a french garden


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How not to plant daffodils

IMG_3895

March has almost finished and in this upside down year it certainly has not been “in like a lion, out like a lamb” as the winds are roaring down the country.  It continues to be exceptionally mild, going to 21 degrees centigrade a couple of days ago.  Seemingly this winter has been the mildest since 1880.

I hope the little plums on the large tree in the foreground of the picture above don’t all get blown away.Daffodil edge

This year the daffodils in the front garden were beautiful but the clumps were needing to be divided.  I cannot plant bulbs at the bottom of the back garden because of the tree roots but I had a cunning plan!  Kourosh was cutting out turf where he is planting wild flowers so I decided to cut out a shallow trough for the bulbs and cover them with the divots of turf.  I must admit I found there were more bulbs than I had expected and carting the divots was more tiring.  The resulting plantation is eccentric but if even twenty percent catch I shall be pleased.

Mass of wild anemones

Actually this is the sort of planting I would really like and there are masses of them all around us at the moment.  Nature is much more cunning than I am.

Wild anemone

The wild anemones are mainly white but some are a delicate violet or pink or a mix of the two (See, What colour is a white wood anemone?)

Pulmonaria

The Pulmonaria and

Violettes

violettes and

Potentilla sterilis

this little white flower are out in abundance in the woods nearby.  The white flower is Potentilla sterilis or the barren strawberry which I have been calling a wild strawberry up until today when I read this post on WordPress from Catbrook Wood.  We do get wild strawberries too, but later, of course.

Polygala myrtifolia

We continue to add as many bee and insect plants as possible into the garden.  Today it was the addition of Polygala myrtifolia.  It is of South African origin and tender but it is well protected in a corner of the front garden although it will need to be covered if we get hard frosts.

Polygala close

It is supposed to flower all year round but more plentifully in the spring.  You can see the stamens full of pollen tempting the bees.

Camelia and bee

Will it be more successful than the Camelia which has a successful but short season?

Osmia cornuta clearing hole (2)

The female Osmia cornuta have arrived to keep me amused.  I was amazed to watch this one decide to clean out a hole another insect has used so that she could re-use it.  I have a variety of empty holes available but she capriciously decided that this one was the one that she wanted.

Blue tit on car (2)

This blue tit has been providing us with entertainment every morning as he tries to see off another male that peers at him from inside our car.  I would imagine it is the spring and the mating season that makes him more aggressive but it does seem that he is rather looking for trouble.

Blue tit on car (1)

These intruders get everywhere if you let them.

Reinette on ferns

Continuing on the theme of garden animals, can you see the one in this picture?

Clue it is exactly in the middle of the photograph and is not easier to see in real life.

Reinette on hand (1)

Give up?  A frog in the hand is easier to spot.  There are a lot of these little tree frogs (Hyla meridionalis) around this year.

 

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A welcome home

Male Osmia cornuta

Back from two weeks holidays and the first thing I saw as the car turned towards the house was the bees flying around my bee hotels.

Male Osmia cornuta waiting

It was so good to see them chasing each other and flying from beehouse to beehouse.

Male Osmia cornuta patient wait

These are the male Osmia cornuta with longer antenna than the female and cute white tufts on their heads.  I don’t know when they hatched out but last year there was a two week gap before the females hatched.  Perhaps this wait weeds out the weak and the impatient.  The males seem to spend most of their time chasing each other or looking longingly inside the holes which must contain females.

Male Osmia cornuta shelters in hole

When there is no sun and it gets cooler they retreat into a spare hole to wait.

They gave me such a welcome back home!


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The first beehive inspection in February 2016

February has been an unusual month for us.  The weathermen told us that the tail end of the storm that passed over Eastern USA, affected our weather also.  The result of it was a drop in temperature and a lot of rain.  The fields on the back of our land once again looked like a lake as the river Seudre broke its banks.

la Seudre Fev 2016

On our side we have a slight mound that protects our land and of course the beehives.

River Seudre Feb 2016

Some days I definitely feel the cold of the late winter, but on other days I get the impression that the spring has once again returned.  Our next door neighbour, Jean-Marie, has kept a few sheep and one has produced a twin and that has added extra excitement for us.

lambs in Feb 2016

I must confess that I have been like a father expecting the arrival of our first child.  I have been perhaps over anxious wanting to open up the beehives and have a proper look inside.   Certainly during the warm parts of each day, the girls have been busy coming and going and bringing loads of pollen. Passing underneath our plum tree you can hear the symphony of bees as they move from one blossom to the other.  Our salix caprea or goat willow, or as it is know here saule marsault, near the river is quite big and its yellow catkins are opening and attracting the bees.  Less than a couple of hundred metres away a field of rape is beginning to flower.  The net results, as you see, is great activity at the hive entrance.

Bees bringing pollen

Amelia and I had a management committee meeting and made a few decisions.  First step was to remove the empty supers that we had placed under each hive to raise the brood box away from the ground.  That was based on the recommendations made by the late Brother Adam of the Buckfast Abbey.  We also used the opportunity to remove the screened bottom boards and cleaned them with washing soda solution.  There was not a lot of debris present.

Beehives made ready for Spring 2016

A couple of days later when the temperature had reached around 14C (58F), we decided to open up the hives one by one.  The main reason for that was that the previous day we had noticed a large number of bees flying around the entrance of each hive.  This looked as if the newly hatched bees were taking their flight of orientation, which meant that the eggs their queens had laid around Christmas must have resulted in new bees emerging from their hives.

Last November we had put partitions in three of our four hives.  So, if there were new bees, the bees might need more frames for brood and food storage.

Our youngest colony, Sunflower, had two partitions on either side, but the remaining seven frames were full of bees.  In autumn we had not removed any frame from Cornucopia, but the other two, Poppy and Violette were similar to Sunflower.  The frames inside the partitioned areas were full of bees.

beehive with partions

We removed the partitions to give room to the colonies to expand. We did not wish to disturb the bees any more that day. So we waited another few days until 26th February 2016, for the full inspection.

The frames with honey on the sides were full of bees and a noticeable quantity of yellow pollen stored.

honey frame in the brood box

We saw what we had hoped to see, that is fairly large area of brood cells as well as larvae.

honeybee brood

Cornucopia, our first swarm of 2015 had 6 frames with brood on either side and four frames heavily laden with honey.  The only little concern was that we found what appeared to us to be one queen cell on frame 7.

Brood cells with one queen cell.

Looking up on the internet, I am lead to believe from FERA that there are 3 distinct type of queen cells, namely swarm cells; supersedure cells; and emergency cells.  Ours appear to me to be a supersedure cell and if so the recommendation is not to destroy it and let the bees sort it out for themselves.  Naturally I would welcome any comment.

One brood arrangement looked to be almost the shape of a bee.

honey bee brood cells.

I have been told that usually when bees fly out, they either bring in nectar or pollen, but not both.  As we upturned the inner cover with a partially eaten candy on top, this little bee came hungrily sucking up some syrup that had oozed out.  But she was already laden with pollen!

honeybee with pollen sucking syrup.

Violette is definitely Amelia’s favourite hive.  She was therefore delighted that when we opened her she could see Her Majesty.  The queen just wandered calmly around the brood cells.  I myself was amazed watching how much pollen they had collected.

queen bee in Violette hive

Having seen the colonies, and especially seeing how full Cornucopia was, we decided that there is so much pollen and nectar around us that we must give more room to Cornucopia.  I was also remembering that the queen cell we had noticed in Cornucopia, and I felt that it is again as good a time as any to give extra room to the colony.  The bees certainly were finding every flower in the garden.  This one was busy on the camelia that has just started flowering.

bee on camelia

On 29th February we placed our first super on Cornucopia with fresh frames. We placed empty supers on the other hives to save us time for the future. Hopefully in 2 to 3 weeks we will examine those hives and see if they are ready to accept fresh frames for collecting the spring honey.

Our 4 beehives near the river Seudre

Kourosh

 


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A February of contradictions

Frozen molehill.JPG

It has not really been a cold month, with hardly any frost but in the middle of the month there was a hard one that froze the molehills, making cunning trip traps for me as I made my way down the garden.  It has been a good winter for the moles.

Frozen daddodils

The frost tried to beat the spring flowers into submission but the daffodils take it in their stride.

Broadbeans

Not so the broad beans that should not be flowering yet.  They are less hardy and have lost their first flowers to the cold.  Will we have a broad bean harvest this year?  It depends on the weather that will follow on.

Frozen HydrangeaSome plants look even better frosted.

Budding HydrangeaBut maybe it is time to clip the old flower heads to let the sun reach the new shoots.

Choisia Sundance

The Choisia Sundance is a star of the winter garden whether frosted or not it adds a splash of colour even in the dull winter days.

Frozen garden

The frosted back garden is quiet.  Although I prefer the cold to the higher than average rainfall we have been having this month.  February has been unusually wet and grey.

Bee on plum flowers.JPGBut it has not prevented the big plum tree from flowering and on the sunny days I can hear a comforting buzz from the bees collecting the pollen and nectar.  The butterflies also visit but not in great numbers.  Last year we had very few plums as the weather was very similar and the newly pollinated flowers were destroyed by a subsequent frost.  I notice that the tree has been opening its flowers slowly so perhaps like this there will be more chance that some fruit will hold if the cold returns.

Hazel flowers

The hazel trees started to push open their discrete flowers in February.  The catkins were already open and presenting their pollen to the wind and any passing bees that might be interested.  I have read that the hazel pollen is a precious source of protein for the bees at this time of year but try as I might I’ve never seen any bees on them let alone steal a photograph.  Those sneaky bees!

Bee in Hellebore

It’s not hard to find bees on the Hellebores, in fact, you’ll hear them first.  The pollen is a dull grey/beige but it must taste good as it is very popular.

Hyacinthe bee

The Hyacinths too are popular with both the honey bees and the queen bumble bees.  But even the bees get lulled into a false sense of spring with a few sunny days.  I found a frozen bumble bee queen one frosty morning futilely  sheltering inside a hyacinth flower.  Why had she not taken better shelter for the night?

Colletes 17.2.2016

The solitary bees have started to appear but I wonder if they regret their early arrival during the rainy days.

Reinette

The Reinettes (Hyla meridionalis) seem content with the situation.  They croak happily on the patio when it is raining and sit serenely soaking up the rays when it is sunny.  It is so good to feel the winter sun after the gloom.