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

Monday, 18 October 2010

Monday 18th October '10

The Lizards took no feed at all. Removed it last night after 3 days. It was very warm and sunny the last 2 days, so they had plenty of opportunity. Either they don't need it or they couldn't be bothered.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Saturday 16th October '10

Applied a good dusting of icing sugar to both hives on Monday 11th Oct as it was a sunny warm day, 15 C, and the bees were flying well. Lizards looked much more lively than a couple of weeks ago, bringing in pollen. Buckfasts very busy as usual.
Thurs 14th Oct '10 Mick and Jim went down to hives at 8.30pm with the intention of moving the Lizards, because of our worries about damp. However decided that it wasn't worth moving them. Damp seems to be mostly due to the low number of bees not keeping the temp up in the outer parts of the hive. Hopefully the main cluster area, over the winter, will keep warm enough and damp free. We'll just have to sort out the hive next Spring. They put a towel over the top of the bars to absorb moisture and to help keep them warm. Mick will make some boxes to put over both clusters which we will put sheep's wool in to do this job more efficiently.
Gave the Lizards a feed again as we were worried about supplies now they have more bees again. A bit late to feed really, so we'll keep an eye on it to check if they take it or not.

Monday, 4 October 2010

4th October

A sunny day!  By 11:30 the temperature had got up to 17 degrees C, so I thought it was worth using the time to check on the progress of the two hives.

As expected the Buckfasts were very active with pollen and stores coming in and around 20 - 30 bees going in and out of the entrance.  At the observation window I could see a dense mass of bees covering a good half of the hive.  I removed the cork covering one of the 3 entrances to give them more access.

Down at the Lizards things were not so busy. A couple of bees were gingerly exiting the hive.  There was a dead drone still clinging to the entrance hole and half a worker in the hole.  I cleared these and a couple more bees came out.  The wasp trap gave off an almighty stench and I think a couple of slugs may have managed to get in and begin to decompose.  When I emptied it there was a large hornet inside.  This may account for the half eaten worker at the entrance.

Sue and I have both been concerned that the Lizard Hive is in a poor state and won't survive the winter, so I took this opportunity to have a look inside.  There had been no further activity in building new comb on the outer edges but the central combs had been refilled with stores and much has been capped.  The truely great news is that on three of the combs there is worker brood, surrounded by stores.  However the hive still has a large number of drones and there was still the occasional patch of drone brood.  The mood of the bees was quite testy.  If I moved the combs too quickly a sudden loud roar came up and dropped down again just as quickly.  The bees that crawled up onto the top of the topbars seemed to be jumpy, occasionally jumping on one another like flies do.
I corked one of the entrance holes to reduce the chance of robbing and noticed there was a steady stream of a few bees returning laden heavy with pollen.  This hive is still the size of a large nuc and will have a hard time getting through the winter, but at least the queen has produced new workers and been accepted.  Lets hope for a long warm dry autumn.