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, 19 June 2011

Sunday 19th June 2011

Lots has happened in past few weeks. Waited and waited for signs of a new queen in the Lizard hive. They did start bringing in some pollen, but then their activity reduced quite a lot. Jim investigated and was quite worried about them. The largest, still capped, queen cell was there, so must have died, because it should have hatched several days before. The others had opened, but he couldn't see a queen and also thought they were being robbed from the Nectans. He reduced the entrance to one hole, to try and prevent further robbing. We suspected that, if there was a queen, she might have failed on her virgin flight, or got eaten by one of the swallows who had been swooping over the hives. We sought advice from Phil who thought it was worth trying again, by introducing another comb, with new eggs in, from the Nectans, so they could raise another queen. I went to do the deed on Tues, but was shocked by what I found.
At first all looked good, with many bees crowding around the entrance. I watched for a while and they seemed to be behaving oddly and certainly no pollen was coming in. There seemed to be quite a lot of scuffles breaking out and the sound of the hive was 'not content', is the only way I can think of describing it. Also, it seemed that most of the bees were coming from the other hive.
The Nectans were very contentedly bringing in nectar and pollen, or flying off to the Lizard hive.
I opened up and went through the whole hive. There was absolutely no brood and very little honey. I found no stored pollen. All the combs were very light and there was no building going on. The bees all seemed to be taking the honey that was left and flying away with it. There were a lot of drones too.
I was 99% sure most of the bees I saw were from the Nectans' hive and were robbing, despite us cutting the entrance down to one hole. I didn't think we really had a colony left. It really felt pointless to go ahead with moving comb over, as I thought there was virtually nothing to feed them with, even if there were any nurse bees left. I emailed Jim & Phil and followed up with a phone call to Phil. Decided, between us, to reunite the hives & I went ahead with this on Wednesday, on my own, as Jim was away with work. I did it by putting most of the combs into the Nectans' hive at one end. Left them alone overnight and went back on Thurs to remove a few more of the combs. The bees were not best pleased about this and became pretty angry. Just took 2 and put these in the other hive, which is now empty of course, along with the other combs I managed to leave behind the day before.
One bit of really good news is that I had phoned Paula, who had been on the first Top Bar Hive course, because she had offered us a swarm, from her own bees, that she doesn't need. She brought these to us on Friday and they are now, at the top of our field, in her nucleus box. We will move them into their new home sometime over the next few days. We decided to leave them at the top of the field to, hopefully, prevent them from being robbed.
So it looks like we are back up to 2 hives, again. We will have to decide what we are going to do about names. Really, the Nectans should go back to being called The Lizards, because they are now the original, reunited, Lizard colony.