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, 20 June 2012

Natural Beekeeping Beginners Course 15th - 17th June 2012

The group came down in the rain just to have a look at the hives on Saturday, but the main visit was on Sunday afternoon. This is what we found when we looked at the 4 hives/nucleii.
1) We were pretty sure the split from the Lizards has a new queen. We saw an opened queen cell on the bar of brood Jim and I put in about 3 weeks ago. The bees were behaving normally and as if they had a queen. They only had a very small amount of honey left, but were bringing in pollen and also eating the syrup we put in a couple of days before. There were lots of drones hanging around.

2) The Dolphins were bearding again and there were lots of bees in the air and loads of drones. Phil removed the beard into a flower pot and we looked to see if there was a queen in it. Couldn't see one and when we went back all the bees had gone back into the hive. We didn't disturb the main hive, apart from peeking in the end. They are possibly planning a cast, so we need to keep an eye on them for the next few days. It could also have been that a new queen was off on her maiden flight.

3) We went right through the Lizards. They are madly building on new bars both ends, but otherwise things weren't that good. There was very little worker brood and about 3 times as much drone brood. However the good news was that it looked like a supersedure cell had opened, so they probably also have a new queen. It looked like there might have been another, opened, supersedure cell on another comb too. Jim and I had noticed a possible supersedure cell few weeks ago, but strangely the 2 opened ones we saw on Saturday were either side of the bar we had marked. When I spoke to Jim about this, we were both pretty sure we had marked the correct bar. Did they break down that cell for some reason and make 2 more, or was it unsuccessful? We will never know. They had quite a lot of stores. 
4) The new, caught, swarm in the nucleus box was looking good. Mick made a feeder for them yesterday and fitted it last night. It has wetted granulated sugar in it, on Phil's suggestion. He has found this is a good way to feed the bees at any time of year.

Lots of happy drones around with all these new queens!

This is the periscope entrance of Jim's new hive with perspex front

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

We caught a swarm from the Dolphin hive!

Very exciting day yesterday. Mick and I were meant to be leaving home at about 10 am to go to South Devon for a few days. Jim was also going away for the week, for work. Mick noticed unusual activity when he fed the hens at about 9 am. Two days before, our 5 year old Grandson was showing his cousin the beehives and came running in saying 'Granny, Granny, the bees are bearding', that's my boy :-)) There was actually a clump of bees hanging on the bottom of the hive and we realised they might be planning something.
By 10am yesterday there were several hundred bees in the air above the Dolphin hive. They then moved over the field to our vegetable garden and eventually landed on a 5 bar gate. Watch the video to see what happened next.
The nucleus we made almost a month ago seems OK. Just over 2 weeks ago we gave them some more new brood and stores, as we were unsure if they had made a queen or not and they seemed short of food. We will probably check them again this weekend, as there is another beginners course here with Phil Chandler.