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, 8 December 2011

Thursday 8th December 2011

A week ago Jim & I checked all 3 hives, as we were worried that the bees may have used up their supplies during the unusually mild Autumn and early winter we have had. We checked the Dolphins and found some empty combs, we removed one of these. Decided to offer them some fondant to see if they took it. We had prepared some TBs with about 1" fondant attached along the underneath. We put one of these in. We then checked The Lizards. They seemed to have used up some of their supplies; we found an empty comb (which we removed) and then one with just a small amount of honey still in it at the LH end. After that the combs seemed to still have quite a lot in. We put in one bar of fondant to see if they wanted it. The Nectans were harder to check. They are still in the nucleus box and it is completely full. We tried to lift a bar at each end, but both had bees on, so we decided to leave it until they cluster to one end. Jim hefted the box and felt it was much heavier than when he brought it back from his parents house. Realised that we need to get them out of there pretty quickly in the Spring. We put the third bar we had prepared into the Lizards hive.
Yesterday I checked to see if the fondant had been taken. The Dolphins had taken the lot, so I put one more bar of fondant in. The Lizards had taken one bar, but hadn't finished the second, so I just left that one in there. I put the bar I had prepared for them into the Dolphins hive, so they now have 2. I decided to just take a look in one end of the Nectans and found I was able to remove the end bar now, which was empty. I went back to the house and prepared another bar of fondant and put this in for them. They seemed immediately interested. Will check again in a few days.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Friday 25th November 2011

Checked the Apilife Var a week later in both the Lizard hive and Nectans' nucleus. Still some left, but decided to add some more. Checked again a week later and not much had gone. Because of this and also because the temp had dropped a little to about 13˚C decided not to put in a third lot. Last week I removed the remaining pieces and started a varroa count. Removed the tray 48hrs later and it was 101, that's 50 a day. A bit better than last time, but still a lot. Discussed our options and decided to shut them up for the winter. We could pour acid over them in the middle of the winter, but that can kill the queen. Covered all three lots of top bars with towels and blankets. We are rather worried about their supplies.   
The weather has been very   warm for the time of year and the bees are out flying most days. We feel they are using up their supplies and are not able to replace them. There is very little Nectar around, although we do have a few Spring and Summer flowers around!! In November?
I took these photos on 23rd November 2011.

Oxeye Daisies
A Rose  

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Saturday 29th October 2011

Well, we fed The Lizards 7 jars of feed with Tea Tree & Lemongrass and then did another count 1 week later. The count was 166 in 48 hrs, that's 83 a day!!! Decided to use some Apilife Var. Probably a bit late, as it's best if used when the temp is above 15˚C. However the temp, down at the hives, did get above that for a few days after putting it in. We also put a few bits of it in the Nectans nuc as we thought they might have a high count too, as they came from The Lizard colony. Checked today and some of it had gone, so I put in some more. Will check again in a week.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Monday 10th October 2011

Finished feeding the Dolphins now. They are all ready for the winter, apart from some insulation on the top of the bars. Did a 48 hr varroa count on the Lizards and it was 155!!! That's 77 a day. Started feeding them syrup with tea tree & lemongrass 3 days ago. They have taken 4 jars so far and have 2 more in there since last night. Will give them one more jar, then do another count after a few days. If it's still high, we will consider putting in some grease patties.
The Nectans (Nucleus) is now back here and doing very well. We are a bit worried that they haven't got enough supplies for the winter, so will try and give them a comb of honey from the Lizards. It's a bit tricky feeding them with syrup as there isn't enough room in the box for a feeder. We will probably give them some fondant in the winter instead.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Friday 23rd September 2011

Jim did the varroa count last Friday. The tray had been on approx 3½ days and the count was 119. Most of those probably fell on the first day, but if averaged out it's 34 a day. He did another icing sugar dusting on both hives and also on the nucleus, at his Mum's. I then did another one on the Lizards yesterday and have put the tray in to do another count today.
I have also put 6 drops of tea tree and about ¼ tsp of Lecithin (as an emulsifier) into one of the jars of feed (Approx 500ml) and fed to the Dolphins. They took it well and so I have made up 2 more jars to give them over the next couple of days. This was a suggestion from Phil on the last course and I've also looked up references to it online. People who have used it seem to have found it effective against varroa. Once they have stopped feeding (soon hopefully) we plan to give some to the Lizards.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Wednesday 14th September 2011

The course went very well at the weekend. The weather wasn't too bad, so they managed to look in the end of The Lizard hive, as well as through the window. They took the varroa tray back to The Barton to do a count. Not good news; there were 41 varroa in 24 hours!!! I did a dusting of icing sugar on Monday and replaced the tray, to do another count later in the week. This will probably be even higher, as the icing sugar should make the bees groom each other and, in the process, knock off varroa. We will then do another count a few days later. I also dusted The Dolphins and Jim is doing the nucleus, when he goes to his Mum's on Saturday.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Friday 9th September 2011

It's the last Beginners' Natural Beekeeping Course of the year, this weekend. Hopefully the weather will at least allow them to look through the observation window on the Lizards' hive.

Our plan for the next few weeks:

1) We are doing a varroa count on The Lizards and will apply icing sugar from underneath if it's high, so they go into the winter with a lowish count, hopefully. If the count is low, I think we will presume that the nuc that came from there is probably low too. Might do a count on The Dolphins though.

2) Weather permitting, we are going to try and move the big hive's stores to one end, as Phil suggested, as the cluster usually moves through the hive towards the stores during the winter.

3) We are feeding our very small caste (The Dolphins) and it seems to be doing OK, despite the wasp attacks. Using 2:1 syrup now. That's 2 of sugar to 1 of water.

4) The nucleus that's in Jim's parents' field (about 3-4 mls away) is doing very well, it has brood and lots of new bees, so sounds like a good new queen. We will either leave it there until mid winter, or bring it back soon. They may need feeding during the winter and we will use fondant by Phil's method of packing it into comb. At the moment it seems quite heavy, so Jim will keep an eye on it when he visits his Mum, by hefting it or weighing it. It might be possible to do this with bathroom scales, as it's just the nuc box.

5) We will insulate the tops of the bars with old towels/blankets/carpets, like we did last winter.

6) We will leave the bottoms of all 3 hives uncovered to allow for ventilation.

7) Jim and Mick have started making 2 new 48" hives. Well they've prepared some of the wood anyway. They will get on with these over the winter. We hope to move the big colony (The Lizards) into one of these in the Spring and the nuc into the other one, probably. The caste (The Dolphins) can go into one of the 2 old hives.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Tuesday 23rd August '11

Not got round to posting for a while, so I'll try and catch up.
Jim and I had a look at all 3 sets of bees on Fri 5th. The Dolphins were about the same. Quite small and still raising brood in the comb on the floor of the hive. As this is the only brood they seem to have, we still don't want to disturb it yet. Wasps still a problem, but they seemed to be coping. Very little stores, so we'll have to keep feeding them.
The nucleus had no brood, but the bees were very defensive and quite ordered, so we think the queen just hasn't started laying yet. The wasps were bothering them and we suspect they may be being robbed from the Lizards. Decided to move them to Jim's parents' place, about 4 mls away, for a couple of weeks and then check them again. We were going to give them a comb of brood, just in case, from the Lizards, but when we opened up the Lizards the weather deteriorated. Also Jim got stung! An unusual occurrence for our bees as we've only had one sting each in well over a year. We decided to leave them alone, as it was going to be a fairly big job with quite a lot of comb attached to the sides to fix.
So, we decided that if the nuc seems to be queenless in a couple of weeks, we will consider combining it with the Dolphins. Also Jim & Mick are going to try and get at least one new, larger hive made within a few weeks and plan to try and move the Lizards into this and sort out their stores for the winter. If the nuc is queenright, we might move it into the old hive.
Jim hasn't managed to look in the nuc yet as the weather hasn't been good when he has been to his parents, but the bees were flying OK and they sounded content. Jim and Mick hope to get started on the hive/hives later in the week.
Have changed feed for the nuc to 2:1 concentration from 1:1, more concentrated, so they don't have to work so hard to dehydrate it, coming into the Autumn.
Jim found a wasps' nest in the church field, over the road, last week and destroyed it. Hopefully that will make a difference.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Monday 1st August 2011

The new wasp traps were useless, so I sent them back. Got some more small glass ones, but they're not much better. Fortunately the wasp numbers have reduced quite a lot, so it's not such a big problem.
The nucleus is doing very well. Decided to leave it near the Lizard hive as it seems to get some protection there. Pollen going in regularly, so hope the queen has mated successfully. Will have a look for brood when Jim gets back from holiday later this week. The cast is still struggling on. Not as vigorous as the nuc, but surviving.
Cluster at entrance 8.30am
Had a shock 4 days ago. At about 8.30am Mick noticed a large cluster, by one entrance hole, on The Lizard hive.
We were worried they might be preparing to swarm, so put a bait hive up on top of a neighbour's garage. They stayed like that all day. In the evening I thought they would have either swarmed, or gone back in.

The beard
At 8.30pm this is what I found - even more bees clustered around the entrance, oh dear. I really didn't know what was going on. Rushed indoors and googled 'bees clustered on outside of hive'. Found that it is 'bearding'. When they get too hot, or it is heavy weather, they often 'beard' like this to cool down. Like us throwing the covers off and opening the window, I suppose. I decided to put in a couple of extra bars and also take off the varroa floor to get more of an up draught. They were a bit grumpy when I opened the hive and poured out all over the TBs in vast numbers, when I moved the follower board. I left it open a little bit to give them some extra ventilation for the night.
The next morning they were still bearding, but less so. I closed up the bars and they were less grumpy.
They continued to beard on and off for a couple of days until the weather became less close yesterday.

More photos taken on the Intermediate course by Michael

Inspecting The Lizards

Is that a queen cell?

Has Phil got fed up with us and decided to take a nap?

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Wednesday 20th July 2011

Wasps are still a problem and unfortunately our 2 homemade traps are not doing the job. We are getting about 50 in the small (bought) hanging trap a day and only few in the bottle traps. So, unfortunately, I've resorted to buying 2 more hanging traps which should arrive today.
Checked the hives on Sunday when the weather improved a little and the Dolphins, at the top of the field, seemed to be coping with fending the wasps off well, but the nuc was clearly having problems still. The Q cell was sealed, but there were several wasps in the hive and quite a lot of dead bees on the floor.
We risked going through the Lizards, as we saw another capped queen cell through the window. We were as quick as possible and fortunately it was the only Q cell we found. Quick decision needed!
We had considered an artificial swarm in the hive, but decided against it:
1) There was only one Q cell, so they were not majorly serious.
2) The weather wasn't good enough to take the time searching for the Queen and would we find her anyway?
3) The nuc needed reinforcing.
4) Hopefully, by the time the weather improves they will have forgotten about swarming.
So, we took the comb with the Q cell out of the Lizard hive and put it in the nuc, being as sure as we could that the queen wasn't on it. We figured it would reinforce the nuc and also give them another Q cell to play with.
The Lizards weren't very happy with this and there was a lot of clustering around the entrance for a while after, but they soon settled down.
We also moved the nuc in front of the Lizards and to the side, as Phil had suggested, hoping they might pick up some more flying bees and have more chance of fending off the wasps.
We just hope this was the right decision, time will tell.
Have checked several times since and the nuc is definitely fending off the wasps more effectively and seems to have more flying bees. I saw pollen going in this morning!

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Link to Phil's video taken at weekend

Here is the link to a video taken by Phil at the weekend showing the Lizards flying!
The bees are flying from the new nuc, but not yet bringing in pollen.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Intermediate Natural Beekeeping Course July '11

Weekend 8th - 10th July '11
There were 11 people on the Intermediate Natural Beekeeping Course, with Phil Chandler as tutor. We were all beekeepers already and/or had been on the introductory course and were getting bees soon.
Phil teaching in the apiary
It was a very good group with lots of varied experience, interaction and ideas. We visited the hives on Saturday afternoon. The Dolphins had taken quite a lot of the feed and were flying well. We opened up the hive and inspected the mess inside, which Jim and I will have to sort out, once the brood has emerged. The bees seemed happy though.
The Queen cell

Comb with strange large horizontal cell
Lizards were flying on mass again and we opened up to see how crowded they were. The first 2 combs were fully formed now and crammed with honey. A few combs in we found an uncapped Queen cell and another smaller horizontal, capped, odd cell that was bigger than a drone cell. We were pretty sure that there was an egg in the Queen cell. Decided to make a nucleus up in the nuc box. We transferred the comb with the Q cell, plus some with new brood and stores and moved it to where the old Buckfast hive used to be. We will keep an eye on it to check for new flying bees, bringing in pollen, over the next few days and then look in next Saturday to see if the Q cell is capped. If it isn't, we'll move in some more young brood. We also might move the nuc in front of the Lizards, if they don't have many flying bees soon, so that some of the Lizard bees go in there. We didn't inspect the whole of the Lizard hive, Jim and I will need to do that next Saturday, in case they make any more Q cells. We put in some more Top Bars for them.
The rest of the weekend went very well, especially supper in the pub on Saturday evening. We checked all the hives on Sunday afternoon and they all appeared happy.

Monday 11th July '11
Mick reported seeing wasps under the Dolphin hive. He put a concrete block under where he thought the feeder might be leaking and refilled the wasp trap. There were loads of dead wasps in it.
The new nucleus
I checked all the hives later. The Dolphins seemed to be flying well and there were only a few wasps around, but not on the concrete block. The Lizards were flying on mass again and able to repel any wasps, I'm sure. The nuc, however, seemed to be suffering from a wasp attack too. It looked as though they were getting in under the roof. Very few flying bees, as yet. I told Jim and he made another wasp trap. He also put in a top bar, to close up the gap where the wasps were getting in under the roof.
The Lizards

Friday, 8 July 2011

New colony - The Dolphins!

Well, we moved the new bees into their hive on Thurs 23rd June. Very difficult as they had built new comb up in the corner of the square box they were in! We tried cutting this off and sewing it to top bars, but it soon fell off and all we could do was leave it propped up on the bottom of the hive. They did have a few other combs that fit in OK. It's a very small colony, as it's just a caste. We saw the queen who seemed very young and healthy. We both looked in over the next few days and they appeared alright. The brood on the comb was still being looked after and the bees were flying well. Had a bit of a problem with wasps, but the bees appeared to be fending them off well. We had left them with only one entrance hole. Also put up a wasp trap in the tree behind the hive. Decided to call them The Dolphins after Paula who gave them to us.
They seemed to have enough supplies for the amount of bees, but after talking to Phil on Wednesday this week, decided to offer them some feed. He had read some research that showed that syrup made with nettle tea increased the brood laying by 30%. Gave them 250gms sugar in 250mls nettle tea.
The Lizards are doing well and flying out in vast numbers. We may form a nucleus from them this weekend, on the Intermediate Natural Beekeeping course that Phil is running here.
Getting ready to put The Dolphins in their hive 'helped' by Alby and Rusty

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Sunday 19th June 2011

Lots has happened in past few weeks. Waited and waited for signs of a new queen in the Lizard hive. They did start bringing in some pollen, but then their activity reduced quite a lot. Jim investigated and was quite worried about them. The largest, still capped, queen cell was there, so must have died, because it should have hatched several days before. The others had opened, but he couldn't see a queen and also thought they were being robbed from the Nectans. He reduced the entrance to one hole, to try and prevent further robbing. We suspected that, if there was a queen, she might have failed on her virgin flight, or got eaten by one of the swallows who had been swooping over the hives. We sought advice from Phil who thought it was worth trying again, by introducing another comb, with new eggs in, from the Nectans, so they could raise another queen. I went to do the deed on Tues, but was shocked by what I found.
At first all looked good, with many bees crowding around the entrance. I watched for a while and they seemed to be behaving oddly and certainly no pollen was coming in. There seemed to be quite a lot of scuffles breaking out and the sound of the hive was 'not content', is the only way I can think of describing it. Also, it seemed that most of the bees were coming from the other hive.
The Nectans were very contentedly bringing in nectar and pollen, or flying off to the Lizard hive.
I opened up and went through the whole hive. There was absolutely no brood and very little honey. I found no stored pollen. All the combs were very light and there was no building going on. The bees all seemed to be taking the honey that was left and flying away with it. There were a lot of drones too.
I was 99% sure most of the bees I saw were from the Nectans' hive and were robbing, despite us cutting the entrance down to one hole. I didn't think we really had a colony left. It really felt pointless to go ahead with moving comb over, as I thought there was virtually nothing to feed them with, even if there were any nurse bees left. I emailed Jim & Phil and followed up with a phone call to Phil. Decided, between us, to reunite the hives & I went ahead with this on Wednesday, on my own, as Jim was away with work. I did it by putting most of the combs into the Nectans' hive at one end. Left them alone overnight and went back on Thurs to remove a few more of the combs. The bees were not best pleased about this and became pretty angry. Just took 2 and put these in the other hive, which is now empty of course, along with the other combs I managed to leave behind the day before.
One bit of really good news is that I had phoned Paula, who had been on the first Top Bar Hive course, because she had offered us a swarm, from her own bees, that she doesn't need. She brought these to us on Friday and they are now, at the top of our field, in her nucleus box. We will move them into their new home sometime over the next few days. We decided to leave them at the top of the field to, hopefully, prevent them from being robbed.
So it looks like we are back up to 2 hives, again. We will have to decide what we are going to do about names. Really, the Nectans should go back to being called The Lizards, because they are now the original, reunited, Lizard colony.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Sunday 22nd May 2011

Bees flying from both hives, more from The Nectans.
Nectan's bees bringing in pollen, which indicates the presence of the queen, as they only do that when there are larvae to feed. As it's 15 days since the split, there wouldn't be any larvae if there was no queen, as the cells are capped after 9 days.
No pollen coming into The Lizards as they are waiting for their new queen, if they have one, to mate.

Removed the varroa tray from The Lizards. Counted 12 varroa in 16 days, which averages as less than one a day - great. Decided it's not worth doing another count on The Nectans, they should be about the same as they were the same colony 15 days ago.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Friday 20th June 2011

Fed Nectans again on Tuesday. Signs of dysentery noticed by Jim on Wednesday and weather much better, so decided to stop feeding.
This is what Jim said in an email yesterday:
"Checked the bees at about 9am this morning, it's a beautiful day (potential swarm).
Good news - the Lizards (who have the queen cell) are building.  Little activity outside the hive, but they have few flying bees, so that would be right.
The Nectans seem much happier they are also building.  Much activity outside the hive
I popped into your garage and put another couple of bars in both hives.
Took out the feed from the Nectans (all gone).
I'll keep a close eye on them whilst we have good weather."
Went to check them this morning with Mick. Temp 19. Wanted to have a quick look at the queen cell, so I could 'get my eye in'. Lifted the bar where Jim said it was and was very surprised to see 4-5 queen cells. There was the very large one at the bottom, that Jim had seen, covered in bees. Then 2-3 badly formed smaller ones. Then we were amazed to see that there was one in the mid RH section which looked like it had had a queen already emerged. I think this was where I saw the lumpy structure a few days after the split. We shut the hive back up quickly and left them alone. Lots of drones looking very interested, so hopefully, whichever queen wins the probable fight, she'll mate successfully.
Queen cell to the right of the middle, queen possibly emerged. Lots of drones visible.

Same cell visible with 2 smaller cells to left of it.

Workers very interested, looking into queen cell.

Workers all over large queen cell at bottom of comb.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Tues 17th May 2011

A lot has happened over past couple of days.
We carried on feeding the Nectans until Fri evening, by which time they had consumed almost 2 kgs sugar as 1:1 syrup.
I wasn't feeling too good on Sunday, when we had planned to have another look, so Jim inspected the hives on his own.
In The Lizards he saw a well formed, capped, queen cell which Mick and I must have missed in our quick inspection on Fri. He also observed that the bees seemed to be clustering in a ball and he was worried that they might be preparing to swarm. The bees were very active and bringing in pollen.
The Nectans, however were not so good. This is what he said:
"The new colony (Nectans) have a huge number of discarded drone larvae both inside and outside the hive, 100+.  Inside the combs are light in weight and have little recent activity, virtually no stores.  There is a comb of sealed brood and  evidence of some (not many) larvae at varying stages.  No eggs.  Searched long and hard for a queen, but couldn't see her.  Not too many bees in this hive so I'm pretty sure I would have see her.  This hive has one or two bees returning with pollen every 4-5 mins, not active.  Many drones hanging around without trying to get in."
We discussed our options and wondered if we should either move the queen cell, or the queen (if we could find her) to the Nectans. We were tending to think that the queen was possibly in the Lizard hive and that the cell was a swarm cell, not a replacement. At that point we were thinking that, as the cell was capped, it had probably been in the making since before the split. We were also worried that the Lizards might have been robbing the Nectans. We decided that we needed to get advice from Phil. Jim emailed him and this was part of his reply:
"Sounds like you need to fortify the Nectans from the Lizards. A simple way to do this would be to swap the hives over (not on your own!) so the flying bees reinforce the other one."
We were a bit thrown by this, until we thought it through, logically:
1)  We realised that the queen cell could well be capped and be an emergency cell in response to the split. Queen cells are capped on the 8th day, the split was done 8 days ago and the egg would have been 1-2 days old then.
2) As there were uncapped larvae, at various stages in the Nectans, this indicates that the queen is probably there, as cells are usually capped on day 9 when the larvae is fully formed.
3) If we swop the hives, the flying bees from the Lizards' hive should go to the Nectans' hive. This would mean they would start bringing in supplies there instead and also would not be robbing them. As the Lizards have loads of supplies, they would be ok for a while and also, as they are strong, they would probably be able to ward off a bid to rob them.
4) If the flying bees mostly decamp to the Nectans' hive, the Lizards would probably have insufficient flying bees to swarm, if that was what they were planning.
So last night at 9.15 we did the swop and also gave the Nectans another feed of 300gms sugar as 1:1 syrup. Put corks in entrances to do the swop and Jim removed these this morning.
It's been very cool the last 2 days and when Mick went down at about 10 this morning there were just a few, slightly confused looking, bees flying around both entrances.
Keep your fingers crossed!

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Friday 13th May 2011

Inspected Lizards' hive on Friday with Mick helping, as Jim away at the moment. Temp only just OK, so had to be quick. The thing we saw on Tues had gone, so it couldn't have been a queen cell, however I saw a lumpy structure in the middle of a comb which was different to and much bigger than a drone cell. I think it might have been an emergency queen cell under construction. Couldn't see any new brood. They were still building comb, so we put in another bar.
Then went to the Nectans' hive. Started looking at bars, but then it began spitting with rain and the temp dropped. Stopped and closed them up after 2 bars, so didn't see much. They have been taking 300gms sugar in 300mls water every day still. As they now have flying bees bringing in pollen, decided to give them some feed tonight and then stop. They will have had almost 2 kgs sugar in total.
Still erring on the side of thinking it's the Lizards that are queenless and hoping that the structure they are building is a queen cell. Hope to have a look at the Nectans over the weekend with Jim.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Tues 10th May '11 We think we were wrong!

Results of sound test Phil did were inconclusive.
Inspected Nectans' hive with Jim today at 1pm. Bees flying around the hive quite a lot, but don't seem to be flying away to gather supplies yet. All the feed gone again, we had given them 2 more jars last night. So they have taken 5 jars now, that's 750gms sugar in 2 days. Will give them some more tonight.
Began to look at bars most likely to have brood on and found some new looking brood. Decided they may have the queen after all, so looked in the Lizards' hive instead.
Bees building very busily on new bars and bars from Buckfast colony. Saw what we think may be a very new queen cell. Took pictures, but they didn't come out very well. Too many bees in the way. Decided to leave them alone and check again in 2 -3 days. There may well be more queen cells, but we didn't want to risk chilling whatever it was we saw.
Possible queen cell in Lizard hive.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Monday 9th May 2011 First Natural Beekeeping Course of 2011

The Lizards have continued to build comb at a rate of knots! On Friday they were up to 19 bars. They had built about a third of a comb on the bar I put in on Weds. Bees very busy bringing in nectar and pollen.
Phil arrived on Fri afternoon for another weekend beekeeping course. Had a look at both hives with me. Just looked in the end of the Lizards and felt we could go ahead with a split over the weekend, weather permitting. We added yet another bar. Quick look at dead Buckfast hive and Phil felt that no disease was present. Decided to go through with course members on Sat. I put the varroa tray under the Lizards later that evening.
Phil arrived with the course members late morning on Sat and we looked at both hives. Verdict on the Buckfasts is that they probably went queenless sometime over the winter and so dwindled away. There was no sign of disease, or over dampness, he thought that if they had had Nosema (the most likely winter disease) there would have been much more dead bees, as they tend to die quite quickly.
We cleaned up the hive and put back a few clean bars with fairly new, empty comb on.
The Lizards were flying in vast numbers. We went through the whole hive and they behaved impeccably. Not a single sting and yet they were all around us! Perfect, even comb and they were building manically on the newer bars. One varroa on the tray. Not 24hrs, but still pretty good. We also looked in a few drone cells and no sign of varroa. No sign of deformed wings either. All very good.
There were no queen cells and we couldn't find the queen. Phil thought it would be fine to go ahead with the split. They went back for lunch and then came down around 3.30 and we went ahead. Very interesting technique and much simpler than all that turning hives round etc.
We just took half the bars from the right hand side of the hive and put them into the other hive. We knew that there was brood and food in both ends. We didn't bother trying to find the queen, but hoped she would be in the new hive, as that would be more like a natural swarm. We put the Buckfast hive back where it was originally. We also put some of the bars from the Buckfast hive, that just had empty, newish, comb on, into each hive. Basically the flying bees will mostly go back to the old hive and by the time new flying bees emerge from the new hive, they will orientate to there. If there are any problems over the next couple of weeks we can always swap bars around if necessary, as the bees will still be used to each others' smell etc. The hive without a queen should raise one from a new egg. Half an hour after we'd done it, they all seemed quite happy, so we still didn't know where the queen was! Phil had a listening gadget which he put in both entrances to see if the sounds were different. It recorded the sounds in the hives, he listened to it later in the evening and couldn't detect a difference.
I made some syrup for the new hive (we have since named these 'The Nectans') and put it in, in the evening. This was 150gms sugar in 150mls water. They are more likely to need extra food than the Lizards as they will be short of flying bees for a while.
On Sunday the group came down again and most of us felt that the queen was probably in the Lizard hive. They were flying and behaving normally and were also still building comb. There were no more varroa visible on the tray. The new hive didn't seem particularly distressed, but they were not building at all. There were some bees flying around the hive, but not gathering supplies yet. The feed was all gone. Phil tried the listening device again and this time knocked on the hives to record the change in sound and duration. He will let us know the results.
In the evening I put 2 more jars of feed in the Nectans' hive.
We must check the Nectans within a week for queen cells and take action if there aren't any.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Thurs 21st April 2011

We went through the Buckfast hive a few days ago. We originally thought they might have starved, even though we had left them all their stores, BUT, when we went through the whole hive we found some honey. Not loads, but probably enough, some of it seemed crystalised, but most was OK. They were out and flying on warm days in Feb, but not as many as from the Lizard hive. Weird thing was the lack of dead bees. On the floor there were probably only a few more than in the Lizards' hive after the winter. Then, apart from a few odd random bees, there was a VERY small cluster of no more than 50 bees. There was some dead brood, indicating the queen may have been alive in Feb. We are wondering if we had a late swarm that we didn't notice, or perhaps they got overcome by varroa.
The good news is that the Lizards are building up very rapidly. Considering they were so depleted going into the winter, having been re queened so late, in Sept, we are amazed they survived so well. We fed them the rest of the fondant I had made, so they had only 2 kgs in total. We went through them a couple of days ago and they are building +++ and have a lot of brood and stores. They have even built a comb down from the feeding bar we had in, with fondant on it! We put in extra bars for them and will add more as necessary. We are so pleased we risked the re queening and didn't amalgamate them with the Buckfasts.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Wednesday 23rd March 2011

Very warm today temps up to 16 C. Bees flying +++. Checked fondant a few days ago and decided to take it out of the tub with holes in and put what was left directly over hole in top bars. Checked yesterday and they had eaten it all! Made up some more and took half down and put over the hole. Also removed cork from second entrance hole, as they seemed a bit crowded going in and out of just one. Will check feed tomorrow. They have been bringing in lots of bright yellow pollen.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Wednesday 9th March Cautiously Optimistic about the Lizards!

Missed the trauma of finding the dead Buckfasts, as I have had flu for a few days. Went down to check on the Lizards this morning, as have been feeling decidedly twitchy about them since hearing the news and wanted to check on their feed.
Bees were flying in and out, about 2 -3 at the entrance at a time. Didn't want to hang around, so not sure if they were bringing in pollen or not. T.12. Very briefly lifted the feed tub. Lots of bees on the bottom, feeding from the fondant.
Phoned Jim when got back and we discussed whether to replace the feed or not, in case it had gone off. Jim went down to check and reported back that it looks fine and the bees were drawing it out of the holes. We will have to keep an eye on it over the next few days, in case they need some more.
Jim also said that, yesterday, they were bringing in very bright yellow pollen. I think this is most likely to be Goat Willow and/or Celandine, both of which are out and good sources of nectar and pollen.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

6th March 2011 Disaster

Sue asked me to pop down and check the buckfasts as she has the flu, but noticed the other day that there wasn't much activity and couldn't hear a buzz.

I took off the lid and insulating materials, prised open the first comb and to my utter dismay it was completely empty, the comb had been completely cleaned out.  It was the same throughout the entire hive.  About half way through I found a small cluster of dead bees in the middle of a comb.  There was no evidence of disease and a number of bees were dead inside cells trying to find food.

Before the winter the hive was filled to the brim with stores, not a single space left, all of it capped.  It should have been more than enough for the colony.  There were a few combs with crystalised honey in an arch shape which they obviously couldn't digest.

So why did this happen?  One thought is that there was a high number of drones in the colony, but I guess we'll never really know.

Monday, 28 February 2011

Monday 28th February 2011

Been down to see the bees on sunny days a few times over past 2 weeks. Bees have been flying from both hives. The Lizards were even bringing in pollen on a couple of occasions. I think it was gorse, as it was very orange and dark.  Not sure if the Buckfasts were too. There are now crocuses and daffodils out for them and the goat willow catkins are nearly there. As soon as it warms up a bit more we will try and remove some of the old frames from the Buckfast hive.
Lizards have now eaten about half the fondant.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

8th February 2011

Went down to check the hives this morning.  It's cold (5 degrees C) but bright and last night's frost is melting quickly.  Some snowdrops out but not much else for the bees to feed from.  No wind today so a good opportunity to listen to the hives.

No activity outside either of the hives today.  I could hear (just) activity in the Lizard hive which is what I was hoping for.  The sound was tinny rather than the happy bass resonance from the Buckfasts, but we're just glad they've got this far through the winter after starting so late.  Didn't look like they've taken much of the fondant yet.

Noticed a few dead bees still with full pollen sacks on the mesh floor on the other side of the separator board.  They must have been working full pelt right up until the hard weather came in

Buckfasts had been active with evidence of fresh wax plates underneath the colony, guessing that probably them uncapping and eating up their stores.  Good strong smell of honey too.


Sunday, 9 January 2011

Monday 10th January 2011

Gosh, we haven't posted for 3 months! Unfortunately I have had a recurrence of  Non Hodgkins Lymphoma and have been on chemo for the past few months and a bit 'out of it'. Also of course the bees have been pretty inactive.
Well we tucked them up for the winter with old towels and carpet over the top of the bars (didn't get round to making the boxes filled with lambswool as we intended). We left the bottoms of the hives open with just the varroa mesh to allow for ventilation. Then we just crossed all our fingers and toes and hoped for the best. We were quite worried about the Lizards after their late re-queening and seemingly low numbers. During the very cold December we had we could hear a faint buzz from both hives, interestingly louder from the Lizards. Then last Friday, Mick was down in the field with Grandson Alby and the bees were flying from both hives in the late afternoon sunshine. It's turned fairly mild and they seem to be coming out for cleansing flights in fairly large numbers. We have decided to feed the Lizards some fondant today to see if they need it as they were so low on honey stores in the Autumn and only took down a fairly small amount of the sugar syrup we offered them. I have made up 1kg sugar with 250ml water and some cider vinegar and put it in an ice cream tub. We are going to make holes in the top and invert it over a top bar with a slot cut out of it. I'll take some pics and post them soon. There is still a lot of the winter to go yet, but things seem pretty good at the moment.