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, 6 September 2013

Friends of the Bees meeting and harvesting honey

First of all some sad news. The swarm we caught from The Dolphin hive unfortunately died, we are not sure why. We fed them after hiving them, but then their numbers reduced dramatically over the next couple of weeks. We think the most likely cause is that we somehow lost the queen when we caught them. Another explanation could be that for some reason she didn't start laying quickly enough and the flying bees she left with would have started dying off naturally, within a couple of weeks. So we still only have one colony, but what lovely bees! They did send off at least one cast that we know of (it escaped) and maybe more that we didn't see, but they are thriving. They have loads of honey and we were able to take some off, with difficulty. This is because they still have a very "creative" comb building habit. This is clearly not a problem to them, but it means we have great difficulty doing any sort of inspection, without causing damage. Therefore we mostly leave them alone and observe from the outside. We are hoping to remove some of their "creative" comb in the late winter and try to encourage a straighter pattern. The periscope entrance seems to be helping them defend against wasps well and we are going to fit the deep litter floor soon.
We had 2 x 1litre plastic boxes of comb that we put through a fruit press to extract the honey and ended up with just over 2 jars which we are very pleased with. We are hoping our Daughter in law is going to take our wax to make furniture polish as she restores furniture.

Fruit press in action

The magimix came in handy to tilt the press onto
Liquid gold

Our first full jars of honey

We held a meeting of The Atlantic Coast Friends of the Bees on Saturday 31st August at the home of Richard and Essie Nichols near Red Post, between Holsworthy and Bude. Nine people were there including our new member, Tessa, from Poundstock. We discussed problems we had been having with emails not getting through and attachments not opening, but are unsure how to get over these problems. We don't really want to start posting information out as this would incur costs and so membership fees etc, which we would prefer to avoid. We went on to talk about how those of us with bees had fared this year and the general problems of bee decline in the area. We then went to see Essie and Richard's bees. It was a little late in the afternoon, by then, to disturb them and so we didn't spend long, but were impressed with the lovely straight comb we saw and the vigour of the colony. They have 2 good colonies.
Our next meeting is at 6pm on Sunday 6th October at The Old Smithy Inn, Welcombe with Phil Chandler. It's being held after the next beginners course at The Yarner Trust that weekend and Phil is staying on specially to meet with us.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Atlantic Coast Friends of the Bees Newsletter June 2013

Here is our latest newsletter. If anyone, who is not part of the group yet, plans to come to any of our meetings, please contact me first in case of any changes.

Atlantic Coast Friends of the Bees Newsletter June 2013

The local TBHs seem to have come through the winter very well in comparison to most bees in the area. We know of 7 hives in our group and out of those, it seems, only one has been lost. That was one of our hives. However, our remaining hive swarmed this week and we caught them, so we are back up to 2 hives again. We're getting better at catching swarms and would be very happy to come and assist if you come across any swarms, or hear of any, providing it's a convenient time.
Here is the video of our recent escapade:
Next Meeting
Saturday 31st August at 3.30pm
Our next meeting will be at Essie & Richard Nichols home, Shernick Lodge, Red Post, between Holsworthy and Bude on the A3072: http://www.seasonsharvest.co.uk/. On Google maps it's marked as 'Season's Harvest': http://goo.gl/maps/FvbG3
They have a very nice 5 acre smallholding with chickens and 2 TBHs. They might possibly have some vegetables/eggs for sale.
Members List
As requested at the last meeting, I have attached a list of members with location, email address and phone number, where I have it. Please check your entry and let me know if there are any errors, or omissions.
Meeting with Phil Chandler, The Barefoot Beekeeper
At 6pm on Sunday 6th October at The Old Smithy Inn
Another request at the last meeting was to ask Phil if we could meet up with him during the next course in October. I put it to him and he said yes. So we will meet upstairs at The Old Smithy Inn for a fairly informal question and answer session. Nearer the time I will need to know numbers and if you intend to eat at the pub after the meeting. Phil will be staying on an extra night in Welcombe, especially to meet up with us and give us the benefit of his vast knowledge on the subject of Natural Beekeeping, so please make an effort to come. I also thought it would be nice if we all contributed perhaps £2 - £3 each household for his meal and drinks that evening.
Jim Morrison and his family are settling down in Herefordshire. We are going to miss them terribly, both as neighbours and Jim as fellow beekeeper. He's gone off with the super hive he made with Mick and hopes to get set up there soon. Since we caught the swarm last year, Mick has got more and more interested in beekeeping and so is now my new bee buddy.
We have now changed the name of our blog to: http://suenmicksnaturalbeekeeping.blogspot.co.uk/
Perone Hives
I thought you might be interested in these hives that are used a lot in South America. There are some people experimenting with them here and it will be interesting to see how they fare in this country: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7n3bEZgo6qU
Friends of the Bees unConvention
Is anyone interested in going to this on 9th - 11th August nr Worcester, I think there are still places? It looks great. I would love to go, but I doubt we are likely to: http://www.biobees.com/unconvention.php
Sue Dollimore

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Wednesday 5th June 2013

Had a successful course with Phil Chandler on 19th - 21st April weekend, despite the weather. Not able to look in the hive much, but a few bees were flying.
On Monday the bees from the Dolphin hive swarmed. We had put up bait hives, nuc boxes and lures all round the hive and where did they go - behind the hive! Anyway we successfully caught and hived them. We are calling the new hive The Elmtrees. Here is the video:

The swarm

Looking through the window at the back after hiving them

Monday, 15 April 2013

Atlantic Coast Friends of the Bees Newsletter 15th April 2013

We had a a meeting of the group yesterday and despite the weather we had a good afternoon. We were expecting 13 to 17 people by the replies we'd received and were unsure what we were going to do with everyone, as the forecast was not good. I think most people just forgot because it doesn't really feel like Spring properly yet. In the end only 3 came, so there were 6 of us altogether. Also the weather cleared up quite well by 3.30 and we were able to spend some time with the bees.
It's always hard knowing how much to plan these events, as our group is so diverse, ranging from people just getting interested in Beekeeping to people who have been doing it for a few years. However, we are all learning and I feel the main aim is for us to exchange ideas and help each other. Hopefully, in the long term we will be able to share bees with each other as well. To a certain extent, this has already happened between us and Paula, in Bude.
We were pleased that Amanda from near Lifton was able to join us this time. She has one Top Bar hive and her bees have survived the winter. She told us about her bee journey so far which has not been without it's difficulties, as always seems to be the case with beekeeping. It's good to hear about other people's experiences, as it makes us realise it's not just us who have problems at times.

Bee losses this winter
The past year has been very difficult for bees and even the most experienced beekeepers are just finding out how many losses they have suffered. We have heard of one local Beekeeper who has 7 hives left out of over 30 and another who has lost all 5 of his hives. It's tragic and doesn't bode well for the future. We too lost one of our hives, The Lizards, despite them having a fair amount of honey left. This seems to be the case with other people who have had losses too. There are various theories as to why this is. The terrible weather last summer meant that some new queens were unable to mate effectively, if at all. This, combined with being unable to get adequate stores of pollen in (needed to make beebread for baby bees), probably meant fewer bees in many hives to overwinter. They need a certain number of bees to keep the temperature up and to regulate the humidity in the hive over the winter. Another problem seems to be getting adequate pollen in this Spring, again to be able to feed the new brood properly.
Our bees that have survived, The Dolphins, seem to be doing very well and have been bringing in pollen, on good days, since February. They particularly liked the snowdrops and are currently working the gorse. We could see at least 2 sorts of pollen coming in yesterday, dark orange and yellow. I think this might be gorse and goat willow. We have offered them fondant, but suspect they probably have plenty of honey left too, as they have only been taking the fondant very slowly. We think they are probably a hardy variety of local bee and so are well adapted to the North Devon/Cornwall coastal climate. They are quite dark in colour which presumably means they haven't got much Italian type bee genes.

Farewell to Jim
One piece of news we have is that Jim is moving to Herefordshire. He and his family have been finding it increasingly difficult to manage in their tiny cottage. Three growing boys take up a lot of room! It's hard to find affordable housing round here now, so they have had to look further afield. Fortunately they have found a 3 bedroomed house in a rural location. It will also be good for Jim's work which often takes him to Wales. I will be very sorry to see him go as we've made a good team the past 3 years. Luckily, since we caught the swarm last summer, Mick has become very interested, so at least I am not on my own.

A couple of suggestions came out of the meeting. A request for a summer meeting and a request to ask Phil if it would be possible to meet up with him when he is here for a course. Also I was asked to distribute phone numbers, as well as email addresses and will try to do this soon.

Summer Meeting
I have spoken to Essie who lives at Red Post. Their 2 Top Bar Hives have come through the winter well and she said it should be fine to have a meeting there towards the end of the summer. She will talk to Richard and get back to me with a date and I will email everyone.

Meeting up with Phil
He is currently away, so I will contact him when he's back and ask if he would be up for a semi social meeting, in The Old Smithy, on the Saturday evening of the course in October. There is a course here next weekend, but that might be too soon.

Do keep in touch, particularly if you manage to source bees this year, we will be really interested to hear how you are getting on.

Sue & Mick Dollimore

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Bad news

It's been a very strange winter here in the South West. Very mild most of the time, but also very wet. The past couple of weeks have been colder, but not like the rest of the country. We had a slight smattering of snow on one day, but nothing since.
I checked the bees just before the cold snap. I looked at the Dolphins first. There were none out flying, so I carefully removed a follower board and began looking in a little further. I soon heard a buzz and one bee came out to see what I was doing. As we had assessed they had plenty of stores in the Autumn, I decided to go no further and check them again in a month or so.
I then went to the Lizards. No sign of any flying, so I looked in the window at the back. I couldn't see any bees, but wasn't too worried as they had been clustering just beyond the window about a week before and one or two had come to see what was happening when the window was opened. This time there was nothing, so I opened the lid and removed a follower board, still nothing and no sound. I investigated further and all I could see was dead bees on the floor. They were all dead! At first I was worried they had starved, but then found honey right near where they had been clustering.
Talked it through with Jim and considered all the options. It could be that their supersedure queen was not very strong, a virus had got them, a too heavy load of varroa, or maybe the damp. The weather has been so wet and where the hive is, it's damper than the top of the field where the Dolphins are.
I had a chat with our experienced beekeeper friend, Dennis and he said to check for acute bee paralysis virus (ABPV) they have a shiny appearance and no hair left on their bodies. This is often due to a high varroa infestation. We will do this once the weather has improved a bit.
In the meantime we need to concentrate on the Dolphins and make sure they make it through the rest of the winter safely. We have bought some fondant and will offer it to them in case they are getting low on supplies. They will probably take it, whether they are low, or not, as they seem to eat whatever they are offered.