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

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Sunday 22nd May 2011

Bees flying from both hives, more from The Nectans.
Nectan's bees bringing in pollen, which indicates the presence of the queen, as they only do that when there are larvae to feed. As it's 15 days since the split, there wouldn't be any larvae if there was no queen, as the cells are capped after 9 days.
No pollen coming into The Lizards as they are waiting for their new queen, if they have one, to mate.

Removed the varroa tray from The Lizards. Counted 12 varroa in 16 days, which averages as less than one a day - great. Decided it's not worth doing another count on The Nectans, they should be about the same as they were the same colony 15 days ago.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Friday 20th June 2011

Fed Nectans again on Tuesday. Signs of dysentery noticed by Jim on Wednesday and weather much better, so decided to stop feeding.
This is what Jim said in an email yesterday:
"Checked the bees at about 9am this morning, it's a beautiful day (potential swarm).
Good news - the Lizards (who have the queen cell) are building.  Little activity outside the hive, but they have few flying bees, so that would be right.
The Nectans seem much happier they are also building.  Much activity outside the hive
I popped into your garage and put another couple of bars in both hives.
Took out the feed from the Nectans (all gone).
I'll keep a close eye on them whilst we have good weather."
Went to check them this morning with Mick. Temp 19. Wanted to have a quick look at the queen cell, so I could 'get my eye in'. Lifted the bar where Jim said it was and was very surprised to see 4-5 queen cells. There was the very large one at the bottom, that Jim had seen, covered in bees. Then 2-3 badly formed smaller ones. Then we were amazed to see that there was one in the mid RH section which looked like it had had a queen already emerged. I think this was where I saw the lumpy structure a few days after the split. We shut the hive back up quickly and left them alone. Lots of drones looking very interested, so hopefully, whichever queen wins the probable fight, she'll mate successfully.
Queen cell to the right of the middle, queen possibly emerged. Lots of drones visible.

Same cell visible with 2 smaller cells to left of it.

Workers very interested, looking into queen cell.

Workers all over large queen cell at bottom of comb.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Tues 17th May 2011

A lot has happened over past couple of days.
We carried on feeding the Nectans until Fri evening, by which time they had consumed almost 2 kgs sugar as 1:1 syrup.
I wasn't feeling too good on Sunday, when we had planned to have another look, so Jim inspected the hives on his own.
In The Lizards he saw a well formed, capped, queen cell which Mick and I must have missed in our quick inspection on Fri. He also observed that the bees seemed to be clustering in a ball and he was worried that they might be preparing to swarm. The bees were very active and bringing in pollen.
The Nectans, however were not so good. This is what he said:
"The new colony (Nectans) have a huge number of discarded drone larvae both inside and outside the hive, 100+.  Inside the combs are light in weight and have little recent activity, virtually no stores.  There is a comb of sealed brood and  evidence of some (not many) larvae at varying stages.  No eggs.  Searched long and hard for a queen, but couldn't see her.  Not too many bees in this hive so I'm pretty sure I would have see her.  This hive has one or two bees returning with pollen every 4-5 mins, not active.  Many drones hanging around without trying to get in."
We discussed our options and wondered if we should either move the queen cell, or the queen (if we could find her) to the Nectans. We were tending to think that the queen was possibly in the Lizard hive and that the cell was a swarm cell, not a replacement. At that point we were thinking that, as the cell was capped, it had probably been in the making since before the split. We were also worried that the Lizards might have been robbing the Nectans. We decided that we needed to get advice from Phil. Jim emailed him and this was part of his reply:
"Sounds like you need to fortify the Nectans from the Lizards. A simple way to do this would be to swap the hives over (not on your own!) so the flying bees reinforce the other one."
We were a bit thrown by this, until we thought it through, logically:
1)  We realised that the queen cell could well be capped and be an emergency cell in response to the split. Queen cells are capped on the 8th day, the split was done 8 days ago and the egg would have been 1-2 days old then.
2) As there were uncapped larvae, at various stages in the Nectans, this indicates that the queen is probably there, as cells are usually capped on day 9 when the larvae is fully formed.
3) If we swop the hives, the flying bees from the Lizards' hive should go to the Nectans' hive. This would mean they would start bringing in supplies there instead and also would not be robbing them. As the Lizards have loads of supplies, they would be ok for a while and also, as they are strong, they would probably be able to ward off a bid to rob them.
4) If the flying bees mostly decamp to the Nectans' hive, the Lizards would probably have insufficient flying bees to swarm, if that was what they were planning.
So last night at 9.15 we did the swop and also gave the Nectans another feed of 300gms sugar as 1:1 syrup. Put corks in entrances to do the swop and Jim removed these this morning.
It's been very cool the last 2 days and when Mick went down at about 10 this morning there were just a few, slightly confused looking, bees flying around both entrances.
Keep your fingers crossed!

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Friday 13th May 2011

Inspected Lizards' hive on Friday with Mick helping, as Jim away at the moment. Temp only just OK, so had to be quick. The thing we saw on Tues had gone, so it couldn't have been a queen cell, however I saw a lumpy structure in the middle of a comb which was different to and much bigger than a drone cell. I think it might have been an emergency queen cell under construction. Couldn't see any new brood. They were still building comb, so we put in another bar.
Then went to the Nectans' hive. Started looking at bars, but then it began spitting with rain and the temp dropped. Stopped and closed them up after 2 bars, so didn't see much. They have been taking 300gms sugar in 300mls water every day still. As they now have flying bees bringing in pollen, decided to give them some feed tonight and then stop. They will have had almost 2 kgs sugar in total.
Still erring on the side of thinking it's the Lizards that are queenless and hoping that the structure they are building is a queen cell. Hope to have a look at the Nectans over the weekend with Jim.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Tues 10th May '11 We think we were wrong!

Results of sound test Phil did were inconclusive.
Inspected Nectans' hive with Jim today at 1pm. Bees flying around the hive quite a lot, but don't seem to be flying away to gather supplies yet. All the feed gone again, we had given them 2 more jars last night. So they have taken 5 jars now, that's 750gms sugar in 2 days. Will give them some more tonight.
Began to look at bars most likely to have brood on and found some new looking brood. Decided they may have the queen after all, so looked in the Lizards' hive instead.
Bees building very busily on new bars and bars from Buckfast colony. Saw what we think may be a very new queen cell. Took pictures, but they didn't come out very well. Too many bees in the way. Decided to leave them alone and check again in 2 -3 days. There may well be more queen cells, but we didn't want to risk chilling whatever it was we saw.
Possible queen cell in Lizard hive.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Monday 9th May 2011 First Natural Beekeeping Course of 2011

The Lizards have continued to build comb at a rate of knots! On Friday they were up to 19 bars. They had built about a third of a comb on the bar I put in on Weds. Bees very busy bringing in nectar and pollen.
Phil arrived on Fri afternoon for another weekend beekeeping course. Had a look at both hives with me. Just looked in the end of the Lizards and felt we could go ahead with a split over the weekend, weather permitting. We added yet another bar. Quick look at dead Buckfast hive and Phil felt that no disease was present. Decided to go through with course members on Sat. I put the varroa tray under the Lizards later that evening.
Phil arrived with the course members late morning on Sat and we looked at both hives. Verdict on the Buckfasts is that they probably went queenless sometime over the winter and so dwindled away. There was no sign of disease, or over dampness, he thought that if they had had Nosema (the most likely winter disease) there would have been much more dead bees, as they tend to die quite quickly.
We cleaned up the hive and put back a few clean bars with fairly new, empty comb on.
The Lizards were flying in vast numbers. We went through the whole hive and they behaved impeccably. Not a single sting and yet they were all around us! Perfect, even comb and they were building manically on the newer bars. One varroa on the tray. Not 24hrs, but still pretty good. We also looked in a few drone cells and no sign of varroa. No sign of deformed wings either. All very good.
There were no queen cells and we couldn't find the queen. Phil thought it would be fine to go ahead with the split. They went back for lunch and then came down around 3.30 and we went ahead. Very interesting technique and much simpler than all that turning hives round etc.
We just took half the bars from the right hand side of the hive and put them into the other hive. We knew that there was brood and food in both ends. We didn't bother trying to find the queen, but hoped she would be in the new hive, as that would be more like a natural swarm. We put the Buckfast hive back where it was originally. We also put some of the bars from the Buckfast hive, that just had empty, newish, comb on, into each hive. Basically the flying bees will mostly go back to the old hive and by the time new flying bees emerge from the new hive, they will orientate to there. If there are any problems over the next couple of weeks we can always swap bars around if necessary, as the bees will still be used to each others' smell etc. The hive without a queen should raise one from a new egg. Half an hour after we'd done it, they all seemed quite happy, so we still didn't know where the queen was! Phil had a listening gadget which he put in both entrances to see if the sounds were different. It recorded the sounds in the hives, he listened to it later in the evening and couldn't detect a difference.
I made some syrup for the new hive (we have since named these 'The Nectans') and put it in, in the evening. This was 150gms sugar in 150mls water. They are more likely to need extra food than the Lizards as they will be short of flying bees for a while.
On Sunday the group came down again and most of us felt that the queen was probably in the Lizard hive. They were flying and behaving normally and were also still building comb. There were no more varroa visible on the tray. The new hive didn't seem particularly distressed, but they were not building at all. There were some bees flying around the hive, but not gathering supplies yet. The feed was all gone. Phil tried the listening device again and this time knocked on the hives to record the change in sound and duration. He will let us know the results.
In the evening I put 2 more jars of feed in the Nectans' hive.
We must check the Nectans within a week for queen cells and take action if there aren't any.