It was all the fault of our beekeeper friend Michel who had me hooked on bees. Every time he visited our garden, he kept telling me: ‘There, you can place a hive…. and over there another….in fact you have room for several hives near the river and just outside the wooded area.’
In January we bought the first and then the second hive and Amelia lovingly painted them and decorated them. In a normal year Michel would have given me a swarm, but this was not a normal year, and he had lost far too many of his own hives. So after waiting and waiting – and I am not a patient man – I phoned all over the place to buy a swarm. It proved difficult, but eventually I found someone who promised to sell me a swarm, but not before end of May.
Then the first May Swarm arrived. I was delighted, especially as it directly entered the little ruchette (six frames mini hive) that I had placed on top of the old chicken coop. Later in May it was transferred to its permanent hive, now named Cornucopia, because of the horn of plenty that Amelia had painted on it.
Oh, well, I thought that plus the swarm I had ordered we should have enough on our hands. But the bees had another thought in mind. One sunny Friday afternoon in early June More bees arrived, this time in the little ruchette above our main house. The second swarm were named Violet, after the little violets that Amelia had painted on their destined hive.
A few days later I set off to my rendez-vous in the Périgueux region to collect the swarm that I had ordered. Michel accompanied me as I must admit that being actually allergic to bee stings, I was somewhat nervous travelling back the 220 km (135 miles) with a car full of bees.
It was an idyllic spot for anyone and a lovely place to keep bees as well as his horses. The rolling hills where surrounded by forests and farmlands. He told us that he had in all over 100 hives.
We loaded the hive with the promised black bees (Perigueux Noir) and drove back full of excitement. Back at home we opened the hive and let the bees discover their new home. However, our excitement somewhat evaporated as we discovered that the bottom board was not fully aerated and in our hot summers that was something that we urgently needed to change.
We had to wait a couple of days for the ladies to settle down. Then Amelia and I armed ourselves with the necessary tools and the smoker to investigate the hive properly. The second problem was that lifting the top outer cover, we saw that the top inner cover consisted of a piece of very old plywood simply nailed to the brood box. Carefully I removed the nails and lifted the entire hive to place it on a new fully aerated bottom board. When we lifted the body of the hive, one of the frames dropped through the bottom of the hive. We had no choice but smoke the poor creatures and open the hive. Once we lifted the old frame, we saw that it was very old decayed Langstroth frame with the support ends rotted away. We also noticed that there were no waxed sheets on the frames but the bees had started making their own honeycomb wax. We did what we could, namely replacing the broken frame with a new waxed one and replaced the bottom board and the top inner as well as the outer cover which also was broken and looked like a museum piece. So the moral of the story was never buy swarms from strangers, no matter how friendly they might appear.
Nevertheless, we named this hive of black bees as Poppy as we had noticed them returning to the hive with black pollen, distinctive of the poppies in the garden, as well as yellow pollen.
A week later Michel came over so that with his experienced eyes we could inspect the ruchette Violet and see if they could be transferred to their permanent home. We also hoped to examine the new arrival from Périgueux, as it was clear to us that they were not a big colony. Task one was accomplished very successfully and we even managed to see her majesty Queen Violet.
She had already made a sizeable brood on at least two of the frames.
The inspection of the hive Poppy confirmed our original feelings that the colony was indeed quite small. The good news was that they had started making a small area of brood cells on an old frame. Nothing too exciting, but not having seen her queen we had to content ourselves with that.
We scheduled a second inspection a week later. That proved much more exciting.
Firstly the hive Cornucopia was doing so well that we had to place a honey super on the hive. Opening Poppy we saw that indeed there was a sizeable brood area on at least two frames. Although we had placed a ruchette on the old chicken coop in case we had to replace Poppy, things looked more hopeful for Poppy.
Violet was doing admirably with classic areas of brood cells on both sides of several frames.
She was duly transferred frame by frame from her ruchette to her beautiful new home
We returned towards the house when I pointed out to Michel that there were a fair number of bees again around another ruchette on the old chicken coop. Michel walked closer for a closer look: ‘You have a new swarm’.’ There bees all over the tiles on the roof.
I had promised Amelia that I will not keep more than three hives, but at the end it was not me that chose the bees but they chose us.
We have chosen the name of Sunflower for the newly arrived swarm as the arrived the week that the sunflowers have opened up.
The forest of sweet chestnut trees are less than half a mile from our garden and they are still in flower; the sunflowers in the field across the road have not yet opened, but other sunflower fields have opened only just a few hundred yards away. Around the numerous forest, not far, there are plenty of brambles in flower. So, I hope that we can keep our bees happy and more importantly healthy, and I hope that they will like Amelia’s French garden as much as we do.