a french garden


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


26 Comments

A queen is born

Perhaps it was only the beginner’s luck, but last year we had three bee swarms that all came directly to a six frame hive that we had placed outside to attract them.

This year we thought we were well prepared with our three polystyrene hives to attract any new swarms.

Swarm fever seems to have been contagious.

Between 14th April and 27th April, we collected a total of nine swarms on trees close to our hives! A couple of days two swarms arrived on the same day.  Three of the swarms came from our own hives.  There are one or two professional beekeepers near us who keep their hives at the edge of the woods.  I assume that the swarms came from there.  We gave all the swarms to our beekeeper friend, Michel, to whom we have always relied for help.  The last swarm we kept for our friend, Angélique, from the bee school.

Queen Angélique for Angélique

When we first noticed a queen cell in Amelia’s favourite hive, Violette, we divided her.  A week later we saw more queen cells and divided her once again.  I know experienced beekeepers would have told us that a division might not prevent swarming – and they were right.  Violette swarmed a week later.  It was a risk, especially as we appreciate that divisions in hives are not always successful.

Three weeks later we inspected all hives as by then all should have had new queens.  To my dismay, there were no brood as yet either in our three hives, nor in the two nukes that we have made divisions.  I was disappointed, but then I read  the very informative blog by Rusty, on ‘When will a newly-hatched queen begin to lay?’   Rusty’s response to that question was:  ‘Holy guacamole, give the woman a chance!’  Despite my impatience, we did exactly as Rusty ‘commanded’.

On 20th May we opened all the hives for inspection.  They all had two or three large frames of brood.

Brood on the newly divided bee hive

I was especially pleased to see that both divisions from Violette had each three frames of lovely brood.  In fact it was not until afterwards that I looked through the pictures Amelia had taken whilst I inspected the hives, that we noticed the new queen.  We placed the first division of Violette into her own 10 frame hive which has now been named Pissenlit, as at this time there are a lot of dandelions growing  in the countryside around us.

New queen bee

The bottom of our garden is once again adorned with active hives, all with new queens.  We will wait for another week or so before we place the second division into her own hive (any suggestion for a name?)

Our beehives at Virollet

The second hive from the right is Queen Angélique, which will be transported to our friend’s house early tomorrow morning.

One final note, I must mention that a couple of weeks ago we attempted to extract honey from one super.  At that time the nectar was mainly from rapeseed flower.  As all beekeepers know, it crystallizes very quickly and is very difficult to spin out in the centrifuge.  We did make a small quantity of honey, and cut up the rest to be used by ourselves and our grateful neighbours as we all love comb honey.

Honey and Comb honey from rapeseed

Kourosh