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, 23 March 2011

Wednesday 23rd March 2011

Very warm today temps up to 16 C. Bees flying +++. Checked fondant a few days ago and decided to take it out of the tub with holes in and put what was left directly over hole in top bars. Checked yesterday and they had eaten it all! Made up some more and took half down and put over the hole. Also removed cork from second entrance hole, as they seemed a bit crowded going in and out of just one. Will check feed tomorrow. They have been bringing in lots of bright yellow pollen.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Wednesday 9th March Cautiously Optimistic about the Lizards!

Missed the trauma of finding the dead Buckfasts, as I have had flu for a few days. Went down to check on the Lizards this morning, as have been feeling decidedly twitchy about them since hearing the news and wanted to check on their feed.
Bees were flying in and out, about 2 -3 at the entrance at a time. Didn't want to hang around, so not sure if they were bringing in pollen or not. T.12. Very briefly lifted the feed tub. Lots of bees on the bottom, feeding from the fondant.
Phoned Jim when got back and we discussed whether to replace the feed or not, in case it had gone off. Jim went down to check and reported back that it looks fine and the bees were drawing it out of the holes. We will have to keep an eye on it over the next few days, in case they need some more.
Jim also said that, yesterday, they were bringing in very bright yellow pollen. I think this is most likely to be Goat Willow and/or Celandine, both of which are out and good sources of nectar and pollen.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

6th March 2011 Disaster

Sue asked me to pop down and check the buckfasts as she has the flu, but noticed the other day that there wasn't much activity and couldn't hear a buzz.

I took off the lid and insulating materials, prised open the first comb and to my utter dismay it was completely empty, the comb had been completely cleaned out.  It was the same throughout the entire hive.  About half way through I found a small cluster of dead bees in the middle of a comb.  There was no evidence of disease and a number of bees were dead inside cells trying to find food.

Before the winter the hive was filled to the brim with stores, not a single space left, all of it capped.  It should have been more than enough for the colony.  There were a few combs with crystalised honey in an arch shape which they obviously couldn't digest.

So why did this happen?  One thought is that there was a high number of drones in the colony, but I guess we'll never really know.