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, 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