Monday 19 December 2016

Bees, Soil Fertility, Permaculture and Bees

Caring for bees needs to start with a healthy soil. Modern agriculture uses a lot of chemicals just to grow our food, let alone the processing. That harms the soil, plants, and the pollinators. There is a different way, and we need more people educated to create that healthy environment. Daniel, who is the interviewer in this podcast is currently gathering funds to learn soil microbiology from the perspective of growing any kind of plant without chemicals, and guaranteeing maximum nutrition and yield. If you have a garden, some land, a crop, and wish to see the quality of the biology under your feet, consider taking his offer of soil testing once he finishes his course. As a thank you for believing in him, the cost is much reduced from what is currently available. See the link in the description, pledge your support, and pass it on.


Daniel's Permaculture Podcast 

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Thursday 10 November 2016

My talk to the BIBBA Conference 2016

I was invited to the BIBBA Conference on the Isle of Man this year to talk about top bar hives. This is my talk, lightly edited to remove the soundtrack of a video at the end. 

My talk was introduced by Johnny Kipps, a resident of the island, who took me to see his top bar hives during one of the lunch breaks. You can see the video of his hives, complete with local black bees, here



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Monday 16 May 2016

Conversation with Kate Atchley

I met up with Kate Atchley after a weekend spent teaching a group of beginners at Glenuig, in the Lochaber area on the coast south of the Isle of Skye.

Kate started beekeeping in London, later in Edinburgh and latterly on the Ardnamurchan peninsula, just north of Mull.

We had an interesting conversation about black bees (Apis mellifera mellifera) and other aspects of beekeeping in Scotland.


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Sunday 27 March 2016

How to Manage a Top Bar Hive

I published this book just before Christmas 2015, so it's probably about time I told you about it!

When I wrote The Barefoot Beekeeper in 2007, my main intention was to express my concerns with 'modern' beekeeping methods and chemical agriculture, while offering a possible alternative system for housing bees, more aligned to their own ways of arranging things in their hives. I went on to describe the top bar hives that I had built and populated, with some ideas about how they could be managed, using the 'tandem follow board' system that I had developed in order to make inspections quick and easy, with minimal disruption to the bees.

The Barefoot Beekeeper has sold pretty well over the intervening years, which has encouraged me to do more experiments, resulting in the 'periscope entrance' and the 'eco-floor', which have been shown to be useful and with further potential for development. At the back of my mind all the time was another book, which would go into detail about the various ways in which this versatile hive could be managed.

I coined the term 'balanced beekeeping' a couple of years ago, as it seemed that 'natural beekeeping' was becoming simultaneously (a) a term of abuse among conventional beekeepers, and (b) shading into the territory of 'do-nothing' beekeeping, which is not really bee keeping at all, but merely observation of bees. So I decided to write a two-volume book on 'balanced beekeeping; one with hive-building instructions and a discussion of the underpinning theory behind my top bar hive design, and the other having the management information. This would allow those readers who already had hives to be able to buy a smaller and cheaper book, containing only the instructions they needed.

So, after more than two years of writing and editing - in between teaching and beekeeping and life in general - the second volume is ready: Balanced Beekeeping II: Managing the Top Bar Hive is available from At 385 pages, it is my biggest book yet and will probably remain so. I have done my best to pack it with useful, practical, tried and tested information that answers most of the questions that people email me and that appear most frequently on the Natural Beekeeping Forum.

You can buy this book as a print-on-demand paperback or as an ebook. You might like to look at the 'beekeeping books' page on my website for all the buying options.

I hope you enjoy reading it and find it useful. Please let me know and leave a rating and review on the Lulu page.

Thursday 11 February 2016

Willie Robson Part 2

This is Part 2 of the session with Willie Robson, which has a somewhat better sound quality as the storm had reduced in strength by the time we had finished lunch. Willie spent an hour answering questions from the audience and I think you will find this session very interesting, especially if you keep or are planning to keep black bees.

I should also mention that I have just published another book, called Balanced Beekeeping II: Managing the Top Bar Hive. It has taken me nearly two years to write and edit and it has 385 pages full of the most useful tips and techniques I know to help you set up, populate and manage a top bar hive. Take a look on my site at under books and you will find both paperback and ebook versions.

Willie Robson has written a fascinating book, full of his accumulated wisdom, called, "Reflections on Beekeeping", published by Northern Bee Books. 

Thanks to Graham White for the use of his photo of Willie with an open hive.



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Wednesday 13 January 2016

New book - Balanced Beekeeping II: Managing the Top Bar Hive

The long-awaited "top bar hive workshop manual" that I have been promising for at least two years has finally been published.

At 380 pages, this is my heaviest book to date, and unless I finish that novel I have been writing on and off for a decade, it will probably remain so.

I have tried to make it as comprehensive as possible and to cover most of the situations that the TBH beekeeper is likely to encounter.

You can buy the printed book here on

There is also an ebook version on Lulu, which you can find by searching on my name.

You can read a free extract, with the title An Introduction to Balanced Beekeeping


The Honeybee Family 18
Natural History 19
The Swarm 20
The Mating Flight 27
The Seasonal Cycle 31
The Energy Cycle 33
Pollination 38
Planting For Bees 41
Types of Bee Keeping 45
The Origins of 'Balanced Beekeeping' 50
A Mutually Beneficial Relationship 53
Protecting Biodiversity 56
Backyard Beekeeping 57
Principles of Balanced Beekeeping 59
Learning From Bees 64
Bee Watching 68
Preparations 74
Why Keep Bees? 74
Stings 76
Selecting a Site 77
Choosing a Hive 81
Vertical Top Bar Hives 85
Horizontal Top Bar Hives 89
Other Hives 94
Bees and Other People 99
Bees and the Law 101
The Beekeeping Year 103
Expansion and Growth 103
Plateau 107
Consolidation 109
Dormancy 111
Getting Started 113
Populating Your Hive 116
Bees For Free: Starting With Swarms 117
Baiting a Swarm 120
Taking a Swarm 124
Swarm Catching Kit 130
Advertising for Swarms 131
Buying Bees: Nucs and Packages 134
Bee Removals: Cut-outs and Trap-outs 138
Installing Bees In Your Hive 144
Installing a Swarm: Direct Method 144
Installing a Swarm: Indirect Method 146
Installing a Nucleus Colony 154
Crop and Chop 155
Conversion Hive 160
Shake-down 162
Hive Substitution 165
Installing a Package of Bees 173
Handling Bees 176
Moving Among Bees 177
Finding the Queen 183
Safe Handling of Queen Cells 185
Your First Season 187
Routine Inspections 189
Detailed Inspections 192
Problem Solving 200
Cross-Combing 201
Side Attachments 205
Robbing 206
Management Plans 208
Managing Space 209
Management Plan A 211
Management Plan B 213
Other Useful Layouts 216
A Two-Queen System 217
Using the TBH as a Mating Hive 218
Over-wintering Nucs 218
Managing Swarming 219
Why Bees Swarm 220
swarm triggers 227
Swarm Preparations 229
swarm calendar 231
Demaree 241
Making More Bees 245
Simple Split 246
Using Swarming to Increase Stocks 249
Post-Swarm Nucs 254
Simple Queen Rearing 255
Using The Emergency Response 255
Simplified Miller Method 258
Using the Supersedure Response 260
Grafting 262
Nicot/Cupkit, Jenter and Ezi-Queen 265
Queen Mating 270
Combining Colonies 277
Re-combining 278
Direct Combining 280
Indirect Combining 281
Combining Cast Swarms 283
Balanced Beekeeping in Conventional Hives 284
The Natural Balance 292
Feeding Bees 297
The Sugar Problem 301
Fondant 304
Dry Sugar 305
Spring and Summer Feeding 306
Pre-Winter Feeding 307
Climate and Temperature 309
Prevention vs Cure 312
Station Feeding 313
Pests and Diseases 315
Varroa Mites 318
Agricultural Chemicals 337
The Future of Beekeeping 339
TBH FAQs 343
Glossary 351
Recipes 365
Products of the Hive 369
Ten Things You Can Do 376

Further Reading 381