a french garden


7 Comments

A View of Andalusia

Happy New Year to you all.  I do hope that this new year and the new decade will bring much happiness to everyone.

Amelia and I spent the holidays visiting my son in Andalusia, Spain, at Malaga.  On first of January the sun was shining beautifully and the temperature in the shade was about 18 degree C (65F).

Malaga 01.01.2020

There were even a few hardy people (must have been British!) who swam in the sea.

Malaga (03) 01.01.2020

The public WCs along the beach have always caught my eye.  The imagination and the artistic inspiration of the Spaniards impresses me.

IMG_20200103_144414

The outside walls of the buildings were decorated with beach scenes.

IMG_20200103_144423

Why should such ordinary buildings not be decorated?

IMG_20200103_144355

The WCs were clean and clearly newly painted.

IMG_20200103_144453

I think they would amuse the children as well as the adults.

IMG_20200103_144529

It was not only the WCs, but many of the recycling bins near the beach were also decorated.

IMG_20200102_172200

One last memory for me was the sign on one pet grooming shop in Malaga which did make me laugh.

IMG_20200102_125757

Have a wonderful 2020.

    •  Kourosh


6 Comments

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

 


5 Comments

The little bees

For those interested in the bees.

Bees in a French Garden

I was watching the bees and butterflies mob my Evodia tree (or Tedradium daniellii, depending on what you want to call it).  At the same time I noticed clouds of tiny flies around the flowers.  I had never noticed such numbers of tiny flies being attracted to my other “pollinator attractive” plants.

I managed to get close to some of the flowers on the lower branches and look closer at the “flies”.

I was horrified to see on closer inspection that they were tiny bees that I had mistaken for flies.  I measured the Evodia’s petal and it is between 4-5 mm., so that gives you an indication of how small these bees are.

I have already posted about Carpenter bees in France.

I can imagine these big but harmless bees terrifying tourists from northern Europe as they relax in the garden of their holiday home and experience these bees…

View original post 318 more words


18 Comments

In praise of Mullein

We have lots of Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) in the garden.  It self seeds, but the small seedlings are easily transplanted in the autumn to a more appropriate site.

All the Mullein plants do not have a happy life.  This year the caterpillars have ravaged quite a few.  Some were able to make a come back, others not.

The more voracious caterpillars continued to devour the plants right to their almost flowering buds.

The caterpillar becomes very large and fat and is easily recognised.

Swallow tail butterfly – Papilio machaon

Please see Malcolm’s comment below.  The caterpillars on the Mullein are from Mullein moths! I have had Swallow tails on my fennel previously and have confused these fat caterpillars although the colour is different.   

They are also a wonderful source of pollen for bees.  They have to get up early to get the most plentiful offerings of pollen.  By the afternoon there is not much action on the flowers.  But new flowers open each day.

It is not just honey bees that use the Mullein flowers to provide pollen other bees gather the bright orange pollen too.

You can see how tiny this bee is by comparing with the size of the stamens.

The flowers have been used to make herbal cough syrups but they have to be carefully gathered as the duvet on the leaves and stem can be irritating to the throat if mixed in with the flowers.  The infusions are also supposed to be beneficial for the throat and coughs but need  to be filtered carefully.  I have not tried gathering the flowers but leave them for the bees.

I was pleased to see that our neighbour has left a Molene standing proudly beside their drive.  Every little helps and in our dry, chalky soil it makes a very easy architectural plant.

 


16 Comments

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


27 Comments

It’s hot!

This spring has been very mild.  Milder than we have ever experienced here.  We need a parasol to sit in the sun on the patio to have lunch.

First flowering Wisteria

The Wisteria has already started to flower on the atelier wall and the Carpenter bees are in their element.

Osmia cornuta mating

The Osmia cornuta have had perfect weather this year.  The males are all gone now but not before coupling with plenty of females.  The little chap with the cute white fringe in the photo above is the male Osmia.  The female was very compliant perhaps because it was warm and the leaf was very comfortable.

Osmia on box

The females are busy building their nests and putting on a great show for our friends passing in front of the bee houses.

Overfilled bamboo

Some bees are so enthusiastic with the tube filling that the tubes have a convex finish.

fly in bee house.JPG

The boxes also attracts other insects.  I am not sure what this fly is doing but I view it with suspicion as there are many insects that are parasites of the Osmia.

Wasp in bee house

This wasp may just be looking for a place to nest, or yet again to leave its eggs to hatch in a nest which will soon provide a delicious Osmia larva to feed the wasp’s young.

Andrena cineraria

I think this is a male Andrena cineraria as I have the females provisioning their nests under our big plum tree, as they do every year.  These bees are called mining bees as they dig tunnels in the ground in which to lay their eggs.

Nomada

However, this year I am seeing many more of their cuckoo bees.  These bees belong to the genus Nomada and will follow a female Andrena cineraria back to her nest site.  It will then try to find the nesting hole of these mining bees and lay its eggs inside.  The action is just like the cuckoo who lays its eggs in the nests of other birds and so takes no further responsibility for bringing up its young.

Bombylius bee fly

The other insect I see often over the mining bees nest site is this cute looking fluffy insect.  It is not a bee but a Bombylius or bee fly which is also a parasite of the mining bees and other solitary bees.  Life is not easy for the solitary bees.

Bee on Forget-me-not

Our honey bees are having it easy at the moment with lots of nectar on offer.

Bee on Camelia

The Camelia is full of flowers and offers both nectar and pollen and a pretty picture for us.

Speckled Wood

The Viburnum tinus does a great job at the moment, providing nectar for all comers.  This is a Speckled Wood butterfly but it also attracts the queen Asian hornets which we try and trap before they can build their nests.

Orange tip

I’ll just pop in this photo of an Orange Tip butterfly on the Honesty in case people get the correct impression that I am besotted by bees.

Tulips

I do appreciate the occasional flower that does not attract bees.  These tulips are almost white when they first appear and every year I say to myself, “That’s strange, I am sure  they were a deeper pink last year.”

Redder tulips (1)

After just a few days they take on a much deeper tint.

Ash leaf Maple

Elsewhere in the garden spring continues with the trees unfolding in sequence.  At the moment the Ash-leaved Maple is putting on its show.

IMG_1450

I like the tassels and the leaves will shelter us from the sun at a favourite sitting place in the summer.

Plum tree

The big plum tree in the back garden is full of new leaves.

Tiny plums

In places the flowers have withered to reveal the tiny beginnings of the plums.  The question here at the moment is what will happen to the plums, apricots and cherries this year?  For the last two years the frosts have destroyed all the plum flowers or new fruits and we have had no plums.

Our daytime temperatures have been in the low 20 degree centigrade with blue skies but the night time has dropped to 2 or 3 degrees.

 

 

 


30 Comments

Of Birds and Bees

All Nature seems at work. Slugs leave their lair –
The bees are stirring – birds are on the wing –
And Winter, slumbering in the open air,
Wears on his smiling face a dream of Spring!
And I, the while, the sole unbusy thing,
Nor honey make, nor pair, nor build, nor sing.

(Samuel Taylor Coleridge Work without Hope, 1825)

What can I say about our winter this year in France.  Well as they say here, ce n’était pas normal – or in plain English it was pretty miserable.  Generally it was not too cold, but cloudy and rainy – a bit like England, to be honest.  Then all of a sudden we had two days of winter, with temperatures dropping to minus 7 degrees Centigrade and a touch of actual snow.

As we were warned, Amelia and I had placed additional insulation on top and around of beehives.

Virollet Bee hives

But thankfully for our little girls, the following day the temperature rose by 20 degrees,! And the bees were rushing out in great numbers in search of pollen and nectar.

IMG_0083

When we arrived in France on a permanent basis, we had very few birds visiting our garden.  The Robin was, of course, sure that this is his garden and we are only the new tenants.  He used to come every day at the beginning and even now he is the most friendly bird in the garden.

Robin at Virollet

I started feeding the birds on a regular basis (they eat more than five kilos of seeds every week!) and over the years we enjoy drinking our coffee and watching the birds on the patio.    Three years ago, my granddaughter on one of her visits here returned from a local fête having spent all her pocket money in buying two young doves.  She released them in our front garden and each year they seem to have raised two babies.  I see the older doves around our small hamlet, but the youngest ones visit us on a daily basis.

Doves at Virollet

I have been delighted to see that the two pairs of goldfinches that visit our garden have gained enough confidence to come to our patio regularly.  The blue tits, for whom I place the peanuts at this time of the year before they have young ones, looked at the goldfinches a bit suspiciously at first, but decided that there is enough for all.

Goldfinch sharing with blue tit

For the first time I have seen another new bird coming to the patio – a brambling (Fringilla montifringilla) or as is know here, a pinson du nord.

Brambling - Pinson du Nord

I do think that Brambling is rather beautiful.  However, another bird that is unknown to me – and hopefully someone can identify – is a really elegant lady-like bird.

Unnamed bird

The rain has brought back the water to the river Seudre running at the bottom of our garden.  Amelia literally dumped all surplus daffodils last year along the river bank, and they have awarded us with flower this year.

Virollet France (2)

But this is also beginning of the period when we start watching our hives in case they are thinking of swarming, and of course hoping to catch any new swarm that might be visiting our garden.  We have placed two six frames mini hives as traps, one at the bottom of the garden and one on top of the old chicken house, as there we have caught several swarms in previous years.

So we are set and ready.  Hurry up summer, we are tired of this winter.

Kourosh