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

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

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