Welcome to Sue and Mick's Natural Beekeeping blog.

Sue started beekeeping with our neighbour, Jim in this beautiful coastal village of Welcombe on the North Devon/Cornwall border. They both decided to start beekeeping in 2009 and began to attend apiary meetings of the Holsworthy Beekeepers Association. They signed up for the course they were running over the winter and started this, along with another neighbour, Richard, in January 2010.
It was a very good course, but they were all uncomfortable with some aspects of conventional beekeeping. They then came across Phil Chandler and his Barefoot Beekeeper book and website. This way of beekeeping uses Top Bar Hives which are the type used all over Africa, The Caribbean and many other places in the world. They predate the conventional hives that are used in most developed countries by hundreds of years. The bees build natural comb onto top bars and are managed with as little intervention as possible.
Sue and Jim realised that The Yarner Trust, in our own village, was running a Natural Beekeeping course, with Phil as tutor, in April 2010, what a coincidence ( or is it synchronicity? ). Anyway they both signed up and Yarner asked if they would be prepared to look after the bees for the courses and house them in Sue's field. Jim and Sue decided to say yes and the hunt was on for a nucleus of bees that would be ready in time for the course.
This was not an easy task. No one knew, at that stage, how their colonies had fared over the severe winter and most people had a long list of people already for their nucleii. Beekeeping has become very popular recently with many people realising that bees are in trouble and need our help. Also, as they learned more, they realised that there was a lot of prejudice amongst some conventional beekeepers against Top Bar Beekeeping. Oh dear 'politics', even in beekeeping! This, unfortunately, meant that some beekeepers said they wouldn't sell bees to go in a Top Bar Hive. They also needed a couple of hives to start the apiary off.
After a couple of months of phone calls and headaches Phil managed to source a nucleus of bees and Dave Baker, one of the Yarner Trustees, made 2 Top Bar Hives. So, they were off!
The weekend course with Phil went ahead and was great. Sue & Jim were now very 'green' beekeepers. They had quite a lot of problems over the first 2 months, mostly to do with the fact the bees were in conversion from 1/2 Dadant frames to Top Bars. They then got a second nucleus, which were on Top Bars already. These came from Heather Bell bees on the Lizard.
They began keeping a small book, with notes to each other, in the hive. It served as a record of everything they did and how the bees were doing. Unfortunately there was a leak in the roof of one of the hives and the book got wet. Hence the birth of this blog. They added all the notes from the book on here and have since used this as the record of the progress of the apiary.
In May 2013 Jim moved to Herefordshire and we agreed to change the name of the blog to Sue and Mick's Natural Beekeeping as, over the past year, Mick has become more and more interested in and involved with the bees.

Phil Chandler (The Barefoot Beekeeper) website which has links to UK courses and Phil's books etc:

Heather Bell bees - source of Top Bar nucleii although very expensive. It's probably better to try and catch a swarm locally:

Black Native Queens:

Varroa Mesh:
Flash band for hive roof:

Shellac flakes or buttons, they also sell thinner:

Shellac thinner for making up a shellac coating for the inside of a hive, they also sell shellac:

Good quality affordable suits and equipment:

Top Bar hive tools:

Top Bar Hives and Nucleus Boxes:

Paul Holdaway, in our village, makes the hives and nucleus boxes shown in our blog post of 24th March 2017 - the picture taken in the hall. His phone number is 01288 331252

Thursday, 29 July 2010

26th July

Got a call from Mick saying that he'd seen a strange tight ball of bees around the front of the Lizard Hive about the size of a apple. The time was about 9:30pm. When we went down to investigate the ball had disappeared. The temperature had dropped by this point so I didn't want to open the hive and investigate, but it was evident from the small amount of activity outside the hive that all was now well.

My guess was that either the bees were all rushing to get in (thunder clouds overhead) or they were dealing with an intruder. There was no sign of robbing from the Buckfast hive though.


24th July Yarner Natural Beekeeping Course comes to visit

Having recovered after about 3 hours from my first sting (just above my right eye)on Friday I was very glad to find I did not look like a prize fighter when the course participants turned up on Saturday.

Phil showed the group both hives, starting with the Buckfast. We added a top bar to each end of the Buckfast which is now pretty much at capacity. We will build our future hives about a foot longer.

The Buckfast bees remained happy throughout and no one was buzzed (warning noise) let alone, stung. This colony is now busy filling the empty brood cells with stores and we feel quite happy that they will be fine for the winter.

We moved on to the Lizard colony afterwards, they only arrived in early July as a nuc (see below) so have had their work cut out to build up quickly. They built an extra 4 combs within 2 weeks, but we will have to hope that there is a sufficent nectar flow to ensure that they have enough over winter. We added another 2 top bars at either end.


Friday, 23 July 2010

Thurs 22nd July
6pm Went to see bees with Chrissy, Lee and Alby. Alby wore his bee suit and decided to pull follower board (gently) aside to show his Dad the bees.A bit worried as it looks like the end comb has broken off 3 - 4 inches down.
Fri 23rd July
5.45pm Phil arrived for course. Came to visit bees. Investigated severed comb; not as bad as I had first thought. The bees appear to have repaired it quite well. Phil seemed fairly happy with their condition.

Monday, 19 July 2010

2 pm Removed varroa board from Lizards after 7 days. Count was 65, divided by 7 = 9.28 and x 30 = 278, but as there are less bees than a full colony, wondered if we should multiply by more. I'll get Jim to check count when he gets back from being away and see what he thinks. Otherwise bees very busy today in sunshine.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Alby modelling the new bee suit for him, June and Rufus to wear.


Monday, 12 July 2010

     The Lizards in their hive

1.30 pm T 23 C. Decided to name hives Buckfast (1st colony) Lizard (2nd colony). Weighed Lizard hive (L) 21 kgs (R) 21 kgs. Very pleased as quite a lot heavier than Buckfast were at this stage. Looked in hive, both ends and found they were building on the new bars. So they now have 10 bars with comb on. Will put another bar in soon. Bees very busy bringing in nectar and pollen. Fitted varroa floor for a 7 day count, depending on weather conditions. Have a very different character to Buckfast hive and are thinner. More Italian in them we think.

Sprayed Homeopathy (8) in Buckfast hive . Building some cross comb, but only extends across 2 bars and is stores, not brood. Weighed (L) 35 kgs (R) 31 kgs, still growing. Put in another bar. A lot of drones around, but no signs of swarming.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

6 pm Visited  by Richard B and his Woofers. Very interested in bees. Sunny for the first time today and bees flying very busily. New bees had taken most of their feed. Won't give them any more, especially if the weather stays good now.

                   First colony's viewing window
Saturday 3rd July 9 am 
New bees from The Lizard were picked up for us yesterday by Essie and Richard. Collected them from their house last night. After getting the hive leveled off and high grass cleared, we put them in the hive. Eight bars, 6 have good combs with supplies and brood. One had a small comb on and they were just starting to build on the 8th one. Lots of bees. Didn't see the queen, but they are happy and soon got used to their new home. Gave them a feed of 100 mgs sugar in 100 mls water in contact feeder. Also dusted them well with icing sugar. We put 2 more TBs in for them too. Definitely more feisty than our first colony, but no stings.
Put one more bar into first hive.

Jim carrying nucleus box down to the apiary

New bees in their hive

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Wednesday 30th June '10 1.30 pm
Weighed (R) 27.5 kgs (L) 31 kgs
Really building up well now. Less than 3 wks ago it was (R) 22 kgs (L) 24 kgs.
Removed varroa floor and moved bees into other hive. Mick had put an observation window in it, made a new roof and put another coat of linseed and beeswax (our own) on. Richard N came to help us and it went very well. Bees had built on new bars, so we now have 19 bars. We put 2 more in. There were 2 lots of 2 bars where they had fixed them together with cross comb. We decided to leave these as we could have damaged the delicate new comb on the new TBs in each case. There was another one however where they had fixed 3 combs together. We removed this cross comb which was full of honey, our first proper taster of our own honey - lovely. No sign of queen cells, a lot of drone brood and drones though. Saw queen. Everyone seemed happy. Dusted well with icing sugar.   
Moved the other hive well away and let the remaining bees fly home when they were ready.
Varroa count 58 over 4 days. So divided by 4 = 14.5 (daily count) and multiplied by 30 is 435. Not too bad, but we need to keep a check and dust again.
5 pm Sue went and helped Dennis, in a nearby hamlet, hive his new nucleus into a TB hive. The more bees the better! His bees are from the same place as our new nuc is coming from. They are feistier than our bees, but OK.
7.30 pm 
Bees still flying well and seem very happy. Looked through observation window and it's great. The children are going to love it. When Mick fitted the window he used silicone to stick it on. None of this was on the inside of the hive though, apart from a tiny bit where the glass had chipped off at one corner. We tried to cover this with wax, but it wouldn't stick. The bees were not happy with this at all and were busy pulling strings of it out and dumping them out of the hive. Have visions of them removing the window and carrying it out too.
The new nucleus is arriving on Friday, so Mick is going to blowtorch the inside of the empty hive, re-oil it and finish it's new roof ready for Jim and Sue to hive them on Saturday.