a french garden


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Rain and thunderstorms

It was so good to get all the windows open on the first cool morning after the heatwave and to feel a cool breeze blow through the house.  However, that was not all that came in the window.  I would have thought that the swallows would have chosen their nesting places and not still be looking over our living room as a potential new home.

It has been so hot and dry that I was concerned a lot of the plants would suffer.  The grass has dried up but we have left patches of cat’s ears for the bees.  The willows (Salix alba “Chermesina”) in the middle of the picture provide a good screen for our sitting area and have kept green.  On the right the Chitalpa has started flowering as has the Magnolia on the left of the willows.

The Chitalpa is a cross between the Catalpa bignonioides (Indian bean tree) and Chilopsis linearis (Desert willow).  It does well in the sun in this exposed position which does not get watered.  My disappointment is that the flowers are not as visited by the bees as the Catalpa flowers but I prefer my Chitalpa as the Catalpa would grow too big for this spot.

The Magnolia grandiflora does not seem to mind the heat and the lack of water.  It is growing big now and the flowers are often high up but the perfume still floats down.

We do water the vegetables and that has been a nightly task.

The Borlotti beans have started to give pods and they will hopefully continue through the summer.

There is no lack of pollinators for the courgettes and we have already had so many that we will probably have to remove some of the plants to avoid a glut.

We water the flowers in the front garden and the Agapanthes are in flower just now.

Everything looks happier after several days of really good rain.

The first field of Sunflowers opened near us four days ago.

The flowers had already been spotted by the bees and we wondered if our bees had found them too.

A shot of the bees at the mouth of the hive confirms that the bees have been on the sunflowers as there are many bees covered with the tell-tale (tell-tail?) bright yellow pollen.

We are happy too and take great pleasure in leaving the windows open while we have a cup of tea and watch the rain pour down.

What funny creatures gardeners are!

 


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After the rain

These past few days we have had rain.  I’m happy, the garden is happy.

The garden smells so good too.  As I watch the bees on the Veilchenblau rose, I can smell an incredible mix of the rose, honeysuckle, Philadelphus and warm leaves.

The rain has been in such short supply this year that the flowers don’t mind getting wet and the poppy bends its top petals over its precious supply of pollen.

The bees are happy too and strip off the pollen before the petals have time to dry.

The warm weather tempted my peony Festiva Maxima to bloom for the first time.  It was a present from our daughter which we planted in 2008 but was in completely the wrong place, and there it remained until last year when I decided to move it (by this time I felt I had little to lose although I heard you could not move peonies.)

Five days later the petals were falling but it still looked beautiful like some ageing diva.

I believe this is Rigolotte, which was part of the same present and looking much happier in a sunny position.

Another first today was spotting a bee on the Erigeron.  The Erigeron self seeds in the cracks of the paths and at the base of the house walls but usually it does not attract the bees.

Nigella and Eschscholzia have self sown beside the patio, a bit gaudy but better than weeds.

The Eschscholzia is not as popular as the other poppies with the bees but it does provide them with a pretty colour of pollen.

I have been searching for my bee orchid that has been coming up every year in the front garden and was sad to find no trace of it, despite there having been two plants which produced seed.  But instead a new one has appeared in the back garden and has chosen to place itself beside the water tap, pushing its way through self seeded Centranthus.

Finally, I think the bees have been doing a bit of genetic engineering.  Above is my blue Cerinthe that has happily self seeded in the garden for many years.  It is beloved by the bumble bees and the Anthophora (the bee in the picture).

Today I found a Cerinthe with red flowers!  So I do not know what the bees were doing to the pollen that went on to produce this plant.  Maybe a little extra U.V. light onto the pollen, or an extra squeeze or nibble, surely not a virus?

I had to rescue it from a fair few encroaching heavy weeds and I will continue with the TLC to see what happens.


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The loss of a beehive.

On 7th May, we lost our brave Violette.

For those of you that might be interested to know, in April I wrote that our favourite hive, Violette, swarmed.  The swarm arrived happily in a nuke that we had placed on the roof of the old chicken coop and subsequently we transferred her to the end of the garden where we keep our hives.

Violette BeehiveTwo weeks later we noticed a small bundle of bees on the ground, in front of Violette.  We suspected that the new queen was among them as I had read that sometimes on return from her nuptial flight she is so tired and heavy that she cannot fly well.

Queen bee outside the hive with her courtSo I decided to gently pry the bees to see what I could find.  “There she is!”, Amelia noticed.

Queen bee outside her hiveI lifted the queen gently and placed her in front of the hive entrance.  She walked in and soon the rest of the bees followed her inside.  Unfortunately, this happened three times, over two days.  Each time she appeared to have tumbled out of the hive.  Something strange was definitely happening.

So a couple of days later, on Sunday 7th May, we prepared the smoker to open up Violette.  There was no need to use the smoker, as the hive was completely empty.  No bees to be found, dead or alive.

I spoke with a couple of very experienced beekeepers who told me that they too have had hives completely empty.  They believe that whilst outside the hive they must have been poisoned and subsequently died.   We found three closed queen cells in Violette and opened them to see fully formed queens, abandoned by the bees.  There was no visible sign of disease on the bees before.  We found it strange that a week earlier the hive was full of bees and then nothing.  No bees!

The swarm that we had collected from Violette in a six frame nuke, however, was so busy that for a couple of nights we saw some bees staying outside the hive at night.  It appeared that there was no room in the inn.

Nuke with too many beesAs we had the smoker ready we opened up the nuke, and found out that she had very large brood on both sides of five frame, and a lot of bees moving around.  We quickly transferred to a full ten frame hive, plus a super.  She is now called Iris.

Iris Bee hiveViolette’s frames were all destroyed in case of any illness, or transfer of any possible poison.

But nature is what it it is and we have to accept that sometimes we win and sometimes we lose.

The two pairs of blackbirds in the back garden appear to have each raised two chicks and the fledglings are ravenous.

Black bird with fledglingsThe large poppy seeds that I planted at the edge of the vegetable garden last year and they did not grow then, are now in flower and are loved by the bumblebees as well as our honey bees (and of course by us!)

PoppiesThe phacelia that self-seeded from last year’s planting is also well loved by bumblebees and the honey bees.

IMG_0180So as consolation, I made a cup of coffee for Amelia with a little chocolate bunny.  “But who is sitting in my chair”, she cried!

IMG_0128The little tree frog, our daily visitor, was nonplussed by our intrusion.

Tree frog

Kourosh


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Honey bees Update April 2017

We were so pleased that our four hives came well out of the winter.  On warmer days throughout the winter the bees were active, even bringing in pollen.  As Brother Adam had suggested we had placed a super under the hives to lift them a little above the damp earth and provide a layer of still air for insulation.

Our 4 hives in FebruaryDuring the last week of February we inspected the hives before going on a holiday.  All four hives were going quite strong.  As suspected Violette was the strongest and she had already a sealed queen cell.  We had learnt from our mistake on Cornucopia last year at about the same time when we had left the queen cell.  In late February it is quite possible for the bees to get the swarm fever and make a new queen.  But in so early season, there are almost no male bees to fertilise a new queen.  That is what happened to Cornucopia last year, when we had five frames of brood in late February and none in mid March.

So this year as soon as I saw a queen cell in February, we destroyed it and removed one frame of honey and replaced it with a fresh waxed frame.

On 19th March after our holidays, we opened up Violette again and saw that they had drawn the fresh wax and had already made healthy brood on it.  The hive was full of bees.  But they had again made a few queen cells.  This time we felt it is the right moment to divide her.  We removed two frames of brood with the queen cells and placed them in a nuke and added fresh waxed frames and shook some more nurse bees into the nuke. We added fresh frames to Violette and then closed both hives.  The closed nuke was placed in our cellar for two nights and then returned to the apiary.  By then the nurse bees had forgotten their old home.  In any case the nurse bees would not abandon their existing brood.

Bees division in a nukeWe have, since then kept our fingers crossed and eventually on 4th April we saw for the first time that the bees in the nuke were bringing pollen.  Notice two bees with different colour of pollen.  That we took as a good sign that hopefully there is a queen laying eggs.

First pollen in a nukeThe fields around us, especially across the road are all yellow with rapeseed in flower. The bees are quite active collecting both pollen and nectar; and so are the butterflies.

IMG_0071-001You can just about notice the blue of our hives near the flowering apple tree.

Field of Rape acroos our landI am not particularly keen in collecting rapeseed honey as last year it crystallized quickly and we could not extract it and had to cut up the frames and use as honeycomb.  This year we placed supers on the hives with just a very small amount of wax, not so much for making honeycomb, but more for reducing the risk of swarming.

But, as every beekeeper learns quickly, swarming is something hormonal and no amount of effort on our part totally removes the risk of a hive swarming.

On 10th April, I saw a lot of bees in front of Violette.  Was that because with 27degree temperature, they were too hot, or was this a beard before swarming?

Bees forming a beard before swarmingIn any case I placed an umbrella over her to keep the ladies cool.

Violette hive under the umbrellaDespite adding an empty frame in February, dividing her in March and putting on a super Violette swarmed.  She chose the cotoneaster just a metre or so away from her hive.  As you can see in this short video, the swarm was very low above the ground and I had to cut all the small brunches to get close to them.  The purple flowers are honesty.

Bees swarming on the cotoneaster 1Normally I can shake a swarm on a branch into a plastic bucket and literally pour them into a nuke.  This time I had to brush them gently to get the bees clustered around the trunk of the cotoneaster.

Bees swarming on the cotoneaster 2It appeared to go alright.  But do the ladies have a mind of their own? Yes!  Half hour later they just marched out on the cotoneaster as before.

Unsuccessful capture of the swarmSo I had to make another call to our beekeeper friend, Michel for advice.  All he said on the phone was “J’arrive”.  As he lives about a kilometre away he came quickly.  Amelia, Michel and I were standing near the old chicken coop  and discussing the problem and the best way of collecting the swarm from Violette, when Amelia shouted: “listen to the noise!”  The sky above our head was almost black with bees.  I ran to the bottom of garden to see if it was the swarm on the cotoneaster or a new swarm.  There were no bees on the cotoneaster.  Violette had arrived directly into the nuke that we had placed above the chicken coop.  You can see in this short video the swarm arriving.  Soon they were all over the nuke and it took an hour or more for all of them to enter the nuke.

Bees arriving in the nuke 2That night, I gave them a little syrup and set the alarm to wake us up early next morning to take them down to the bottom of the garden.

The morning was cool and the bees were calm.  The full moon was beautiful and I could not resist a quick picture above our trees.

11 April early morningThe next two days we had two more swarms that arrived near our hives.  One was on the fence and one the quince tree.  The latter required standing on the step ladder to collect them.  Both we gave to Michel.

Collecting swarm near the hivesThe Violette’s swarm is very busy and I feel that it will not be long before we have to place them in a full size hive.  My dilemma is that I have promised myself I will not keep more than four or five hives at the most.  Now we have our four hives and the division of Violette and the swarm of Violette.

Our 4 hives plus two nukesSo, if the division is successful, do I keep her or the swarm?

  • Kourosh


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A confused spring

For the past couple of days we have had sunshine and temperatures going up to 26 degrees centigrade.  Sitting outside (in the shade in the afternoon) it feels more like summer.

The large plum tree has finished flowering and yet many of the trees like the Ash and Poplar still look skeletal from afar.

The Salix chermesina (foreground) have been cut down to leave pride of place to the Amelanchier.

I never had a species name for my Amelanchier but it is always full of blossom in the spring and I like its branched form.  Unfortunately the bees and pollinators are not impressed.

The peach tree is in blossom and…

the apricots have plenty of green fruit.  However, April can be cold here and frosts can be expected until the beginning of May, so I am not counting my apricots yet.

I have been starting to change the very bottom of the garden into a “Spring Walk”, inspired by Christina her Italian garden.  This part of the garden had been overrun and thick with brambles and ivy and had to be left on its own for many years.  Because of the trees there is little light in the summer but I thought I could introduce some spring flowers.

There were too many daffodil bulbs in the borders in other parts of the garden which had to be thinned out.  I thought that if they had prospered and multiplied with little care in the various borders then they might survive at the bottom of the garden, which is very dry in the summer.  The problem was there is little soil over the tree roots so it was a case of sticking them in during the autumn and covering them up with divots taken from clearing the borders.  Miraculously, they survived and have flowered.  We have also been trying to seed some of the woodland flowers from around us in this area for some years now.

We have been keeping the path strimmed roughly and after the daffodils  finished there was a beautiful path of dandelions.  It is not only here that the dandelions are prospering but all over the garden and over the fields outside.  I have never seen so many dandelions in the spring.  It must seem like manna for the bees and other pollinators.

I now have a request.  The white flowers look like snowdrops (sorry about the photograph but white flowers on long stems are past my photographic ability – just think big snowdrops) but I have forgotten their name.  I have a feeling I saw them in Cathy’s garden some years ago.  I don’t think this should be too hard for you gardeners out there.

Next I.D.!  This has been grown from a cutting from a dubious source.  It is not fast growing but it is very tough and makes excellent ground cover.  The leaves are small – check out the nettle in the foreground for scale.

This year it is covered with little white/pale lemon flowers which the bees like (which is the reason we took the cuttings in the first place.)  It is evergreen and keeps mainly a low profile put it has thrown up the odd higher shoot this year.  Perhaps this is a more difficult one to name?  Any help with the names will be welcomed.

I am always impressed with tough plants.  This picture was taken on the 14 March 2017.  This is my Anisodontea which was still flowering last December although the leaves were starting to go red in the cold and now it has started to flower again!  I think I will try and take some cuttings.

Another new plant is my Lonicera tatarica which is covered in these delicate dark pink flowers.  All the bees like it but they are a bit spoiled for choice with the number of flowers available for them at the moment.

The Viburnum tinus has masses of blossom and is that bit earlier to flower.  We have divided the shoots from our large bush to provide hedging for the side of the garden so we should have even more flowers next year.

I used to love the chrome yellow flowers of Forsythia in the spring and I have several plants but since I have become interested in the bees it has dropped low on my list of favourites.  I see very few bees on the flowers – but there will always be the one to keep you guessing!

Our bat is still with us and is enjoying the sunny weather.  It let me get a good photograph to show the white tips of its black fur.  I had read that the Barbastelle bat’s have white tips to their black hairs but they are not always apparent in the shade.  It flies off on its adventures at dusk, just as night falls.

Just now the moment is around 21.00 hours and we watch it take flight, never knowing if it will be the last time we wave it goodbye – for this year.


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After the big chill

 

back-garden

Little has changed in the garden in the past weeks, but this says a lot for the hardiness and resilience of the plants as they have weathered a period of constant sub-zero overnight temperatures that dropped to minus eight degrees centigrade.

frost-on-primrose

Frost on primroses makes them look sugar-coated and they are tough as old boots but…

frost-on-loquat-19-1-17

The first flowers that I have ever had on my Loquat ((Eriobotrya japonica) were also frozen.

loquat-after-freeze

What has surprised me is that now after the freeze, it is continuing to flower.  The fresh buds have opened releasing their perfume and are still being visited by the bees.  The terminal leaves that surround the flowers have been badly damaged by the cold but the buds are obviously made of sterner stuff.

broad-beans-and-peas

The broad beans too have survived.  I confess to having covered them with a fleece and I do not think they would have survived without the extra help.  Just before we left at Christmas I hastily planted some peas which you can see to the right of the broad beans.  I reckoned the germination would be much poorer so I planted the peas close together (also I did not want to be left with half a packet).  It looks like every single pea has germinated so I will wait to see what the future brings but perhaps they should be thinned.

polygala-after-frost

The only obvious casualty is the Polygala.  I planted it last spring because it was supposed to be attractive to bees and butterflies but I was very disappointed as far as pollinating insects were concerned although the flowers are very pretty.  Perhaps it just gave up the struggle because I did not love it enough.

label

I was not idle during the freeze, I made labels for some of our plants.  Some are for plants that are small and could get lost, others are for those plants whose name always escapes you, and I have tried to date when they were planted so that I have a better idea of how long they take to grow.

violette-ruche

I took the opportunity during the bitter cold days when Violette was safely tucked up inside her hive to repaint her “au vent” or sun shade, which was peeling, and add a new Violette design on her front where the sun would damage it less.

violette-with-pollen

This week the amazingly mild temperatures have allowed all the bees out to gather nectar and pollen.

bee-gathers-nectar

The winter flowering honeysuckle is close bye and provides nectar for them.

1-bee-gathers-pollen-on-winter-honeysuckle

It also provides pollen, and they stroke the stamens lovingly to gather the much needed pollen.  The winter flowering honeysuckle gets my top mark for supporting pollinators during winter as the queen bumble bees visit it too.

mahonia-and-bee

We planted the Mahonia mainly for the bumble bees but I notice that the honey bees help themselves too.

viburnum-tinus

The Viburnum tinus is covered in buds that are slowly opening but not attracting any pollinators at the moment.

rosemary

The prostrate Rosemary has opened its first flowers with the promise of more to come soon.

hellebores

The Hellebores too are waiting in the wings.

snowdrops-1-2-17

My snowdrops are few and struggle hard to survive here but I am grateful a few determined individuals keep up the fight.

clematis-buds

Otherwise, the season advances with clematis pushing out tentative buds.

clematis-seeds

While higher up the seed heads from last year still decorate the stems.

stripped-cotoneaster

After the cold spell I noticed that all our cotoneaster bushes were stripped of their red berries.  We have several different varieties of cotoneaster in the garden but they all provide masses of flowers for the bees  followed by great autumn decoration for us, then on to become a winter larder for the birds.  All this from drought resistant, frost tolerant plants that are cheap to buy and can even be grown from seed.

cotoneaster-4-11-2014

I had to go back to the autumn of 2014 to get a photo of the cotoneasters before stripping but that’s what they look like – only bigger now.

cerinthe-in-lawn

Overall, the prolonged cold spell has had much less of an effect on the garden than I would have imagined.  I think the cold weather in January should delay any precocious blossoming or budding.  It has not helped me keep the Cerinthe in their place and a lot of them are making a break for it onto the lawn.  I am just debating whether to leave them there or dig them up and re-house them elsewhere. I need to keep a good stock of them in the garden to enjoy watching the Anthophora bees in the spring.

 

 


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Am I killing our bees?

Amelia and I spent two week in the UK in late October.  Before our departure we were so happy with our bees. They had given us loads of honey and all the frames of each of our five hives were either full of brood or honey reserve.  This was much better than last year at this stage, when we had to remove three empty frames from Violette and two from Poppy and place a partition in their hives.

The entrance of each of our hives is fitted with a metal strip that just permits the bees to enter the hive but is (in theory) too narrow to let the Asian hornets (Vespa velutina) and European hornets (Vespa crabro) enter the hive. (Grille d’entrée anti frelons )

img_0123

During the Spring of this year we had captured over a hundred Asian hornets – mostly queens – and as the result we had noticed very few attacks from the hornets during August, September and even October.  Despite that I had left several frelon traps not far from the hives.

On our return from the UK, we went to the hives immediately, even before entering the house.  What we found just broke our hearts.  The hives were being badly attacked even though it was late in the evening.  We noticed that the Asian hornets appeared to be smaller than the previous year and they were coming out of the hive we call Iris.  She was our youngest division from Violette and in October she had a large brood and all frames at the sides were full of honey.  She had even given us honey.

The next day I opened Iris as there did not appear to be any guard bees.  I noticed a very small brood in the middle two frames but only a small handful of bees on them.  I could almost cry!

We had already bought hive muzzles and decided to place an entrance reducer on some of the hives and the muzzles on others.  Maybe it is the case of closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.  Maybe as far as Iris is concerned we have lost her.

poppy-dead-bees-001

Just above the metal mesh, there is an entrance to the hive, but only some of the bees are getting used to entering through that entrance.  The problem in any case is that the metal mesh in front of the muzzle has 6mm wide entrance for the bees.  Theoretically they should be able to enter and leave, but some get stuck in the mesh, others do injure themselves or die.  Others try to remove their dead sisters which makes it even a sadder sight to watch.

dead-bees-stuck-001

I cannot decide whether the muzzles are helping the bees or harming them.

My other problem is that I have fitted two of my hives with a small canopy which makes it even more difficult to fit the muzzle.  On Violette with her canopy I had to fit the muzzle above the canopy so it is really badly fitted.

violette-dead-bees-001

Fortunately during the last few days it has been raining and there are less bees coming and going.  I have not had the courage to fully inspect all the hives when it rains and disturb them even more, but I am seriously worried for at least three of the hives.

A few days ago we found eight Asian hornets had actually managed to enter the space within the muzzle of Iris.  Once inside the muzzle the hornets do not attack the bees and appear to panic.  Eventually they die.

8-frelon-trapped-iris

I watched Poppy’s guard bees actually attack two hornets inside her muzzle and eventually killed her.  But to be honest I am getting desperate.  Perhaps someone – not necessarily a beekeeper – can suggest a better design for the muzzle that would protect the bees without killing them.  For the moment I am not sure if I am hurting them more than protecting them.

Kourosh