a french garden

Wild bee nest

39 Comments

I’m not sure whether it is technically correct to call this a wild bee nest.   It is definitely bees living in the wild.  Should I call them wild bees or feral bees or even run-away bees (having left their bee keeper never to return), I’m not sure.

Anyway, I have always harboured a desire to see bees doing their own thing as nature intended but I never expected to see it in real life.  But that was before I was talking about bees to our friend Manuel.

Bee nest in the oak

Last autumn there was a violent storm and it brought down an oak tree in some woodland behind vines not far from his house and about two kilometres from our house.  He noticed some bees and found that the tree was hollow but that the nest was now exposed.  The centre of the tree was filled with honey comb.  As time passed he noticed that the honey comb was disappearing.  He suspects that the comb was being pulled off and eaten by animals such as badgers.  Winter was approaching and he took pity on the nest and covered it with a plastic tarpaulin, making sure the bees had a rear entrance.  His strategy obviously worked as the hive has come through the winter despite loosing some of its stocks of honey to predators.

Wild bee nest

I could see the regular sheets of comb in the hollowed out tree trunk.  There were also some little beetles but I think they were more interested in the decaying wood.

Bark beetlesA close-up of the beetles for anyone who knows about such things.

The bees won’t have to go far when they need resin.  An advantage to tree-dwelling bees.

Bee close-up

It was 6 o’clock in the evening and getting cooler after a warm day.  There was not much activity, so I decided to go in closer to see if I could get a shot of the bees inside.  I was delighted to see some bees on the edge of the comb.

Bees on comb

Manuel was delighted that I was delighted but not satisfied with the number of bees I was seeing so he banged the tree with a large stick.  That made a difference.

Bees on comb

I had no doubt that this was a thriving colony with plenty of bees in between the sheets of honeycomb.

bees on comb

Just another couple of whacks with the stick and clicks of the camera and I retired not wanting to abuse their patience any longer.  They gave the impression of particularly laid back good-natured bees and I’m glad Manuel found them and had the ingenuity to protect their hive through the winter.

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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.

39 thoughts on “Wild bee nest

  1. Reblogged this on Bees in a French Garden and commented:
    I saw this wild bee nest yesterday and posted it in A French Garden but it may suit this blog better.

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  2. What a great find…
    lovely pix as usual.

    It is a good job that a beekeeper found them!!
    It is also interesting to see their comb as constructed…
    rather than “following the dots” on a man-made frame.

    I am currently taking a weekly picture of our main “bee-nest log”…
    with the intention of doing a post about the occupants.

    I would call them feral honeybees….

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    • Manuel is not a bee keeper! That is why he banged on the tree while I was taking close-up photographs! He knows nothing about bees but he is very kind and soft-hearted.

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      • I’m absolutely terribible with names….
        faces yes…
        name to face …
        nada!!
        So I presumed that, from his actions in covering the exposed hive, he was the bee keeper you know.

        Given that bees can often have dodgy tempers, I think he was very altruistic!!!!
        Or just slightly mad…
        like most of us are…
        unless…
        like a friend of mine….
        you have a sirstifficate to prove you ARE sane!!

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  3. That sounds like a once in a lifetime adventure. I’ve seen bees swarm twice and that’s pretty amazing too. You got some great shots of these. I didn’t dare to get too close to the swarms-they sounded angry.

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  4. 🙂 A nice interlude in a very rainy day.

    Your cousin has the mega load of guide books borrowed from the library. This is a first, he is, I think, actually excited about our trip!

    I just installed 2 more mason bee houses, discovered at the local thrift (second hand) store. I hope we get lodgers. Last year’s boxes have quite a few inhabitants. It remains to be seen how many emerge.

    Ian repaired all the bird boxes and today I saw one being checked out. Spring is around the corner. Yeh!

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  5. These are honeybees, I assume? Or do you get the Africanized ones there?

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    • These are honey bees. I presume they have swarmed in the hollowed-out oak tree at one time, just as a swarm wanted to live in my chimney last spring. There are bee keepers around here and every year they are called out to peoples’ houses because a swarm of bees is trying to set up home in an inconvenient pace. These bees found a perfect home. They seem very gentle bees so I cannot think they would be Africanized ones. Amelia

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  6. What a delightful find! I wonder what the honey tastes like?

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  7. According to Manuel – very good. He broke off a piece of comb last autumn just to see what it tasted like. Amelia

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  8. Great to see the colony up close and personal and yep, hitting the trunk with a stick will get the bees excited. Dave

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    • I was trying to approach with care as I know from the bee keeping bogs that even in the same apiary different hives have different temperaments. Pity I don’t have a hollow oak to re-home them in the garden. Amelia

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  9. What a fantastic experience, do you have the problems we have here in the UK with the effects on Bees through the aggressive use of chemicals on agricultural land?

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    • France is reputed to use a high amount of chemicals in its agriculture. I do not feel that new thoughts such as GM or green methods are well understood, in general. My bee keeper friend does not seem to have any problems with his bees although he is troubled with the Asian Hornet. It was a cool spring last year and he had to help bee keepers in cooler regions fulfil their customers orders. I think it would be very difficult to know without a proper study.

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  10. How cool! I wonder if it could be boarded up somehow so they could stay there and be protected more.

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    • I must admit I was surprised at how well Manuel’s plastic tarpaulin worked. We have had more rain this year than anyone can remember and fields are flooded that no one has seen flooded. However, the bees were fine! However, it was also exceptionally mild so they could do with some insulation for a normal winter. I wonder if they will swarm and desert the damaged nest this spring?

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  11. Great to see them in the wild like this. I’ve only once seen a swarm of bees flying by, it was pretty impressive to see them off ‘doing their thing.’

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  12. Looks like gorgeous comb. It’s interesting to me to see the cavities bees naturally choose in the wild. I expect they would have preferred to be higher up away from the badgers, but perfect nest sites rarely exist. The thick oak wood must provide great insulation, so much thicker than the wood beekeepers use for their hives. Do you know what direction the entrance faces?

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  13. That’s really interesting Amelia, I’ve never seen such a thing except on wildlife programmes in Africa! Do I understand you correctly that the bees were in the hollow tree before it came down in the storm, and the bees just stayed in the reduced space?

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  14. Fascinating, was there any evidence of Varroa?

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    • I took my photographs and retreated so I did not see any more than the pictures show. I’m not sure how to look for varroa in a sealed hole. I think a lot of bee keepers rely on the mites falling downwards and have a trap at the bottom where they can count them. Any ideas on how I can look? I don’t have a suit either.

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      • I just wondered if you could see any Varroa on your photos, I am certainly not suggesting you get any closer!. I have the impression that beekeepers can see mites on their bees (here is a link:http://beeinformed.org/2013/03/how-to-make-a-sugar-roll-jar/img_5750/). It would be good to get an opinion from an experienced beekeeper.

        I am interested in the disease question as this colony is prospering without human help and may, therefore,be dealing with bee diseases or be immune from them.

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        • I’m not so sure the mites are so easy to see. That is a fantastic photo to visualise the mite but I have a feeling that they can site themselves where you cannot see them. I will try and persuade my bee keeper friend to come and have a look. Any I saw were in good condition and they survived even after predators had depleted their reserves.

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        • Varroa mites can be seen on the thorax of bees, but only if there is a bad infestation. If there is brood present in the colony most of the mites will be busy reproducing in the brood. In six years of beekeeping I have only once seen a mite on one of my bees.

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  15. Yes, thanks Emily, that answers my question. It’s all the more interesting that there are these “wild” colonies about.

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    • Yes. I know of one wild colony locally that has been in the same location for several years. Although they receive no varroa treatments wild colonies may have the advantage of swarming often, whereas beekeepers often try to prevent swarms. The break in brood rearing after a swarm also means a break in varroa reproducing.

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  16. Your wild bees remind me of Thoreau: “In wildness is the preservation of the world.”

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  17. Congratulations on having a tree hive! My wife saw a nature video that showed African honey badgers tearing apart hives. It was suggested that that was a reason why the African bees became so defensive. Nothing could stop the honey badgers, “Masters of Mayhem.” Hope your badgers are not that fierce.

    I would think it would be difficult to find mites unless they are so numerous that they are riding on the backs of the bees. In this natural setting, it’s possible the bees can adapt to the mites. Those that drop off might be eaten by the wood lice, earwigs, ants, or other mites that will no doubt be present. I just love the idea of bees being able to survive without constant inspections and (mis)management. We have so much to learn.

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