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

Friday, 23 September 2011

Friday 23rd September 2011

Jim did the varroa count last Friday. The tray had been on approx 3½ days and the count was 119. Most of those probably fell on the first day, but if averaged out it's 34 a day. He did another icing sugar dusting on both hives and also on the nucleus, at his Mum's. I then did another one on the Lizards yesterday and have put the tray in to do another count today.
I have also put 6 drops of tea tree and about ¼ tsp of Lecithin (as an emulsifier) into one of the jars of feed (Approx 500ml) and fed to the Dolphins. They took it well and so I have made up 2 more jars to give them over the next couple of days. This was a suggestion from Phil on the last course and I've also looked up references to it online. People who have used it seem to have found it effective against varroa. Once they have stopped feeding (soon hopefully) we plan to give some to the Lizards.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Wednesday 14th September 2011

The course went very well at the weekend. The weather wasn't too bad, so they managed to look in the end of The Lizard hive, as well as through the window. They took the varroa tray back to The Barton to do a count. Not good news; there were 41 varroa in 24 hours!!! I did a dusting of icing sugar on Monday and replaced the tray, to do another count later in the week. This will probably be even higher, as the icing sugar should make the bees groom each other and, in the process, knock off varroa. We will then do another count a few days later. I also dusted The Dolphins and Jim is doing the nucleus, when he goes to his Mum's on Saturday.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Friday 9th September 2011

It's the last Beginners' Natural Beekeeping Course of the year, this weekend. Hopefully the weather will at least allow them to look through the observation window on the Lizards' hive.

Our plan for the next few weeks:

1) We are doing a varroa count on The Lizards and will apply icing sugar from underneath if it's high, so they go into the winter with a lowish count, hopefully. If the count is low, I think we will presume that the nuc that came from there is probably low too. Might do a count on The Dolphins though.

2) Weather permitting, we are going to try and move the big hive's stores to one end, as Phil suggested, as the cluster usually moves through the hive towards the stores during the winter.

3) We are feeding our very small caste (The Dolphins) and it seems to be doing OK, despite the wasp attacks. Using 2:1 syrup now. That's 2 of sugar to 1 of water.

4) The nucleus that's in Jim's parents' field (about 3-4 mls away) is doing very well, it has brood and lots of new bees, so sounds like a good new queen. We will either leave it there until mid winter, or bring it back soon. They may need feeding during the winter and we will use fondant by Phil's method of packing it into comb. At the moment it seems quite heavy, so Jim will keep an eye on it when he visits his Mum, by hefting it or weighing it. It might be possible to do this with bathroom scales, as it's just the nuc box.

5) We will insulate the tops of the bars with old towels/blankets/carpets, like we did last winter.

6) We will leave the bottoms of all 3 hives uncovered to allow for ventilation.

7) Jim and Mick have started making 2 new 48" hives. Well they've prepared some of the wood anyway. They will get on with these over the winter. We hope to move the big colony (The Lizards) into one of these in the Spring and the nuc into the other one, probably. The caste (The Dolphins) can go into one of the 2 old hives.