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, 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.

1 comment:

  1. hi sue,
    was wonderful to meet you and your wonderful bees.it looks like your going to have a busy summer as the queen ( whichever hive she ended up in has good traits) will be making excellent colony expansion

    wishing you sunshine,laughter and flowers for the summer

    richard ( from lush)