Honey Bees

It was all the fault of our beekeeper friend Michel who had me hooked on bees.   Every time he visited our garden, he kept telling me: ‘There, you can place a hive…. and over there another….in fact you have room for several hives near the river and just outside the wooded area.’

Looking at the garden through the wooded area

Looking at the garden through the forest walk

In January we bought the first and then the second hive and Amelia lovingly painted them and decorated them.  In a normal year Michel would have given me a swarm, but this was not a normal year, and he had lost far too many of his own hives.  So after waiting and waiting – and I am not a patient man – I phoned all over the place to buy a swarm.  It proved difficult, but eventually I found someone who promised to sell me a swarm, but not before end of May.

Then the first  May Swarm arrived.  I was delighted, especially as it directly entered the little ruchette (six frames mini hive) that I had placed on top of the old chicken coop.  Later in May it was transferred to its permanent hive, now named Cornucopia, because of the horn of plenty that Amelia had painted on it.

Oh, well, I thought that plus the swarm I had ordered we should have enough on our hands.  But the bees had another thought in mind.  One sunny Friday afternoon in early June More bees arrived, this time in the little ruchette above our main house. The second swarm were named Violet, after the little violets that Amelia had painted on their destined hive.

A few days later I set off to my rendez-vous in the Périgueux region to collect the swarm that I had ordered.  Michel accompanied me as I must admit that being actually allergic to bee stings, I was somewhat nervous travelling back the 220 km (135 miles) with a car full of bees.

It was an idyllic spot for anyone and a lovely place to keep bees as well as his horses.  The rolling hills where surrounded by forests and farmlands.  He told us that he had in all over 100 hives.

Beekeeper's house near  Périgueux

Beekeeper’s house near Périgueux

We loaded the hive with the promised black bees (Perigueux Noir) and drove back full of excitement.  Back at home we opened the hive and let the bees discover their new home.  However, our excitement somewhat evaporated as we discovered that the bottom board was not fully aerated and in our hot summers that was something that we urgently needed to change.

We had to wait a couple of days for the ladies to settle down.  Then Amelia and I armed ourselves with the necessary tools and the smoker to investigate the hive properly.  The second problem was that lifting the top outer cover, we saw that the top inner cover consisted of a piece of very old plywood simply nailed to the brood box.  Carefully I removed the nails and lifted the entire hive to place it on a new fully aerated bottom board.  When we lifted the body of the hive, one of the frames dropped through the bottom of the hive.  We had no choice but smoke the poor creatures and open the hive.  Once we lifted the old frame, we saw that it was very old decayed Langstroth frame with the support ends rotted away.  We also noticed that there were no waxed sheets on the frames but the bees had started making their own honeycomb wax.  We did what we could, namely replacing the broken frame with a new waxed one and replaced the bottom board and the top inner as well as the outer cover which also was broken and looked like a museum piece.  So the moral of the story was never buy swarms from strangers, no matter how friendly they might appear.

Nevertheless, we named this hive of black bees as Poppy as we had noticed them returning to the hive with black pollen, distinctive of the poppies in the garden, as well as yellow pollen.

A week later Michel came over so that with his experienced eyes we could inspect the ruchette Violet and see if they could be transferred to their permanent home.  We also hoped to examine the new arrival from Périgueux, as it was clear to us that they were not a big colony.  Task one was accomplished very successfully and we even managed to see her majesty Queen Violet.

Queen Viollet

Queen Violet

She had already made a sizeable brood on at least two of the frames.

Violet - 1st Inspection

Violet – 1st Inspection

The inspection of the hive Poppy confirmed our original feelings that the colony was indeed quite small.  The good news was that they had started making a small area of brood cells on an old frame.  Nothing too exciting, but not having seen her queen we had to content ourselves with that.

Poppy first Inspection

Poppy first Inspection

We scheduled a second inspection a week later.  That proved much more exciting.

Firstly the hive Cornucopia was doing so well that we had to place a honey super on the hive.  Opening Poppy we saw that indeed there was a sizeable brood area on at least two frames.   Although we had placed a ruchette on the old chicken coop in case we had to replace Poppy, things looked more hopeful for Poppy.

Poppy second inspection

Poppy second inspection

Violet was doing admirably with classic areas of brood cells  on both sides of several frames.

Violet second inspection

Violet second inspection

She was duly transferred frame by frame from her ruchette to her beautiful new home

Violet transfer to hive

Violet transfer to hive

We returned towards the house when I pointed out to Michel that there were a fair number of bees again around another ruchette on the old chicken coop.  Michel walked closer for a closer look: ‘You have a new swarm’.’  There bees all over the tiles on the roof.

June Swarm

June Swarm

I had promised Amelia that I will not keep more than three hives, but at the end it was not me that chose the bees but they chose us.

We have chosen the name of Sunflower for the newly arrived swarm as the arrived the week that the sunflowers have opened up.

L to R: Sunflower; cornucopia; Poppy; and Violet

L to R: Sunflower; cornucopia; Poppy; and Violet

The forest of sweet chestnut trees are less than half a mile from our garden and they are still in flower; the sunflowers in the field across the road have not yet opened, but other sunflower fields have opened only just a few hundred yards away.  Around the numerous forest, not far, there are plenty of brambles in flower.  So, I hope that we can keep our bees happy and more importantly healthy, and I hope that they will like Amelia’s French garden as much as we do.

– Kourosh

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36 thoughts on “Honey Bees

    • I would like to think that we were not simply lucky, but the fact that we use no pesticides and Amelia has planted so many bee-friendly flowers and shrubs that attracted the swarms to our house. As you said, all I hope for is being able to keep them healthy and strong.

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  1. We started with two—vowing not to go more than three–and not for a year or so. Alas, a month later, we’re at three. We still plan to stay small, beekeepers, not apiarists. Still, there are bee opportunities out there and it’s more about saving bees than it is about honey. We hope that we’ll be as lucky as you have been–and that all our bees will be happy bees.

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    • I do hope that it goes well for you, too. No need to say “alas”, as I am sure that you will have lots of fun with the ladies and will be able to share your own honey with family and friends. Our intention is not really about making honey and certainly NOT selling honey, although last week I had to put a second super on Cornucopia, as they had almost filled the first, and the sunflower season is one of their busiest time here. I just hope that we can keep a strong and healthy colony to take them through next winter.

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    • We appear to be so lucky that our bees are really very gentle. And you are right there is so much we all can learn from the bees. How they manage a colony of some 50,000 bees, each knowing their role in their society.

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    • The best reference and guide we have had is our bee keeper friend, Michel. Even today on a Sunday with temperatures around 36C, he popped over to see how our ladies are getting on. Should you decide to pursue my passion, I am sure that other bee keepers near you and your local association would be willing to help out – and share some equipment..

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  2. Fantastic post. Those queens all look like they are prolific layers which means you’re well on your way to 3 – uh, I mean 4 – strong colonies!

    Our first 2 hives were purchased from an old beekeeper and were full of foundation-less frames which meant we had a lot of burr comb to break off and honey everywhere and, whew, what a mess. Broken frames and dirty old brood are just what you have to expect when you buy second hand. But it looks like your hive is going to thrive with a bit of TLC and hive maintenance. You still have a couple of months to build them up before the days start getting short enough for the queens to kick back and relax so I’m sure you’ll do well.

    What in the world did you hide in your attic that those bees are so keen to get at? It’s pretty incredible. That said, bees do tend to swarm to the same spot other hives have used in the past so maybe this is going to be a great trap for you.

    Don’t worry about catching too many swarms, you can always sell/share your abundance with other beekeepers. We’re very popular in our area because we catch and give away swarms – as you know, new beekeepers are keen for a helping hand! And you can sell some of your excess swarms to help defray the cost of buying / maintaining your existing hives. All good stuff!

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    • Thank you, Laura, to taking the time to comment. The second swarm we had (with the picture of her queen) appears to be a second swarm – that is to say a young queen. It is apparently clear from her pale colour. She certainly developed quickly a good brood on several frames. I intend to pace a super on her hive this coming week.

      The first swarm was quite large and they already working on the second super. I am still nervous about the colony we purchased, which do appear to me to be weak. However, our bee keeper friend, Michel, tells me not to worry and wait until the new bees start emerging from the hive.

      You are right about not worrying about any swarms – now we wait for next year, as this year’s swarm season is practically over. All I hope is that the hives grow strong enough and survive the next winter well.

      But, I promise – no more than 4 hives !!! – Kourosh

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    • I have just spent a few hours in the nearest hospital to be tested for bees and wasps. The good news is that my bee allergy appears to be mild, but the wasp allergy is quite strong. My own doctor has prescribed adrenaline injection, which thankfully does no longer need to be kept in the refrigerator.

      And our bees do appear to be very gentle, but I take care nevertheless and wear my full bee suit when working with them.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you and thanks to my wife’s hard work in the garden, we do appear to have a bee-friendly garden. I would like to think that after all, it was not me that chose the bees but they chose us. So all I can do is to give them a helping hand!

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  3. Pingback: Honey Bees | a french garden | WORLD ORGANIC NEWS

  4. Thanks. All the bee keepers (and that includes ex- bee keepers ! ) that I have met seem to become very fond of their ladies. We are lucky that all ours have been so far so gentle. – Kourosh

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  5. Beautiful blog! I plan to explore it more, time permitting. We have a neighbor who keeps bees, and we are very thankful that his pollinators visit our gardens.

    I did search around enough to see that you have gold finches, one of our favorite spring birds here in the U.S.

    Enjoyed my visit.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your encouraging comments. We are really blessed with having such a variety of flora and fauna in our garden and just a steps away from our front door. Living in the country has some disadvantages, but the birds and the bees compensate for that. – Kourosh

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    • Thanks, Marie. Although it looks as if we will have some honey next month to share with our kind friends and neighbours, who always share their garden products with us, the aim of Amelia and I is to study the bees; learn from them; and try to keep them healthy. – Kourosh

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  6. As a fellow Scot I’m familiar with wasps and wasps nests, but a strange nest has appeared at our house in 17. We only noticed it today – it is hanging from the edge of the house in an area not used for a while. I took some pics and suspect it could be hornets. Could I e-mail you one for your advice please? You’ve been in this area longer than us and are more expert than me on insects et al. Thanks

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    • I’m afraid I don’t know much about hornets. Their nests start quite small and are papery, like wasps nests. The hornets do not present an immediate danger to humans whether they are European or Frelon Asiatique, its the bees that have to worry. Your local hunting representative would be the most likely to help you out if it turned out to be something “nuisible”. Send me a photo to afrenchgarden@gmail.com but I can’t promise to recognise it. Amelia

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  7. Hi, hoping for an update on your bees.
    We had a nuc last year, got it through the winter. It swarmed twice and were able to hive them successfully.
    We had an extremely dry, extended summer here in Tsawwassen, just south of Vancouver, BC Canada. Bees had lots of honey stored . We went away on our boat for a month on our return the stores were very depleted so began feeding. Then seemed to have a bomb of Varoa destructor and now reluctantly medicating with Apivar plus essential oils in the sugar syrup.
    Hoping we will get them through this winter. Enjoying your blog
    Regards Janine

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  8. What a wonderful adventure and writing of your new Friends…These entries, have resparked my own long forgotten interests in starting up my own small colony of bees…now its back to researching , Beekeeping for dummies and get my dream manifested. cheers

    Liked by 1 person

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