a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France

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



30 thoughts on “The story of noisy bees, bald brood and continuing hornets attack

  1. What a lovely and helpful narrative. We, too, are in our first year. I echo your comments that each have has its own personality and quirks. We haven’t had problems with yellow jackets or hornets–but we certainly see them, and I think a mild winter could bring problems, next season.


    • I am so glad that you found some of the comments helpful. I do wish you as much joy with your bees as we have had this, our first year. How many hives do you have?

      At the same time I do hope that you will never have the worry and problems that we have with the hornets. They are truly horrible. Our bee keeper friend, Michel has already lost two hives. Our four hives appear to be OK for the time being – fingers crossed – but they are very stressed and even at temperatures nearly 20 C ( 68-70 F) they do wish to venture out. Good luck and enjoy your bees.


      • We have three hives. So far no trouble with wasps or hornets, at least for the bees. My husband was stung twice (by yellow jackets) while digging the septic, so we do know that they are here. Maybe last winter’s repeated cold snaps gave us a break. If it’s a mild winter this year (as predicted), we’ll have to be more ready, come spring.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I believe that your yellow jackets are similar to our wasps. We don’t see them attacking the bees. Both the European Hornets as well as the Asian Hornets are much larger [two to three times larger than wasps] and certainly attack our poor bees. I do hope that you will never have the problems that we have. – Kourosh

          Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t know if you have a VPN but if you do you could watch the BBC programme with Martha Kearney The wonder of Bees. I think you’d enjoy it. It may also be available on Youtube.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Christina. I am glad that you made the comment. Amelia and I were over in the UK for a couple of weeks and have just returned (in a slightly disordered house). But I’ll try to watch the programme. Bees are truly a lovely hobby, but also like having children – you worry when they are not sleeping enough; you worry if they sleep too much. And so on and so on.. – Kourosh

      Liked by 3 people

  3. As a ‘retired’ beekeeper I still find it interesting to read about your experience with your bees. Brother Adam was my beekeeping hero.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you. As General MacArthur said ‘old soldiers never die, they just fade away’. I think once one has the love of bees, one always enjoys them.

      Fortunately for him, our common ‘hero’ – Brother Adam – did not have to worry about Asian Hornets. – Kourosh


  4. Thanks again for sharing this story. Just remember how good that honey will taste on toast and butter.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, John. That brought a smile to Amelia and I.

      The bees give us far more joy than just honey on toast. It is just wonderful watching their antics, almost like watching my grandchildren. – Kourosh

      Liked by 2 people

  5. I’m so glad your colonies are doing well. I’ve been waiting for your end-of-season post!

    You’ve spoiled your bees in their first year. Be careful, next year they might reward you by all swarming and you could end up with 8 hives, then 16, then…. 🙂

    Did you get much honey this year?

    Is the winter very cold where you are? I thought you had a short, mild winter but maybe I’m misremembering old posts that make your garden look like paradise!

    We’re having a heavy load of small hive beetle in our hives this year but thankfully we still have no Asian hornet or Varroa in this area. Our bees can survive pretty well on their own and we even see large colonies of wild bees thriving in trees around the area. That’s always a treat to see.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Laura, thank you. It is always nice to hear from you, ‘down under’.

      It is true, that we did not choose our bees; they chose us by swarming and coming into our garden. Perhaps that was because of all the lovely flowers that Amelia has planted. Nevertheless, we think of them as ‘our girls’, and we feel responsible and have to give them as much protection and help as we can. I promise, however, that if they all survive the winter, and if we have more swarms next Spring, we will give them away to other beekeeper friends who have lost a lot of hives. ​Four hives are more than enough for us.

      As for honey, we did not have any bees in Spring and so no early honey. But in the summer we put one super on Violette and two supers on Cornucopia. In all we collected 34 kilos (nearly 75 pounds) of honey. I was satisfied. Enough to share with friends as we do not wish to sell honey.

      Our winters are short. Today the temperature for most of the day is over 15 C. Last couple of days it was over 25 C. However, the nights do get cold with single figure temperatures. December and January average temperature is around 5 C, which means warmish days and cold nights. In the last ten years we had a light snow cover about once or twice which lasted for a couple of days. Amelia has planted several winter flowering shrubs and the garden can still look nice enough in winter.

      I am sorry to hear about your small hive beetles. But at least you don’t have the horror of Asian hornets and varroa mites.

      Enjoy your bees and look after yourself. – Kourosh

      Liked by 1 person

      • That’s a fantastic honey harvest for new swarms. You clearly are doing a good job in caring for your girls.

        I wouldn’t be surprised if they keep collecting over winter. Ours do eat some stores in really bad periods but often there are winter flows and they store up extra as well.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Trying to combat the Hornets must be quite upsetting for you both, I hope the new muzzle is effective. Do Hornets only attack near the hive?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Julie. The hornets are truly upsetting. They are not aggressive towards humans, but they do cause havoc and they stress the entire colony greatly. As for the muzzle, I am not for the moment convinced of its efficiency. More of that later when I have properly tested them.

      Hornets do catch bees on flowers, but it is much more ‘convenient’ for them to come to the hives where there is a plateful of food available. Bees fly very fast and the hornets cannot catch them in flight. But when bees approach the hive – like aeroplanes reaching the airport- they reduce their speed considerable, before landing. Then they are the most vulnerable. – Kourosh


  7. I can see that bee keeping takes great dedication. I hope you can solve the problems. There’s no such thing as too many bees.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I guess it is like having children: sometimes, there are joys and there are sadness. I try to be positive and enjoy the good things and all the pleasure they give uses – Kourosh


  8. Just a thought on that bald brood. Are those drones? Could this be the elimination of drones at the end of the season? The cells look slightly raised in the photos. I’ve seen this once in my hives and I think that’s what I guessed was happening.


  9. Horrendous seeing the hornets harassing your bees like this, I know how protective you are of them so it must be very upsetting to see them under attack.

    Bald brood can be a genetic trait as well as caused by wax moth. If it’s just small patches don’t think you need to worry too much.

    Interesting to see how much larger your frames are than ours.


    • Emily,
      Thanks for the comment. I have been worried about wax moth. But normally the damage is seen as longer lines of uncapped cells. I am pretty sure this is not the case for us. Naturally I will monitor the hive, and we are lucky that day temperatures still tend to be over 15 C, allowing me to do a quick inspection – if needed.

      Our beekeeper friend, Michel has already lost two hives completely to hornets. The saddest story was another beekeeper who brought one hive last week to Michel, not understanding what had happened. On opening it, they saw the poor queen all on her own wandering along the frames. It is just too sad. I am quite concerned about at least two of my hives. They seem so stressed that even with the warm sunshine, they are reluctant to leave the safety of their hives. They are still bothered by Asian hornets. Amelia and I take turn guarding the hives – but we can’t stay there all day!

      All our hives are Dadant hives, with ten frames in the brood box and 9 in the Super. Dadant is the most common here, so that we can share equipment with each other.

      Look after yourself and your ‘girls’ – Kourosh


  10. Hopefully you will win the battle against those hornets. It seems quite a problem. The bees must provide you with hours of entertainment though so your efforts are well worth it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for the encouragement. Nobody has so far won the battle against the hornets. We are lucky that our hives are at the bottom of the garden allowing us to check on the girls several times a day and at least attempt to protect them as best as we can.

      There are many beekeepers that are obliged to keep their hives in an apiary far from their home and can only visit every saturday. I am not sure how they manage. Some of our friends have already lost several hives completely.

      We can only hope and as you say, we do enjoy seeing the bees and their antics.
      – Kourosh

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I worry about Asian hornets entering the UK. Emily and I won’t be able to stand guard by the hive with nets! Are the any other plans to tackle the hornet invasion locally? I’m rather pleased by Emily’s link!


  12. Thanks Emma for the comment.

    I had the good fortune that recently when I visited the UK, I popped in at the National Honey Show in Weybridge and talked to a very helpful guy from Defra. He was showing a video of the Asian Hornet and had recently returned from a field visit to Bordeaux – near us. [Sadly I had seen many such nests first hand]

    Defra is putting together quite a comprehensive strategic plan. The person I talked to believes that sadly the entry of the hornets in the UK is inevitable, as they have now established colonies all the way to the North of France in just a few years. Defra appears to be more active than their French counterparts.

    Our tactic so far has been to place several hornet traps with appropriate bait in the vicinity of the hives. The bees are not interested by the bait. We have captured dozens regularly, in this way. We also catch them by netting them – but you won’t be able to do this as you are not near the bees.

    There are several ideas coming up each year including the electric harp, and the muzzle. Each have partial success. There are one of two chemical companies that are also working to targeted chemical baits. Capturing as many queens early in the season and destroying the nests in Spring is for the moment the best answer.

    Meanwhile try to enjoy your girls and let us hope that if and when they arrive in the UK someone has come up with a more effective solution. – Kourosh

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I’m a new bee keeper living Japan and am about to hit the hornet season. Here in Japan we have Asian hornets and giant Asian hornets which in Autumn hunt in groups and are terrifying. I’ve been studying this website recently, it’s all in Japanese but it can be read with a browser application which gives you the gist of what’s written.
    In case you are interested here is a plan for a homemade hive entrance trap for the smaller hornets.


    I hope you find it interesting


    • Thank you for that. I cannot imagine how difficult it must be for you with the addition of that terrifying huge hornet which is even more aggressive than the one we have to combat. At the moment we have put up guards of fine fencing around the entrance to the hives. At least it protects the entrance and they are less stressed. I would like to try this method https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/34862859/posts/1150318488. Sorry it is in French but I am sure you can work it out. So far my husband will not let me try it. I do wish there was a selective poison for these beasts. I will try and work out the Japanese trap, everything is worth trying. Amelia


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