a french garden

We lost Iris

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My camera endoscope ‘Potensic’ arrived by post which enabled me to inspect the inside of the hive Iris without opening it.  It comes with a 5 metres flexible tube that can be bent and pushed through the hive entrance.  It has a powerful light whose intensity can be adjusted easily by hand.  The camera was easy to use and quite effective.  It can be joined to a laptop or a smartphone to take still photos or videos.  I took a couple of pictures.  Sadly, the space between the middle frames looked empty.

snap_001The next day as it was sunny and the temperature was hovering around 16 degrees C (60 F), we decided to open up Iris.  I was saddened to see just three or four bees inside.  The outside frames were full of sealed honey, but no bees.

iris-with-dead-beesThere was  no doubt that they eventually succumbed to the attack by the Asian hornets. There were a few dead bees in the bottom of the hive, plus two dead hornet that had obviously been killed by the brave bees.

The other four hives were still busy, but despite the fact that December has arrived and the night temperatures have been for several nights around zero C, the Asian hornets had not stopped attacking the hives.  Amelia and I had searched the countryside around us during our walks but had not found any hornet nests.  But our friend Patricia told us a couple of nights ago that on cycling around she had seen a nest.  So off we went looking out for it.

img_0034There it was just over a kilometre from our house.  A nest at a height of some thirty metres from the ground.  Now that the trees had lost their leaves the nest was quite visible.  I could see the hornets coming and going.

It is important to note that unlike summer bees who live only 6 to 8 weeks, the winter bees live 3 to 5 months while the queen will be laying a very reduced number of eggs.  Therefore any attack on winter bees will deplete the colony more rapidly and as we found will be quite disasterous.  The other issue we have noted is that there is a misconception that by the end of October, the Asian hornets are all dead and any young queen is hidden in a hollow of a building or a tree until next Spring, when she creates a new colony.  We learnt to our horror that even the first week of December, they were attacking the bees.

After our walk in the country, we went over to see our neighbours Annie and Yvon.  He is the master of the hunt around here.  I showed him the photo and he agreed to come over in the morning with me and do what he could.  The next day we went to the site.  At that height, it is almost impossible to destroy the nest, but Yvon fired four shots in the middle of the nest, making a few large holes in it.  The idea being that the cold will do more damage and the birds will start attacking the nest, thus hastening its demose.  Firing into their nest is considered by many to be dangerous, ineffective and certainly should not be attempted in the summer time.

img_0040You can see one hornet near the top right hand side, and the nest entrance underneath where the hornets enter and leave.  It was a desperate attempt at a desperate situation.

This week the daytime temperatures have really climbed and Amelia and I have managed to have out lunch out in the garden.  She even shed her fleece!

The other four hives have been showing a great deal of activity, as you can see in this short video clip.

We felt sorry for the bees that were crowding around the entrance reducer of their hives.  They were busy bringing in pollen and naturally nectar.

img_0056Amelia felt really sorry for the girls and she asked me to take off the entrance reducer of Viollet, since we have not seen any hornets in the last couple of days.  Amelia has always had a soft spot for Viollet.

img_0074Some of the bees had huge sacs of pollen.  I can assume that although it was sixth of December, the hives still had brood.

We are fotunate that throughout winter there are still enough flowers for the girls to visit and bring in the nectar and pollen.  Gorse is a favourite at the moment, the photograph below was taken on the 7 December 2016.

img_7481Meanwhile. Viollet had finished her 2.5 Kilogram bag of fondant, so we replaced it at the same time as removing her entrance reducer.

One final observation.  When we returned from the UK in early November, we were devastated to see that despite the warm sunny days, the bees were mostly stuck inside their hives and reluctant to come out to face the hornet attack.  Panic and stress is as bad for the bees as it is for us.  So, although we sadly lost Iris, we are so glad that now the other four hives appear to be strong and all of them flying in and out in great numbers and are bringing in pollen.  We hope that the bees and all of us will have a good end to this year, or as the French say:  ‘Une bonne fin d’année’.  An early Merry Christmas to everyone. – Kourosh

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26 thoughts on “We lost Iris

  1. Sorry to hear your news, I dread the day I see Asian hornets here in Cambridge but I think it is inevitable in the end …

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    • Thank you Stephen and I am sorry to have had to share the sad demise of Iris. In October, whilst we were in UK, we heard that the first Asian hornets were spotted in (I think) Gloustershire of all places. The British Beekeepers Association and the Ministry are much more vigilant in the UK than here in France. The nest was searched with heat seeking device and destroyed. Here in France when the first Asian hornets were spotted near Bordeaux just about 8 years ago, the authorities’ attitude was to pass the buck and say it was some else’s responsibility.
      I wish you and the bees in the UK a good winter and a hornet free 2017. – Kourosh

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  2. Hello Khourosh and Amelia.
    Une bonne fin d’annee, to you, or as is said in these parts Nadolig Llawen.
    Indeed sad to hear about the demise of the hive, but on the brighter side, at least the other 4 are looking good. And well done for having a pop at the hornet’s nest – that looks quite a structure. Let’s hope that you’ve seen this colony off. But I guess there will be other overwintering queens, to make it a constant battle ….I’ve disturbed 3 queen wasps this autumn just in general tidying up…they seem to hang out beneath anything providing a bit of protection from the rain,
    Best wishes
    Julian

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    • Thank you for the comment. In Spring, I captured and destroyed more than 100 Asian hornet queens. My beekeeper friend, Michel only a couple of kilometres away also captured similar numbers. What would have happened if we had not!!!
      As you say the fight continues; we win a few battles here and there, and sadly there will be casualties. That, we have to accept philosophically as a fact of life – or nature. – Kourosh

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  3. I’m glad you found the hornet’s nest, and that the four other hives are fine. Sorry about Iris.

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    • Thank you. The sadness for us was that she was our last division from Viollet. She did so well during summer and even made us honey. But the others seem to be doing OK. – Kourosh

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  4. I’m sorry to hear about Iris. You’ll need to be extra diligent in the spring to continue your wasp eradication problem. We had a late start this year, and by early summer the yellow jackets were clearly in charge. We’re ready for spring, now–with traps at the ready.
    These mild autumn conditions are very hard on our bees. It’s warm enough to be out and about, but (unlike you) there’s nothing in bloom here. The bees are active and eat through what should be their winter stores. We must supplement, or they won’t make it to Spring.
    Finally, this week true winter has set in. Subzero temperatures and snow will make the bees hunker down. They have ample honey, and ten pounds of “candy board” sugar, as insurance. The hives have been fitted with pine shavings at the top–to absorb excess moisture. And then we’ve wrapped and topped each hive with R 7.5 rigid insulation. They are safe from winds and, hopefully cozy.

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    • Thank you for your comments. It is so nice for us to share and compare the experience of other beekeepers around the world. We certainly all need to be even more vigilant.
      As for ‘nothing in bloom’, I attended a beekeepers meeting last summer and a speeker presented a pan European study which showed that because of loss of habitat, pesticide, etc, the bees rely more and more in your own garden and vicinity. That is why Amelia has replaced most of our trees and shrubs exclusively suitable the pollinators. Every time I suggest something new, she asks: ‘is it good for the bees?
      We are truly lucky that the winters here rarely stay too low for long and there is always something for the bees on warm sunny days.
      Good luck with your bees. – Kourosh

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  5. My condolences for your loss of Iris and her brood. Is it common to have so many colonies of those wasps? I do hope the experts in your area can aid you in finding a solution to the invaders.
    I do wish you both a most Merry Christmas and a joyous New Year.

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  6. Dear Kourosh, We beekeepers become so attached to our valiant bees. We are reduced to one hive – hoping we will get it through winter and be able to split in the spring.
    Many people ask me how much honey we take. In fact we take almost nothing – just a sampling really. We receive so much pleasure from their coming and going. Only wish I had more space to plant more shrubs etc for them.
    Temperatures dropped to -7 C last night and Boundary Bay looks like the wastes of Siberia with ice waves formed on the tidal waters.
    Plan to fog the hive mid January with Oxylic Acid.
    The yellow jacket wasps were relentless this year in Vancouver. Our wasp traps will be out early.
    All the best and continued success with your family of bees.
    Regards Janine in BC Canada

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    • Dear Janne,
      It is so nice to hear from you ‘across the water’ and being able to share our experience and our joy of keeping bees. Like you, we do not keep bees to make and certainly not to sell honey. The pleasure is just watching these beautiful ladies at work. AND, of course being able to share- partage- their tasty nectar with friends and neighbours.
      Last year we divided our favourite hive twice and both were very successful and even gave us honey. In fact we made so much honey with our five hives that we gave half to our beekeeper friend who had lost most of his hives. We also captured eleven swarms in our garden and filled every nuc and gave it to him, too.
      We are blessed that in this region the winters are sufficiently mild that the wild flower keep our bees quite active in warm days. They are hardly ever without brood.
      Perhaps our traps for Asian hornets will also work for your yellow jackets?
      In any case, I wish to all the best for Christmas and hope that next Spring will bring much better news for all us. – Kourosh

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  7. John, thank you. In Spring we destroyed many queen hornets and thankfully as the result we found only this one colony. But each colony can be upward of five thousand hornets. So the damage they cause is tremendous. Next year we have to remain even more vigilant.
    Have a peaceful Christmas, and let’s hope 2017 will be a great year for all of us. – Kourosh

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  8. So sorry you lost your hive to those evil invaders! I hope your attempt to exterminate that nest will work. Keep us posted on its condition. Wishing you and Amelia a wonderful Christmas season!

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    • Thank you, Mark.
      We will do our best with the bees and will keep our fingers crossed.
      You, too, we hope will have peaceful Christmas. – Kourosh

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  9. Those poor poor bees. I feel bad that us humans are the cause of their death through bringing a foreign species into their environment.

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    • Thanks, Emily.
      It is so disappointing that when the first nest of Asian hornets was spotted in France (near Bordeaux), only about eight years ago, the attitude of the authorities was that it was always someone else’s responsibility. I am so glad that the UK acted fast and hopefully will stop the spread.
      Have a wonderful Christmas with your family. – Kourosh and Amelia

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  10. I Hope you’ll be able to find a way to either defeat or outsmart the hornets. It’s too bad to lose so many bees.

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  11. I hope the hornets’ nest is in decline now.

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  12. We hope so. Certainly the season is changing and we have not seen any near the hives in the last few days. – Kourosh

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  13. I discovered today that our Communauté de Communes will reimburse up to €150 on presentation of an invoice for the professional destruction of an Asian Hornet nest. That should encourage a lot more people to deal with them properly instead of just leaving them. They have an obligation to deal with them, but like I commented on an earlier post of yours, the public purse really needs to absorb the cost or people will do nothing.

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    • Thanks, Susan. That is very interesting. There are Communautés in France that are far more forward looking than others. For example, there are those that do their ‘fauchage tardif’ that is NOT cutting down the edges of the roads when they are full of wild flowers. Ours, sadly is not among those. But we live in hope!
      The federation of beekeepers are hoping that next year the conseil municipal will be more active in destroying the hornet nests. Last year when I talked to the deputy maire, he told me that yes the law asks that the conseil municipal should destroy the hornet nests, but, he said: ‘the law does not say who should pay for it’. Strange reaction, but that is France for us.
      Have a good christmas and let’s hope that next year will be a good one. – Kourosh

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