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, 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?