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, 5 October 2015

The bees enjoyed the lovely Indian Summer

We have had a lovely Indian Summer for the past couple of weeks and the bees have all loved it. They have been out flying most days, gathering in supplies to see them through the winter. We have had reported sightings all over the village, including people seeing them all over ivy flowers around a mile away.
We are trying out a new product for winter feeding called Canipolline Gold. It's a fondant with pollen added and has had good reports. The Posties have loads of supplies and we think they should have enough left over in the Spring for us to harvest some honey, so we are not feeding them. However we are erring on the side of caution with The Paddies and The Dolphins. The Paddies are doing well but are still a small colony and might run out of supplies. The Dolphins are a very large colony with quite a lot of supplies, but could run out if we are not careful.
Very happy with our three lovely colonies.

Monday, 7 September 2015

Three good colonies going into the winter

We moved The Posties into their new hive today and were so pleased to find 4 good bars of capped brood and larvae. Also a lot of honey, plenty to last them over the winter. Eco floor material moved, topped up and watered well and plenty of insulation put on top of the bars. No need to disturb them again before the Spring now.
Had a look in The Meadow Hangers and they are definitely dying out, which is what we thought.
We are going into the winter with three good colonies though and are happy with that.

Capped brood with honey at the top

The same on this one

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Some moving on and some dying out

On Thursday 27th August we moved The Pines into a nucleus box and on Saturday 29th Jim came to pick them up and drive them home to Herefordshire. They had 4 good combs of brood and some supplies. They are now established in the new hive that Jim made a couple of years ago in our garage, before he moved.
We moved the Meadow Hangers into the empty Barton Hive and found that they are definitely dying out, unfortunately and have laying workers. We decided not to ditch them, but to just let them live out their days in their home.
On 1st September we moved The Dolphins into the vacated 4' hive. We found they had lots of brood and stores. We topped up the eco floor and watered it. We are hoping they are all set up for winter now.
We're still a little unsure about the Posties. Mick has now completed the new 4' hive and we will move them in there this week and check how they are doing.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Some good news and some bad news!

We checked all of the colonies on 18th August and the bad news is that The Meadows were clearly queenless with very few bees, no brood and hardly any stores. We think they had been being robbed. We then checked The Hangers On who were faring a little better but also had no good brood. There was some and possibly some attempts at making a supersedure queen. We decided to combine the two colonies and rename them The Meadow Hangers. We put them all into the 4' hive with newspaper in between and fed them. We fear they may well die out, but it's too late in the season to give them a chance to make a new queen now.
We then checked all the other 4 colonies.
Now for the good news!
The Paddies are doing great with lots of brood and stores and we saw the lovely black queen.
The Pines had built lots of comb, had good brood, stores and we saw the queen. As we now had the nucleus box free we decided to move them in there at the next opportunity for Jim to transport them to Herefordshire.
The Posties had masses of bees and loads of capped honey and pollen. However we didn't see the queen and there was no brood. It's possible they had a new queen emerge around 16 - 18 days ago if it was that The Pines came from there, so we decided to leave them alone until Mick has made a new hive for them. We do need to move them out of theirs' before the winter, as it needs some work doing on it. It would be too late in the season to do much about a queenless situation anyway and hard to check if that were the case. They were certainly behaving normally and there was no sign of laying workers, so we are fairly confident there is a queen who just hasn't started laying yet.
The Dolphins are still fine with lots of brood and stores. However we decided to give them one of The Posties combs of honey too as they have so much.

Another surprise

On 6th August we had a surprise. We went to move the Meadows into their new hive and found a cluster underneath the nucleus box. On further inspection we realised they had a queen. We quickly put her in a queen clip and proceeded to get the Meadows in their hive. We didn't find a queen so were a little worried that the queen we had put in the clip was theirs'. However they seemed happy and had new comb with capped honey and pollen stores. There was also possibly an opened supersedure cell. We decided to get them in their new hive and put the small cluster into the nuc box, for now. We also wondered if the cluster/cast was from the remnants of The Nectans and it did have a queen after all, or, more likely was a cast from somewhere else. All very odd. Anyway we gave them an empty comb and a comb of capped brood from The Dolphins. We named them The Hangers On!
We checked The Dolphins and they had lots of capped worker brood and plenty of stores.

On 8th August we checked The West Millions who had 4 combs of capped worker brood and we also saw the queen. They had quite a lot of stores too. We arranged to take them to Ali at Marhamchurch for a couple of weeks before their move to Southole.
We were feeding syrup 1:1.5 to The Paddies, The Hangers On, The Meadows and The Pines at this stage as they were all new or vulnerable colonies.
We offered The Pines to Jim Morrison and he is going to take them to Herefordshire at the end of August.
 On 9th August we checked The Posties and only found a little old capped worker brood which would have been from before the primary swarm. Didn't find the queen. Still unsure if the swarm on 31st July was from there or not. Will check them again in a couple of weeks.
We took The West Millions to Marhamchurch on 10th August.

Five of the colonies

The other two

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Then there were 6!!!

What a busy few weeks!
On 16th July we moved The Paddies, with their new black queen, into a 3' hive and also gave them a comb of capped brood from The Posties to bolster their numbers and provide some nurse bees for when the queen starts laying. We were a bit worried as there was no sign that she had, as yet.
Then, on 19th July The Posties swarmed AND sent off a cast at the same time. They were only a swarm themselves 8 weeks ago! As The Nectans still appeared to be queenless, we put the cast in with them with a newspaper barrier. We put the swarm into a nucleus box and called them The Meadows.
On 21st July we were called out to West Mill to catch a swarm. We only had our emergency flowerpot hive to put them in. We had an audience as there were several visiting children. Fortunately I had thrown all our spare suits into the car before we left.

What a great location for a swarm
Medium sized swarm in a bush

Our band of little helpers

They were very interested

Some suits fitted better than others

We rang Ruth and fortunately she had transferred the swarm we gave her into her hive, so she said she'd return our nuc box to us. She did this on 23rd and I transferred the West Mill cast into it. Unfortunately the flowerpot fell over during the process, spilling all the bees onto the ground. We managed to scoop most of them up and I just hope we didn't lose the queen. Fred and Lesley, at Southole, are going to have this nuc.
Checked The Paddies and the queen is finally laying thank goodness.
On 31st July, my birthday, I just went for a stroll up to see the bees and noticed activity in one of the pine trees. It was a swarm! Not sure where it came from at first, but we suspect it was yet another cast from The Posties. However it was very big, so it seems very strange. These we have named The Pines and had to put them in the flowerpot!

The Pines were in the pine tree just behind the flowerpot nucleus box

On 2nd August we were phoned by a couple in our group to say they had a swarm in their compost bin. We talked them through capturing it and hiving it. They were able to borrow suits and a nuc box from another couple in the group. Quite gratifying as several more members of the group now have bees and are also helping each other. Makes for a much more interesting group for the future.
On 3rd August we borrowed one of the hives from The Barton and after Mick waterproofed the roof with some roofing felt, we transferred The Pines into it and gave them a couple of new bars. They were already busy building comb. We gave them two jars of feed.
We finally decided that The Nectans had to go. On inspection they clearly had laying workers, so were still queenless, despite all our efforts. We took them to the bottom of the field and brushed all the bees off the combs. As expected they made their way back up the field and went into the other hives. They were particularly interested in The Meadows for some reason. There seemed to be little fighting at the entrances so we hope they mostly found new homes.
We checked The Paddies and they had 2 combs with some lovely capped worker brood on them. They are still a small colony, so we will have to keep an eye on them, but they are heading in the right direction.
So, briefly, we were up to 7 colonies, but now have 6. Only one of those has a new home to go to, so we should be going into the winter with 5 colonies of our own.
We still need to check that The Dolphins and Posties are OK, after their swarms and casts and we need to move the Meadows into the vacated hive the Nectans were in.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

We now have 4 colonies!

Well, we said we wouldn't go above 3 colonies, but we now have 4!
The swarm we caught on 23rd May, The Posties are doing great.
The Nectans, who swarmed and then sent a cast off on 8th June, left themselves queenless so we gave them a comb of brood from The Posties (their own swarm) and they made several good queen cells. These should have hatched by now, so we are hoping there is a good queen in there now.
The ones we have in a nucleus box are the cast from The Nectans and unfortunately the queen flew off during hiving. We have learnt a lesson there that young virgin queens are much more likely to take flight than older queens. We were hoping they had another queen as there are often more than one in a cast. However, we realised they were queenless and requeened them with a black queen from Northern Island on Tuesday 7th July. We had originally planned to put it in The Nectans' hive if they hadn't made any decent queen cells, but we decided they were ok and gave it to the nucleus instead. If successful we are going to call them The Paddies!
The Dolphins have had at least one swarm that we lost and possibly 2, but seem to be ok. We are hoping they haven't left themselves queenless, like The Nectans did. We'll check soon and give them a comb of brood too, if they have none of their own.
On Thursday 9th July I was called out to catch a swarm near Hartland. It was in a low bush and was fairly easy to shake straight into a nucleus box. I left them there until the next evening to be sure we had them all and then we collected it and met up with a member of our bee group, in a layby, to give it to her. We really do not want 5 colonies, tempting as it is.

The swarm near Hartland hanging from a small leylandii bush
Caught them easily straight into the nucleus box
Just a few stragglers to go in

Monday, 1 June 2015

Beekeeping season 2015

Well 2 of our hives came through the winter very well but the third didn't make it. The one that died was the swarm we caught last year. They had swarmed again a month later and as we found 2 queens in the swarm we think they possibly left the original colony queenless, or that the new queen failed to mate successfully. In any case, we are pretty sure they had no queen and had made desperate efforts to create a new one. There were lots of queen cups, no brood and a very small, dead, cluster. They had plenty of stores, so hadn't starved. Hopefully we will get a swarm back from the person we gave their swarm to.
We had a very good meeting of The Atlantic Coast Friends of the Bees on 10th May with 11 of us in attendance, followed by a shared lunch. We looked at the bees and the new experiments we are trying out with the hives including the periscope entrances, eco floors and shellac treatment on the inside of the hives. Mick has just made a new hive which we will be transferring the Nectans into this season. The periscope entrance on this hive is shallower than the ones we have been using with a shorter distance for the bees to crawl up. He has changed the angle of the sides to 120° as recommended by Les Crowder. We are also going to experiment with different guides on the top bars, starting with lolly sticks inserted in a groove with wax. We are now using 38mm as standard.

Lovely comb of capped brood in early April

Mick making the new hive

Double viewing window at the back

New style periscope entrance

We will be able to inspect the periscope space if necessary

The bees bearding in late April

The local Friends of the Bees looking at Mick's new hive

The Nectans swarmed this year on 23rd May and settled on a post a few yards from the hive. We managed to get them into their new home without much difficulty.
Unfortunately this years beekeeping course with Phil Chandler has had to be cancelled due to lack of numbers, but he may be coming to see us soon anyway.

They settled on a post 

Mick with a stick of bees

Shaking them onto the sheet

Marching up into the hive

Nearly all there