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

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Two queenless hives and an enormous swarm from a swarm!

On 7th June we returned home late afternoon and found a fairly large cast hanging around 10' up in a pine tree. Very tricky to remove! They were almost certainly from the Paddies hive as they had been bearding all day, the day before, but were now behaving normally. Mick went up on the stepladder and unfortunately they fell on his head when he cut the branch off. We put them in the wheelbarrow in front of a nucleus box as usual, but they really didn't want to enter. They kept going in and then coming out again. They eventually decided to hang on the bottom of the box. We then tried again into a different nucleus box but they were still not interested. during all of this we didn't see a queen and suspect we lost her during the capture. We then left them alone and by the next day they had defected.
On 8th June we took a nucleus box with one of our swarms (Dolphins) to Ali & James at Marhamchurch. On the way we called in to Lesley & Chris' and helped them hive the swarm (Posties) we had taken to them 10 days before. All the bars had good comb on with lots of brood and stores. Then on 14th June we helped Ali & James transfer their bees to their adapted hive and found the same. There was a little less honey though, so we advised feeding them for a little longer.
Over the next couple of weeks we began to realise we had probably given these 2 swarms away a little prematurely, as we became increasingly worried about our three hives that had swarmed. By 23rd June, a month after they had all swarmed, there were no signs that they had queens, let alone successfully mated queens. We decided to take a look and there was no sign of brood in all 3 hives. We decided to leave them a little longer, before taking any action, but ordered another black Irish queen as a precaution. The Paddypines had built up amazingly and had lots of brood and stores. However they had been rather creative with their comb building and there was a lot of crosscomb. This made it too difficult to remove any brood combs for the other hives, to test their queen status.
It does seem that swarms build much better comb when they are put into nucleus boxes initially. Unsure why this is but it's another lesson to learn for the future.
On 27th June I took a look at the 3 possibly queenless hives. The Posties and the Dolphins were the same and the Posties were rather grumpy. However I saw some larvae in the Paddies hive. Only a very small amount and not a very good pattern, but there none the less. We remembered that her mother had taken a month to start laying last year. The colony was much calmer and behaving more normally than the other 2 hives.
We plan to combine the Dolphins and the Posties, providing there are no laying workers and introduce the new queen to them when she arrives.

Around half the swarm were in at this stage

On 7th July we were very surprised by a truly enormous swarm from the Paddypines. They had been a swarm themselves just over 6 weeks before!
We successfully hived them into a nucleus box and saw the queen. They took 2 jars of syrup every day so we decided to continue feeding them for a while. We named them the Paddyelms, as they were hanging in an elm tree.

The next day we decided to take a look at the Paddies and think there is some brood but not sure. We also took another look in the Posties. The weather wasn't brilliant and they objected strongly so we quickly shut them up and retreated.
On 13th July the weather had improved enough to try again so we carefully went through both the Posties and the Dolphins. The Posties were the grumpiest. There were more of them and they had a fair amount of honey. No sign of laying workers so we decided they would be the best colony to introduce the new queen to when she arrives. The Dolphins were more subdued and we are unsure, but think that they may be developing laying workers. They had less stores and far fewer bees.
The plan is that we will combine the 2 hives in some way, but we need to make sure the laying workers are excluded.
After thinking carefully and looking up information about the different options we decided to move the Dolphins away around 20 - 30 ft and change the orientation of the hive. If we do this in the middle of the day, when most of the flying bees are out, they will return to where the hive had been, next to the Posties hive and hopefully beg their way in there. The laying workers will stay in the hive and eventually die out. We also decided to put some comb from the Paddypines hive, with capped brood on it, into the Posties hive so that when the new queen comes next week she will have some new young bees to look after her.
The next day we removed a very thick malformed comb of honey from the Posties hive and got them ready for another bar from the Paddypines. We then looked through the Paddypines for capped brood. We were a little apprehensive, as last time we looked in there was a lot of cross comb. Fortunately they seem to have sorted this out a little and we quickly found a good comb and after brushing the bees off, transferred it over. We also gave the Posties some feed to hopefully keep them occupied for the next few days.
We were amazed that there seemed to be a lot of bees still in the Paddypines hive, despite them having sent off a swarm a week ago. There was also a capped queen cell clearly visible through the window.
We then moved the Paddyelms into their new hive and gave them 3 more bars. They had built 8 good combs in the week since they were a swarm. No sign of any brood yet.

Mick watches the new hive with Paddyelms in situ.

The Paddypines

The Dolphins and Posties ready to be combined tomorrow

The Paddies