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

Monday, 29 September 2014

Exciting summer!

We have had a very interesting beekeeping year and now have 3 colonies in Top Bar Hives. 
Phil Chandler ran a course here in early June and one amazing find was a Death's Head Hawk Moth in one of the hives. It was actually between the follower board and the end of the hive, so couldn't get in to steal any honey which is what they do. Another bonus of having a periscope entrance.

The Death's Head Hawk Moth in the hive
You can clearly see the death's head marking
Phil inspecting the lovely straight comb in the Nectan's hive
In mid June we had a call from some neighbours to say they had a swarm in an old electricity box in their garden. After a couple of failed attempts, eventually having to dismantle the roof, we got the bees into a nucleus box. They are now well established in a hive and are our third colony. They are beautiful, very dark, bees and are probably closely related to the British Black bee. We have called them The Lintons.

The electricity box where the swarm had settled
In they go
Amazingly, 37 days later, in late July, The Lintons swarmed again. We caught the swarm and we gave them away to a local farmer. We had some our Grandchildren here at the time, so they had a very interesting introduction to swarm catching.

Arlo and Alby getting ready to catch the swarm
Quite a big swarm
Even the baby joined in
The lovely black queen can be seen here in the middle of the picture with blue on her abdomen
We are hoping our three hives will all survive the winter. They have plenty of stores and after such a good summer, they all seem to be strong colonies. We also helped a friend, at Morwenstow, with his first colony this year. He came on the course last year and had his Top Bar hive all ready to go. He was given some bees from a beekeeper in Bude.
There is one more Beekeeping course this year on the weekend of 10th - 12th October 2014. It is for Improvers and Converters, but Phil has said that he will accept people who have at least read a book about beekeeping and know the basics. There are still a few places, so if anyone is interested, do email Yarner at info@yarnertrust.org as soon as possible. They do have a bursary scheme to help with payment if needed.
Phil is staying on afterwards to give a talk about the native Black Bee Project at The Old Smithy Inn on the Sunday evening.