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

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

More good news than bad!

Overall we are happy with progress. We visited the Apple Trees in Clovelly last week and they are doing well. We gave them another feeder board which should do them until we bring them home in a couple of weeks. We also repaired their broken comb with our new rescue bars which seem to work well providing the comb isn't too heavy.
Three of the colonies at home are all doing well.
Unfortunately the Gettys/Dolphins appear to have laying workers and so have probably killed the new queen. They are still pretty grumpy so we decided to leave them alone and let them die out naturally over the winter.
The Paddyelms are still really going for it. I broke a comb as I was trying to straighten it last week. We did a temporary repair with cloth strips which they bit through by the next day. We also gave them a comb of honey from the old Postie hive. We managed to fix the broken comb with one of our new rescue bars but, unfortunately the comb of honey we had given them had broken off too, probably due to the heat and weight of bees. It was much too heavy for a rescue bar so we put it on the grass in front of the hive. Amazingly they completely stripped it of the honey by nightfall!!!
On Sunday 14th we moved the Kings into their new hive and were very pleased to find 4 combs with a lovely pattern of capped worker brood. This probably means it was a primary swarm, as the brood must have been laid over a week before and we caught the swarm 15 days before. That doesn't really leave much time for a virgin queen to have mated and then started laying. They had some wonky comb which might need straightening. We gave them 2 new bars and some honey filled wax left over from pressing honey, which has lots of pollen in it too, into the feed area. The next day I replaced this and also gave them a comb of honey from the dying Paddy hive. They had broken a comb off which I attached to a rescue bar and I also managed to straighten a couple of wonky combs.
I checked the Paddypines and was delighted to find capped worker brood in there too. I didn't go right through as they are obviously fine and have a laying queen. This would be a daughter of the original Paddy queen who is now in the Paddyelms. We thought we saw signs of her going on her maiden flight on 27th July which would be about right.
The Paddycasts are definitely queenless and appear to be developing laying workers so we hope to move them so that the flying bees go into the Kings hive. They must have lost their queen on 22nd July when we saw the group of bees on the ground in front of their hive. Perhaps she was injured or couldn't fly for some reason.
So, it looks like we will be going into the winter with 3 strong colonies, the Paddypines, the Paddyelms & the Kings and one small colony, the Appletrees.
It seems to be the shape of things now; that the older colonies are dying out and replacing themselves each year. Both Phil Chandler and our friend Dennis, who has been beekeeping for over 50 years, think that this is a varroa control strategy the bees are developing. I'm sure they are right.

The rescue bar from the bottom

The rescue bar from the side

Rescue bar from the top

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

More swarms and we found laying worker brood

On 18th July we had a medium sized cast settle in a pine tree at just above head height. We think it was from the Paddypines. We got it straight into a nucleus box fairly easily.
We went through the Dolphins and Posties again and decided we were wrong before and it's The Posties who are developing laying workers. We therefore moved them across the field so the flying bees will return to the Dolphin hive. The next day there were very few bees left in the Posties hive and the new queen arrived. We put her into the Dolphins hive and renamed it the Gettys.
Went through the Paddies and found lots of random drone brood laid in worker cells and very domed and knobbly - laying workers! Decided to start moving it towards the new nucleus (The Paddycasts) to combine.

On 21st we checked the Paddyelms - no sign of brood yet. Stopped feeding them and added 2 more bars. We will carry on feeding the Paddycasts and Gettys though. We gave Paul a comb of capped brood from the Paddypines to put in his hive with his new queen.
The next day the Paddycasts were behaving strangely and there was a large group of bees on the ground in front of the nucleus box. We think it must have been the queen who had fallen while attempting to go on her maiden flight. We put another nucleus box on the ground near them and they gathered on the front of it. By the next day they had all gone and the Paddycasts didn't seem happy. We think they may now be queenless.
We had a message that a swarm of bees has moved into the attic of a large house in the village bordering the nature reserve. We went down after dark and investigated. It was in a small attic space above a dormer window. Lots of old comb that a swarm has moved into. We decided it would be too hard to do a cut out but would seek advice.
We tried to get someone with a beevac to come but they were too busy so rang another beekeeper who gave lots of advice about how it could be done. As the alternative is that the home owners get pest control to destroy them, we decided to give it a go. We'll have to wait until next week though when the owners are away because of danger that the bees might get into the house.

Meanwhile they had found another colony in an apple tree. These had built several combs, so have been there a while. We got them into a nucleus box by cutting the comb off and laying it into the box. There was brood, but very little stores.

The swarm had set up home in this apple tree 

They had built several combs
We got them into a nucleus box

We returned the next day and hung most of the comb under the bars slung with strips of cloth. This was quite difficult and we are unsure if it is going to work. We also gave them a feeder board with a mix of candipolline and fondant.
The next day we cleared the remaining bees out of the Postie hive who we think were all robbers and got it closed up.
The Paddypines were very active and several fanning at the entrance. We think the queen went on her maiden flight.
We are going to take the Apple tree nucleus to Clovelly for a holiday together with the ones from the attic if we manage to remove them next week.

On Saturday 30th July we got a call from another neighbour in the village to say that some bees, or wasps, were building a nest in their garden. We went to take a look and it was a medium sized swarm hanging off a trellis. It was over some steps up to the garden. A bit tricky but we managed to get them straight into a nucleus box. Mick returned after dark to collect them and we set them up next to the Paddies.
The next day we started feeding them and moved the Paddies across the field so the flying bees return to the new nucleus - the Kings.

The swarm is hanging from the trellis above some steps

It was a bit tricky but we got them

Not sure if this was a primary or a cast, reasonable size though

We also heard from the house owner where the bees above the dormer are that they have all gone. I had my suspicions that previous bees had been poisoned there. Maybe the bees decided it wasn't such a good place to live after all. We were both rather relieved as it was going to be a rather difficult job.
We moved the Paddies back to next to the Kings and will try again on the next sunny day. A lot of the bees had gone but not enough.