Getting used to November in the garden

At this stage in the year it is usual to accept that winter has come.  I just want to know where autumn went to.  We did go back to the U.K. for a couple of weeks late in October, coming back early November.  We came back to sunshine and tales of summer-like temperatures whilst we were away.

Mahonia Charity and queen bumble bee

Arriving back I checked out the garden before I went inside the house  and went straight to the Mahonia “Charity” that was planted last year.  The Mahonia was already nourishing a queen bumble bee.  “Charity” is a big variety and has put on quite a bit of growth since last year.  I had also planted two “Winter Sun” Mahonia which flowered in October.  I felt that was a bit early but they were mostly in the sun this year.  Perhaps when they get more shade they will do better.

Worker bumble bee on Mahonia

As well as the queen, there was a worker bumble bee on the Mahonia but she did not get that purple pollen from the Mahonia!

bumble bee on Phacelia

She had been working the Phacelia only a few metres away.

Barn owl in roosting box

As I was checking out my flowers and bumble bees, Kourosh had noticed a lot of white splashes on the floor of our outbuilding and set up a ladder to check for occupants of his barn owl nest box.  The owl does not look overjoyed to see us but we are happy he has returned to use the nest as a roost, if not to nest.

persimmons and asian hornet

We are not  so happy to see the Asian hornets much in evidence in the garden.  The persimmons were ready to harvest when we returned and we are content to share some with the birds but not so pleased to see them being enjoyed by the Asian hornets.

Magnolia Grandiflora seeds

The seed pods of the Magnolia Grandiflora are literally bursting at the seams.  I wander whether this increased fertility could be due to the pollination by our honey bees.  They seemed to be much more attracted to the flowers than the solitary bees.  It is only thirteen seconds long but the video shows you how much fun the bees were having in the flowers during the summer.

I managed to buy some some bee friendly plants in the U.K.  I bought Monarda “Jacob Cline” and an Eucryphia nymensis.  My friend Linda had been busy growing lots of Knautia so I now have a good size patch that should be a magnet for bees next year.


I am also replacing my sedum with varieties I which I know will attract bees.  Even though it was not the right time I did find a Sedum “Autumn Joy” and a small variety “Dragon’s blood” whilst I was in the U.K.  There are lots of little changes to be done and some bulbs yet to be planted but each change adds and an extra for the new year.


I planted the willows (Salix alba “Chermesina”)in January 2014 and now they are starting to fill out and add colour to the winter garden.   Although I am already looking forward to the spring when their task is to form a screen around a seating area.





The story of noisy bees, bald brood and continuing hornets attack

I had hoped that as the summer was almost over, the Asian hornets (Vespa velutina) would ease their pressure on our poor bees.  Sadly that has not yet been the case.  A couple of weeks before the end of October I noticed an enormous nest right in the middle of our nearest town, only 4 kilometres away.

Asiatique Hornets nest
Asian Hornets’ nest

It must have been a good half a metre in diameter.  I could easy see large number of our  number one enemies  circling around the entrance.

Asiatique Hornets

We have placed several hornet traps at the bottom of the garden and each day they trap numerous hornets, but I am afraid that the battle at the hive entrance continues unrelentingly.  But we soldier on and several times a day Amelia and I stand guard with the shrimping nets and at each occasion catch a couple of dozen of hornets.  But we cannot stay there all day.  You can see the attack, just before Amelia catches the hornet in a short video clip.

Despite the temperatures during the day reaching as high as 20 C, the nights are cool and the preparation for winter must be made.  We decided to treat all our four hives with Apilife Var against the varroa mites.   The recommendation has been to treat whilst the temperature is above 20 C.  It was also suggested to close the metal plate under the hives so that the treatment becomes more effective.  For about a week in early September, however, the temperature here exceeded 35 C and the bees were definitely upset and we had to open the plate under the hive to let them cool down.  We also found that two of the hives were covering the pieces of treatment material with propolis.  The other interesting discovery was that Violette is definitely a hygienic colony and the varroa drop before and after treatment was almost nil.

Being my first year, I find it amazing how the behaviour of each hive is totally different.  For example, when we approach Sunflower we can hear that inside the hive they are much more noisy than the others.  They also appear to be very hard worker bringing in pollen all day long.

Although we are told that the threat by the hornets will soon disappear and apart from the queens, the rest will die naturally, we need to prepare ourselves for the following year.  We have looked at several anti-hornet devices and eventually I decided to test a new anti-hornet muzzle (see short video).

The muzzle fits neatly at the entrance of the hive.

Anti- hornet muzzle at the entrance of bee hive
Anti- hornet muzzle at the entrance of bee hive

The bees were a bit confused and as I had not yet tightened the screw at the top, they decided to choose the easy way by entering their home just behind the top board of the muzzle.  I felt sorry for them as they were coming home loaded with pollen so I removed the muzzle.


I bought two muzzles and I have asked our beekeeper friend Michel to try one as well.  So, we will have to wait a little longer before giving a verdict on this device.  If successful, I will install one on each hive.

Opening the hives for inspection we also noticed that two of the hives still have a frame at one side that was not touched at all, although there appears to be an overall adequate quantity of honey reserve .

Empty frame
Empty frame

The next frame was well build up with honey.

Frames with the build up of honey
Frames with the build up of honey

We took all the unbuilt frames and replaced them with solid wooden partitions with additional insulation.  Another action was based on something that we read Brother Adam used to do and that is placing a super under the brood box during the winter.  The idea is that it provides a volume  of still air, keeping the brood box warmer and also reducing the humidity from the ground.

Poppy repositioned on super
Poppy repositioned on super

One other problem that we discovered in Violette was that there were bald brood on one frame.  The little pale heads look quite spooky.

Bald Brood
Bald Brood

I am told that there are different factors that can give rise to bald brood.  It can be due to wax moth infestation but we have seen no sign of this.   Violette has always had a very low varroa count so this maybe part of her hygienic behaviour to open larval cells containing varroa and destroy them.  We treated her with the others but the drop was very low.  The bees sense something strange and uncap the cell, but in most cases the larvae do emerge as an adult bee.  We will need to keep a close eye on her, but I would appreciate any comment or suggestion.

You can see that whilst I repositioned all the four hives, Amelia was faithfully keeping guard with the shrimping net.

Repositioned bee hives with an empty super underneath the brood box
Repositioned bee hives with an empty super underneath the brood box

The good news is that there are still flowers in the garden and the bees have been busy bringing the pollen from the cosmos, the odd dahlia and the aster.

Bees on aster
Bees on aster

The story will continue, but meanwhile the bees keep us smiling when we watch their antics, like the bee below who did not want just to walk through the door.

Trick bee
Trick bee
  • Kourosh



Autumn discoveries

Osmanthus heterophyllus 'Goshiki'

Some plants just seem to work harder than others.  My Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Goshiki’ is full of flowers and these tiny flowers emit a heady perfume.

Osmanthus heterophyllus

I wish it could be near a door but it sits in the shade of the wall to the back of the front garden, its glossy leaves providing a year long green backdrop.  The RHS suggests it should be pruned in April or May or after flowering.  We pruned it last spring and I think this is the reason for our heavy crop of flowers this year.


The Persimmon tree is holding on to a heavy crop of fruit this year.  I suspect some will soon be ripe enough for the birds to start to peck but the tree is too big to net.


The Medlar tree is heavy with fruit too this year but they will not be ripe enough to eat for a while yet.

Nerine bowdenii early bumble bee

I have made some discoveries about bumble bees.  The first is that they like Nerine bowdenii but the second is an identification that has been puzzling me for some time.  I am now sure that the bee above is an early bumble bee.  How come early in October you say?  Checking with BWARS they note for the U.K. the early bumble bee is  “bivoltine in the south, with a smaller late-summer generation”.

Saffron bombus pratorum

These must be Bombus pratorum queens, like the one in my saffron, but I have never seen any males or workers at this time of year and I wonder if some queens might come out of hibernation for a top-up of nectar before the final last months of hibernation.

I also decided to try and and find out the meaning of pratorum (I erroneously guessed spring but Latin was always my worse subject).  It appears that pratum is a meadow or hayfield so these are the bumble bees of the meadows.  May there be many meadows for all the bumble bees.

Mahonia eurybracteata

My Mahonia eurybracteata “Soft Caress” that I planted last year is just starting to flower.  I had not realised it flowered so early but that is fine, I have other ones that will come on later too.  I am just looking forward to see which of the bees find it first – my bet is the bumble bees.

Apple cider vinegar

Another “discovery” or surprise was that I was able to make apple cider vinegar from our glut of apples this year.  I love apples and we have been eating them raw, stewed and baked.  They have also gone into jams, jellies and chutney but the vinegar is a new product for 2015.  We can now take jars of our honey as well as apple cider to my daughter in the UK – sweet as well as sour.