a french garden


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Honey, honey

It was first Violette and then pissenlit that we lost in May after they swarmed.  In each case the story was the same.  The colonies came out of winter very strong, but a week or so after they swarmed, the new queens did not manage to develop the colonies well.

I saw a bundle of bees on the grass in front of the hive

Bees around the queen on the ground

On close inspection Amelia and I saw the queen right in the middle, with the bees protecting her.

Bees around the queen

The story seems to have been similar with other beekeepers.  I talked to another beekeeper near us with 44 hives and she had lost 11 colonies after they swarmed.

So, despite the fact that in May and June we collected 10 swarms and gave them all away, we started the summer in our own apiary with only 3 hives.  Unfortunately when August came, the bees were once again attacked by the Asian hornets and I had to instal the modified muzzles with larger grills (1cm x 1cm) in front the hives  to protect them.  The hornets still come and take a few bees, but at least the rest are not so stressed.

our hives summer 2017

The acacias flowered and then the chestnut trees all around our house.  They were followed with the sunflowers.  Just a short distance away I could look through the woods and see the fields of sunflower

view around the corner looking at sunflower field

A short walk and there laid before us the yellow field

Sunflower field 2017

We did check the individual flower heads, and true enough, our bees were busy.

Sunflower 5 bees

At  6.45 am on 21st August Amelia and I removed the frames from the supers of all three hives and placed each of them in a separate plastic box and took them to my friend, Michel’s house for extraction.    Michel was standing in the garden, waiting for us.

The first stage was taking each frame and removing the wax before placing them in the centrifuge.  It was, however, immediately obvious that we had two distinct colour of honey; the darker one containing more chestnut honey was even more viscous.  So we tried to keep the darker honey separate.Honey getting ready for centrifuge

Once the wax was removed we saw beautiful glistening honey.

honey comb ready for centrifuge

Soon after placing the frames in the centrifuge and starting the motor, the honey started to flow.

Honey from the centrifuge

It is something truly amazing about honey.  Depending on the flowers near us, we get different colour as well as different flavour of honey each season.  Even the honey of our friend Michel who lives only a kilometre away  is distinctly different from ours.

Last year we had really yellow honey that obviously a large proportion of which came from the sunflowers.  Only two or three jars are left from last year.  We gave a lot away and now I wish we had kept  more for ourselves as the flavours of the individual honeys are so different and the yellow honey would bring sunshine into the winter days.

Last year’s honey is on the left of the picture below, with this years dark and light honey in jars.  The second jar from left is our spring 2017 honey, which comes mostly from the spring flowers and also the rape seeds.

IMG_0044

At the moment my favourite desert is the natural yogurt that Amelia serves with our own raspberries and a drizzle of this year’s honey.  Delicious!

Yogurt desert with rasberries and honey

So another season has finished and a new season for the bees has started.  We will do everything we can to protect our bees this winter and hope that the winter will also be mild and mellow for  all of you.

– Kourosh

 

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Cosmos and more Cosmos

The leaves have started to fall.

The cherry trees leaves are turning yellow, like a lot of other trees outside of the garden.

There are less apples and they are smaller than last year.

The flowers at the moment are the old favourites apart from the Tithonia rotundifolia “Torch” which is just behind the conifer trying to out grow it.  Kourosh sent away for the seeds which he had read were a magnet to bees.  I looked forward to seeing the bright red flowers he had described.

I was disappointed at their brash orange colour and felt we had been cheated.  I checked on the net only to find that this is their correct colour.  I do not want to be sexist but Kourosh’s approximation of colours is perhaps a “man thing” – and no he is not colour blind.

However, for anyone who wants a tall, sunflower-like multi-headed plant, I can recommend it.  Several plants in the back garden have done well and stayed unsupported in the sun.

My obedient plant (Physostegia virginiata) that was identified on the blog last year is doing very well in a hard place to fill in the sun.  It has doubled in area since last year so I am going to have to keep my eye on its spread.

The bumble bees have no problem with a rapid increase in its flowers.

The bumble bees are in love with the single dahlias.

The Cosmos attracts bumble bees…

Carpenter bees…

Solitary bees (perhaps Megachile willughbiella)…

of different species (perhaps Halictus scabiosae).

The Abutilon looks happier than ever this year.  This is the third year that a new shoot has risen from its frozen stalk.  I suppose I should cover it in the winter but I am reluctant to pander to plants that cannot cope with the weather.  It is my fault for attempting to grow a plant that is too tender for here.

It is beautiful, though, and the bees like it.

At least this year I have managed to acquire Sedum that are attractive to the bees and butterflies and with the drought conditions we have experienced this year, I will be trying to expand by dividing the plants.

The Asters are opening and signalling the end of the summer.  It has been a difficult, unpredictable year in the garden with extreme heat at the beginning followed by a cloudy, moody August and lack of rain from the beginning of the year.

 

 


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Some bee trees for the garden

At this moment the back “lawn” is covered in Catsears with Dasypoda bees making the heads of the dandylion-like flowers droop as they land.  I find these bees so attractive with their fluffy hind legs covered in masses of fine hairs stuffed full of the sulphur yellow pollen.

As much as the Dasypoda attract me to watch them, I have to admit that the honey bees are doing a good job of collecting the pollen as well.  Their hind legs contain large nougats of the bright yellow pollen and I wonder whether they manage to carry more pollen by mixing it into a paste with the nectar or whether the Dasypoda manage to transport more of the pollen on their hairy hind legs.

I am always keen to provide as many sources of pollen and nectar for the bees throughout the year and I realise that trees can provide interest and shade for the garden and also nurture for the bees.  Last year I purchased three trees from a local nursery at Corme Royale and planted them in the autumn.  Planting trees is a long term project and if you want the quickest results then planting bare root trees in the autumn is the way to go.

The trees were bigger than we had expected but all the side branches were cut off severely before being handed over.  Kourosh assured that they were well staked.  This is the Fraxinus ornus or flowering Ash.  It was the last of the three to break into leaf in the spring and I was despairing that nothing would appear from the stick we had planted.  It appears to have survived although we need to water it while it is taking root, however, other Ash trees in the garden do not need water so it will become independent.  Perhaps next spring the bees will have some flowers.

The second tree is a Gleditsia triacanthos “Sunburst” and is the staked tree almost in the centre of the photograph in quite a dry area.  We chose this variety as it is drought resistant and has no thorns.  Some varieties of Gleditsia possess impressive thorns strong enough to burst rubber tyres (seemingly).  This is the only tree that has suffered slightly and the highest leaves look a little wilted.

The third tree is a Koelreuteria paniculata and despite its name has prospered and produced flowers in its first year.

Close up the flowers remind me of tiny narcissi flowers.

I can also verify that the flowers attract the bees.

The surprise is that after the flowers have passed, these seed pods continue to provide a very attractive decoration.

So on the seventh of July, the baby Koelreuteria was filling out with flowers.

Now on the sixteenth of August it is pushing three metres tall (nearly 10 foot) and I can imagine what it would look like once it is grown-up.

I have another tree in flower at the moment.  It too is a baby, coming up to two metres tall.  This tree has also grown very rapidly but I have no idea what it is.

For the past few years, each autumn I have bought some plants and trees, with some friends, from a small business that provides plants and trees reputed to provide a lot of nectar or pollen for the bees.  The owner keeps his own bees and has a charming habit of adding an extra few plants and also a “cadeau” plant with the order.  So far, so good but this year the gift plant did not have a label and has turned into a real surprise.  His catalogue is very small so I was sure I would be able to work it out.  He is not on the internet so I suppose I could write to him and send him a photograph but I was wondering  if anybody recognised the tree.  I have now found out that this is an  Amorpha fruticosa (see comments below).  It was listed in my catalogue as a shrub with pale blue flowers (?).

I have an Acacia growing close bye and the leaves look very similar, but Acacia flowers are white.  False Acacias can have pink flowers but these flowers are very deep purple.  It already flowered in April, despite its small size.  I would love to learn what it is called.


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First flowers for the Eucryphia!

The little stick on the right hand side is my Eucryphia nymansensis.  I planted it in November 2015 and I have been nurturing it with attention ever since.  It is one of the favoured plants that gets watered.  It is privileged with extra water because I can’t imagine that it is that happy finding itself in sandy soil that dries out quickly.  The Nepeta stalks covers most of its base and the Gaura does its best to protect it too.

That was why I was surprised to see what I thought could be a flower.  When I saw the brown tip I thought I had missed the flower and it had already started to dry up.  But no, the bud seems to burst its cap to flower.

As the flower opens the cap falls off.  I would have been disappointed to miss my first flowers.

I was very excited to see my first flower open and smell the perfume.  I was not disappointed.

We even had some rain and it did not destroy the flowers which dipped and let the rain run off.

Perhaps this is another reason that the bees love the Eucryphia flowers.  They can act as natural umbrellas.

Apart from the beauty of the flowers and their perfume, the flowers also attract bees.  This year I only had four flowers on my tree but I could see that it was going to be popular with the bees.  I hope it does some growing next spring and produces some more flowers next summer.


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The heat goes on

The Chitalpa is still flowering and despite the heat and lack of rain the trees are bearing up.

I actually saw a bee venture into one of the Catalpa flowers but they are not really bee friendly flowers.

The Oregano has taken over a much too large part of the vegetable garden but I am in no mood to tame it, especially as its flowers attract the bees.  The garden has been neglected lately as the afternoon is my preferred time to wander around and work in the garden but most days it is too hot for me for the sun here is very strong.

The Oregano attracts butterflies as well.  I think this is a Scarce Swallowtail (Iphiclides podalirius) but not so scarce here as the name might suggest.

I could not resist another shot of her fine tails.

The butterflies are not put off by the heat and there are Painted Lady butterflies (Vanessa cardui)  in the garden, this one here taking nectar from the lavender.

I’ve noticed more Skippers (this one probably Ochlodes sylvanus) which makes me think the butterflies are doing better than the bees this year.

You may find this caterpillar cute, it always reminds me of a “Push me pull me” from Doctor Doolittle as it is hard to know which end is which (the black pair of tufts on the RHS are at the front!).  It is a Vapourer Moth caterpillar and was not welcome on our Lagerstroemia.  It was carefully removed (the hairs can cause skin irritations) and placed where any damage it can cause would not be noticeable.

In the evening I used to see more Tetralonia bees in the Lavatera flowers, like this one settling down for the night.  Sometimes three or four would share the same flower – either a Lavatera or Hollyhock.  My Hollyhocks have not done well this year.  They do not get watered or receive special treatment and yet they are usually stars at this time of the year but this year they have been smaller and several sorry specimens have had to be cut down.

The Dasypoda with their huge bundles of pollen have been in the Cats’ears at the bottom of the garden but not with the same vigour.

It does look like it is going to be a bumper year for tomatoes this year and we have already had to reduce our four courgette plants to two.

So, walks are best taken in the evening, when there are no bees to be seen but being entertained by the hares that are leaping around at the moment.


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A Straw Poll on the Proposed Development of the Lagoon Field alongside Wilden Marsh

I saw this on Murtagh’s Meadow who had re-blogged it.

It struck a chord.  Natural spaces around us in France are being insidiously nibbled away and natural areas and woodland cleared.

 

The Wilden Marsh Blog

WILDEN MARSH NATURE RESERVE AND THE LAGOON FIELD

Walking through a sunny Falling Sands Nature Area this morning, I looked up at the new houses along the top of the high Lower Stour Valley bank thinking of the marvellous view some of the residents have of Wilden Marsh. I am thankful that the River Stour and Worcestershire and Staffordshire canal is acting as a barrier between the marsh and the housing and residential estates along the west bank. The site of the old sugar factory is now a new combined housing and residential estate in the final stages of completion.

We are now faced with the threat of the Lagoon Field being turned over to residential/industrial use. The thought is terrifying! It would be a huge mistake and very bad news for Wilden Marsh Nature Reserve and the south to north wildlife corridor it is part of. I am unable to come to terms with the fact that this development…

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Rain and thunderstorms

It was so good to get all the windows open on the first cool morning after the heatwave and to feel a cool breeze blow through the house.  However, that was not all that came in the window.  I would have thought that the swallows would have chosen their nesting places and not still be looking over our living room as a potential new home.

It has been so hot and dry that I was concerned a lot of the plants would suffer.  The grass has dried up but we have left patches of cat’s ears for the bees.  The willows (Salix alba “Chermesina”) in the middle of the picture provide a good screen for our sitting area and have kept green.  On the right the Chitalpa has started flowering as has the Magnolia on the left of the willows.

The Chitalpa is a cross between the Catalpa bignonioides (Indian bean tree) and Chilopsis linearis (Desert willow).  It does well in the sun in this exposed position which does not get watered.  My disappointment is that the flowers are not as visited by the bees as the Catalpa flowers but I prefer my Chitalpa as the Catalpa would grow too big for this spot.

The Magnolia grandiflora does not seem to mind the heat and the lack of water.  It is growing big now and the flowers are often high up but the perfume still floats down.

We do water the vegetables and that has been a nightly task.

The Borlotti beans have started to give pods and they will hopefully continue through the summer.

There is no lack of pollinators for the courgettes and we have already had so many that we will probably have to remove some of the plants to avoid a glut.

We water the flowers in the front garden and the Agapanthes are in flower just now.

Everything looks happier after several days of really good rain.

The first field of Sunflowers opened near us four days ago.

The flowers had already been spotted by the bees and we wondered if our bees had found them too.

A shot of the bees at the mouth of the hive confirms that the bees have been on the sunflowers as there are many bees covered with the tell-tale (tell-tail?) bright yellow pollen.

We are happy too and take great pleasure in leaving the windows open while we have a cup of tea and watch the rain pour down.

What funny creatures gardeners are!