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

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