a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France

A swarm in September

15 Comments

It was Tuesday morning (21 September) when Michel phoned and said his friend in Royan had a swarm of bees on his drainpipe. We were all surprised. Bees swarm in the spring. However, all three of us sprang into swarm catching action and we picked up Michel outside his front door and headed to Royan, thirty minutes drive away on the coast. This was the latest swarm Michel had ever come across in his years of bee keeping and we were regaled with bee stories until we reached his friend’s house.

The three of us were lost for words when we saw the “swarm”. There are not enough bees to form a colony that would last the winter. We could not assure that there was even a queen present.

So what to do? They were cold and not flying around. We presumed they would not last long. The ruchette was there so Kourosh picked them up in his hand and gently placed them inside. They accepted their warm polystyrene shelter with good grace.

Once we got them back to the garden we decided to look for a queen. Without a queen there would be no point in going on any further. To our surprise there was a queen! Can you see her?

Here is a clue.

Here she is close-up.

The weather was fine and they seemed to be making a go of it, so on Sunday, Kourosh cracked and stole a frame from one of our hives. It was a difficult decision to make as he took a frame with some brood and young bees which could leave the original hive short for their winter supply of bees.

The frame and young bees were powdered with icing sugar to confuse their odour and then added to the polystyrene ruchette with the queen and her small court. We closed the ruchette and kept it in an outbuilding for two nights in case the young bees wanted to return to their original hive. All was quiet and when we opened their door in the morning there were no signs of battle. They new girls had been accepted.

On Wednesday we were excited to see that they were making the best of the good weather and bringing in pollen. At a guess I would say that it is gorse pollen, there is plenty of ivy around and our other hives are bringing in some ivy and some of this lovely orange pollen.

Kourosh has reduced the entrance to make it easier for them to guard against robbers or worst of all the Asian hornets.

Then on Wednesday our friend Christian phoned to see if Kourosh could help with a swarm that had to be re-homed. The bees had set up home behind closed shutters in an upstairs bedroom with the window blind closed. This would have provided a good spot in the summer and they had gone undisturbed for two or three months as the house had not been occupied.

Sorry about the quality of the photograph, but Kourosh’s flash did not go off.

This was a different proposition and Christian was prepared with frames on which he could fasten the already formed brood nest. The frames were placed in a ruchette and left until nightfall for the colony to enter. In the evening of the same day the ruchette was brought back to the garden, and we are now the adoptive parents of this colony until the spring when they can be moved. Christian will be away for six weeks and the colony will need feeding and protection during this time.

So this is Christian’s ruchette (it will be secured to the poles in due course to protect it from high winds).

And this is the tiny colony. Will either of them survive the winter? The chances are low – approaching zero for ours, much better for Christian’s. It will depend on the weather. At the moment our weather has changed from sunshine and mild temperatures to rain and cloud. We will see.

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.

15 thoughts on “A swarm in September

  1. Hello Amelia,

    Really interesting stuff, and very late in the year indeed.

    I love the albeit grainy photo of the combs behind the shutters and what they’d managed to build in situ.
    ” Christian was prepared with frames on which he could fasten the already formed brood nest.” sounds like a pretty impressive and skillfully carried out and understated procedure. Of course one can never really record such events – the focus being completing it successfully. Good luck with them both.
    I wonder if you read Ann Chilcott’s blog? She wrote a piece recently about late swarms, which also produced an interesting comment from one “Paul” which might be of interest.

    https://www.beelistener.co.uk/chronic-bee-paralysis-virus/the-swarm-with-cbpv/

    We had an odd episode here in early September which with hindsight was probably a late swarm checking out our barn, but they all dispersed without ever settling out anywhere, and I don’t think came from any of our colonies.
    Best wishes
    Julian

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have never had to take wild comb and get it onto a conventional frame. Not only is it difficult it would not be wrong to say it was a sticky problem :). I follow Ann’s blog and can keep up to date with the happenings in the UK and get nostalgic when she mentions the places she is going to as she moves across the north east of Scotland.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Both, What a dilemma!
    We had a small nuc with an older Queen in reserve. We fed them 1/1 through August and by mid September made the difficult decision to dispose of the Queen and combine them with the hive with the next lowest bee count.
    Sprayed sugar water on newspaper between the supers for an easy combination.
    They quickly accepted their new space and seem to be doing well.
    A surprising amount of pollen is still visible arriving in all hives.
    Now have three robust hives treated with Apivar after the honey came off and a treatment of OA is on the horizon.

    Will Michael treat the acquired combs for Varroa?
    Most beekeepers reporting lower varroa counts this season compared to last year.
    I will be most interested in hearing the progress of both the new hives.

    Take care, always enjoy your posts.
    Janine

    Liked by 1 person

    • You made the sensible decision with your older queen. There were so few bees in the first swarm that it was not worth thinking of combining them with another hive. Christian’s recovered swarm stands a good chance and he/we is feeding them heavy syrup at the moment. He did not treat but we will be treating our hives mid-winter with OA so if they are still around then I will suggest we include them. We treated our bees with Apiguard and they made a beautiful job of propolising the containers to the top board :(. It is not time yet to check the count but although treatment was in order none of them were too bad. Amelia

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  3. Oh, that is sort of . . . sad. It is unfortunate that they can not migrate to the Southern Hemisphere.

    Liked by 1 person

    • They have to prepare for winter and lay up sufficient stores and have sufficient healthy bees to keep the colony going. A bee born in the summer will only live 4-6 weeks while the bees born in the autumn and well-nourished live 4-6 months until the next spring. Their individual life is short but the colony survives. Amelia

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  4. Another interesting adventure in a French Garden. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Did you have a very warm September to maybe cause the bees to swam this late?
    Could it be a consequence of global warming?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. That was an exciting adventure and a possible future hobby – keeping your own bees. The nearest I have come to this is a wasps’ nest in the corner of the roof which I ignored for the summer but was annoyed to be stung on the back of my neck last week. They die off in winter, I have read, so I will leave nature take its course.

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    • Actually, we keep our own bees at the bottom of the garden. You might notice blue boxes at the bottom of our back garden in some of our photographs – those are our bee hives! We have kept bees for some years now. Kourosh is head beekeeper and I am the helper (and advisor :)). I like to concentrate on the wild bees. I do not know much about wasps. We have never had the aggressive sort in our garden. There are many different kinds and some can build big nests and become a problem so perhaps it would be better to get some advice. Amelia

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  7. Very interesting and good luck with these new arrivals.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The colony that had already made comb are very active and have been helped by extremely mild sunny weather. The “zero chance” colony are bringing in pollen and look like they are holding their own so far. We feed them, of course, but they have to find their own pollen, maybe they will surprise me. Amelia

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