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, 21 September 2010

Saturday 18th Sept '10

11.30 am Couldn't believe it, looked out of window and saw a tractor spraying herbicide in the field next door!!! The farmer had promised us that he would let us know when they were going to spray AND that they would try and do it in the evening. Warm sunny day, so the bees would have been out flying. Mick phoned Graham, the farmer, he said sorry, he'd been busy and had forgotten to phone. What could we say?

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Wednesday 15th Sept '10

1pm Went down to bees with Jim as weather quite good, sunny and 16 C. Went through Lizards. Still not much sign of worker brood although we saw possible uncapped cells. Still some drone brood, but probably from the old queen. Not a lot of activity and numbers low, stil quite a lot of drones around. Didn't see queen, but didn't want to keep hive open too long. Saw a possible supersedure cell, Jim took a photo. Will post when I've got it. They seemed fairly happy. Slowed down on the amount of feed they are taking. Will try to look again in a couple of weeks, weather permitting.

 Buckfasts very busy!!! 20 - 30 bees flying in and out with nectar and pollen. Weighed (L) 31 kgs (R) 27 kgs , exactly the same as a month ago, so they are keeping up their stores well. Should be OK for the winter.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Wednesday 8th September 2010

2 pm We went down to check what was happening. Loads of bees over the cage and clearly VERY interested in the new queen. They had nearly eaten through the plug, so we released her. She was soon covered in a mass of bees who pushed her down into the hive. So it's keep your fingers crossed time for the next week or so. We'll leave them alone and then check to see if she's laying.
We will continue feeding them until they have had enough.
Sugared the Buckfast bees only.

Tuesday 7th September 2010

Robert Bell sent us a new queen to requeen the colony. She arrived this morning, so we went down and committed regicide on the old queen! The queen is dead - long live the queen. Poor thing, however she was pretty useless and we had given her a chance to redeem herself. See the picture of her pathetic brood. All drone and scattered at that. The colony would have died out over the winter if we hadn't done something.

This was one of the better combs too!
Late afternoon Jim took the new queen down and put the cage between 2 bars so the bees could get used to her overnight. The cage had a candy plug which they could eat through to let her out.
He covered it with a blanket to keep her warm.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Wednesday 1st September 2010

Decided we needed to investigate again to be absolutely sure if we had a queen or not. Went through the whole hive very carefully. Temp 20 C, so not too worried about chilling them.
About half way through we found her! I saw her first and immediately started doubting myself, as you do. Then we looked again and Jim saw her too. We took some pictures. The workers didn't seem as interested in her as they should. This picture seems to be about the best one.

                      Follow end of thumb past length of one bee
                                    The Queen

So we do have a queen, but there are definitely an awful lot of drones, only drone brood, which is scattered and in some cases with very large uneven domed caps and no worker brood.
It looks like we have a drone laying queen, oh dear!!!
Will email Robert Bell of Heather Bell bees where we got the nuc from and ask his advice. Maybe we can requeen them if it's not too late. I'll also email our friend Dennis.
We have a new bellows powder blower for icing sugar. Sugared both hives from underneath.

Tuesday, 31 August, 2010

3 pm I wanted to have a good look at the Lizards so I popped on my jacket and gloves.  From outside the hive all looked pretty good.  Lots of activity, lots of workers carrying pollen.
The wasp trap is working well, although there was one bee inside too.
When I took the top off there was an audible change in buzz, in my opinion it sounded a little angry and stressed.  On the left hand side (without feed) there were some dead bees and 3 dead wasps.  Good, they are protecting themselves. On the right hand side there was a small cloud of bees that rose up.  There was one bee that was stuck to the side and was covered in a green gue, could just be an accidentally squashed one that had gone a bit off, but I'll do a bit of research just to check.
I went through the combs ultra carefully and found no evidence of worker brood.  Towards the middle there was a fair amount of uncapped stores (probably from the sugar) but on each of the middle combs there was nothing but drones with the occasional 'shotgun' patch of drone brood. 
I hate to admit it, but I really don't think we have a real queen.  I think we have a cuckoo situation where a minority of worker bees are working themselves silly in order to feed a majority of drone bees.  Inside the hive there are clearly more drones than workers.
 Where do we go from here?

Sunday, 29 August, 2010

3 pm Just been down with Brinsley and had a look from the outside.  Lizards are far more busy than the Buckfasts. They are still bringing in pollen and seem more co-ordinated.  Quite a lot of black (new?) bees around the entrance.  Also saw 5 wasps underneath the Lizard hive so have refilled wasp trap and put it down near the Lizards.  This could be because of the feed?