Still running to catch up with April

Ouside front garden

I feel guilty about our front garden.  Recently I have not been able to give it much attention and yet even the outside wall looks pretty with plants put in years ago.

Front garden less lilac

We did manage to remove an old lilac tree early last autumn which has left us with a very blank wall.  But I hope that other plants will be tall enough to remedy the situation by next year.

Spirea butterfly

The white Spirea provides a bright distraction but does not attract much insect life apart from an odd butterfly in transit.

Front garden fuschia (3)

Not so my Choisya Sundance!  It has lit up a shady wall all through the winter and is now full of fragrant flowers.

Choisia bee

Its flowers are beautiful, perfumed and the pollen seems to be appreciated by this wild bee.

Tree peony all

The tree peony is out and doing its bit to brighten up the wall.

Tree peopny flower

The flowers are large and lightly scented.

Cerinthe Anthophora

The ground in front of the tree peony is covered by Cerinthe which has self-seeded.  In the sunshine there is a constant buzz from the Anthophora bees…

Cerinthe Bombus pratorum

and the bumble bees.

Camassia Leichtlinii caerulea

On the front patio I’ve planted three Camassia Leichtlinii caerulea.  Last year I planted Camassia cusickii which I preferred but still I have plenty of bumble bees to watch as I have my morning coffee.

Lemon flower bombus pratorum

Then they obligingly move onto the potted lemon tree to help with the pollination there (this time it is a Bombus pratorum doing her pollinating stuff).

Front garden fuschia (2)

The Wisteria is the main feature of the front garden at the moment and it makes it presence known with its heavy perfume.Wisteria Carpenter

With Wisteria in France the Carpenter bees are ever present as well as the different kinds of bumble bees.

Wisteria bee

The honey bees come too but I doubt if they would get much nectar from the flowers if it had not been for the Carpenters and bumble bees leaving holes in the flowers to provide access for them.

Front garden fuschia (1)

All summer long my hardy fuschia puts up a marvellous show but I have neglected it this year and now new shoots are growing on the old stems that I should have cut down months ago.

Back garden ex pine spot

The back garden and the bees have taken up too much of my time this year.

Back garden ex pine

I am pleased with the willows put in as a screen where we frequently sit.

Dark tulip

The dark tulips grow in front of the willows.  Their petals are so dark that there seems a blush on their surface.

Quince flower bumble

The cherry and apple trees are in flower but the Quince tree is a particular favourite with all the bees but more about the Quince tree later.

Wisteria tree (2)

A couple of years ago we decided to try to grow a Wisteria into a tree.  Actually, two survived the first stage and we put the best in a selected, choice situation.  We did not know what to do with the other so we stuck it in the hedge.  Yes, the good one died leaving the survivor to hang over the fence!

Natural arrangement

Perhaps that is one of the charms of gardening that things don’t always turn out as you expect them to.  I left this dry, hollow log unadorned on a flower bed but by springtime Nature had adorned it with several mosses and a “wild” flower.  Left to itself it is prettier than anything I could have confectioned.



The bees swarm again

A  few days ago I wrote how queen Violette decided to swarm and then changed her mind and went back.  Amelia and I opened up the hive after they settled down and made an artificial swarm, as we had found a couple of queen cells in the hive.  One was already closed, and so we expected a virgin queen to be born before too long.

We do not wish to count our chickens before they are hatched, so we have been reluctant to give a name to that small (six frame) hive until we are sure they have a fertilised queen.  That reminded us that when we lived in Athens, the Greeks would not name a baby until he or she was christened in church.  Until then the baby was simply called ‘το μωρό’ – the baby – pronounced as ‘to moro’.  So we also called the new hive ‘to moro’.

One week later we decided to open up Violette, as she has not swarmed for a second time.  This time we found six or seven queen cells on one frame.  We took the frame up with the nurse bees once again and placed it together with another brood frame from Poppy without her bees.  We made up another mini (six frame) hive.  ‘So what shall we call this one?’,  Amelia asked.  As I was born in Iran, I suggested we call her ‘pasfarda‘ – that means ‘the day after tomorrow’!  We closed up the little hive and housed her in the cellar once again for two night with the hope of placing her at the end of the garden.

The following day we checked on ‘to moro‘ at the end of the garden as well as ‘pasfarda‘ in the cellar.  We fed them both 2:1 syrup.  We settled down in the garden for a quiet lunch.

But ‘why’, I asked Amelia, ‘look at Sunflower.  She seems to be unusually excited.  I think she is considering swarming.’

Sunflower before swarming

So we continued eating our lunch with one eye on Sunflower.  Yes, it did appear that they were, as they call it here, were making a beard on the hive.

Sunflower 'faire une barbe'

However, by the time we finished eating, it seemed that once again the hive had become calm and we could not see many bees on the outside.  ‘Oh, well,’ we thought, ‘just like Violette, the queen in Sunflower must have gone back inside.

It was not until late afternoon that I put on my bee-suit to see how the little ladies were doing.  I approached Sunflower and saw something that I had not expected.  She had in fact swarmed, but the queen must have been ‘so attached’ to her old home that she had formed a swarm just under the hive.

Hive swarmed under her own hive

So another call to our beekeeper friend, Michel.  ‘How do we catch a swarm from under a hive?’  As he lives only a few minutes away, he turned up rapidly for a quick inspection.

Inspecting a swarm under the hive

Even he admitted that it was a bit tricky and as the evening was drawing in, he suggested we leave them until the morning and see what her majesty had decided to do.

Early in the morning, before breakfast, I visited the hive and found that the swarm had slept outdoors all night.

Swarm under the hive

I decided to close up Sunflower, and also the mini hive (to moro), next to her.  The latter I removed a bit further away so as she does not get knocked down.

Michel came a little later, armed with a pair of trestles, which we placed near the hive.

Step one in recovering the swarm

Next step was to place an empty mini hive under the trestle and then very gently lift Sunflower together with her super ….

Lifting the hive

…  and placed it on the trestle.

Placing the hive with the swarm on a trestle

Now we had to brush the swarm gently and let them drop into the empty mini hive.

brushing the swarm into the mini hive

Apart from a lot of bees on our clothes all went well and the mini hive ‘ruchette’ was closed up.

Swarm transferred to ruchette

Sunflower was lifted once again on her own stand and opened up.  The bees from the swarm that were still on the blanket and on the ground started marching into the mini hive.

Successful transfer of swarm to hive

I replaced ‘to moro’ back next to Sunflower and brought ‘pasfarda‘ out of the cellar.

The two ruchettes and the hive of Sunflower

The following day 14th April, the sky was cloudy, despite the 18 degrees temperature.  By lunch time it started raining lightly.  I suggested to Amelia that we go to our nearest big town, Saintes, as I wished to buy a few things.  We returned late afternoon and I went to empty the Asian hornet traps as I have caught a total of nine queens in the last week.  By then it was nearly 7 pm and I decided to go and have a last look at the bees before turning in.

‘Stop. Amelia’, I shouted.  This time Poppy has swarmed.  She must have swarmed whilst we were away as we had not notice them agitated around their hive.  They must have picked up the scent that Violette had placed on the quince tree and swarmed in the same place.

Poppy swarmed on the quince tree

Despite the lateness in the day, I needed to make another quick call to Michel.  ‘What would I do without you?’  He is always kind and calm.  ‘Qu’est-ce qui s’est passé?‘  I explained what has happened.

Once again he arrived in less than five minutes to give us assistance.  But before his arrival, Amelia and I prepared a ‘ruchette’ – a six frame hive.

Collecting bee swarm from quince tree

The bees were gently brushed into the empty hive and the frames inserted and the top closed.  We placed the hive at the base of the tree and the rest of the bees that were still on the tree and those that had fallen on the ground simply matched in.  In this short video you can actually see the rest of the bees walking into the hive.

I have promised myself not to keep more than four hives.  So I offered it to Michel.

swarm collcted. The rest of the bees simply marched into the hive.

I am beginning to wonder if we are too kind to our bees and they don’t really wish to go far away from our garden.

Dinner that night was rather late!   – Kourosh

Still running to keep up

Garden April 2016

The winter was mild and now the spring is coming, as it should, with sunshine and rain showers but I am still running to keep up with the changing season.

The star of the moment is the Amelanchier – the blurry, white blossoming in the middle of the photograph above.  It looks better for real.

Bee in Amelanchier

It attracts some honey bees and bumble bees.

Bumble bee in Ribes Pulborough Scarlet

I have been so pleased this year with my Ribes sanguineum “Pulborough Scarlet” as I have managed to kill off two different varieties over the years before they even flowered.  They are usually hardy shrubs but I am pleased that this one looks very healthy and has the pulling power for the bees that I had been hoping for.

Halictus in Ribes

These tiny bees appreciate the flowers as much as the large bumble bees do.

Bee in Coronilla

The Coronilla, coaxed from cuttings from a friend’s garden, has been flowering through the winter but on sunny days its perfume becomes strong and I notice the bees in its flowers.

Anthophora in Coronilla

Perhaps the plant only produces the perfume and nectar to coincide with times when pollinators are likely to be around.

Prunus mahaleb

Another new comer is Prunus mahaleb which I planted at the beginning of last December and has now flowered despite it only being about 90 cm. tall.  It seems to be living up to expectations of lots of flowers from this little tree.


We are glad there are plenty of bees around as the cherry and plum trees are flowering.

Quince flowers

I have always been fond of our quince tree but now it appears to have become a firm favourite of our bees too!


I do love the birds we get in our garden too, so I was very happy to see the first redstarts returning.  I was rather pleased with this photograph of one seeing as it was taken with a 100 mm. Macro lens at about 25 metres distance!

Bumble in broad beans

Our broad beans, despite one cold spell, have come through the winter well and the bumble bees are making sure that I will have plenty of broad beans to shell and peel.

Outside the garden is particularly beautiful this year after a second wet winter in a row.  Bluebells, anemones, violets and Asphodel are shooting up in places I have never seen them before.  I just bent to take a picture of some Stitchwort when at the last moment I saw a dappled white butterfly watching me.

Dappled white butterfly

Another example of great camouflage.

A swarm in April can change its mind

Amelia and went on a couple of weeks of holiday in March, but before that we made our first inspection of the four hives.  All four hives seemed be doing well but we discovered that although Cornucopia, our strongest hive had six frames of brood cells, she had also built queen cells on one frame.  After some agonizing, it seemed to us that the best course of action was to let it bee (sorry!).  So we kept our fingers crossed and left to go on holiday.

Our bee hives at Virollet

Two weeks later on our return we once again opened Cornucopia for inspection and saw plenty of bees, but sadly all those lovely broods had disappeared.  The explanations we could think of was that either something had happened to queen Cornucopia or she had swarmed and a new queen had actually emerged but in such an early season could not be mated.

Whatever the reasons, that only the bees were aware of, we felt that we had very little choice left.  We had to act quickly.  The most obvious solution was to merge Cornucopia bees with Sunflower, which was our youngest and hence smallest colony.  We did so using the newspaper method, that is we removed the crown board of Sunflower, placed a sheet of (English newspaper, of course) on top of the frames, followed by a queen excluder and then placed Cornucopia on top.

Bee hives being united by newspaper method

We left them in place for a week, allowing the bees in Cornucopia to get used to the pheromone of Sunflower queen and accept her as their new queen and the bees in Sunflower also accept the newcomers.  We watched them regularly and there was absolutely no war between them.  Interestingly we were told that the bees chew away the newspaper and we would find scraps of paper under the hive.  We saw no debris, but then Amelia actually observed the bees carrying away bits of newspaper high in the sky far away from the hive.

After a week we lifted Cornucopia and saw no sign of the newspaper.  All had been removed by the bees (I hope that improved their English).  We checked there was no queen in Cornucopia then shook and brushed the remaining bees down to Sunflower.   There was only a few minutes of upset at our intrusion.  We wondered that at the end if some of the bees might have drifted and been accepted by other two hives.

beehives just successfully united

At this time of the year there are acres of fields with rapeseed in flower no more than a hundred yards from our house.  The bees collect nectar to make honey….

A bee collecting nectar from rapeseed flower

…… and, as you can see, they also collect pollen.

A bee with pollen also collecting nectar from rapeseed flower

However, we never see large numbers of bees on the rape seed flowers.

We inspected the other hives.  We saw lots of bee on the inside of the crown board of Violette actually building beautiful honeycombs.  That seemed a sure sign that we need to place supers on all the hives.

Bees building honeycombs on crown board

So far so good, we thought, until a few days later we observed that Amelia’s favourite beehive, Violette, was apparently considering swarming. Here in France they call it ‘faire une barbe’ (to make a beard).

bees getting ready to swarm - faire une barbe

We know that there is no sure method to prevent swarming, but if there was a queen cell in the hive, then perhaps we could divide the hive.  We quickly put on our bee suits and prepared a hive ready in case on opening Violette we might see queen cells.  Returning only a few metres away from the hive, I shouted to Amelia, who had the honour of pushing the wheelbarrow, to stop.  It appeared that we were too late and Violette had already swarmed on the quince tree nearby.

bees just swarmed on the nearby quince tree

So we were left to wonder if we can persuade them to ‘walk in’ their new home, or should we just bring in a bucket to collect the swarm.  Meanwhile, queen Violette, like some ladies, could not make up her mind.  In the end, she made the first move; she decided to go back home!

Bee swarm returned back to their original hive

In this short video you can actually see the bees walking up the stand into their hive.

We waited and waited until they all returned andhad obviously gone off swarming.  Impatient, as I am, I opted for opening the hive and see what was inside.  Sure enough apart from plenty of brood cells, there was a closed queen cells as well as unclosed cell with royal jelly in it.  I made the decision of removing two frames with the queen cells and plenty of nurse bees, plus a honey frame and placed it in a six frame hive (ruchette).  The wisdom is to place the mini hive some three kilometres away, or keep it in a dark cellar for two nights.  We opted for the second option and closed the entrance and kept them in the dark feeding them syrup.

After two nights, we place the mini hive near the other hives and opened her up.  The theory is that the nurse bees will not abandon the brood.  Sure enough all appears calm – for now.

Mini hive placed in the apiary

I don’t have the heart to cut the daisies in front of the hive, which now form a beautiful white carpet.  We will have to wait about a month to see if a new queen is born and can go on her nuptial flight.

But in the meantime will Violette and the other two hives swarm?  Only time will tell.

Just before closing, as this is after all a gardening blog, I have recently seen what I think is a black cap visiting our seed tray.  Hopefully someone can tell me if it is indeed a black cap.

A black cap on seed tray

  • Kourosh