a french garden


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

 


29 Comments

A swarm in April can change its mind

Amelia and went on a couple of weeks of holiday in March, but before that we made our first inspection of the four hives.  All four hives seemed be doing well but we discovered that although Cornucopia, our strongest hive had six frames of brood cells, she had also built queen cells on one frame.  After some agonizing, it seemed to us that the best course of action was to let it bee (sorry!).  So we kept our fingers crossed and left to go on holiday.

Our bee hives at Virollet

Two weeks later on our return we once again opened Cornucopia for inspection and saw plenty of bees, but sadly all those lovely broods had disappeared.  The explanations we could think of was that either something had happened to queen Cornucopia or she had swarmed and a new queen had actually emerged but in such an early season could not be mated.

Whatever the reasons, that only the bees were aware of, we felt that we had very little choice left.  We had to act quickly.  The most obvious solution was to merge Cornucopia bees with Sunflower, which was our youngest and hence smallest colony.  We did so using the newspaper method, that is we removed the crown board of Sunflower, placed a sheet of (English newspaper, of course) on top of the frames, followed by a queen excluder and then placed Cornucopia on top.

Bee hives being united by newspaper method

We left them in place for a week, allowing the bees in Cornucopia to get used to the pheromone of Sunflower queen and accept her as their new queen and the bees in Sunflower also accept the newcomers.  We watched them regularly and there was absolutely no war between them.  Interestingly we were told that the bees chew away the newspaper and we would find scraps of paper under the hive.  We saw no debris, but then Amelia actually observed the bees carrying away bits of newspaper high in the sky far away from the hive.

After a week we lifted Cornucopia and saw no sign of the newspaper.  All had been removed by the bees (I hope that improved their English).  We checked there was no queen in Cornucopia then shook and brushed the remaining bees down to Sunflower.   There was only a few minutes of upset at our intrusion.  We wondered that at the end if some of the bees might have drifted and been accepted by other two hives.

beehives just successfully united

At this time of the year there are acres of fields with rapeseed in flower no more than a hundred yards from our house.  The bees collect nectar to make honey….

A bee collecting nectar from rapeseed flower

…… and, as you can see, they also collect pollen.

A bee with pollen also collecting nectar from rapeseed flower

However, we never see large numbers of bees on the rape seed flowers.

We inspected the other hives.  We saw lots of bee on the inside of the crown board of Violette actually building beautiful honeycombs.  That seemed a sure sign that we need to place supers on all the hives.

Bees building honeycombs on crown board

So far so good, we thought, until a few days later we observed that Amelia’s favourite beehive, Violette, was apparently considering swarming. Here in France they call it ‘faire une barbe’ (to make a beard).

bees getting ready to swarm - faire une barbe

We know that there is no sure method to prevent swarming, but if there was a queen cell in the hive, then perhaps we could divide the hive.  We quickly put on our bee suits and prepared a hive ready in case on opening Violette we might see queen cells.  Returning only a few metres away from the hive, I shouted to Amelia, who had the honour of pushing the wheelbarrow, to stop.  It appeared that we were too late and Violette had already swarmed on the quince tree nearby.

bees just swarmed on the nearby quince tree

So we were left to wonder if we can persuade them to ‘walk in’ their new home, or should we just bring in a bucket to collect the swarm.  Meanwhile, queen Violette, like some ladies, could not make up her mind.  In the end, she made the first move; she decided to go back home!

Bee swarm returned back to their original hive

In this short video you can actually see the bees walking up the stand into their hive.

We waited and waited until they all returned andhad obviously gone off swarming.  Impatient, as I am, I opted for opening the hive and see what was inside.  Sure enough apart from plenty of brood cells, there was a closed queen cells as well as unclosed cell with royal jelly in it.  I made the decision of removing two frames with the queen cells and plenty of nurse bees, plus a honey frame and placed it in a six frame hive (ruchette).  The wisdom is to place the mini hive some three kilometres away, or keep it in a dark cellar for two nights.  We opted for the second option and closed the entrance and kept them in the dark feeding them syrup.

After two nights, we place the mini hive near the other hives and opened her up.  The theory is that the nurse bees will not abandon the brood.  Sure enough all appears calm – for now.

Mini hive placed in the apiary

I don’t have the heart to cut the daisies in front of the hive, which now form a beautiful white carpet.  We will have to wait about a month to see if a new queen is born and can go on her nuptial flight.

But in the meantime will Violette and the other two hives swarm?  Only time will tell.

Just before closing, as this is after all a gardening blog, I have recently seen what I think is a black cap visiting our seed tray.  Hopefully someone can tell me if it is indeed a black cap.

A black cap on seed tray

  • Kourosh

 


33 Comments

Back home in June!

Front garden

Back home and it looked as if I hadn’t missed as much of the flowers as I thought I would.

Pink rose

The roses are still flowering.

World domination

And the Arum lily at the back looks as if it is set for world domination again this year.

Back garden

The back garden looks good from afar.

Stick garden

But when you look closer into the borders, the weeds have out-competed the plants.  Especially in my new border where I have been wise enough to mark my new plants with a stick, otherwise I would lose them to the competition.

growing stick

I had to put in so many sticks beside the plants that I named it my “stick garden”.  I prefer to use sticks from the trees in the garden to lessen the unpleasant impact but I had not counted on so many of them sprouting so vigorously like this one!

Early bumble Veichenblau

I have spent most of my days weeding since I have returned from my holidays but I still like to watch my bees like this early bumble bee in the Veilchenblau rose.

Bee in Viechenblau

It is not always that the bumble bees and honey bees like the same flowers, however, the Veilchenblau pollen is a favourite with both of them.  The pollen is this lovely yellow/orange shade.

Chafer

The bees have got competition from the chafer beetles so pollen gathering is done rapidly in the morning and there is plenty to go round for everyone.

Bee in poppy

The poppies are another sought after source of pollen, even if it looks as if they are carrying little sacks of coal.  There are some poppies with yellow pollen but if anything the black pollen seems to be favoured by both the bumbles and honey bees.  This means that by the afternoon the poppies are in a sorry state with the stamens completely decimated.

Bee in Cotoneaster

Another joint favourite of the bumbles and honeybees at the moment are the tiny flowers of the cotoneaster for their nectar.  I have seen a lot of hornets, both Asian and European on the cotoneaster recently.

Peony 2 bees plus

I had never noticed peonies being very popular  with the bees but these little wild bees like this one’s pollen and there is something more.

Peony and bug

I presume this is another type of chafer – more furry and cuter, but I have never seen one before.

Macroglossum stellatarum

The weather has been getting warmer these past few days and yesterday was 35 degrees Centigrade.  It feels like summer with lots of Humming Bird Hawk Moths (Macroglossum stellatarum) flying through the Centranthus ruber and Nepeta.

Ruche

When we left on holiday the captured swarm was still in its polystyrene temporary accommodation but when we returned Michel had kindly transferred it to its proper home at the bottom of the garden.

Yellow pollen

I now know where to find Kourosh if he is not around.

Black pollen

He will be watching his girls at the bottom of the garden.  I know where that bee got her black pollen from!

Bee gym

He is a well-behaved beginner and does not disturb the bees but he has lifted the top board to slide a Bee Gym on top of the frames.  I had read about this on Emily’s blog http://adventuresinbeeland.com/2013/11/03/into-the-dark-of-winter/.  I had thought it sounded a novel and interesting idea.  You can read more about it here at Bee Gym.

Empty ruchette

However, the second “ruchette” has remained empty, although it had looked like a swarm was very interested in it before we left on holiday.   Our neighbour Annie said that the weather turned cooler when we left so that might be the explanation.  Never mind, Kourosh is more than pleased with his swarm…and in addition interest has been renewed in the “ruchette” with the onset of warmer weather.