a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France

Post on a post with a digression


In May I was walking in the woods nearby and I saw something up in front of me that was unfamiliar.  As I got nearer I could see it was insects over a large puddle of water in the middle of the path.

As I got closer I could see it was bees.  I had never seen them drinking before and I went closer to watch them.  What I observed was that they were avoiding the deeper puddles of water and were more interested in the mud.  I immediately assumed that they were Mason bees collecting mud to seal up their nests.

Luckily, a bee keeper(Adventures in Beeland) http://adventuresinbeeland.wordpress.com/ saw the post and contacted me, (see my post comments “Summer approaches in the woods”).  These were not Mason bees but honey bees!   There may be some variation of types within the bees but with the photographs available it is not possible to be any more definite, apart from saying that they are not Mason bees.

The first question that came to my mind was – Why are bees collecting mud?  Answer – They are not collecting mud, they are drinking water even though that is not what it appears at first glance.

In fact, bees are known to seek water at some sites that look rather insalubrious to us.  I first conceived a complex idea that they are in need of minerals from the soil or whatever substrate they collect the water from.

It could be a lot simpler than that.   The risk of  finding themselves in the water and drowning while gathering water from deeper sources is quite high.  Self preservation is a strong driver in behavioural traits and this is a safer way to get water.  Anecdotally, I can remember frequently seeing wasps drowned in water but never bees.  Wasps will come to the edges of water dishes left out for birds but I have never noticed bees do this, although I have read that bees can be drowned while seeking water from sources like this.

Another reason for the bees to choose water from shallow sources is that the water will usually be warmer and a bee chilled by a drink of cold water will have more difficulty in flying.

I have now two improvised bee drinking stations in the garden; one with unused sponge scouring pads in a plastic container and a second in a converted bird feeder lined with straw and water and hanging in a tree.  The ground is extremely porous in this area and there is very little surface water available during the day but there is always a very heavy dew which must provide them with a short-lived but convenient water supply.  However, so far, the bees seem singularly unimpressed with my innovations.

I must digress here to say how much I have learned from either comments made to me or what I have picked up from reading other people’s blogs.

I have been so impressed by the quality of photographs in blogs that I have been toying with taking up photography again but I know nothing of what is required in the way of equipment. I timidly enquired at a brilliant photographic blog, Focused Moments,   http://focusedmoments.net and was rewarded by really personal, focused advice which meant such a lot to me.

Taking pictures for the blog made me look more closely and think about the creatures I was photographing and made me very aware of my ignorance of the life around me, I find Bug Girl’s blog http://membracid.wordpress.com/ fascinating.  An entomologist who can write, amuse and inform!

Living in the country I am sensible to the fact that my neighbours are more interested in their potagers and although I grow vegetables, I hold my flowers and trees in higher esteem than they do. So  I enjoy watching other people’s gardens especially in different countries such as My Hesperides Garden (http://myhesperidesgarden.wordpress.com/) in Italy, Denobears  http://denobears.wordpress.com/ in Bulgaria and The Anxious Gardener http://theanxiousgardenerdotcom.wordpress.com/ in the UK to name only a few.

I am also enjoying following the joys and tribulations of being a bee keeper and learning about the  complex life of bees with Miss Apismellifer http://missapismellifera.com/ and Adventures in Beeland  (http://adventuresinbeeland.wordpress.com/.

End of digression but I just had to get it out!

Author: afrenchgarden

Born in Scotland I have lived in England, Iran, USA and Greece. The house and land was bought twelve years ago in fulfilment of the dream of living in France that my Francophile husband nurtured. We had spent frequent holidays in France touring the more northerly parts and enjoying the food, scenery, architecture and of course gardens. However, we felt that to retire in France and enjoy a more clement climate than we currently had in Aberdeen we would need to find somewhere south of the river Loire but not too south to make returning to visit the UK onerous. The year 2000 saw us buying our house and setting it up to receive us and the family on holidays. The garden was more a field and we were helped by my son to remove the fencing that had separated the previous owners’ goats, sheep and chickens. We did inherit some lovely old trees and decided to plant more fruit trees that would survive and mature with the minimum of care until we took up permanent residence. The move took place in 2006 and the love hate relation with the “garden” started. There was so much to do in the house that there was little energy left for the hard tasks in the garden. It was very much a slow process and a steep learning curve. Expenditures have been kept to a minimum. The majority of the plants have been cuttings and I try to gather seeds wherever I can. The fruit trees have all been bought but we have tender hearts and cannot resist the little unloved shrub at a discount price and take it as a matter of honour to nurse it back to health. This year I have launched my Blog hoping to reach out to other gardeners in other countries. My aim is to make a garden for people to enjoy, providing shady and sunny spots with plants that enjoy living in this area with its limestone based subsoil and low rainfall in a warm summer. Exchanging ideas and exploring mutual problems will enrich my experience trying to form my French garden.

14 thoughts on “Post on a post with a digression

  1. Thank you for the mention and even more thank you for this informative post. I believe all good science comes from observation, followed by interpretation and then discussion; the blogging world is so full of knowledgeable individuals who do all or some of the above. Thank you for the great links, I’m going to bookmark this as a great source page for insect and more particularly bee information. Christina


  2. I think you may be on to something with your warmer water theory. I’m reading a book called ‘The Buzz about Bees’ by Jurgen Tautz at the moment, which mentions that bumbles and probably honey bees too prefer warmer nectar, so why not warmer water too?

    Love your bee water experiments. It usually takes them a while to find a new water source. You could perhaps try adding a few drops of lemon grass oil to your stations so they can sniff it out.


  3. Great photos of bees drinking. On my introduction to beekeeping course I learned that bees preferred to drink ‘dirty’ water from puddles, bird baths, stagnant streams – wet drain covers are a favourite, so they are not fussy! They have also been caught landing on neighbour’s laundry to suck the moisture out of sheets. Apparently, once bees become used to visiting a place for water they find it difficult to think of finding somewhere else! (Bees at the bottom of the garden)

    Another blogger, Mud Songs, has been theorising why bees drink dirty water: http://mudsongs.org/honey-bees-drinking-dirty-water/


  4. Thank you for the mention. I am honoured :). I will visit the other blogs you mention too as they sound very much like the sort of blog I would enjoy. On the subject of insects drinking, we have a water feature in the formal area of our garden. To clean it we needs to put chemicals in it but insects are constantly drinking from it. Needless to say, it is a bit of a sorry, smelly object now 😉


  5. Reblogged this on Too many balls….and so little time and commented:
    I might not be so mad after all! It seems my bee habit has placed me in good company!


    • They seem to be addictive. I felt a bit jealous of you finding a Tree bumble bee. I have never seen one over here although I read they have moved from France to the UK recently. I see bumble bees I cannot identify and I do not know if they are French species. I cannot find an association like the British Bumble Bee Conservation Trust over here.


  6. Thank you so much for the plug. It is always so rewarding to be appreciated by other bloggers, so thanks again.
    I used to watch with fascination as my bees (I used to have a hive) drank from the wet stones edging my garden pond. One day I’ll get another hive – I never really got to grips with it the first time but next time. There will be a next time. Dave


    • I really enjoy the honey bee blogs I follow but they are all very dedicated and I feel I would have to be prepared to consecrate more time to bee keeping than I have a the moment. I enjoy watching the bumble bees and trying to learn more about them. Amelia


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