a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France

The bees in December


We celebrated the first of December by taking the muzzles off the front of the hives.  A cold spell had at last stopped the hornet attacks.

It was good to see the bees free at last and flying unimpeded by the wire netting.  We put on entrance reducers to keep them cosy.

Kourosh is very proud of his Loquat (Eriobotrya japonica) tree and rightly so, as he grew it from the seeds we recovered from the fruit that we had eaten in the U.K, only seven years ago.  We were looking forward to seeing the bees enjoying the flowers as they had done last year.

Then more cold weather and frosts hit, freezing the flowers.  Our dry spell has at last ended and we have had rain.  The days have been often cloudy and damp.  Low temperatures and rain keep the bees clustered in their hives.  We miss watching them and it keeps us out of the garden.

This last week we have had some sunny days and the frost and cold weather has not damaged the Loquat flowers.

What does surprise me is that the bees fly to the Loquat tree when the air temperature is no higher than 9 degrees Centigrade.

You can see the bee dipping her tongue into the flower to dab up the nectar that has been warmed by the sun.  The flowers are also well insulated by the sepals which are covered by fluffy hairs.

The flowers also supply a plentiful pollen and you could see the pollen sacs growing as you watched an individual bee.

This bee is moistening the pollen in her front legs before passing it back to join the rest of the bundle stuck to her back legs.


Sometimes it all becomes too much and she has to sit on a leaf and have a good groom and retrieve all the sticky pollen in peace.

I noticed that at 9 degrees Centigrade the bees were only on the Loquat tree and the Winter Flowering Honeysuckle which are both very close to their hives.

However, yesterday when the temperature went up to 10.5 degrees Centigrade the bees flew further to the Mahonia and…

even the winter flowering heather which is in the front garden.  A warmer couple of days must be making them more adventurous.  I  have seen no queen bumble bees at these temperatures.  They should be hibernating in a shady spot that will not be over-heated by the sun as they are on their own and coming out at these low air temperatures would not be wise as they have no warm hive and cluster of bees to keep them warm.

I also noticed my first Hellebore in the front garden but the others have still a long way to go, so the bees will have to wait a bit for their next treat.

Author: afrenchgarden

Born in Scotland I have lived in England, Iran, USA and Greece. The house and land was bought twelve years ago in fulfilment of the dream of living in France that my Francophile husband nurtured. We had spent frequent holidays in France touring the more northerly parts and enjoying the food, scenery, architecture and of course gardens. However, we felt that to retire in France and enjoy a more clement climate than we currently had in Aberdeen we would need to find somewhere south of the river Loire but not too south to make returning to visit the UK onerous. The year 2000 saw us buying our house and setting it up to receive us and the family on holidays. The garden was more a field and we were helped by my son to remove the fencing that had separated the previous owners’ goats, sheep and chickens. We did inherit some lovely old trees and decided to plant more fruit trees that would survive and mature with the minimum of care until we took up permanent residence. The move took place in 2006 and the love hate relation with the “garden” started. There was so much to do in the house that there was little energy left for the hard tasks in the garden. It was very much a slow process and a steep learning curve. Expenditures have been kept to a minimum. The majority of the plants have been cuttings and I try to gather seeds wherever I can. The fruit trees have all been bought but we have tender hearts and cannot resist the little unloved shrub at a discount price and take it as a matter of honour to nurse it back to health. This year I have launched my Blog hoping to reach out to other gardeners in other countries. My aim is to make a garden for people to enjoy, providing shady and sunny spots with plants that enjoy living in this area with its limestone based subsoil and low rainfall in a warm summer. Exchanging ideas and exploring mutual problems will enrich my experience trying to form my French garden.

26 thoughts on “The bees in December

  1. I am amazed at how much is available for the bees even in cold weather. The loquat is obviously a real bee pleaser.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. We did not realise how good the flowers would be for the bees before we planted the tree. How lucky we were that we planted the tree in that spot before we even had the bees! Amelia


  3. Many people here tell me they don’t get fruit from their loquats because the flowers freeze; from what you’re saying I think it is probably another reason! I really wish I’d planted one, but I may still try to find a spot for one.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh, I’m jealous of your mild winters. So many winter flowering plants. Our winters are white–and not with blossoms. Our bees are clustered in their hives. We’re hoping that our summer and autumn beekeeping efforts (mostly at varroa control) will bring the bees safely through the winter. In the meantime, we’ll watch yours.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. A lovely chronicle of your bees’ current life. A couple of days ago I was watching buff-tailed bumblebees flying and feeding at a temperature of about 10 degrees in a seaside garden. The difference may be that near the sea there are few if any overnight frosts.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. You get amazing photos. I love seeing how happy the bees are in your garden. Do buff-tailed bumblebees colonies continue overwinter in France as they do in southern England (as Philip mentions!)?

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I`m glad your drought is over. I also hope the cold weather will help reduce the hornet population.

    Liked by 1 person

    • A Chinese research group has been able to isolate a natural pheromone in 2017 from the Asian hornet (Vespa velutina) that attracts the males. I hope this will be commercialised to provide a specific lure that would not be harmful to other insects. Amelia

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Once again I send my thanks for my continuing education about your bees. I’m glad to see they are fending for themselves so well. I hope that you, Amelia and Kourosh, have a blessed Christmas. John

    Liked by 1 person

  9. That is a nice loquat for such a young age. They used to be more common here, but are rather obscure now. They are not as productive as they used to be. There are more diseases that affect them now, and the fruit often rots before it ripens.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I guess different flowers produce nectar at different temperatures. I have observed, in the spring the hawthorn doesn’t produce necture untill a noticeable rise in temperature. The honey bees here were working on the Mahonia on a sunny day last week.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. It certainly needs high temperatures. Some believe the old proverb ‘Don’t shed a clout until May is out ‘ refers to the flower not the month.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Again beautiful photos! I was surprised at how perfect the bee’s wings were when it is so late in the year. Surely they all hatched back in the summer and would have put in pleny of flying miles since then, yet I see no tattered wings. They should be able to survive easily into spring! Lovely little girls 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  13. That is an interesting comment! Our winter bees are supposedly born in the autumn (Oct./Nov.?) to last through the winter. I have never noticed very tattered looking honey bees although I will now pay more attention this spring. We looked under the hives at the same time and Poppy seemed to have three seams of brood (not the full length of the hive) so I just wonder how much brood they are rearing in winter yet when you read in the bee magazines that this is the time where they are practically broodless. It is lovely to see them out after a cold spell. Amelia


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