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

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!

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