a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France


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The Season Starts or Finishes now?

The beekeepers, consider that after the honey harvest in autumn, the next season just begins.  There is so much to be done to tidy the equipment and make sure that the bees have enough provisions to last them through the winter. We been lucky this year.

Honeybee on winter honeysuckle (3)

Even these last days of November, the winter flowering honeysuckle provides both nectar and pollen for our bees.

bumble Bee 1

It is not just the honey bees that interest us.  The bumble bees are frequent visitors at this time on several mahonias in the garden.

Beehives near la Seudre

Our five hives are tucked away at the end of the garden, and the autumn so far has been mild.  This has not been the story across France, where the French Union of Beekeepers (UNAF) have named 2019 as a black year,  UNAF has applied to the French Government to take the necessary steps to indemnify the beekeepers in the worst affected regions,  The cold spring and exceptionally hot summer contributed to the loss of many bee colonies across France.

Here the summer was so dry that even the sunflowers did not have much nectar, so the bees could not produce as much honey as usual.  Normally one hive can produce 20 or even 30 kilograms of honey in autumn.  The average in this region was around 5 kilogram per hive.  As I said, we were lucky as around us there are forests of sweet chestnut trees, so we collected a fair amount of all flowers honey as well as forest honey which is mostly chestnut honey,  Certainly enough for us and our friends.

In total we also collected 11 bee swarms that came to our garden.  We housed them and kept them for a few weeks and then passed them to friends who had lost many colonies.

Beehives near la Seudre. 1. jpg

During the past month we have had a lot of rain and after 18 months that the river at the bottom of the garden was dry, now la Seudre is almost full of water.

So, Amelia and I are already looking forward to next year beekeeping life.

For me, apart from occasional visit to see how the bees are getting on, the pleasure is to watch the birds. coming to our front garden.

Robin

The robin, specially at this time of the year reminds us of Christmas cards.

She comes regularly bathing in front of the dinning room.

Robin bathing 1 (2)

So does the sungthrush.

Song thrush bathing 1

Sometimes I wonder if the birds like washing themselves or do they, like children, actually enjoy bathing.

Song thrush bathing 1 (3)

I think this one was washing his ears!

At this time of the year Amelia likes collecting the leaves for composting, but some of the trees have not totally lost their leaves, The liquidambar leaves, however, are so pretty even on the ground that Amelia does not have the heart to rake them.

IMG_0057

So I wish you a happy autumn and together we look forward to the start of another year of beekeeping as well as gardening.

Kourosh

 


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Grey Skies

We have had our first frost of the year.

The frost is supposed to give flavour to the brussel sprouts.

However, the heavy rain has flattened them.

The leeks are starting to rot in the sodden ground.

The river Seudre at the back of the garden has filled up and only usually reaches this level in the springtime.

The plants themselves are confused after the hot dry summer.  The bottle brush has decided it might like to flower again.

My tall dark sage is still in bud and I do not think will flower this year.  The Charente Maritime area is one of the sunniest in France but this autumn it has been clouds and rain and I have missed the garden.

The Cerinthe major has found it perfect for self-seeding and I have been able to pot up plenty of little plants without the need for sowing any seeds.

The olive tree has been harvested.  It has given us less than last year but enough for our own needs.  Actually it only gives olives on the half of the tree that gets most of the sun, the other side does not get sufficient sun to produce the fruit.

Part of the front garden was covered with these “weeds” which I thought were allium bulbs last year.  I thought I must have forgotten planting them but they are not decorative alliums as they produced no flowers (that I saw).  They smell strongly of onions and are very invasive.  The roots seem to be able to elongate and produce new nodules vegetatively.  Does any one have an idea of what they might be?

The future looks wet.  I must learn to relax and accept the weather like our little tree frogs.


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What do gardeners do when it is raining?

Ever since our Barbastelle bat first came to visit us in 2014 we have been thinking of ways to provide shelter for bats in the garden.  See “A furry visitor

A bat box seemed the obvious choice, as did a web search for information and help because we do not know a lot about these fascinating creatures.

One of the good sites we came across was the Bat Conservation Trust

This site provides not only loads of information but also plans for building your own bat box.  Many more plans can be found by searching the web.

Kourosh tackled his bat box on a cold, wet day last February.  He had bought his untreated wood and cut it up to the required dimensions in the workshop.

I popped in from time to time to provide the much needed encouragement and I was pleased to see he had managed to assemble it.

The roof of the box was added and the holes to attach the box were drilled inside the house, where it was warmer to work.

The finished product looked the perfect new home for a bat!  (Well, we thought so.)

Kourosh was insistant that it should be painted to blend in with the house and decorated to be pleasing to humans after all the work he had put in.  For bats that appear to have a penchant for white painted shutters this may be a good ploy.

We felt that having the box ready in February would give the bats plenty of time to settle in this year.

However, so far we have had no takers.  We look regularly of tell-tale signs of occupation, but so far it is unoccupied.

However, this September the same white shutter, so favoured by the Barbastelle bat, was adopted by a Pipestrelle bat.

There is no accounting for taste!

We are still waiting to see if the bat box will eventually tempt any bats.  In the meantime I wonder if I have tempted anyone to have a go at building their own bat box?


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The flowers in November

The rain still continues and everything in the garden is wet.

It does not stop the bees and other insects flying in between the downpours.

The low light makes it difficult to take sharp photographs.

Everything is getting sodden.   Luckily, I have already gathered plenty of Cosmos and other seeds.  These are French Marigold (Tagetes erecta), that are late in setting seed and have stated germinating still attached to the flower heads.

I grew these flowers near my tomatoes this year.  They provided lots of colour in the vegetable garden and are reputed to attract beneficial insect such as hoverflies and at the same time the roots secrete a substance to repel certain nematodes.  I cannot affirm that they make a considerable difference but they are held in high esteem in this area.

There is still plenty of Borage left in the vegetable garden, and elsewhere, and that is a magnet for all pollinators.  It is also so handy for decoration of salads and drinks.

We always have a clutter of pots at our front coffee spot.  This allows us to keep an eye on the fragile and admire our favourite flowers of the moment.

The Salvias are in their glory at the moment, especially the Salvia leucantha.  We have one in a pot on the patio and another in the garden but they do not photograph well and you need to see a close up photograph to see what the eye actually sees.  The flowers look as if they have been fashioned from velvet.  They are constantly visited by the bees.  This carder bumble bee is piercing a hole in the flower to “steal” the nectar.

Another flower we are monitoring in a pot on the patio is the Ajania.  This is new to us this year and I am waiting impatiently to see if the flowers will open fully.  It has grown well and I am thinking of trying it as ground cover next year as it has grown well in the pot.

Some flowers get attention and care yet this Alyssum grows on its own every year, seeding into the cracks in the front path and the base of the wall.  It completely looks after itself and releases its own special honey scent in the warm evenings and is still flowering.

Perhaps tough love can work as I have succeeded in keeping two Abutilon plants.  They die completely from the surface in winter and reappear in late spring.  They are not too tall yet, but I have my hopes, and it is nice to have their flowers so late in the year.

The bees still manage to get out to forage for nectar and pollen despite the rain.  They have to “faire avec” as we all have to during these rainy days.

Thus saying, I was surprised to see a cricket perched on top of my pink rose in the front garden.  It does not seem a good place to be camouflaged from hungry birds. In addition, it is not very far away from our bird feeder.

More surprisingly it was still there the next day!  Is it the same one or is it cricket time?