a french garden


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Help for small gardeners

I take my composting seriously (sad but true).  So I decided to buy myself a pre-Christmas present in December and was excited when the box arrived a few days later.

I had coveted this strange item ever since I had “had a go” with it in a natural gardening open day.

To make good compost rapidly I have been told the compost needs to be mixed frequently and I have seen videos of large compost heaps being attacked vigorously with garden forks.

I do not have sufficient strength to dig into piles of vegetable matter and in addition we keep our compost in wooden containers to keep it tidy and to conserve the warmth of decomposition.  You would need to be tall to be able to fork through these compost boxes or be happy to demantle them every few days, which is not an easy job.

I do not usually feature the composting site on the blog, for obvious reasons.  I’ve had to leave the tops open as once I had used my Brass compost mixer (for those interested in etymology, brasser means to mix or toss in French), I noticed that the mixture was quite dry in parts.

In short, I am delighted with it.  I can burrow into my compost heap creating tunnels leading to the bottom layers and distributing the extracted cores on the top and sides.  This is a video of the inventor showing how it works.

The mixer is produced by the ESAT de l’ODET near Quimper which is run by the Association for the paralysed in France (l’Association des Paralysés de France).

I think all I have to do now is put on the top and wait for some warmer weather to speed up the composting – and of course, keep turning it with my new brass compost every few days.

 

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Gardener / Beekeeper’s holiday!

To begin at the beginning:  May I wish everyone a very Happy New Year and as they say in this corner of France I wish everyone plein des bonne choses – a lot of good things.

Although here the winters are on the whole quite mild compared with Northern Europe and the USA, this year we decided to escape the dull winter days and spend the Christmas and the New Year in the Andalusia region of Spain.

Arriving the first evening in our rented apartment we had a fabulous view of the countryside all the way to the sea.

IMG_0070 Benalmadina from the apartment But frankly, what does a beekeeper and gardener do on holiday?  Well, apart from enjoying sunshine and temperatures of around 24 degrees C ( nearly 75F), naturally I chased after the girls – the feathered and buzzing varieties.  The only problem was that unlike in our own garden, in Spain I did not recognize most of the flowers.  So hopefully somebody can enlighten me.

This tiny cutie reminded me our warblers,

IMG_0020 Malaga

The countryside showed signs of spring with wild narcissus and heather as well as gorse in flower.

IMG_0097 - Benalmadina Dec 25thIt was nice seeing the bees collecting different colours of pollen,  This one from what looks like our red hot poker – Kniphofia.

IMG_0125The evening sun on this flower showed the bees still busy collecting yellow pollen.

IMG_0158 Benalmadina

We took a trip inland north west of Malaga to visit the bee museum (of course!) at the pretty small town of Colemnar.  My son joined us and Amelia and him braved the only rainy day in the town square,

IMG_0109 Colmenar

As we paint our beehives I found the museum’s hives an inspiration.

IMG_0111 Colmenar Bee Museaum

Incidentally the picture of the bee bringing a bucket full of honey to the nest-like hive shows the hives that the Spaniards in the North hang from the trees.  It was at the museum that I also learnt that the bees there were of a totally different specie from ours.  They were Apis mellifera iberica.  They are apparently more nervous and more aggressive.

Rosemary of any variety seems to attract the bees.

IMG_0209 Benalmadina

Although I have no idea what type of bee this little lady is!

IMG_0214 Benalmadina

So we came back to France with a few ideas – and a few seeds collected here and there.  But isn’t that what all gardeners do?

I hope that 2018 will be a great year for all creatures great and small and that includes all of us.

Kourosh

 


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A year in the bee garden – December

I love this Christmas bee story by Emma.
I hope you have some little ones to enthrall with it.

Mrs Apis Mellifera

It was the night before Christmas, when all through the garden not a creature was stirring, not even a fox.

The bees were nestled all snug in their hives, while visions of spring danced in their heads…

A little Christmas story from the bees to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a happy new year.

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The bees in December

We celebrated the first of December by taking the muzzles off the front of the hives.  A cold spell had at last stopped the hornet attacks.

It was good to see the bees free at last and flying unimpeded by the wire netting.  We put on entrance reducers to keep them cosy.

Kourosh is very proud of his Loquat (Eriobotrya japonica) tree and rightly so, as he grew it from the seeds we recovered from the fruit that we had eaten in the U.K, only seven years ago.  We were looking forward to seeing the bees enjoying the flowers as they had done last year.

Then more cold weather and frosts hit, freezing the flowers.  Our dry spell has at last ended and we have had rain.  The days have been often cloudy and damp.  Low temperatures and rain keep the bees clustered in their hives.  We miss watching them and it keeps us out of the garden.

This last week we have had some sunny days and the frost and cold weather has not damaged the Loquat flowers.

What does surprise me is that the bees fly to the Loquat tree when the air temperature is no higher than 9 degrees Centigrade.

You can see the bee dipping her tongue into the flower to dab up the nectar that has been warmed by the sun.  The flowers are also well insulated by the sepals which are covered by fluffy hairs.

The flowers also supply a plentiful pollen and you could see the pollen sacs growing as you watched an individual bee.

This bee is moistening the pollen in her front legs before passing it back to join the rest of the bundle stuck to her back legs.

 

Sometimes it all becomes too much and she has to sit on a leaf and have a good groom and retrieve all the sticky pollen in peace.

I noticed that at 9 degrees Centigrade the bees were only on the Loquat tree and the Winter Flowering Honeysuckle which are both very close to their hives.

However, yesterday when the temperature went up to 10.5 degrees Centigrade the bees flew further to the Mahonia and…

even the winter flowering heather which is in the front garden.  A warmer couple of days must be making them more adventurous.  I  have seen no queen bumble bees at these temperatures.  They should be hibernating in a shady spot that will not be over-heated by the sun as they are on their own and coming out at these low air temperatures would not be wise as they have no warm hive and cluster of bees to keep them warm.

I also noticed my first Hellebore in the front garden but the others have still a long way to go, so the bees will have to wait a bit for their next treat.


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Frost

The last day of November brought frost to the garden.

For some flowers like the rose above and the pink Anisodontea it will herald the end to their flowering season.

The Mahonia will shrug off this slight inconvenience…

as will the winter flowering honeysuckle.

The frost will help keep the other Camelia buds tightly closed for a few months yet (I hope).

The flowers of the Loquat tree shrug off the frost and later were happy to diffuse their perfume and supply the passing queen bumble bees with nectar in the afternoon sunshine.

My Viburnum davidii looked attractive with its frosted flowers but I thought it was a spring flowering plant (?).  I must admit it has had a hard life.  In an effort to care for it I gave it a good dose of horse manure a couple of years ago.  Unfortunately, I had not left the manure long enough to compost down and the leaves promptly started to crinkle and look burnt at the edges.  The plant has only just recovered and is perhaps still reeling from my over zealous attention.

Its not just the flowers that look good frosted.  The Linden tree still holds some of its fruits.  I pick the flowers for their delicious tea but I have to leave some for the bees.

This cotoneaster looks particularly good as some of its leaves have turned red.

This is the only cotoneaster bush that still has berries.  All the others have been stripped completely, which seems a bit early for us.  I cannot understand how they could miss this bush.  The berries are bright enough.

They say Medlars taste better after a frost but we have already been eating ours and I have never noticed an appreciable difference in the taste.  We must take them in now, or at least a good portion, to finish ripening inside.  We will leave a share for the birds who have already been sampling a few of them.

I always feel sorry for the bees when it is cold, but their hives are in a very sheltered spot of the garden and they were able to get out for a while in the afternoon sun.

 

 


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Willows in the winter

One of my better ideas in the garden are my willows which provide a welcome touch of orange and red at this time of year (November 2017).

We planted 5 Salix alba “Chermesina) in January of 2014 to encircle a favourite sitting spot.  A large fir tree had been taken down just behind them and the area felt rather naked.  We also planted a little Mahonia and quite a few spring bulbs.

Despite their stick-like beginning the willows had already taken on form by July of 2015

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By July of 2016 they had made a very respectable screen but the bulbs had lost the battle along the way.  2017 tested their drought tolerance and it is important for us that they can survive dry summers.

The Mahonia that I had chosen is Mahonia eurybracteata “Soft Caress”.  It was “Plant of the Year” at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in 2013.  I’m afraid that I was not very kind to it, planting it at the foot of such vigorous willows.  The idea was that the willows would shelter it from the strong sunshine but I think I misjudged the space it would need.  I find space very difficult to judge when you are planting small plants and not too sure of their growth patterns.  As the photo shows the flowers are not too impressive so I have decided to move it this year once we get some rain.

We will be cutting the willows back severely at the end of winter, as we have done each year, so that they produce the fine branches from the base.  They shoot up four metres high branches over the year.

It is good when at least some things go the way you intend them in the garden.