a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France


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The Ash Tree

Ash trees border

She refuses to be another daisy,
Picked for her beauty and left to die,
She is pure, wild, fearless and free.
Difficult to find even with an open eye.
Yet as grounded as the mighty ash tree.
She wears strength on her leaves,
And when darkness bereaves,
She does not fear,
She becomes it.                                     ( The Ash Tree by Ashley Wilson)

Along our border, we had a whole line of mighty ash trees.  During the past few years we have lost three during summer storms.  Lucien, my old neighbour told me that he planted them when he was very young.  He is no longer with us,  but his memory through these trees, that now must be nearly a hundred years old, will remain.

Ash trees

They provide a great deal of shade and in summer Amelia and I love them and sometimes curse them as they provide too much shade to the vegetable garden.

The ash tree (Fraxinus) flowers are pretty enough but do not appear to interest our bees.

The ash trees have both male and female flowers that can appear on different trees or on different branches.  We do get a lot of flowers on our ash trees but they seem to attract very few pollinators.

So, a couple of years ago, Amelia chose another variety, the flowering ash tree (Fraxinus Ornus).  We bought a tree which is some three meters tall, and has started to flower beautifully.

Flowering Ash Tree

And I am delighted that its flowers do indeed attract both the bumble bees as well as our honey bees,

Fraxinus Ornus (1)

Although this little lady is carrying pollen, I think that she is also sucking nectar.

Fraxinus Ornus (2)

Ashley Wilson, at the end of her poem notes that for the Celts, the Ash tree was considered as the guardian of children and represented resurrection and renewal.  To the druids, the ash tree represented the realm between the sky and the earth.

So I hope that in these troubled times, our ash trees – both types – will be a sign of renewal into Spring and Summer and that they will be the guardian of our little bees.

Kourosh

 


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A queen is born

There are several aspects of beekeeping that I find quite fascinating.

Opening a hive gives me an immediate idea of how the entire colony is behaving.  Last week, for example, Amelia and I opened the hive with the swarm that we had captured on 31st March.   Straight away we could see that in the intervening two weeks, the colony had build up wax on all ten frames and were evidently quite busy.  That for us was already a good sign.

 

Opening a hive

Lifting a frame one by one we saw that they had made plenty of honey in reserve and had nice closed brood cells.  Brood cells for the (female) worker bees have a uniform roundness to them

bees around closed brrod cells

In the middle we could see one or two larvae not yet closed.  The bees were busy feeding the young larvae.

I love looking  at the different colour of pollen stocked fairly close by the brood cells for the nurse bees to use, feeding the young larvae.

colour of polen

We always look to see if there are open or closed queen cells.  The colony sometimes decide to make a new queen, if they sense that the old queen is not up to the mark.  Other times a strong colony makes a queen cell to create a new queen just before the old queen with nearly half the colony swarms.  The queen cells are much longer than brood cells for worker bees.

opened queen cell

Our friend Michel the beekeeper had a few days ago mentioned that he had apparently lost the queen in one of his hives.  That can happen as result of an accident whilst inspecting a hive or for a variety of other reasons.

A few days ago we helped another beekeeper friend divide a very busy hive that he keeps near our house.  The colony had up to fifteen queen cells all closed.  They made two divisions from that hive, but I asked to separate two or three closed queen cells so that we might be able to save Michel’s colony by transferring one queen cell.  The queen cells with a small amount of joining wax was cut out by a knife and placed a plastic container and brought to our house.   As it so happens, in the short distance of some 100 metres to our house, one of the queens was born.

One often as beekeeper hears about the piping of a queen, but even for an experienced beekeeper it is rare to actually hear a queen piping (Le chant de la reine).  You can see the peanut shell shapes of the queen cells and the queen in the plastic box.  She actually had two different songs (!) but I was lucky to be able to record her at least piping.  You can listen as it takes only a few seconds.

Michel came over and collected the queen and later placed her in a little “cage” closed with candy at one end, and introduced her between two frames in his hives.  After getting used to the new queen the bees chew the candy and the queen enters the hive.

Kourosh

 


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Colour in April

Border in front gdn

This part of the front garden border provides lots of colour near the house but I have not planted anything there for years.  I first sowed forget-me-nots in the garden over ten years ago and that one sowing was all that was needed to ensure their appearance every spring.  Sure they will have to be hauled out later in the year as they get untidy, but it is nice to see them again in spring.  I am getting a bit worried about the white alliums though and I think I might have to be more severe this year.

Honesty

Kourosh flung a handful of Honesty seeds in front of the green plastic composteur and that has created a bright screen that I expect will be self perpetuating.

Male orange tip Anthocharis cardamines

The Honesty is very popular with all the pollinators and I see a lot of orange tip butterflies on it.

Showing off-001

This is a male Anthocharis cardamines.  They look so good against the purple petals,  I wonder if he is just showing off.

Iris

The purple Iris outside the front walls are beautiful and provide lots of colour but I have a difference of opinion with Kourosh here that they create too much work.  After the flowers have past I find that Iris stems provide ideal nursery spaces for all sorts of weeds and prevent efficient strimming along the base of the wall.

Choisya Sundance (1)

Contrary to the Iris, is the Choisya “Sundance” which is in flower just now and is a workhorse.  It gives you perfumed flowers and the yellow, evergreen foliage light up the winter garden.

L.tatarica

Another impressive evergreen is my Lonicera tatarica.  It is in flower just now and survives in a dry, shaded spot in the back garden.

Camassia in pots

I don’t keep too many pots, but I love to have pots of Camassia on the patio at this time of year.  They attract a lot of bumble bees, so as soon as the sun is out in the morning we are out with a coffee and the bees are on the Camassia.

Carder in Camassia (1)

The queen bumble bees make a lot of noise as they go about their morning tasks.

Anthophora in Camassia.JPG

The Anthophora bees are frequent visitors too.  This could even be a female A. plumipes as we have only the grey females here.

Victoria plum tree

In the back garden it is the Victoria plum tree that attracts the bees at the moment.

Andrena fulva in plum tree

I am pretty sure that this is an Andrena fulva.

Bee in plum tree

However, this one I am not so sure of, but it might be an Andrena flavipes or Andrena nitida – see comments.  All comers are very welcome on the plum tree.

Thyme

Another flower attracting all comers is the thyme.

Thyme and tulips

I started this thyme off to cover a difficult patch between two tree.  I had already tried other options but this is thyme taken from patches growing wild in the garden and I have supported it by covering the edges with wood chip.  The tulips are from a previous idea and I’ll let them fight it out themselves as they seem pretty determined.

I am very happy with its spread and I am considering using it in other places to inhibit weeds in sunny spots.

Cerinthe

This is a clump of self-sown Cerinthe.  Probably the biggest draw for solitary bees in the garden at the moment.  It is so thickly sown that it has completely suppressed weeds (well the nasty ones, I am not counting the borage and a bit of fumitory).  So, I cannot ask for more colour or more bees from this clump of flowers.

 


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Spring update on the bees

Well, at last the Spring is here (I think!).  I know that because it is now two weeks since we started hearing the Cuckoo.  It is also because the birds have started pairing and courting.

Pair of doves

And… our tortoises have eventually come out of hibernation.

IMG_0033

The  birds we rarely see in the garden in winter, including the green finch

Greenfinch

and the green woodpecker, have returned.

Woodpecker

As for our bee hives, unfortunately we lost one of our bee colonies – Iris – to the Asian hornets last November.  The hornets don’t just destroy the colonies, but weaken them  in autumn at exactly the time that the colonies need to produce the winter bees to keep them warm and stock up with provisions for the winter.  So perhaps Iris was not a strong enough queen to keep up producing enough young to replace the losses.

But we were very lucky.  In this region of France, the Charente-Maritime –  many bee keepers  have lost large numbers of hives this past year – on average more than 50%.  One beekeeper friend near us lost 10 out of a total of ten hives.  Another has lost six out of seven hives.  So we have taken it upon ourselves to give a helping hand to our friends.

The bees maintain a temperature inside their hive of over 30 degrees centigrade,  In February the outside temperature is still low to inspect the interior of the hives, but one can get a very good idea by just observing their coming and going.  If they bring in pollen that is a sure sign that they have brood and need to feed the young.  So by clicking on the link (1 min 07 sec.), I invite you to see what the entrance of one of our hives looked like on 16th February with outside temperature of 7-8 degrees centigrade.  You can also notice three different colours of pollen brought in by the bees.

Strangely, now that the weather has improved the bees do not come out until it warms up to over 10 degrees centigrade.

Our other four hives have survived the winter and emerged as strong colonies, and the inspection in March showed that they have strong broods on three or even four frames in March.

IMG_0144

At the end of March we decided to divide two colonies – Pissenlit (Dandelion) and also Tournesol (Sunflower) – These were our two strongest colonies.

The division of a hive is in theory to expand the number of colonies and also to prevent the almost annual swarming of a hive – although we have found that when the swarm fever sets in a colony, nothing will prevent them from swarming.

One can remove a brood frame with a queen cell, if it is observed, and make a new colony, or one can remove a frame without the queen or queen cell, but containing fresh eggs, and hope that the colony will make their own new queen.

In both hives we found the queen and removed the frame with the queen.  We decided to give away our queens plus  two frames of broods and plenty of bees.  Our friends are naturally delighted and the bees are expanding at a fast rate.  This means that we have now two orphan colonies.  We hope that they will make new queens.  So like expectant parents we just keep our fingers crossed.

We have meanwhile placed a six-frame beehive above the old hen-house to attract any passing swarm.  During the last few years we have caught a number of swarms there.

Hive on the old hen house

The scouts bees have already started coming each day.  So we wait and see what happens this year.

There is plenty of flowering shrubs and flowering fruit trees at the moment for the bees. This little lady has been taking pollen from the Camellia

bee on camelia 1-001

She emerged laden with pollen.

bee on camelia 2

Meanwhile on Sunday 31st March, whilst entertaining an old friend for lunch a large swam arrived on the quince tree at about one pm.

New Swarm March 2019

All thought of lunch was put aside as Amelia and I rushed to put on our bee suits.

We placed a sheet under the quince tree which is full of blossoms.  I shook the lowest branch vigorously  and caught the swarm directly in Iris’s old hive and left her there until the evening to let them settle in.  As the queen was now inside, the rest of the bees you can see below on the outside of the hive just marched inside.  They were really gentle and the operation was very smooth.

This is the first time we have put a swarm directly into a full sized hive, previously we have used the smaller 6 frame hive to collect swarms.  As this was a large swarm we feel it was a good choice.

swarm hived

Quite a few of the bees in the swarm were carrying pollen, which I thought was unusual.  Then on Monday morning at about 9 am I saw the new hive was bringing in pollen.  Again strange as I had placed undrawn wax sheet on the frames and surely, I thought, the bees have not had the time to draw it in order to stock the pollen.  Oh, well, I guess they know what they are doing!  I hope that a more experienced person can give me an explanation.

New Swarm hived

So here we are with a garden full of flowers and blossom and our now five hives.  I hope that the two orphan hives will do their job.  But that is hopefully for another update in the future.

Our Hives Spring 2019

Kourosh