a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France


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First swarm of 2021

The first swarm came into the garden on Saturday 20 March 2021. One day earlier than our first swarm last year. I do not know where it came from but it was not one of ours. We had divided our largest hive “Poppy” and put on a super. We did wonder If she could have swarmed but she is happily filling the super at this moment and the others are not ready yet.

We were happy to give this swarm a home.

The swarm had landed not too high on a cotoneaster and Kourosh held the hive under the swarm and I shook the bees into the hive. We added frames and placed it on a sheet to encourage any stragglers to crawl in.

Job done! Time for a cold drink and self-congratulations.

When we returned to check on the hive it appeared that all the bees were not in agreement of staying in their new home. We had to collect them in the bucket and pour them into the opened hive.

After a few more disagreements they gave up and settled in.

This is our friends’ hive so we put it in an outbuilding in the dark for two nights before we took them to our friends’ nearby hive area very early in the morning. Kourosh opened their entrance later in the morning and they have accepted their new home graciously.

The star of the garden at the moment is our flowering cherry “Accolade”. O.K. it isn’t very big but its our first flowering cherry and it is only its second year in the garden.

You really need to get a bit closer to appreciate the flowers.

Just beautiful!

The bees are in total agreement with our choice.

Talking of bees, I saw two carpenter bees mating holding onto the petals of the leucojum. I cannot remember seeing them mating before.

Yesterday I noticed a strange circle showing in the grass of our front lawn. Aliens? Fungal disease?

No, it was only Kourosh cutting the grass but not having the heart to mow down all the Star of Bethlehem (Ornithogalum umbellatum) flowers !


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The bees swarm again

A  few days ago I wrote how queen Violette decided to swarm and then changed her mind and went back.  Amelia and I opened up the hive after they settled down and made an artificial swarm, as we had found a couple of queen cells in the hive.  One was already closed, and so we expected a virgin queen to be born before too long.

We do not wish to count our chickens before they are hatched, so we have been reluctant to give a name to that small (six frame) hive until we are sure they have a fertilised queen.  That reminded us that when we lived in Athens, the Greeks would not name a baby until he or she was christened in church.  Until then the baby was simply called ‘το μωρό’ – the baby – pronounced as ‘to moro’.  So we also called the new hive ‘to moro’.

One week later we decided to open up Violette, as she has not swarmed for a second time.  This time we found six or seven queen cells on one frame.  We took the frame up with the nurse bees once again and placed it together with another brood frame from Poppy without her bees.  We made up another mini (six frame) hive.  ‘So what shall we call this one?’,  Amelia asked.  As I was born in Iran, I suggested we call her ‘pasfarda‘ – that means ‘the day after tomorrow’!  We closed up the little hive and housed her in the cellar once again for two night with the hope of placing her at the end of the garden.

The following day we checked on ‘to moro‘ at the end of the garden as well as ‘pasfarda‘ in the cellar.  We fed them both 2:1 syrup.  We settled down in the garden for a quiet lunch.

But ‘why’, I asked Amelia, ‘look at Sunflower.  She seems to be unusually excited.  I think she is considering swarming.’

Sunflower before swarming

So we continued eating our lunch with one eye on Sunflower.  Yes, it did appear that they were, as they call it here, were making a beard on the hive.

Sunflower 'faire une barbe'

However, by the time we finished eating, it seemed that once again the hive had become calm and we could not see many bees on the outside.  ‘Oh, well,’ we thought, ‘just like Violette, the queen in Sunflower must have gone back inside.

It was not until late afternoon that I put on my bee-suit to see how the little ladies were doing.  I approached Sunflower and saw something that I had not expected.  She had in fact swarmed, but the queen must have been ‘so attached’ to her old home that she had formed a swarm just under the hive.

Hive swarmed under her own hive

So another call to our beekeeper friend, Michel.  ‘How do we catch a swarm from under a hive?’  As he lives only a few minutes away, he turned up rapidly for a quick inspection.

Inspecting a swarm under the hive

Even he admitted that it was a bit tricky and as the evening was drawing in, he suggested we leave them until the morning and see what her majesty had decided to do.

Early in the morning, before breakfast, I visited the hive and found that the swarm had slept outdoors all night.

Swarm under the hive

I decided to close up Sunflower, and also the mini hive (to moro), next to her.  The latter I removed a bit further away so as she does not get knocked down.

Michel came a little later, armed with a pair of trestles, which we placed near the hive.

Step one in recovering the swarm

Next step was to place an empty mini hive under the trestle and then very gently lift Sunflower together with her super ….

Lifting the hive

…  and placed it on the trestle.

Placing the hive with the swarm on a trestle

Now we had to brush the swarm gently and let them drop into the empty mini hive.

brushing the swarm into the mini hive

Apart from a lot of bees on our clothes all went well and the mini hive ‘ruchette’ was closed up.

Swarm transferred to ruchette

Sunflower was lifted once again on her own stand and opened up.  The bees from the swarm that were still on the blanket and on the ground started marching into the mini hive.

Successful transfer of swarm to hive

I replaced ‘to moro’ back next to Sunflower and brought ‘pasfarda‘ out of the cellar.

The two ruchettes and the hive of Sunflower

The following day 14th April, the sky was cloudy, despite the 18 degrees temperature.  By lunch time it started raining lightly.  I suggested to Amelia that we go to our nearest big town, Saintes, as I wished to buy a few things.  We returned late afternoon and I went to empty the Asian hornet traps as I have caught a total of nine queens in the last week.  By then it was nearly 7 pm and I decided to go and have a last look at the bees before turning in.

‘Stop. Amelia’, I shouted.  This time Poppy has swarmed.  She must have swarmed whilst we were away as we had not notice them agitated around their hive.  They must have picked up the scent that Violette had placed on the quince tree and swarmed in the same place.

Poppy swarmed on the quince tree

Despite the lateness in the day, I needed to make another quick call to Michel.  ‘What would I do without you?’  He is always kind and calm.  ‘Qu’est-ce qui s’est passé?‘  I explained what has happened.

Once again he arrived in less than five minutes to give us assistance.  But before his arrival, Amelia and I prepared a ‘ruchette’ – a six frame hive.

Collecting bee swarm from quince tree

The bees were gently brushed into the empty hive and the frames inserted and the top closed.  We placed the hive at the base of the tree and the rest of the bees that were still on the tree and those that had fallen on the ground simply matched in.  In this short video you can actually see the rest of the bees walking into the hive.

I have promised myself not to keep more than four hives.  So I offered it to Michel.

swarm collcted. The rest of the bees simply marched into the hive.

I am beginning to wonder if we are too kind to our bees and they don’t really wish to go far away from our garden.

Dinner that night was rather late!   – Kourosh