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, 24 May 2017

Two swarms!

So far we have had 2 swarms this week. On Sunday I kept checking the Paddyelms around every 30 mins as I thought they might send off a primary swarm. They didn't but then I became aware of a medium sized swarm in a beech tree nearby. It was quite high up and in amongst the branches so not the easiest to catch. We are not sure if it is a primary swarm, or a cast, but managed to collect it and hive it fairly easily in the end. We didn't see the queen, but they entered the hive very quickly so we think we got her. It could have come from the Apple Trees, if it was a cast, or possibly from Kings Cross Cottage where they have bees in an unused chimney. We had had a call from a neighbour the same day who had called round there and thought there was a swarm. When Mick got there it had gone, so it was possibly the one in our beech tree. The bees do look rather like our bees, The Kings, who also came from there last year. We have named them The Beeches.

Mick climbing up to get them

Up the ladder

Got them

Onto the sheet

In they go
On Monday we had a cast from the Appletrees. They gathered low down amongst some brambles and ferns. We cut away as much of the vegetation as we could, put a nucleus box in front of them and then put a sheet from the box to as near to them as we could get it. We then shook as many bees as we could over and on to the sheet. We have now given this cast away to another Top Bar Beekeeper in the village.

The cast from The Appletrees

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

The Kings

We inspected The Kings on Sunday. They have quite a lot of worker brood and it's not as patchy as it was the last time we looked. However, it's a little odd and strangely laid out with patches of drone brood on one side of some combs. We considered re queening them, but I think we will only do that if we catch a spare queen in a swarm. Otherwise we hope they will do a supercedure if they are unhappy with the queen. They had re built the comb that had broken last time and also built new combs on the 2 bars we put in. We put 3 more bars in and a few spacers where they have very thick honeycombs. No queen cells or queen cups seen and we think they are unlikely to swarm this year.

Friday, 12 May 2017

First swarm of the season

The Apple Trees swarmed on Monday 8th May. Lovely big swarm which landed in a pine tree so we've called them The Pineapples!
We hived them into a nucleus box as we've found that they tend to build straighter comb when started in a nuc rather than a hive.

They landed in a pine tree

A good sized swarm

Starting to get the idea

In they go

Around half in now

Sunday, 9 April 2017

The Kings

Went through The Kings yesterday. They are not doing as well as the other 2 hives. They have a lot of honey, but the brood pattern is a bit patchy and there is less of it. They also have a couple of wonky combs that we will need to remove. One honey comb fell off when I lifted it. It had obviously broken before and the bees had tried to repair it as best they could. I removed this comb but left the part that is still attached to the bar, so they can rebuild it. I also put in 2 more bars for them. We'll inspect them again in a couple of weeks, to see if the brood pattern improves and perhaps consider re queening them if not.
Today I moved a comb that is half full of honey to the brood end of The Paddyelms, so they can access it easily and so they can also use the bottom half for brood. They have already started building on the bars I had put in for them, so I gave them one more.
I put some honey we don't want into the feeder end of the Apple Trees and gave them one more bar too as they too have started building on the ones I had already put in.

Friday, 7 April 2017

The Paddyelms

Inspected The Paddyelms today. They were the swarm from a 6 week old swarm, in early July last year. Despite this it was a truly enormous swarm and built up very rapidly. We didn't feed them in the Autumn, as they seemed to have plenty of honey. They still seemed to have plenty in the Spring, so we didn't feed them then either.
I was amazed today to find 9 heavy combs of honey like the ones in the first 2 pictures. I then found the brood which is just as impressive, see last picture. I gave them 4 new bars as they will need room to lay more brood and store more honey as they bring the nectar in. We will take some of the existing honey soon and perhaps give some to the other colonies. Our original black Irish queen is in there and we're very pleased with her. There were very few attachments and no cross comb.

This looks like new honey this year

This looks like a mix of overwintered honey and new honey

Lovely worker brood with honey and pollen above

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Some good news and some bad news

Finally it's warmed up enough to take a look in the hives. It was a very sunny day today, so we decided to move The Apple Trees into their new hive and check on them at the same time. They have built up amazingly and have lots of brood, mostly worker brood but also some drone brood already. All their combs were straight with no cross comb and very few attachments. We put in 3 more bars, 2 between other bars with comb on and one at the end. They had some honey and pollen but we felt they could do with some more honey to give them a boost.

Getting ready to move them over to the bigger hive

Lots of worker brood with some drone brood over to the left in the bigger cells

More brood

All in and beginning to settle down

Getting used to their new entrance

Almost all in now

They seem happy with their new home


We had been worried about The Paddy pines recently, as they didn't seem to have built up and in fact seemed to have diminished in number. We went through them today and found no brood and only a few hundred bees. They were clearly unhappy and aimless and we also suspected some of the bees we saw were robbers. We decided to shake them out as we were sure they had lost their queen at some point, probably towards the end of winter. There was no sign of disease. They had a lot of honey, so we gave 2 good combs of it to the Apple Trees and took the rest for processing.
We hope to take a look at The Kings and The Paddy Elms within the next few days.

Friday, 24 March 2017

Beekeeping Workshop Sunday 19th March 2017

We held a workshop here on Sunday with Phil Chandler teaching. There were 16 participants, plus Phil and us two, so a big lively and interesting group. Most people were locals, but we also had 1 person from Dorset, 3 people from the Birmingham area and 2 people from Brussels.
It was still too cold to go into the hives but we were able to look in the backs and look at our empty hives and various feeders, rescue bars, tools etc.
Here is a montage of the Apiary visit that Phil did.

Here are a couple of photos taken in the hall.

Phil holding a teaching session

Paul's hive and nucleus box that he is selling to order, see above for phone number.

Friday, 10 March 2017

Great News!

All 4 colonies have got through the winter well with no need for further feeding. We put some honey we had from last year into their feeding areas yesterday just in case they needed more, but they all seem to have plenty left over. All four are building up well already and have been very active over the last 2 days of good weather and bringing in lots of pollen.
We need to move The Apple Trees into a larger 4 ft hive, as soon as we are able to and then they will all 4 be in 4 ft hives.
The spare empty 4 ft hive is currently ready for next weekend when we have Phil Chandler coming to run a one day workshop here. We have various feeders and different types and sizes of bars in it for demonstration purposes. There are 16 people coming, including 3 from Birmingham and 2 from Belgium. The weather hasn't yet warmed up enough to go through the hives, so fingers crossed it will over the next week, although it's not looking hopeful.