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.


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


and the green woodpecker, have returned.


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.


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


16 thoughts on “Spring update on the bees

    1. thelivesofk

      John. it is so nice to hear from you. I have a spare bee suit, so pop over and we can have a good look at the bees together. All the best to you. – Kourosh

      Liked by 1 person

  1. A fascinating tale, your good weather temperatures are far advanced on ours. I can’t expect any swarms until the beginning of may. Could you keep us advised on how you new pollen collecting swarm manages. I do know that a swarm has enormous start up energy so your story seems to show that. Take care both of you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. thelivesofk

      Thank you and I hope that you can a good number of swarms this year. So far the new colony is doing great and I will keep my fingers crossed. – Kourosh


    1. thelivesofk

      Thanks . We have two quince trees. One is the French quince (the fruit are round) and the other German quince (the fruits are more elongated). The blossom on both are similar and very pretty. Go for it ! and best wishes.


  2. Michael Judd

    Hi Thank you for your update and great photos. You have done well as I think I have too although like you i have friends who have lost a lot.

    Am in the apes maritimes (06) and spring started very early and most of my queens had started laying. I have already done 3 splits and captured one swarm. BTW we had nearly two months without rain, but yesterday we got 18 cams of rain.

    Two things I notice from your remarks. I also saw pollen entering within 12 hours of a split into a 6 framer and wondered about it and also into a swarm in a 6 framer. I don’t understand that at all.

    Secondly I am at 250 meters at Roquefort les Pins and I moved my hives because of the Hornets from home up to a place called Coursegoules at 1000 meters high. The results were spectacular. Just under a mountain with the most wonderful wild flowers. Also no Hornets at all. among those hives were two that seemed always feisty, but after the move they both became calm and worked their socks off and made a lot of honey.

    I now used my garden only for wintering seeker hives and developing queens and colonies. I will move all to higher ground at the end of June.

    Very good luck to you and your bees and thanks for the great newsletter.


    Liked by 2 people

    1. thelivesofk

      Many thanks, Michael, for your observations.
      As for the pollen, the only explanation that I can suggest is that as the queen is already fertilized and ready to start laying, the bees bring in pollen in case there is drawn wax available. I place a Plexiglas sheet cover on the hive so I noticed that next morning they had already made headway in drawing the wax sheets. I, therefore assume that as soon as there is even a “cup” drawn, they fill it with pollen and then continue to draw the cells. In any case, as I said, they know best what they are doing.
      As for the Asian hornets, you have an ideal situation that you can transhumance your hives to a suitable location in spring / summer and autumn. I wish we had the possibility to do so. Around us, I know several beekeepers that have been so discouraged with the continuous attack of frelons that they have completely given up beekeeping.
      In any case, this is the time to trap the asian hornet fondatrice. They are all queens at this moment. I have set several traps in our garden and have so far caught more than forty!!! Only heaven knows what it would have been in summer, if I had not captured them. Still it is probably going to be bad.
      I thank you and wish you and the little ladies all the best.


  3. Michael Judd

    Thank you for your reply. I think you are right. It seems to me that if what the bees like out there they will go and get it anyway.

    I am putting out traps for the Asian hornet Fondatices.

    I use plexi glass too as it saves disturbance.

    I want to ask you does the hive on the roof of the hen house really work. What do you put it to attract a swarm?

    Finally, I bought home a small split (one Frame of fresh brood and a packet of bees in a 6 frame Ruchette) I looked in yesterday 11 days after the split, and wrote in my record book that there were fresh larvae around (over three days old but not capped). I did not look at my book until later when I was most alarmed. How is there under 9 day old brood in an 11 day old split. Sleepless night. He he so I went in this morning. I can confirm that there was no such brood but instead two lovely little 11 day old queen cells.

    I try to write down what I see and this time I got it completely wrong. Until I checked again. So I rather assume that my other two splits will be ok when I go and see them next week.

    I have been using a Go Pro Video recorder strapped to my chest to record what I do. But recently found that the bees get agitated and start stinging it. I wonder if you have heard of this. Or maybe it was just an off day for one hive.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. thelivesofk

      Thanks again.
      1 – Yes the piege on the roof of the old chicken house has had several direct swarms in it. Look at the following link – if you can copy and paste – I posted on the youtube with the first swarm that arrived about three years ago.

      2 – I use a smear of “charm d’abeille” that you can buy from bee supply shops. Some friends use just an old honey frame that has been removed from the hive, since you should change 2 / 3 frames each year. I do not like that I idea as it might encourage robbing by your own bees. Another idea is to dissolve some propolis that you have taken off from frames and spray or rub it in the trap hives.

      3 – It was an excellent idea of yours to note the split. Personally I am more cautious in disturbing the hive after the split. The queen larva should not be shaken at early stage as it is fixed at top of the queen cell and if she falls then all is lost. Nevertheless one should count the days after the split and have lots of patience. From egg it takes 18 days for the queen to hatch and 2/3 to become mature before her maiden flight and then return to start laying eggs. Then another week before the newly laid eggs hatch. So all in all I try to wait 5 to 6 weeks before inspecting them again. After 18 days, it is worth noting if the bees are again bringing pollen. That is a sure sign that all is well.
      When I was a child a friend of my father taught me about gardening. I always remember he told me that you need two essential things for gardening: You need seeds and you need patience! Same applies to bees. You need the eggs and you need patience.

      4 – I like your idea of Go Pro Video recorder. I am lucky that both my wife – Amelia – and I are bee keepers so whilst inspecting one does the operation and the other person videos the entire thing, and we describe our observations. Later we can re-look at the video and write up our log.

      I wish you all the best. If come to these parts in the Charente-Maritime (dept 17) do come for a visit.


  4. That is SO excellent that the swarm got a home so easily, and also excellent that swarms just move in like that. A few swarms have moved into my colleagues home in Los Angeles, probably because the garden is the greenest thing in the region. The problem is that neighbors really freak about such things, so if the swarm does not keep moving, someone calls an exterminator to remove it! They do not even try to find a home for it! It is so sad. We had THREE hives set up at work that needed to be removed, but they went to new homes with neighbors who were able to accommodate them. We do not mind paying a beekeeper more than an exterminator for such services.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. thelivesofk

      Thank you for your comment. Please have a look at the comment I just made to Micheal – above comment with the video. Swarms do sometimes come straight in a hive.
      It saddens me that some people get frightened and want to destroy a swarm of honey bees. I do understand that people can freak about large number of bees. But, before swarming the bees fill themselves with honey – enough for 2/3 days – as they do not know when their next meal is. So the bees in a swarm are pretty gentle and not aggressive at all.

      I am glad that you are happy to call a beekeeper to come and collect the swarm. When people have called me, at least in return I take them a jar of my honey as a thank you. Certainly I do not charge them to take the swarm. Swarms are valuable. The people that have lost their hive have to pay to buy a swarm of bees. We are talking of over 100 dollars each swarm to buy!
      Good luck and have a nice day.


      Liked by 1 person

  5. Hello Kourosh,
    I found this piece really fascinating, but just didn’t have time before to comment, since I’m getting going on bees this year, and finding time is really short right now.
    I’ll return and read it again after Easter, but many thanks.
    I love the video clip too which inspired me to record this sort of piece occasionally – a good record of what’s actually happening in terms of hive input/activity at a particular time of the year. But I’m still battling with deciding just how interventionist I want to be… conventional mainstream, or more one of the more “hands off” naturalistic approaches like warre…
    And my approach to swarming, capture, splitting etc?? And how many hives do I really want?? So many questions in beekeeping aren’t there?
    So your comments on this were fascinating too.
    At least I seem to have started in a year with a generally benign spring unlike 2018,
    Best wishes

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: A queen is born | a french garden

  7. thelivesofk

    Many thanks for your comments. Like you we had to ask ourselves similar questions as our beekeeping – as a hobby – is for the love of the bees and not for collecting and selling honey.
    Today’s beekeeping is like farming and animal husbandry. We have a duty of care for what is now domestic bees. Care against threats mostly created or propagated by man, like the mite Varroa and the Asiatic hornets. When I talk to older beekeepers, I see that they did not have these problems. Varroa mites did not exist in Europe and only arrived after men started importing foreign bees. Asiatic hornets also came first to France only twenty odd years ago and in such short time have spread right across the continent with devastating results.
    Apart from those two problems, as you know better than most, man has destroyed much of the natural environment, the wild flower meadows, the hedge rows, etc, by large scale farming, mono culture, the over-use of pesticides, etc. In autumn our bees need to be able to make the winter bees and stock up enough reserve for the winter. Recently the threat of hornets both stresses the colonies, stopping the foragers to go out and get nectar and pollen, and also has decimated the colonies, leaving them often too weak to keep themselves warm and fed in winter. So we do need feeding them in winter and sadly it is hard to keep a hands-off approach.

    One final thought we also thought that one or max two colonies are enough for us. But it can be very discouraging when one loses a colony, as it does happen more often than not, so we choose 4 or 5 (that is a max for us) in case we lose any.
    Kind regards


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