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, 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.