a french garden


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A queen is born

There are several aspects of beekeeping that I find quite fascinating.

Opening a hive gives me an immediate idea of how the entire colony is behaving.  Last week, for example, Amelia and I opened the hive with the swarm that we had captured on 31st March.   Straight away we could see that in the intervening two weeks, the colony had build up wax on all ten frames and were evidently quite busy.  That for us was already a good sign.

 

Opening a hive

Lifting a frame one by one we saw that they had made plenty of honey in reserve and had nice closed brood cells.  Brood cells for the (female) worker bees have a uniform roundness to them

bees around closed brrod cells

In the middle we could see one or two larvae not yet closed.  The bees were busy feeding the young larvae.

I love looking  at the different colour of pollen stocked fairly close by the brood cells for the nurse bees to use, feeding the young larvae.

colour of polen

We always look to see if there are open or closed queen cells.  The colony sometimes decide to make a new queen, if they sense that the old queen is not up to the mark.  Other times a strong colony makes a queen cell to create a new queen just before the old queen with nearly half the colony swarms.  The queen cells are much longer than brood cells for worker bees.

opened queen cell

Our friend Michel the beekeeper had a few days ago mentioned that he had apparently lost the queen in one of his hives.  That can happen as result of an accident whilst inspecting a hive or for a variety of other reasons.

A few days ago we helped another beekeeper friend divide a very busy hive that he keeps near our house.  The colony had up to fifteen queen cells all closed.  They made two divisions from that hive, but I asked to separate two or three closed queen cells so that we might be able to save Michel’s colony by transferring one queen cell.  The queen cells with a small amount of joining wax was cut out by a knife and placed a plastic container and brought to our house.   As it so happens, in the short distance of some 100 metres to our house, one of the queens was born.

One often as beekeeper hears about the piping of a queen, but even for an experienced beekeeper it is rare to actually hear a queen piping (Le chant de la reine).  You can see the peanut shell shapes of the queen cells and the queen in the plastic box.  She actually had two different songs (!) but I was lucky to be able to record her at least piping.  You can listen as it takes only a few seconds.

Michel came over and collected the queen and later placed her in a little “cage” closed with candy at one end, and introduced her between two frames in his hives.  After getting used to the new queen the bees chew the candy and the queen enters the hive.

Kourosh

 

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Colour in April

Border in front gdn

This part of the front garden border provides lots of colour near the house but I have not planted anything there for years.  I first sowed forget-me-nots in the garden over ten years ago and that one sowing was all that was needed to ensure their appearance every spring.  Sure they will have to be hauled out later in the year as they get untidy, but it is nice to see them again in spring.  I am getting a bit worried about the white alliums though and I think I might have to be more severe this year.

Honesty

Kourosh flung a handful of Honesty seeds in front of the green plastic composteur and that has created a bright screen that I expect will be self perpetuating.

Male orange tip Anthocharis cardamines

The Honesty is very popular with all the pollinators and I see a lot of orange tip butterflies on it.

Showing off-001

This is a male Anthocharis cardamines.  They look so good against the purple petals,  I wonder if he is just showing off.

Iris

The purple Iris outside the front walls are beautiful and provide lots of colour but I have a difference of opinion with Kourosh here that they create too much work.  After the flowers have past I find that Iris stems provide ideal nursery spaces for all sorts of weeds and prevent efficient strimming along the base of the wall.

Choisya Sundance (1)

Contrary to the Iris, is the Choisya “Sundance” which is in flower just now and is a workhorse.  It gives you perfumed flowers and the yellow, evergreen foliage light up the winter garden.

L.tatarica

Another impressive evergreen is my Lonicera tatarica.  It is in flower just now and survives in a dry, shaded spot in the back garden.

Camassia in pots

I don’t keep too many pots, but I love to have pots of Camassia on the patio at this time of year.  They attract a lot of bumble bees, so as soon as the sun is out in the morning we are out with a coffee and the bees are on the Camassia.

Carder in Camassia (1)

The queen bumble bees make a lot of noise as they go about their morning tasks.

Anthophora in Camassia.JPG

The Anthophora bees are frequent visitors too.  This could even be a female A. plumipes as we have only the grey females here.

Victoria plum tree

In the back garden it is the Victoria plum tree that attracts the bees at the moment.

Andrena fulva in plum tree

I am pretty sure that this is an Andrena fulva.

Bee in plum tree

However, this one I am not so sure of, but it might be an Andrena flavipes or Andrena nitida – see comments.  All comers are very welcome on the plum tree.

Thyme

Another flower attracting all comers is the thyme.

Thyme and tulips

I started this thyme off to cover a difficult patch between two tree.  I had already tried other options but this is thyme taken from patches growing wild in the garden and I have supported it by covering the edges with wood chip.  The tulips are from a previous idea and I’ll let them fight it out themselves as they seem pretty determined.

I am very happy with its spread and I am considering using it in other places to inhibit weeds in sunny spots.

Cerinthe

This is a clump of self-sown Cerinthe.  Probably the biggest draw for solitary bees in the garden at the moment.  It is so thickly sown that it has completely suppressed weeds (well the nasty ones, I am not counting the borage and a bit of fumitory).  So, I cannot ask for more colour or more bees from this clump of flowers.

 


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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


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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.

 

 

 


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A rainy day story

After a spell of sunny, mild weather that made gardening a delight, we are experiencing some rain.  Now, I am always happy to see the rain, and it is so important for the fast growing plants in spring, but it does not take the edge of the spring fever encountered by gardening addicts who are confined indoors.

Their enthusiasm has to find another outlet.

Well, we had just cut the willows and I know they should be dried and re-soaked but…

Beginning (1)

We decided to start off by bringing our aluminium planter indoor.  It is still holding the remains of dead basil plants and the re-surging shoots of Melissa officianalis (makes excellent herbal tea!).

We stuck seven sturdy cut willow stems around the planter to provide the correct diameter of base for the structure.

1st row (1)

We had to move it to give us more room for the weaving and we started to make a woven base and then tied the top of the wigwam.

Second band

There had been no design plan so the second row was added “by eye”.

3rd row

Then the kitchen steps were called into play and the last two woven layers added.

End

It popped easily out of the planter and is completely self-supporting and two and a half metres tall.

We were rather surprised that we have managed our first attempt and we have more supports planned.  We don’t really need such tall ones it just seemed a shame to waste such tall willow.

One precaution we have taken is to store our wigwam inside the atelier for the moment as we are pretty sure that if we stuck it in the ground just now it would probably start growing – and that is not the objective.

 

 


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Gardening is patience

Distant willows

One of the brightest sights in the back garden in the winter is the morning sun shining on the willows, about half way down the back garden.  They light up the garden when there is very little else but it is now time for their annual haircut and I was reflecting on how long it can take to get the required effect in a garden.

Salix alba January 2014

This was what they looked like in January 2014 in my blog https://afrenchgarden.wordpress.com/2014/01/09/onward-in-january/

willows up close

This is what they look like in February 2019.

The garden takes time to take form.

Comma butterfly.JPG

It takes time for the winter flowering honeysuckle to get to a size to attract the butterflies like this Comma,

Clouded yellow butterfly.JPG

and the Clouded Yellow butterfly (Sorry, Brimstone, thanks to my sharp readers)

Bombus pratorum queen

and the bumble bees, even in February.

Male Osmia cornuta 22.2.19

I saw our first Osmia cornuta on the 22 February.

Osmia cornuta 23.2.19

Now the bee boxes are patiently searched every day, waiting for the females to emerge.

2 male Osma cornuta 23.2.19

Sometimes hope turns to disappointment when the emerging bee turns out to be just another male emerging.

They will need plenty of patience to keep up their enthusiasm until the females will eventually emerge, often in mid-March.

hazelnut flowers

There are signs of good things to come.

Hazelnut flowers close

This year there are a lot of flowers on the hazelnut tree but whether we will eat many or not remains to be seen.  The red squirrels around here keep to the areas with pine trees.  We are not in these areas but I have a feeling some of them spend an autumn break in our garden when the hazelnuts ripen as the hazelnuts disappear, shells and all, every year.

Wild bee 23.218

We have plenty of wild bees in the garden too this spring.

Sharing dandelion.JPG

It is not just the garden plants that give plenty of nectar.  The dandelions are great for all the bees and this one is also being shared with a clouded yellow butterfly.

Nomada

But already the mining bee nests are being patrolled by the Nomada bees that are “cuckoo bees” and will lay their eggs in the mining bees’ nests so that their eggs are provisioned by other bees just as the cuckoo is brought up by other birds.

N0 2 arrives.JPG

But patience can be rewarded as the sheep in our neighbour’s field has discovered.  Number two lamb took time in coming and was a bit smaller.

It was worth it.JPG

But the tired face says that it was all worth it.

 

 

 

 

 


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Springtime?

Hellebore

January was so cold and I became so impatient to see the Hellebores open.  My Hellebores have obligingly self-seeded and I have tenderly spread them throughout the garden knowing how much I appreciate their colour and the number of bees that they attract in the early warm days of the year.

They are beautiful plants and provide both nectar and pollen for the bees.  The green tubes that you can see behind the bee in the last picture, are the hellebore nectaries.  There is an excellent site if you want more of an insight into the botany of Hellebores with superb photographs.

Sarcococca confusa

The winter flowers of the Sarcococca confusa are as important to me as to the bees and they bring their perfume to assure me that spring will not be long in coming.

Crocus

The crocus bring the longed for colour – no matter what the weather is like.

1st Flowers plum tree

The plum tree is just as impatient to flower, but with the first flowers opening so early I doubt whether the fruits will survive.  It is two years since we have tasted the plums as although these signs are encouraging, winter will not have finished with us yet.

1st pollen 17.2.19

The willow near the bee hives is covered with soft pussy willow and I saw the male stamens break out with their yellow pollen today.  If the weather keeps good the tree will soon be covered with bees of all sorts.

Carpenter.JPG

The carpenter bees (Xylocopa violacea) have returned.

Carder bumble bee.JPGMore and more queen bumble bees are topping up on nectar, but I have not seen any gathering pollen yet (they know it is too early.)

Red Admiral

The butterflies are around too.  I think this Red Admiral must have overwintered somewhere judging by the condition of the wings.

Macroglossum stellatarum

However, I was surprised to see a Hummingbird Hawk-Moth (Macroglossum stellatarum) so early.

Bumble on Hellebore

All in all I feel disoriented by this spell of clement, sunny weather with temperatures going up to 17 degrees centigrade sometimes in the afternoon.

Perhaps not so disoriented as the bumble bee above who seemed to be looking for nectar in the wrong place.

Two bumble bees inside Hellebore

But finally we can take a lesson from these two bumble bees.  Life is not all about rushing to get nectar.  We need to make choices and decide to just enjoy it sometimes.