I recently participated on a two day course at Alpha Farm with Phil Chandler the famous “Barefoot Beekeeper” to learn more about horizontal topbar (hTBH) beekeeping and natural beekeeping practices. The course was held in a superb location in a fabulous handmade yurt in Wareham forest a UK nature reserve.
In opening the course Phil explained that he prefers to use the term “balanced beekeeping” as the term “natural beekeeping” is an oxymoron as keeping bees is a box is not really natural. The level of management employed determines the nature of the balance from conservation to highly intensive commercial operations. Most participants were close to the conservation end of the spectrum as would be expected from backyard beekeepers.
At Alpha farm there are were three handmade horizontal top bars in operation in a small paddock which bordered directly onto Wareham forest. During a hive inspection it was found that two of the hives were hopelessly queen-less although the third was very strong but a bit feisty. As most of these hives had not been inspected for a number of months a degree of cross combing was found which appeared to be a common issue raised by participants during the weekend. Due to the condition of the colonies some experimentation was possible as one hive was suspected of having laying workers. Phil showed us how to deal with this problem if it arises which is really important as it’s something we may all experience in our beekeeping. He also brought along a lot of gadgets to try including radio detectors, infrared thermal detectors to assist in our understanding of the bee and the hive.
The participants of the course had differing levels of beekeeping experience although all would be classified as having intermediate skills with experience of top bar hives. The participants asked Phil many questions during the weekend some of the topics included;
- Design aspects of the hive.
- Products of the hive.
- Seasonal preparation of a hTBH.
- Converting from frames to a hTBH.
- Management of a hTBH (in particular cross combing).
- Queen problems and breeding.
- Disease recognition and management.
At the end of the weekend Phil described his new project he is embarking upon to reintroduce the British black bee onto an isolated organic Village Farm in the SW. A crowd-funding project is to start very soon for this very worthwhile project hopefully all beekeepers will help in this worthwhile endeavor as the black bee could hold the key to reversing the dramatic decline in honeybee numbers as it has characteristics that are suited to the UK’s climate.
In conclusion Phil is a very knowledgeable beekeeper who is innovative, cares about bees, the environment and open to other people’s ideas about beekeeping. All participants had a very enjoyable weekend and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend one of Phil’s courses and hope to be attend another if possible in the future.