We lost Iris

My camera endoscope ‘Potensic’ arrived by post which enabled me to inspect the inside of the hive Iris without opening it.  It comes with a 5 metres flexible tube that can be bent and pushed through the hive entrance.  It has a powerful light whose intensity can be adjusted easily by hand.  The camera was easy to use and quite effective.  It can be joined to a laptop or a smartphone to take still photos or videos.  I took a couple of pictures.  Sadly, the space between the middle frames looked empty.

snap_001The next day as it was sunny and the temperature was hovering around 16 degrees C (60 F), we decided to open up Iris.  I was saddened to see just three or four bees inside.  The outside frames were full of sealed honey, but no bees.

iris-with-dead-beesThere was  no doubt that they eventually succumbed to the attack by the Asian hornets. There were a few dead bees in the bottom of the hive, plus two dead hornet that had obviously been killed by the brave bees.

The other four hives were still busy, but despite the fact that December has arrived and the night temperatures have been for several nights around zero C, the Asian hornets had not stopped attacking the hives.  Amelia and I had searched the countryside around us during our walks but had not found any hornet nests.  But our friend Patricia told us a couple of nights ago that on cycling around she had seen a nest.  So off we went looking out for it.

img_0034There it was just over a kilometre from our house.  A nest at a height of some thirty metres from the ground.  Now that the trees had lost their leaves the nest was quite visible.  I could see the hornets coming and going.

It is important to note that unlike summer bees who live only 6 to 8 weeks, the winter bees live 3 to 5 months while the queen will be laying a very reduced number of eggs.  Therefore any attack on winter bees will deplete the colony more rapidly and as we found will be quite disasterous.  The other issue we have noted is that there is a misconception that by the end of October, the Asian hornets are all dead and any young queen is hidden in a hollow of a building or a tree until next Spring, when she creates a new colony.  We learnt to our horror that even the first week of December, they were attacking the bees.

After our walk in the country, we went over to see our neighbours Annie and Yvon.  He is the master of the hunt around here.  I showed him the photo and he agreed to come over in the morning with me and do what he could.  The next day we went to the site.  At that height, it is almost impossible to destroy the nest, but Yvon fired four shots in the middle of the nest, making a few large holes in it.  The idea being that the cold will do more damage and the birds will start attacking the nest, thus hastening its demose.  Firing into their nest is considered by many to be dangerous, ineffective and certainly should not be attempted in the summer time.

img_0040You can see one hornet near the top right hand side, and the nest entrance underneath where the hornets enter and leave.  It was a desperate attempt at a desperate situation.

This week the daytime temperatures have really climbed and Amelia and I have managed to have out lunch out in the garden.  She even shed her fleece!

The other four hives have been showing a great deal of activity, as you can see in this short video clip.

We felt sorry for the bees that were crowding around the entrance reducer of their hives.  They were busy bringing in pollen and naturally nectar.

img_0056Amelia felt really sorry for the girls and she asked me to take off the entrance reducer of Viollet, since we have not seen any hornets in the last couple of days.  Amelia has always had a soft spot for Viollet.

img_0074Some of the bees had huge sacs of pollen.  I can assume that although it was sixth of December, the hives still had brood.

We are fotunate that throughout winter there are still enough flowers for the girls to visit and bring in the nectar and pollen.  Gorse is a favourite at the moment, the photograph below was taken on the 7 December 2016.

img_7481Meanwhile. Viollet had finished her 2.5 Kilogram bag of fondant, so we replaced it at the same time as removing her entrance reducer.

One final observation.  When we returned from the UK in early November, we were devastated to see that despite the warm sunny days, the bees were mostly stuck inside their hives and reluctant to come out to face the hornet attack.  Panic and stress is as bad for the bees as it is for us.  So, although we sadly lost Iris, we are so glad that now the other four hives appear to be strong and all of them flying in and out in great numbers and are bringing in pollen.  We hope that the bees and all of us will have a good end to this year, or as the French say:  ‘Une bonne fin d’année’.  An early Merry Christmas to everyone. – Kourosh

The good and bad in November


We were two weeks in the U.K. and returned home to sunshine to find all was well with the garden.


The broad beans had popped through while we were away.


The courgettes had, not unexpectedly, finished but had left us three courgettes which went into some soup.


The brussel sprouts are great.  You either love them or hate them and I love them.


The medlar are still hard and their leaves look better from a distance providing a splash of yellow.


I was pleased that the cotoneaster were full of berries.  After such a dry summer I thought the birds might be in short supply of food for the winter but it has not been the case.


Our first loquat or Eriobotrya japonica flowers are progressing happily.


The “Althea” which our friend Michel has given us is still flowering.  It is not a Hibiscus syriacus as those have larger flowers and have long since formed fruit and succumbed to the autumn.  The honey bees know it is not, as they are attracted to its flowers.  Perhaps it is a variety of Lavatera.  It is a much finer shrub with softer and more delicate leaves than the Lavatera I have.


For me the star of the back garden just now is the Elaeagnus.  The wonderful perfume can be smelt metres away (I must check exactly how far) even when temperatures are as low as ten degrees centigrade.  I admit the flowers are far from stunning but it is all worth it for that delicious perfume.  In addition, the flowers provide nectar for the over wintering queen bumble bees.


Not far away in the grass is the basket fungus Clathrus ruber with a diferent odour.  I am fascinated by its complex globe structure but you would not want to stay too close too long.  The rotting smell, thankfully, does not carry too far so I am quite happy when it pops up in the autumn.


Close beside it another fruiting body has pushed out of the soil.  This “egg” shape will eventually split and I will be treated to another red basket display.


The birds in the front garden have started feasting on the first ripe Persimmon.  We have since removed the ripest fruit to finish ripening in the house but we have left the birds their share too.  The greener ones will continue ripening slowly on the tree and we will collect these later.


This foray looked like a family affair with Mr. and Mrs. blackbird although I thought male blackbirds had much yellower beaks than this male.


Our pleasure at returning home received a shock when we visited the bees.  The Asian hornets that had seemed fewer this year had profited from our absence and targeted the bees.  We saw hornets exiting from “Iris” which we fear lost.  We immediately put on a muzzle on the front of Poppy to see if it would protect her.  We chose her as the front of her hive is flat and so easier to fix the muzzle.  We have not decided whether this is helping or not.


Despite rain, which we thought would protect them, we found eight hornets had entered the muzzle in front of Iris.  There were not eight dead bees in the trap so perhaps they immediately took fright.  Once they realise they are trapped, the hornets lose their hunting instinct and will seek an exit until they die exhausted.

I phoned a friend to see how she was getting on and discovered she had experienced a surge in the hornet attack in the past two weeks (just when we were in the U.K.!).  She fears she has lost at least two of her four hives.

Sad news to end on.


Getting used to November in the garden

At this stage in the year it is usual to accept that winter has come.  I just want to know where autumn went to.  We did go back to the U.K. for a couple of weeks late in October, coming back early November.  We came back to sunshine and tales of summer-like temperatures whilst we were away.

Mahonia Charity and queen bumble bee

Arriving back I checked out the garden before I went inside the house  and went straight to the Mahonia “Charity” that was planted last year.  The Mahonia was already nourishing a queen bumble bee.  “Charity” is a big variety and has put on quite a bit of growth since last year.  I had also planted two “Winter Sun” Mahonia which flowered in October.  I felt that was a bit early but they were mostly in the sun this year.  Perhaps when they get more shade they will do better.

Worker bumble bee on Mahonia

As well as the queen, there was a worker bumble bee on the Mahonia but she did not get that purple pollen from the Mahonia!

bumble bee on Phacelia

She had been working the Phacelia only a few metres away.

Barn owl in roosting box

As I was checking out my flowers and bumble bees, Kourosh had noticed a lot of white splashes on the floor of our outbuilding and set up a ladder to check for occupants of his barn owl nest box.  The owl does not look overjoyed to see us but we are happy he has returned to use the nest as a roost, if not to nest.

persimmons and asian hornet

We are not  so happy to see the Asian hornets much in evidence in the garden.  The persimmons were ready to harvest when we returned and we are content to share some with the birds but not so pleased to see them being enjoyed by the Asian hornets.

Magnolia Grandiflora seeds

The seed pods of the Magnolia Grandiflora are literally bursting at the seams.  I wander whether this increased fertility could be due to the pollination by our honey bees.  They seemed to be much more attracted to the flowers than the solitary bees.  It is only thirteen seconds long but the video shows you how much fun the bees were having in the flowers during the summer.

I managed to buy some some bee friendly plants in the U.K.  I bought Monarda “Jacob Cline” and an Eucryphia nymensis.  My friend Linda had been busy growing lots of Knautia so I now have a good size patch that should be a magnet for bees next year.


I am also replacing my sedum with varieties I which I know will attract bees.  Even though it was not the right time I did find a Sedum “Autumn Joy” and a small variety “Dragon’s blood” whilst I was in the U.K.  There are lots of little changes to be done and some bulbs yet to be planted but each change adds and an extra for the new year.


I planted the willows (Salix alba “Chermesina”)in January 2014 and now they are starting to fill out and add colour to the winter garden.   Although I am already looking forward to the spring when their task is to form a screen around a seating area.





The story of noisy bees, bald brood and continuing hornets attack

I had hoped that as the summer was almost over, the Asian hornets (Vespa velutina) would ease their pressure on our poor bees.  Sadly that has not yet been the case.  A couple of weeks before the end of October I noticed an enormous nest right in the middle of our nearest town, only 4 kilometres away.

Asiatique Hornets nest
Asian Hornets’ nest

It must have been a good half a metre in diameter.  I could easy see large number of our  number one enemies  circling around the entrance.

Asiatique Hornets

We have placed several hornet traps at the bottom of the garden and each day they trap numerous hornets, but I am afraid that the battle at the hive entrance continues unrelentingly.  But we soldier on and several times a day Amelia and I stand guard with the shrimping nets and at each occasion catch a couple of dozen of hornets.  But we cannot stay there all day.  You can see the attack, just before Amelia catches the hornet in a short video clip.

Despite the temperatures during the day reaching as high as 20 C, the nights are cool and the preparation for winter must be made.  We decided to treat all our four hives with Apilife Var against the varroa mites.   The recommendation has been to treat whilst the temperature is above 20 C.  It was also suggested to close the metal plate under the hives so that the treatment becomes more effective.  For about a week in early September, however, the temperature here exceeded 35 C and the bees were definitely upset and we had to open the plate under the hive to let them cool down.  We also found that two of the hives were covering the pieces of treatment material with propolis.  The other interesting discovery was that Violette is definitely a hygienic colony and the varroa drop before and after treatment was almost nil.

Being my first year, I find it amazing how the behaviour of each hive is totally different.  For example, when we approach Sunflower we can hear that inside the hive they are much more noisy than the others.  They also appear to be very hard worker bringing in pollen all day long.

Although we are told that the threat by the hornets will soon disappear and apart from the queens, the rest will die naturally, we need to prepare ourselves for the following year.  We have looked at several anti-hornet devices and eventually I decided to test a new anti-hornet muzzle (see short video).

The muzzle fits neatly at the entrance of the hive.

Anti- hornet muzzle at the entrance of bee hive
Anti- hornet muzzle at the entrance of bee hive

The bees were a bit confused and as I had not yet tightened the screw at the top, they decided to choose the easy way by entering their home just behind the top board of the muzzle.  I felt sorry for them as they were coming home loaded with pollen so I removed the muzzle.


I bought two muzzles and I have asked our beekeeper friend Michel to try one as well.  So, we will have to wait a little longer before giving a verdict on this device.  If successful, I will install one on each hive.

Opening the hives for inspection we also noticed that two of the hives still have a frame at one side that was not touched at all, although there appears to be an overall adequate quantity of honey reserve .

Empty frame
Empty frame

The next frame was well build up with honey.

Frames with the build up of honey
Frames with the build up of honey

We took all the unbuilt frames and replaced them with solid wooden partitions with additional insulation.  Another action was based on something that we read Brother Adam used to do and that is placing a super under the brood box during the winter.  The idea is that it provides a volume  of still air, keeping the brood box warmer and also reducing the humidity from the ground.

Poppy repositioned on super
Poppy repositioned on super

One other problem that we discovered in Violette was that there were bald brood on one frame.  The little pale heads look quite spooky.

Bald Brood
Bald Brood

I am told that there are different factors that can give rise to bald brood.  It can be due to wax moth infestation but we have seen no sign of this.   Violette has always had a very low varroa count so this maybe part of her hygienic behaviour to open larval cells containing varroa and destroy them.  We treated her with the others but the drop was very low.  The bees sense something strange and uncap the cell, but in most cases the larvae do emerge as an adult bee.  We will need to keep a close eye on her, but I would appreciate any comment or suggestion.

You can see that whilst I repositioned all the four hives, Amelia was faithfully keeping guard with the shrimping net.

Repositioned bee hives with an empty super underneath the brood box
Repositioned bee hives with an empty super underneath the brood box

The good news is that there are still flowers in the garden and the bees have been busy bringing the pollen from the cosmos, the odd dahlia and the aster.

Bees on aster
Bees on aster

The story will continue, but meanwhile the bees keep us smiling when we watch their antics, like the bee below who did not want just to walk through the door.

Trick bee
Trick bee
  • Kourosh