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, 7 December 2016

Four good colonies

We went into the winter with 4 good colonies. The Apple Trees built up amazingly well over the autumn and the other 3 also did well. They were all bringing in stores well into November. We fed the Apple Trees and the Kings as they were both small and rather late swarms. We also fed the Paddypines as they had a few things to contend with, including swarming 6 weeks after being a swarm themselves and then sending off a cast. The Paddyelms, however, had loads of stores going into the winter and seem to be very able to look after themselves. We are hoping they all get through the winter well. 

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

More good news than bad!

Overall we are happy with progress. We visited the Apple Trees in Clovelly last week and they are doing well. We gave them another feeder board which should do them until we bring them home in a couple of weeks. We also repaired their broken comb with our new rescue bars which seem to work well providing the comb isn't too heavy.
Three of the colonies at home are all doing well.
Unfortunately the Gettys/Dolphins appear to have laying workers and so have probably killed the new queen. They are still pretty grumpy so we decided to leave them alone and let them die out naturally over the winter.
The Paddyelms are still really going for it. I broke a comb as I was trying to straighten it last week. We did a temporary repair with cloth strips which they bit through by the next day. We also gave them a comb of honey from the old Postie hive. We managed to fix the broken comb with one of our new rescue bars but, unfortunately the comb of honey we had given them had broken off too, probably due to the heat and weight of bees. It was much too heavy for a rescue bar so we put it on the grass in front of the hive. Amazingly they completely stripped it of the honey by nightfall!!!
On Sunday 14th we moved the Kings into their new hive and were very pleased to find 4 combs with a lovely pattern of capped worker brood. This probably means it was a primary swarm, as the brood must have been laid over a week before and we caught the swarm 15 days before. That doesn't really leave much time for a virgin queen to have mated and then started laying. They had some wonky comb which might need straightening. We gave them 2 new bars and some honey filled wax left over from pressing honey, which has lots of pollen in it too, into the feed area. The next day I replaced this and also gave them a comb of honey from the dying Paddy hive. They had broken a comb off which I attached to a rescue bar and I also managed to straighten a couple of wonky combs.
I checked the Paddypines and was delighted to find capped worker brood in there too. I didn't go right through as they are obviously fine and have a laying queen. This would be a daughter of the original Paddy queen who is now in the Paddyelms. We thought we saw signs of her going on her maiden flight on 27th July which would be about right.
The Paddycasts are definitely queenless and appear to be developing laying workers so we hope to move them so that the flying bees go into the Kings hive. They must have lost their queen on 22nd July when we saw the group of bees on the ground in front of their hive. Perhaps she was injured or couldn't fly for some reason.
So, it looks like we will be going into the winter with 3 strong colonies, the Paddypines, the Paddyelms & the Kings and one small colony, the Appletrees.
It seems to be the shape of things now; that the older colonies are dying out and replacing themselves each year. Both Phil Chandler and our friend Dennis, who has been beekeeping for over 50 years, think that this is a varroa control strategy the bees are developing. I'm sure they are right.

The rescue bar from the bottom

The rescue bar from the side

Rescue bar from the top

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

More swarms and we found laying worker brood

On 18th July we had a medium sized cast settle in a pine tree at just above head height. We think it was from the Paddypines. We got it straight into a nucleus box fairly easily.
We went through the Dolphins and Posties again and decided we were wrong before and it's The Posties who are developing laying workers. We therefore moved them across the field so the flying bees will return to the Dolphin hive. The next day there were very few bees left in the Posties hive and the new queen arrived. We put her into the Dolphins hive and renamed it the Gettys.
Went through the Paddies and found lots of random drone brood laid in worker cells and very domed and knobbly - laying workers! Decided to start moving it towards the new nucleus (The Paddycasts) to combine.

On 21st we checked the Paddyelms - no sign of brood yet. Stopped feeding them and added 2 more bars. We will carry on feeding the Paddycasts and Gettys though. We gave Paul a comb of capped brood from the Paddypines to put in his hive with his new queen.
The next day the Paddycasts were behaving strangely and there was a large group of bees on the ground in front of the nucleus box. We think it must have been the queen who had fallen while attempting to go on her maiden flight. We put another nucleus box on the ground near them and they gathered on the front of it. By the next day they had all gone and the Paddycasts didn't seem happy. We think they may now be queenless.
We had a message that a swarm of bees has moved into the attic of a large house in the village bordering the nature reserve. We went down after dark and investigated. It was in a small attic space above a dormer window. Lots of old comb that a swarm has moved into. We decided it would be too hard to do a cut out but would seek advice.
We tried to get someone with a beevac to come but they were too busy so rang another beekeeper who gave lots of advice about how it could be done. As the alternative is that the home owners get pest control to destroy them, we decided to give it a go. We'll have to wait until next week though when the owners are away because of danger that the bees might get into the house.

Meanwhile they had found another colony in an apple tree. These had built several combs, so have been there a while. We got them into a nucleus box by cutting the comb off and laying it into the box. There was brood, but very little stores.

The swarm had set up home in this apple tree 

They had built several combs
We got them into a nucleus box

We returned the next day and hung most of the comb under the bars slung with strips of cloth. This was quite difficult and we are unsure if it is going to work. We also gave them a feeder board with a mix of candipolline and fondant.
The next day we cleared the remaining bees out of the Postie hive who we think were all robbers and got it closed up.
The Paddypines were very active and several fanning at the entrance. We think the queen went on her maiden flight.
We are going to take the Apple tree nucleus to Clovelly for a holiday together with the ones from the attic if we manage to remove them next week.

On Saturday 30th July we got a call from another neighbour in the village to say that some bees, or wasps, were building a nest in their garden. We went to take a look and it was a medium sized swarm hanging off a trellis. It was over some steps up to the garden. A bit tricky but we managed to get them straight into a nucleus box. Mick returned after dark to collect them and we set them up next to the Paddies.
The next day we started feeding them and moved the Paddies across the field so the flying bees return to the new nucleus - the Kings.

The swarm is hanging from the trellis above some steps

It was a bit tricky but we got them

Not sure if this was a primary or a cast, reasonable size though

We also heard from the house owner where the bees above the dormer are that they have all gone. I had my suspicions that previous bees had been poisoned there. Maybe the bees decided it wasn't such a good place to live after all. We were both rather relieved as it was going to be a rather difficult job.
We moved the Paddies back to next to the Kings and will try again on the next sunny day. A lot of the bees had gone but not enough.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Two queenless hives and an enormous swarm from a swarm!

On 7th June we returned home late afternoon and found a fairly large cast hanging around 10' up in a pine tree. Very tricky to remove! They were almost certainly from the Paddies hive as they had been bearding all day, the day before, but were now behaving normally. Mick went up on the stepladder and unfortunately they fell on his head when he cut the branch off. We put them in the wheelbarrow in front of a nucleus box as usual, but they really didn't want to enter. They kept going in and then coming out again. They eventually decided to hang on the bottom of the box. We then tried again into a different nucleus box but they were still not interested. during all of this we didn't see a queen and suspect we lost her during the capture. We then left them alone and by the next day they had defected.
On 8th June we took a nucleus box with one of our swarms (Dolphins) to Ali & James at Marhamchurch. On the way we called in to Lesley & Chris' and helped them hive the swarm (Posties) we had taken to them 10 days before. All the bars had good comb on with lots of brood and stores. Then on 14th June we helped Ali & James transfer their bees to their adapted hive and found the same. There was a little less honey though, so we advised feeding them for a little longer.
Over the next couple of weeks we began to realise we had probably given these 2 swarms away a little prematurely, as we became increasingly worried about our three hives that had swarmed. By 23rd June, a month after they had all swarmed, there were no signs that they had queens, let alone successfully mated queens. We decided to take a look and there was no sign of brood in all 3 hives. We decided to leave them a little longer, before taking any action, but ordered another black Irish queen as a precaution. The Paddypines had built up amazingly and had lots of brood and stores. However they had been rather creative with their comb building and there was a lot of crosscomb. This made it too difficult to remove any brood combs for the other hives, to test their queen status.
It does seem that swarms build much better comb when they are put into nucleus boxes initially. Unsure why this is but it's another lesson to learn for the future.
On 27th June I took a look at the 3 possibly queenless hives. The Posties and the Dolphins were the same and the Posties were rather grumpy. However I saw some larvae in the Paddies hive. Only a very small amount and not a very good pattern, but there none the less. We remembered that her mother had taken a month to start laying last year. The colony was much calmer and behaving more normally than the other 2 hives.
We plan to combine the Dolphins and the Posties, providing there are no laying workers and introduce the new queen to them when she arrives.

Around half the swarm were in at this stage

On 7th July we were very surprised by a truly enormous swarm from the Paddypines. They had been a swarm themselves just over 6 weeks before!
We successfully hived them into a nucleus box and saw the queen. They took 2 jars of syrup every day so we decided to continue feeding them for a while. We named them the Paddyelms, as they were hanging in an elm tree.

The next day we decided to take a look at the Paddies and think there is some brood but not sure. We also took another look in the Posties. The weather wasn't brilliant and they objected strongly so we quickly shut them up and retreated.
On 13th July the weather had improved enough to try again so we carefully went through both the Posties and the Dolphins. The Posties were the grumpiest. There were more of them and they had a fair amount of honey. No sign of laying workers so we decided they would be the best colony to introduce the new queen to when she arrives. The Dolphins were more subdued and we are unsure, but think that they may be developing laying workers. They had less stores and far fewer bees.
The plan is that we will combine the 2 hives in some way, but we need to make sure the laying workers are excluded.
After thinking carefully and looking up information about the different options we decided to move the Dolphins away around 20 - 30 ft and change the orientation of the hive. If we do this in the middle of the day, when most of the flying bees are out, they will return to where the hive had been, next to the Posties hive and hopefully beg their way in there. The laying workers will stay in the hive and eventually die out. We also decided to put some comb from the Paddypines hive, with capped brood on it, into the Posties hive so that when the new queen comes next week she will have some new young bees to look after her.
The next day we removed a very thick malformed comb of honey from the Posties hive and got them ready for another bar from the Paddypines. We then looked through the Paddypines for capped brood. We were a little apprehensive, as last time we looked in there was a lot of cross comb. Fortunately they seem to have sorted this out a little and we quickly found a good comb and after brushing the bees off, transferred it over. We also gave the Posties some feed to hopefully keep them occupied for the next few days.
We were amazed that there seemed to be a lot of bees still in the Paddypines hive, despite them having sent off a swarm a week ago. There was also a capped queen cell clearly visible through the window.
We then moved the Paddyelms into their new hive and gave them 3 more bars. They had built 8 good combs in the week since they were a swarm. No sign of any brood yet.

Mick watches the new hive with Paddyelms in situ.

The Paddypines

The Dolphins and Posties ready to be combined tomorrow

The Paddies

Friday, 10 June 2016

This year's swarms and Friends of the bees meeting

Our first swarm of the year amazingly coincided with the Atlantic Coast Friends of the Bees meeting at our apiary on Sunday 22nd May. The meeting started at 10.30 and the Posties began to swarm half an hour later. What incredible timing!

The swarm
Angie touching the swarm

Mick carrying the swarm over to the nucleus box

Watching the swarm enter the nucleus box

For the full effect, watch the 2 videos, Part 1 and Part 2.

Here is the link to the video Part 1which was taken and edited by Angie:


Here is the link to Part 2 which was filmed on our camera by Angie and with extra footage by Vendela. Sue edited it.


The Paddies then swarmed 2 days later. We caught this swarm too which settled in one of our pine trees. This one was a bit trickier as they were in the fork of 3 thick branches. We hived them in our 3' hive as we are going to keep these and have named them The Paddypines.

Deciding how we are going to catch these

Casper 'helping'

Casper 'helping' with the wheelbarrow

The Dolphins left it until 3 days later to swarm. Again, we caught the swarm which was in another pine tree. This time it was on a thin branch, so fairly easy.
The Posties and the Dolphins swarms are now at their new homes and things have settled down at the apiary. We had one more swarm this week, which we think was a cast from The Paddies. We caught it with some difficulty and hived it on the second attempt. However, they absconded the next day. We think the queen, which was probably a virgin, might have flown off during the capture.
We have also had several swarm calls, but they have either turned out to be bumble bees, were in too difficult places for us to tackle, were too far away, or someone else got there first.
We still have several people on our list of people wanting swarms so hopefully we will get some more calls.
Meanwhile we are up to 4 good colonies here at Nectan's Meadow Apiary.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Beekeeping Course 2016

We ran a Beginners Beekeeping Course here on the weekend of 16th - 17th April with Phil Chandler as tutor. It was fully booked and very successful. The weather was a little cold on the Saturday and we were unable to look in the hives. It was a bit warmer on the Sunday and we looked in the Dolphin hive, by far our biggest colony. There was both worker and drone brood and we added 2 new bars.
We also looked into the Paddies hive. They had worker brood and seemed to be building up well. There has been a mouse sleeping on top of the bars but hadn't got into the main body of the hive. There was also still some evidence of wax moth damage but the bees seem to be coping with it. This colony has done well after becoming queen-less last summer and being re queened in early July 2015.
Unfortunately the photos are not very good as the camera was set wrongly at too low a definition.

Looking at an empty Top Bar Hive

Taking a look at The Apiary

Phil teaching in The Village Hall


Monday, 14 March 2016

New Brood

Checked all 3 hives again yesterday and decided to change to feeding sugar syrup, if needed, rather than fondant. They were all out foraging in the warm sunny weather.
The Paddies had almost finished the fondant, so we moved the feeder board back and put in the syrup feeder with 2 jars of 1:1 syrup. In the process we saw that they had some capped worker brood which is great. There was less evidence of wax moth damage, so hopefully they have dealt with it themselves. There had however been a mouse in the roof space as the insulation mat (old bath mat) had been chewed.
The Posties had completely finished their fondant, so we removed the feeder board and gave them the same amount of syrup. There was some evidence of the presence of wax moths so we need to keep an eye on that.
The Dolphins are the biggest colony but hadn't finished the fondant. This is probably because they had the most of their own stores left. There was no evidence of wax moths.
Quite pleased overall that they have all got through the winter safely.

Monday, 7 March 2016

A long mild damp winter

At last there is a little bit of sunshine after a long, rather mild and very wet winter. We suspect the Queens only stopped laying for a very short time, if at all. We started feeding all 3 hives just after New Year with Candipolline, as we were worried they might have run out of pollen, as well as honey. We are now giving them a mixture of Candipolline and plain fondant. Checked them today and they have almost finished it again so we will check again in a few days and probably give them one last lot. They have been out flying more recently and bringing in snowdrop pollen and nectar.
There was evidence of wax moth damage in the Paddies hive which we will need to keep an eye on. We changed their insulating bath mat, as it had pupae on.

Our candy board type invention for feeding candipolline/fondant

It seems to work very well