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

Friday, 5 October 2012

Autumn has arrived

I have just realised we haven't posted for over 2 months. Quite a lot has happened in that time. The weather eventually improved in late July and we were able to stop feeding. The bees became much happier and were out flying most days.
We heard that a lot of people had had trouble with queens not managing to mate successfully because of the weather and got increasingly worried about both our colonies and the nucleus, all of which had, or should have had, new queens. We eventually checked and found brood in both the hives, but not in the nucleus which we had moved into the nucleus box ready to go on holiday for a couple of weeks, prior to going to The Yarner Trust up the road. It didn't have any brood when we moved it, but we thought that might just have been because the queen hadn't started laying yet. The bees seemed fairly happy and were bringing in pollen.
There was another Beekeeping Course here on the weekend of 7th - 9th September and we decided to reunite the nucleus with the colony it came from, The Lizards and move the whole lot into the new hive with the periscope entrance. Luckily it was a fairly warm weekend and we did this successfully on the Saturday afternoon. At the same time we assessed stores in both our hives. We decided The Dolphins should be fine for the winter, but The Lizards might not be. We decided to offer them some 2:1 thick syrup in the contact feeder. They took several days to take this and so we haven't given them any more. There are some videos taken on the course on The Yarner Trust YouTube page here: http://www.youtube.com/user/YarnerTrust and here are some pictures.

Phil looking through the Lizard Hive

Looking into the hive

Lovely new comb with honey at the top

We'll check both colonies in late January/early February and assess how they are doing for stores then. Hopefully they will both be OK, but it depends on the weather really. Last winter was so mild here that they were out flying a lot and so used up more energy and so more supplies.
It's been a very odd year for many beekeepers, who knows what the next 12 months will hold. This is our third year and still no honey to spare, oh well, maybe one day.
We've been hearing a lot about The Perone hive recently and will be interested in how the people trying them out in this country do. Here is a link to a video of them doing a talk at the Natural Beekeeping conference held in August:
On Sunday 23rd September we held the second meeting of Atlantic Coast Friends of the Bees here. There were 12 of us on a wet and windy afternoon. We spent most of the time drinking tea in the kitchen and talking Beekeeping. Unfortunately none of the people who came, apart from us, had any bees yet. We encouraged those who hadn't yet been on Phil's course to consider doing it next Spring. We talked about Perone Hives and the problems beekeepers had experienced this year, amongst other things and then ventured out to look at the hives. We also had a look at the new hive Jim has been making in the garage, with a periscope entrance that has a perspex front to it.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

The Swarm has gone to it's new home and we moved the split into the nucleus box

On 9th July we took the swarm to it's new home with Paula who gave us the colony they came from when it was a tiny cast last year.

Paula takes the cork out

Hello girls (bees that is)

We last checked the split we took from the Lizards on 17th June during Phil's course. There was an opened queen cell on the comb we had put in 2½ weeks before. Since then weather has been awful and we have been feeding them. They slowed down with feeding a few days ago, so we stopped and then the weather improved.

Today we moved them into a nucleus box because they are destined to go to a new home.
We were dismayed to find no brood at all. 

Plenty of stores and the bees were happy. Pretty sure there is a queen because during the moving process a group of bees clustered and hung off the bottom of one comb that was still in the hive, making a loud noise. We think the queen was in that cluster. We quickly put that over into the nuc box.

We think that we either have a queen who took a while to mate because of the weather and hasn't started laying yet, or we have an unmated queen who is now about 6 weeks old. We are going to check the hive they came from tomorrow and maybe move another comb of brood over.

Getting ready to move the bees
Nice comb of bees andhoney

They soon got the idea
Still a few hanging around the old hive
Lots of bees at the new entrance

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Natural Beekeeping Beginners Course 15th - 17th June 2012

The group came down in the rain just to have a look at the hives on Saturday, but the main visit was on Sunday afternoon. This is what we found when we looked at the 4 hives/nucleii.
1) We were pretty sure the split from the Lizards has a new queen. We saw an opened queen cell on the bar of brood Jim and I put in about 3 weeks ago. The bees were behaving normally and as if they had a queen. They only had a very small amount of honey left, but were bringing in pollen and also eating the syrup we put in a couple of days before. There were lots of drones hanging around.

2) The Dolphins were bearding again and there were lots of bees in the air and loads of drones. Phil removed the beard into a flower pot and we looked to see if there was a queen in it. Couldn't see one and when we went back all the bees had gone back into the hive. We didn't disturb the main hive, apart from peeking in the end. They are possibly planning a cast, so we need to keep an eye on them for the next few days. It could also have been that a new queen was off on her maiden flight.

3) We went right through the Lizards. They are madly building on new bars both ends, but otherwise things weren't that good. There was very little worker brood and about 3 times as much drone brood. However the good news was that it looked like a supersedure cell had opened, so they probably also have a new queen. It looked like there might have been another, opened, supersedure cell on another comb too. Jim and I had noticed a possible supersedure cell few weeks ago, but strangely the 2 opened ones we saw on Saturday were either side of the bar we had marked. When I spoke to Jim about this, we were both pretty sure we had marked the correct bar. Did they break down that cell for some reason and make 2 more, or was it unsuccessful? We will never know. They had quite a lot of stores. 
4) The new, caught, swarm in the nucleus box was looking good. Mick made a feeder for them yesterday and fitted it last night. It has wetted granulated sugar in it, on Phil's suggestion. He has found this is a good way to feed the bees at any time of year.

Lots of happy drones around with all these new queens!

This is the periscope entrance of Jim's new hive with perspex front

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

We caught a swarm from the Dolphin hive!

Very exciting day yesterday. Mick and I were meant to be leaving home at about 10 am to go to South Devon for a few days. Jim was also going away for the week, for work. Mick noticed unusual activity when he fed the hens at about 9 am. Two days before, our 5 year old Grandson was showing his cousin the beehives and came running in saying 'Granny, Granny, the bees are bearding', that's my boy :-)) There was actually a clump of bees hanging on the bottom of the hive and we realised they might be planning something.
By 10am yesterday there were several hundred bees in the air above the Dolphin hive. They then moved over the field to our vegetable garden and eventually landed on a 5 bar gate. Watch the video to see what happened next.
The nucleus we made almost a month ago seems OK. Just over 2 weeks ago we gave them some more new brood and stores, as we were unsure if they had made a queen or not and they seemed short of food. We will probably check them again this weekend, as there is another beginners course here with Phil Chandler.

Monday, 14 May 2012

New Hive

Mick finished the new hive and we did a split from the Lizards into it yesterday. There was one possible queen cell which we put into it along with some new brood and stores, 5 bars in all. The bees were very interested in the cell, but we're not sure if there was an egg in it or not. They were not showing signs of serious swarm activity, but were obviously beginning to think about it. We couldn't find the Lizard's queen, but were pretty sure we left her behind. There was also a possible supersedure cell, so they might also be thinking about replacing the old queen.
The new hive has a periscope entrance which we hope will make it easier for them to defend against wasps. Fed them with some syrup in the contact feeder.
The new hive in situ showing periscope entrance

The new hive with observation window and Lizard hive behind

Friday, 4 May 2012

Friday 4th May 2012

Checked both hives today and they are absolutely buzzing with activity. Mick just doing finishing touches to the new hive, so we are planning to move the Lizards in there asap and possibly do a split at the same time. The Dolphins are building up nicely too and we may get a split off them too soon.

The Dolphin hive

The window at the back of the Lizard's hive

The Lizard hive

The very busy Lizards with a drone already over to the right
Small black bumble bee on our broccoli flowers
Crab Apple in blossom

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Atlantic Coast Friends of the Bees Group

We had a very successful first apiary visit here on Sunday, despite Sue's snuffles. There were 14 of us and after we introduced ourselves and said what our interests were, we talked about hive design, feeding etc etc, before visiting the bees. It was a very mixed group, ranging from those just getting interested in beekeeping through to those of us who have kept bees for a couple of years. No one more experienced than that, unfortunately.
The Dolphins are thriving and were out flying in large numbers. However the Lizards were not so active. This may well be because they were more shaded by the time we got down to them. Hopefully we will get them into their new hive soon and we can check through them in the process.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Wednesday 28th March 2012

What amazing weather, the bees think it's summer and are busy bringing in pollen and nectar to both hives. It's been up to 21˚C down near the Lizard's hive where we have a thermometer.
It was the first Natural Beekeeping course of the year at the weekend. We opened up the Lizard's hive and found they still had supplies from the winter and were busy raising brood and bringing in nectar and pollen. They had also made fresh honey.
I checked in the Dolphin's hive yesterday and found they were doing the same, although I didn't go far enough in to see any brood, I'm sure they have some. They are certainly building new comb and storing honey.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Saturday 28th January 2012

We carried on feeding the Dolphins and Nectans over Christmas and into the New Year.
Checked them all last week and was distressed to find that The Nectans had all died. On examining the nucleus box with Jim, we were pretty sure they had starved. We felt awful, but are unsure if we would have been able to get enough fondant in there to save them. There were an awful lot of bees in a very small box. We think our main mistake was not getting them into a hive last Autumn, so we could have looked after them better. We were unable to give them any syrup in the Autumn because there was no room to put a feeder in.The Dolphins were fine and very active. We put 3 bars of fondant in for them. The Lizards seem to have plenty of honey left, so we didn't offer any fondant.
Jim checked both hives today and found they were both very active and bringing in pollen. He also saw new bees flying from The Lizard hive, so they must have been raising brood for a few weeks now. Decided to put fondant in both hives, just to make sure. I will check again on Monday.
Mick has built one new hive for The Lizards and Jim is going to make another one for The Dolphins, we will then be able to use the 2 smaller hives for nuclei and avoid what happened to The Nectans, hopefully.