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

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Beekeeping Course and meeting with Phil Chandler

Phil ran a very enjoyable and successful course here on the weekend of 10th - 12th October. Due to the continuation of the wonderful warm weather, we were able to look in the hives, although we didn't do any full inspections. All three hives appeared to be thriving, healthy and going into the winter with their larders full.

Some lovely dark bees

The Nectan Hive

Lots of honey for the winter

Periscope entrance and eco floor

The Lintons

It feels like we are already off to a good start with our newest colony that appears to have a lot of black bee genetics in it.
The black bees are generally resilient, adaptable and particularly well suited to the British climate. Phil has already established some colonies in South Devon and plans to gradually reintroduce and breed black bees in areas throughout the country. He will soon be launching a fundraising campaign to help pay for this.
On the Sunday evening Phil talked to our group about the Black Bee project in South Devon and proposed we might be able to extend this to North Devon/Cornwall at some point in the future.
Around 100 years ago our native black bee population was nearly wiped out by diseases and parasites brought in by bees imported from abroad, especially Italy. The main parasite was Acarine which the majority of black bees had no resistance to. This resulted in the widespread dominance of imported bees. However, many isolated pockets of the black bees survived in several areas across the British Isles.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Exciting summer!

We have had a very interesting beekeeping year and now have 3 colonies in Top Bar Hives. 
Phil Chandler ran a course here in early June and one amazing find was a Death's Head Hawk Moth in one of the hives. It was actually between the follower board and the end of the hive, so couldn't get in to steal any honey which is what they do. Another bonus of having a periscope entrance.

The Death's Head Hawk Moth in the hive
You can clearly see the death's head marking
Phil inspecting the lovely straight comb in the Nectan's hive
In mid June we had a call from some neighbours to say they had a swarm in an old electricity box in their garden. After a couple of failed attempts, eventually having to dismantle the roof, we got the bees into a nucleus box. They are now well established in a hive and are our third colony. They are beautiful, very dark, bees and are probably closely related to the British Black bee. We have called them The Lintons.

The electricity box where the swarm had settled
In they go
Amazingly, 37 days later, in late July, The Lintons swarmed again. We caught the swarm and we gave them away to a local farmer. We had some our Grandchildren here at the time, so they had a very interesting introduction to swarm catching.

Arlo and Alby getting ready to catch the swarm
Quite a big swarm
Even the baby joined in
The lovely black queen can be seen here in the middle of the picture with blue on her abdomen
We are hoping our three hives will all survive the winter. They have plenty of stores and after such a good summer, they all seem to be strong colonies. We also helped a friend, at Morwenstow, with his first colony this year. He came on the course last year and had his Top Bar hive all ready to go. He was given some bees from a beekeeper in Bude.
There is one more Beekeeping course this year on the weekend of 10th - 12th October 2014. It is for Improvers and Converters, but Phil has said that he will accept people who have at least read a book about beekeeping and know the basics. There are still a few places, so if anyone is interested, do email Yarner at info@yarnertrust.org as soon as possible. They do have a bursary scheme to help with payment if needed.
Phil is staying on afterwards to give a talk about the native Black Bee Project at The Old Smithy Inn on the Sunday evening.

Friday, 23 May 2014

New comb in The Nectan hive

New comb through the observation window

The colony we hived 3½ weeks ago have built 10 lovely straight combs. We haven't disturbed them yet to take a proper look, but it looks good through the observation window.

Lovely new white comb
When they build new comb it is lovely and white. The reason it gets darker, over time, is mostly because of the propolis they apply.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Candles 17th May 2014

I have finally got round to rendering some wax and making my first 2 candles.
The one thing you do get more of with a Top Bar Hive is wax!

The small round candle
The 2 candles

Gives a very gentle light

The smell is heavenly

Atlantic Coast Friends of the Bees meeting Sunday 11th May 2014

We had a very good meeting here on Sunday. Nine of us gathered for tea and a lively chat in our kitchen before visiting our 2 hives. The weather wasn't ideal, but we were able to look in the ends and through the observation windows. Our own swarm, we caught 2 weeks ago, is settling in well and building comb. We have named them The Nectans. The original hive, The Dolphins is thriving and seemingly still full of bees.
We went back to the kitchen to look at some pictures of the swarm and of us processing some excess, overwintered  honey.
We discussed some of the newer innovations we are experimenting with, such as the periscope entrances, deep litter floors and the application of shellac to the inside walls. We also looked at the fruit press we have been using to extract honey and tasted the result!!!
We are hoping that our next meeting will be in October, with Phil, after the course he is running at Yarner. 
Phil is running 2 courses here this year - 6th-8th June and 10th-12th October.

Processing honey Monday 5th May 2014

We checked both hives with our Grandson, Alby. The new hive, The Nectans, are building lovely straight comb and taking the feed we have been offering them. We took some of the misshapen comb out of the Dolphin hive which was still full of honey from last year. These were the combs we checked in February when we decided the bees didn't need feeding. We processed the honey with Alby, using the fruit press.

The contact feeder in The Nectan hive

Alby helping Grandad

The Nectans building new comb

Look Granny they are bringing in Dandelion pollen

That looks good

Yumm, it tastes good too

The first jar

The fruit press

Lovely capped honeycomb

Alby and Grandad pressing the honey

Quite a good crop

The Nectans' new comb

Monday, 19 May 2014

Swarm 29th April 2014

The bees from the Dolphin hive swarmed on 29th April, so early, the last 2 years they have swarmed in June! They settled in a bush behind the hive and we caught them.
We had to cut through some branches so we could get them all in one go.

They settled in a bush behind the hive

Tipping them out

Starting the march
We tipped them on a sheet in front of their new hive so they could march up into it.
Up they go. Once the queen is in the bees at the entrance start fanning to tell the others they have found a new home. They got a bit clogged up at the entrance, so I had to clear it by taking a few handfuls of bees and putting them in the hive at the top.

Almost all in now
Almost all in now. This is an amazing sight to watch. By dusk, they were all in.

The next morning and they have settled down nicely. We moved the hive to the original position of the mother hive, so they could pick up some more flying bees. The mother hive was at a right angle to this hive at this point. After a few days, we moved it a few yards away to it's new permanent position.

The next morning - settling in well

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Spring 2014

I can't believe I haven't posted since last September. I fully intended to do a write up of our meeting with Phil on 6th October. Then we seemed to have a really busy October and went on to spend almost all of November with no phone or internet after a storm. By the time it was fixed we were well into the winter with the bees safely tucked up and Christmas imminent.
Anyway, it was a really good meeting with around 15 of us in the top room of The Old Smithy. Phil gave us a run down of his latest ideas and developments including, deep litter floors, varroa control, periscope entrances and bar widths. There were lots of questions and lively discussion. After the meeting many of us stayed on to eat there and the conversations about bees continued.

Our bees have fared incredibly well over the winter. There seemed to be an awful lot more bees than usual overwintering and we think the queen started laying soon after New Year. We checked their supplies in early February, thinking they might need some fondant, but were delighted to find they still had a lot of honey.
In the current good weather they are out flying and bringing in loads of pollen. We are planning to take some of their excess honey soon as we think they still have some left from their winter supplies. It will also give us the opportunity to get some of their 'creative' comb out and try to encourage them to build straighter combs. There was an interesting article in a magazine I saw recently that had some ideas on how to do this, which we might give a try.
We are anticipating they will be thinking about swarming early this year, so will be checking on them daily from early April for any signs.

This video was taken this morning 13th March 2014 and the thermometer is showing 23˚ in full sunlight!