a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France


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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