I apologize that this post is less about garden more about bees and it definitely carries a warning as it is not for the faint hearted.
During the past few days our precious honey bees have been attacked by asian hornets – frelons asiatiques. I noticed it first when I saw a huge agitation around the hives.
Amelia stood guard yesterday and the day before with a butterfly net and on each occasions trapped and destroyed four or five asian hornets, some were trying to enter the hive. Altogether she must have caught a dozen hornets over the past few days. It is worth mentioning that despite their size, the asian hornet is not particularly aggressive towards humans and mainly is interested in catching bees near the hive, cutting their head and taking the body to feed their larvae. Sometimes they enter the hive and take bee larvae for the same purpose. A full colony of asian hornets in season can considerably weaken and even destroy a bee hive.
Normally the asian hornets are a problem in this region during August. But yesterday I was working along what we have named our forest walk next to the river Seudre. I noticed a couple of asian hornets landing on the steps I had created. The steps are made from hollow breeze blocks.
Asian hornet going into underground nest
Searching the internet there is a considerable amount of information on the asian hornets in France and their nests in trees. I found no information on any underground nest. However, what I am beginning to believe is that the hornets do make a small nest underground at the beginning of summer where new hornets are raised, presumably as future queens. Later each can develop a new larger colony in trees. Britain has been so far spared by this new menace to bees, as was France before 2004. The asian hornets are moving north and there might not be too long before they also enter Britain.
Operation destruction had to be put in place when night fell and hopefully all the hornets had returned to the nest. This consisted of first placing straw and sticks on the site and setting fire to it.
Kitted in my bee suit and armed with the propane burner used normally for destroying weeds, I went into battle.
Then we turned the stepping stones over to find the nest and then placed more straw on it and in the hope of burning the area where they nested.
The hornets caring for the larvae were there but already overcome by the smoke and heat of the fire.
The night had fallen and it was already ten o’clock, but my next move was to install hornet guards at the entrance of each of the hives, whilst the hives were quiet. The guards were there, but they were quite gentle.
This morning I went to check that the hornet guards were not too much hindering the bees leaving and entering the hives with pollen.
All appeared well and I could see lots of yellow pollen brought in from the fields of sunflower across the road.
I checked and removed the partially burnt out hornet nest and saw the clear papery nest with its pointed back where it was attached to the breeze block.
The steps to our forest walk has to be rebuilt.
But should I use breeze blocks again? That is a question that requires some thought. Meanwhile, I am hoping that our bees have been given some respite from the asian hornets.