels are low (as measured by diastase) and the HMF levels are high, this is thought to mean the quality of honey is degraded.  These measures are also a reflection of the freshness of the honey!

The colour of the honey designates the class of the honey, not the grade.  For consumer-packaged honey the classifications are White, Golden, Amber, and Dark.  The colour of the honey is measured on a scale with a numeric designation using a Pfund Honey Grader.  This standard method of determining honey colour, uses a device on which a sample of honey when placed on a glass surface, is matched against a colour gradient.  The distance along the calibrated surface provides a measurement in millimetres.  Therefore “white” classification will read not more than 30mm on the Pfund scale.  “Dark” classification is honey which exceeds 85mm on the Pfund scale.  A less complicated and inexpensive way of determining honey classification is with the use of a Jack’s Scale.  This tool can be purchase at a honey supply store and is very easy to use.  A quantity of honey is place in a small sample cup in order to provide a consistent white background.  This sample is then matched to supplied cards which have gradients of colour and a corresponding Pfund scale number.  Another method of determining honey colour is by using a digital honey colour grader.  These are less commonly used by beekeepers as they can cost hundreds of dollars, require the use of chemical reagents and technical calibration.

For all the details of grades and classifications of Canadian honey go to 

Government of Canada Honey Grade Web site

Good News for the Atlantic Region: Canadian Report on Wintering Loss

Each year the Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists (CAPA) publishes their "Statement on Honey Bee Wintering Losses in Canada".  This report is based on data collected through homogenized questions asked to a sample of each province's beekeepers by our provincial apiarists.  This year's results based on the winter season of 2019 and 2020, showed that nationally there was an increased winter loss rate.  This past winter Canadian beekeepers reported a winter loss of 30.2% compared to the previous year’s (2018 / 2019) rate of 25.7%.

Overall, our region showed a good result with all Atlantic provinces reporting below the national average.  Also, all four provinces showed an improvement over the previous years losses (Table 1).  Prince Edward Island had the most successful winter and this is a great result when compared to previous year’s winter losses (54.1%).  Newfoundland showed a good improvement bringing their number down from nearly 30% in 2019 to this years 17.9%.  Nova Scotia (19.4%) and New Brunswick (24.9%) showed marginal improvements of 0.4% and 1.4% respectively.

Table 1. Survey Parameters and Honey Bee Colony Mortality (2019 / 2020) for Atlantic Canadian Provinces

Winter losses, as a reflection of hive health, determine the number of hives available for pollination and the ability of the industry to expand colony numbers during the following season. Last winter’s weather was good for beekeepers in most of our region and the winter loss data reflects well on our regions beekeepers. This results does not look at summer losses which, with this years drought, may be an important factor in our beehive numbers going into and surviving this winter. Also,looking at previous years with abnormally dry or drought conditions there may be a correlation between summer drought and the following winter season’s losses. Areas of NS, NB and PEI are all showing extreme drought (see drought map in figure 1). This designation represents an event that occurs every 50 years. If there is a correlation between drought and winter losses, we need to be extra vigilant in our fall management in preparation for winter. So ensure your take care this fall with feeding and Varroa mite control!

Figure 1. Drought map of Atlantic Canada - August 31, 2020 (from Canada Drought Monitor - Agriculture and Agri-Food  Canada).

Connecting with ATTTA Specialists

If you’d like to connect with ATTTA specialists or learn more about our program, you can:

visit our website at https://www.perennia.ca/portfolio-items/honey-bees/

Email abyers@perennia.ca

Thanks for following along with our blog and keeping up with the ATTTA buzz & don't forget to subscribe!