a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France


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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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Mason bee hotels or houses

We have been having our share of cold weather this week. Our weather is still very tempered by our position and proximity to the Atlantic Ocean so I am talking about temperatures dipping below zero centigrade at nightime and rising to a high of 7 or 8 degrees during the day.  From comments I am receiving on the blog, I get the feeling that a lot of gardeners are nevertheless eager to get their seeds sorted and start with the spring planning.  If you are restricted in your gardening activities at the moment, it might be the time to think about building or looking for a bee hotel.

My first bee hotel had been a gift that had languished under the lilac tree until in March 2013 I had seen the male Osmia checking out the holes in search of newly hatched females. (Short Mason Bee Update).

I found watching the bees as they nested fascinating and decided to add more bee hotels to the garden. (New Mason Bee Nests)

I decided to examine the best places to mount the bee hotels and monitor the best designs and sizes of holes.

Osmia leiana

What I discovered is that it doesn’t matter!

Megachile at bee hotel

Once you have provided the holes, the visitors will begin to arrive.

Solitary wasp

You are likely to see more than just bees.  I get solitary wasps.  These are not aggressive creatures so no worry about being attacked and stung, unless you are a caterpillar!  These solitary wasps are the gardeners’ friend and will stock their nests with caterpillars and other goodies for their carnivorous larvae.

Osmia ...

If you give them a varied selection of holes and hollow stems, they will do the rest.   Here is an Osmia bee (I think caerulescens ) cleaning out the holes drilled in a cut log.  This is in June.  Some bees will come to my garden in March or April, others will come in the summertime and others may return for a second time in the same year.

Megachile emerging

I must admit to have been pretty excited the first time I saw a bee emerging from “my” bee house in May 2014. This is the very bamboo cane that had been so carefully sealed with a rose petal by a Megachile the previous September.

Heriades t.

It is also exciting is to watch which bees decide to take up residence.  This little bee (Heriades truncorum, I think) is less than a centimetre long and as well as nesting in the bamboo canes was also quite happy to use the much finer old, cut stems of my Leycesteria formosa (Himalayan nutmeg.)

So the most important action is to put something up.  Whether it be approaching a work of art or some hollow stems stuffed into an empty plastic bottle: there are lots of ideas out there on the web.  I think they like the sunny spots but all my bee hotels have been used, even the ones in shady places.  If you hope to photograph the nests you should think about having good natural light available as you will need to be using a fast shutter speed.

For the curious, like me, there is also a solitary bee nest that can be opened so that you can see exactly what has been happening over the summertime.  I found it on http://www.wildlifeworld.co.uk/p/solitary-bee-hive?pp=24

I did not buy it until the end of the summer but I could not resist putting it up, although I thought it was much too late to attract any interest.

Anthea

But then on the 29th. of September last year Anthea arrived.  Yes, it has got that bad!  I’ve started giving them names – Anthea, the Anthidium manicatum.

Anthidium chooses wrong hole

We had lots fun watching her bringing her bales of cotton to make her nest.  She harvests her cotton wool by clipping off the soft hairs that cover the grey/green leaves of plants like sage, stachys, artemisia and verbascums.  But sometimes she gets it wrong and flies into the wrong hole and makes a hasty turnaround like she has done here, to return to the correct one.

Anthidium cocoons

In the middle of December I decided to take my boxes down and I had a look at the inside of the new box.  The cocoons were beautiful with no sign of mites.  I will take another look before the bees come back to see if they have survived the winter intact.

I also decided to buy some nesting tubes and paper liners from the same site, Wildlife World.  The tubes are well cut and will save time as I have been promised another new bee hotel for this year 🙂

Lizard in bee hotel

One problem I have had is that our lizards love to sun themselves on top of the bamboo stems of the bee hotels.  However, to make themselves really comfortable, they kick out the tubes.  This year the tubes must be firmly wedged with pieces of wood so that not even the strongest lizard can displace them.