I was introduced to bee keeping about 10 years ago when a friend was moving to Scotland and wanted to leave his bee hive. He taught me the basics and then set his hive up in my garden. I promptly lost the queen! Something had happened to her and the hive had produced a replacement queen cell. Following basic instructions, I had cut the queen cell out. I called the local bee keepers association asking for help, but I was not actually a member so I got a lot of advice but no practical help. I put an order for a nuc with Thornes and waited.
Year 2, and I had found a local farm where I could keep my hive. I collected the nucleus on the appointed day ( there's a really good fish and chip shop in Wragby) and, after about 2 weeks, transferred the nuc to a commercial brood box. The nuc used national frames, so you can imagine the fun I had fitting them into the commercial. I made some adaptors using parts from some commercial frames and over a period of time moved the frames out. I decided then that I really should start to get some national hives like everybody else in the area. That year, working by myself with the bees taught me a lot. I even managed to split the hive and start a second one.
Over the following years, I continued to learn a bit more about my bees. I collected a swarm that decided to take up residence in a tree about 10 yards from my hives, so I progressed to the dizzy heights of owning 3 hives. 2 Commercial and 1 National. A couple of re-queenings and having one hive swarm and I thought I was the bees knees!
Three years ago, and the spring inspection. One hive full of dead bees. I had had a good harvest the season before, but I had fed huge amounts of sugar syrup, very little verroa which it treated, so there didn't seem to be any reason for the loss. Didn't manage a successful split that year, and the harvest was poor from the two hives. The weather wasn't too good that year either, a cold spring and a lot of rain.
The following spring, both hives empty. The winter that year was warm with a lot of sunny days. Could the bees have been tempted out looking for forage and used all their stores? Normal inspections during that winter didn't seem to indicate a problem, just that there were always some bees sitting outside. I had left both hives with a super full of honey after a good feed of syrup.
It seems that everybody was losing their bees that year. It was too late to put in an order for a nuc, and the price had rocketed so, reluctantly, I decided to give up.
Last year (2009) a friend asked if she could start bee keeping. She would pay for the nuc and I had all the gear. It seemed like a good idea, so I said yes and pointed her to the local bee keepers association. About the same time I started hearing about these Top Bar Hives. Surfing the web eventually led me to the Barefoot Beekeeper and natural beekeeping.
My partner in crime and myself have decided to embrace the top bar hive system. It just seems to make more sense. Traditional bee keepers are treating the bees like intensive farmed animals. Recent research is pointing out that we have been trying to breed out natural behaviour that the bees have evolved over millions of years, with our idea of how they should behave. It's no wonder that traditional bee keeping is on a treadmill of chemical cures for ailments that we have engineered.
My old national and commercial frames and boxes are up for sale to the local bee keepers or Ebay. I have built my first top bar hive for less than 40.00 GBP. I used to spend more than that on frames and foundation for one hive. I have noticed that the major bee equipment suppliers are now offering top bar hives, at a price.