I got a present from my bee keeper friend Michel today. He knows I like honeycomb so he gave me some “miel en brèche” as it is known in French.
It was up to me to cut it avoiding the metal strips running through it which serve as guides for the bees to build the comb on.
I think I managed quite well, for a beginner.
Morning coffee with fresh bread and honeycomb.
I thoroughly scraped around the frame so I would not waste any of the honey and then I put it outside for the bees to clear up the rest.
However, so far, they do not seem interested in my leftovers but this bumble bee is not going to pass over some easy pickings.
Earlier this morning I had read Emily’s post, “All about the hunny”, in Adventures in Beeland’s Blog, explaining that she and Emma had difficulty extracting their honey. I wonder if this could be a solution in areas where the honey was difficult to extract. However, I am not a bee keeper (not yet). I also love honeycomb and if some pieces of the comb mix in, it does not bother me, in fact I like it. I always remember honeycomb being something extra special and it was a particular favourite of my grandfather. I wonder whether this is an unusual taste or not?
Just as an update – some honey bees did come.
And the odd honey bee deserted the Nepeta underneath to sample the honey.
We took a break for a few days last week to stay outside Agen and visit the area nearby, between the rivers Garonne and Lot. Lac Bajamont, is not well known but was nearby so we decided to take a look. At first site it reminded me of some of the small lochs you see in Scotland, it even had a fisherman on the bank.
There were plenty of thistles around but you would not see a Hummingbird Hawk moth (Macroglossum stellatarum) in Scotland!
The lake was bordered by wild flowers like these purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) although it is not a natural lake but more a dam of 22 hectares that has been created by the nearby local councils to control local flooding and regulate the flow of the river. The lake is under the protection of the Fishing Federation of the Lot and Garonne and is used for course fishing.
As we walked around the lake we were impressed by the variety and abundance of wildflowers.
Of course, where there are flowers there is lots to see. I think that someone must have had hives as honey bees were very much in evidence on the flowers.
There were lots of Meadow Browns and I spotted the very similar Gatekeeper as well.
The bright blue of the male butterflies seems so unreal.
Sometimes you need to get closer to feel the full impact of the colours and patterns, like the eyes of this Spotted Fritillary.
Perhaps it is a good point to mention that I have done my best to identify all the creatures that we managed to take decent photographs of, because I would like to share our walk, but I am not an expert and I apologise in advance if I I have made any errors!
The waters of the lake are so clear at the edges that Kourosh was able to take this picture of the Crayfish under the water. This is an invasive variety and not a natural European species. I must give Kourosh the credit for many of the photographs in this blog as I kept on my Macro lens as there were so many small creatures attracting my attention.
The lake is kept only as a nature reserve. No swimming or motor boats are allowed and fishing is with a permit only. This allows joggers and picnickers a site to enjoy the outdoors and its peace.
Most of the flowers were similar to the ones we see in our area but I had never seen Hoary Plantain (Plantago media) before.
The more common plantain flower is very plain but this plantain has lovely lilac/pink flowers that the bees and butterflies find very attractive.
There was lots of Knapweed around. This is really a plant to attract all sorts of pollinators and one I am going to try to increase in my garden.
There were lots of blue chicory flowers, this one was being attacked by a snail much to the disgust of the little bee.
Of course, being beside the water there were plenty of damselflies and dragonflies around. Just so much to see.
I at last saw my first Swallowtail of this summer. Not a great photo as it is taken with my Macro lens after a close chase. It is a big butterfly but it can shift!
This one was sunning itself and easier to capture. It had attracted my attention as it was purple! The colouration changed with the angle of the light that was falling on the wing scales. You can just see the slight colouration in the photograph but it does really look purple in certain lights, in others it looks a much less remarkable brown. I was very lucky to see it on several counts. Firstly the female does not have the purple reflection and secondly they often spend the day on the crowns of trees. The eggs are laid on Poplars and Willows and we have plenty of those near us but this is the first time I have seen it.
Unfortunately, I’ve had no luck identifying this. I would guess at a moth, but it has such a strange wing shape.
I’ll close with a picture of some vetch. We took so many photographs on our short walk round the lake that it’s been hard to condense them to give an idea of the place. Our lasting impression was of admiration for the brilliant solution to the areas previous flooding problem.
In the summer the vegetables get watered and any of the new or less drought tolerant plants but not the grass. The grass gets left to go brown and anything that grows up after it rains is mowed. However, this year the rain has kept the garden and usually the vegetables sufficiently watered. My neighbour, Annie, who has gardened here for many years does not remember a year with such constant rain. In between the rain there has been plenty of sunshine and the temperatures have not been low.
After the first blossoming in the spring the Wisteria usually blossoms another once, sometimes twice, later in the summer but this year it has hardly stopped flowering.
Even the Philadelpus that I cut back heavily after it flowered in May has decided to push out a few more blooms.
That’s the problems with plants. They don’t do what you expect them to. I like to have Cosmos in the garden in late summer to add some colour and give plenty of flowers to cut. I sowed this “Sensation mix” for the border, the 120 cm. marked on the seed packet seemed a good height for the borders. However, these are now taller than I am and are hiding a sunflower I planted behind them.
The sunflower they are obscuring is grown from the seeds I kept from my “Earthwalker” variety which has not bred true but it is a very attractive colour all the same.
Returning to my Cosmos problem some of the Cosmos on the other side of the garden have kept to their expected height – but not all.
I am a bit disappointed with my pallid “Vanilla Ice” sunflower. These ornamental sunflowers seem to flower later and be more delicate plants than the plain ones my husband sows from the birdseed.
This year I sowed Asters for the first time.
A 60p packet of “Duchess mixed” bought in the UK has provided a lot of colour. I bought them to attract the bees but I have not seen a lot of action around them yet.
But this Halictus scabiosae bee was using the Aster as shelter in a windy day and did not want to be disturbed.
This week I bought a new bee box from Amazon. I am quite excited as it can be taken apart in the autumn when the bees are finished laying their eggs. I thought the design was simple and innovative. The holes look rather large but I have been surprised by some little bees tackling large holes or canes. It is a bit late to put one up so I may get nothing this year.
The newest “husband made” box has almost got a full occupancy. The three holes that look empty on the log are in fact partially filled. Some bees appear not to fill the holes or canes fully.
These tiny Megachiles are very busy at the moment and I wonder if they will be tempted by the new box. Some people are concerned that the bee boxes can be parasitised and prefer to use paper tubes that can be opened to remove and clean the cocoons. I asked on a bee forum and found that opinion was very split on this. It has to be born in mind that parasites are part of nature and if you accept one part you have to accept the other. I think the bee boxes are fascinating and a wonderful way to observe some of the bees. My box originates from Wildlife World which is a UK company that supplies tubes and paper liners that I might try, although they do not deliver outside the UK.
The other evening we had a surprise visit from two pairs of hoopoes. We had never had four hoopoes on the lawn before! They made themselves at home and were extracting lots of juicy looking treats from the moist grass. They came right onto the patio and helped themselves to some bird food. We were very hopeful that they would become permanent visitors but unfortunately that was the last we saw of them but we can always hope that they’ll come back!
Une nuit blanche is a French expression for having passed a night without sleep. This could have a good or bad connotation depending on what you were doing during the night!
This expression has been taken by the region of Grand Champagne (one of the most prestigious cognac producing regions) and for the past twenty years, every Friday night in July and August anyone can join in “Les Nuits Blanches” presented by the local people. Organised by the Office of Tourism you book your car and follow a mystery tour through the beautiful countryside. The event is well-organised with marshals holding back the traffic to allow the line of cars which passes in a follow-my-leader style from stop to stop.
The evening started in Malaville outside its 13th. Century church. My husband was quick to spot some honey bees that had built a hive with an opening just above the front door. They were still busy in the late evening sunshine and I chuckled at the thought of sneaking bees into this post.
For the previous two weeks the Nuits Blanches had been cancelled as the French weather forecast had declared an orange warning predicting thunderstorms. As this year the theme of the evening was – Auprès de mon arbre, it was not deemed wise to take people into the woods with violent thunderstorms predicted.
We made our way on foot to our first “saynète”, or little scene, which was waiting for us to arrive. There was a rumble and a crack and some rain, thankfully held back by the trees.
Someone rushed to cover the speakers with plastic. I think the Celtic priestess had words with the spirits of the forest because the rain soon stopped and the weather was fine for the rest of the evening.
Our Celtic priestess explained to us that they appreciated the forest and the trees but their customs and traditions are forgotten compared to those of the Romans and Greeks.
There is more to the Celts, she tells the children, than you read in Asterix and Obelix.
Now we are off in the car into the woods, listening to the CD which is provided, and starts with Georges Brassens singing the first few lines of his song ” Auprès De Mon Arbre”.The CD talks of trees, their origins, their importance and the first part finishes just as you reach the first stop.
This scene talks of the lives of the people who lived in the woods in communities or family groups, rarely going into towns but living in the woods which provide them with their livelihood chopping wood, gathering herbs or making charcoal.
We paused in the dark to listen to the trees talk of their different properties and uses and were warned that there used to be wolves in the woods.
When one little girl saw these fierce wolves creep from the edges of the clearing she quickly demanded to be taken off her father’s shoulders to take shelter in the safety of his arms!
Wolves were a threat to the villagers in France at one time but the fear of wolves and other mythical creatures of the woods was also played on by thieves and army deserters.
On the car again and off to the next stop.
This is the region famous for Cognac. Oak barrels play a pivotal role in the production of cognac and some are still made in the traditional way in this area. The oak used, however, is not local as it grows too quickly in the Charente and must be brought from cooler areas of France. It is fascinating watching a barrel being made from planks of oak by binding them with metal hoops and heating them from the inside so they seal together forming a water tight container.
The next stop was in the grounds of this beautiful house and it took a light-hearted look at the fairy book characters whose dramas took place in the woods.
We finished the evening being offered a glass of cognac and tonic or a non-alcoholic orange drink courtesy of the area’s cognac producers and admiring the distillation equipment of a local producer of cognac who welcomed us onto his property. He was the fifth generation of his family to be producing cognac on their lands.
I thoroughly enjoyed my Nuit Blanche and want to applaud again all the actors (who are unpaid volunteers) that told the story of their region so well. In fact, there are about 200 actors and technicians who give their time freely to show with pride the beauty and traditions of their countryside.
The magazine “Living in France” has chosen our garden for their new gardening page in the September issue of the magazine which has brought on a wave of nostalgia. It seems as if we have turned a full circle from reading the magazine to becoming a part of it.
I was happy to be part of this issue but it also felt a little strange as this magazine had been bought and pored over by my husband while we were living in Aberdeen. It had all started innocently enough with touring holidays in France but then the monthly purchase of the magazine warned me that ideas were brewing in his head.
In 2001 the deed was done and the house was bought.
The garden was uninspiring, as this view from the bottom of the gardening looking towards the workshop shows. On the right you can just pick out the ex-Christmas trees.
Things have changed since then. This is roughly the same spot now but there are more trees and flowers in the garden.
The front garden too has changed. But it is not just what we have put into the garden but it is also what has come out of it!
We have had a Hoopoe fall down the chimney and get trapped behind the glass door.
The little green frogs are a special part of the garden and this one made himself at home on the coffee table.
Even in winter we have visitors like this solitary lapwing that visited us day after day one winter.
Some visitors are furry like this cute Barbastelle bat that roosted behind our shutters.
We also have a menagerie of marbled newts, salamanders, frogs and toads that we discovered in our old well.
What we did not realise was that the more fruit trees and flowers that we added to the garden, the more wildlife would come and share it with us.
and, of course, the bees. The bees have become special to me as you can see from the bee kiss.
So much has happened since my husband first plotted his garden in France. The garden did not turned out exactly as planned but perhaps all gardens take on a life of their own and give you back much more than you expected.