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 !

Big, black, noisy bees in France

The Wisteria in this part of France is in flower now and I suspect that wherever there is Wisteria there will be Carpenter bees.  The first thought that passes through the mind of a person seeing a Carpenter for the first time is – “Does it sting?”

It is large – and measuring 25 to 30 mm long and with a possible wingspan of 45 to 50 mm – so it is a reasonable question to spring to mind.  However, despite its impressive size and loud drone when in flight, it is not an aggressive bee.  Now, I do not recommend trying to pick it up and give it a squeeze because it does have a sting.

Anyone wanting to “test” their aggressiveness has only to try and creep up on one to attempt a photograph.  They are much more difficult to capture with a camera than honey bees.  However, if you happen to be walking past some Wisteria in the spring you could inadvertently have a “near miss” with a male relentlessly patrolling for a receptive female.  The bee will be just as astonished as you are before he manages to steer his bulk around you.

One of the reasons I enjoy the Carpenters in the garden is that they are with us throughout the good weather.  The Carpenter above is on the Heptacodium at the end of September and will have been on all the early blossoms.  Not a fussy feeder and certainly a useful pollinator.

But not all pollinators pollinate all the time.  This sneaky bumble bee is enjoying the Wisteria’s nectar without touching the stamens and pollen.  In fact, if you look closely you can see a couple of black dots to the right of the bee’s proboscis which means that this this particular flower has been visited by other bees earlier.  In fact, the Wisteria flowers become quite ragged from the repeated piercings but this lets the smaller bees with short tongues, like honey bees, take advantage of the easy access route to the nectar.

I love watching the Carpenters in the garden but I do worry that they could be misunderstood so hopefully anyone who reads this blog and is new to Carpenters will come to love them too.





Heatwave October

Saffron patch

Anyone wanting to grow saffron should not leave their garden in October.  Of course, that is exactly what I did to catch up with the family in the U.K. but I was lucky and I don’t think I had lost too many of the flowers when I returned a couple of days ago.

I was very pleased to see that almost all the bulbs that I had planted last year had come up and some will need to be lifted and split again this year.  This year we have had a lot of rain and we had been told by a saffron producer in the area that some of her bulbs had rotted in the ground, so I was concerned that I might have lost mine too.

I find saffron my most pleasant crop to harvest.  The flowers are not produced over a long period and picking the flowers on my small scale is not tiresome.  All that remains for me to do is fold back the petals and remove the three bright orange stigma and place them on a plate to dry.

I would like to grow an annual plant over my saffron during spring and summer, especially one that might enrich the ground and save me constantly weeding.

Any ideas?


Bumble bee asleep in saffron flower

I was a bit late last night collecting the flowers and this bumble bee had already settled down for the evening.  I’m afraid I turfed her out but she was so sleepy she did not mind me swapping her saffron crocus for another just as comfortable flower.


My self-sown tomato plant is still happy and producing tomatoes beside the ferns in the well.  It seems not only happy to produce tomatoes in this strange place but to continue producing them into late October.


With temperatures between 26 and 28 degrees Centigrade these past few days it is hard to believe we are in October.  The Cosmos is looking tired but I cannot lift it yet as it is still flowering and is being visited by the Carpenter and other bees.


The Dahlias are still going strong and are a magnet for all the bees – this one is a male Halictus bee.  My sister brought me some seeds of the dahlia “Yankey Doodle Dandy” and although I planted them in early June I now have several flowering plants like the one above.  I’m not sure if it was the flower shape or the name that spurred her to purchase the seeds.


One of the Philadelphus has pushed out a flower on one side whereas it looks as if it is going into its autumn shut down on the other side.


The Tradescantia has popped up again.


And the some of the Hollyhocks are on their second flowering.  The bees are still busy but some of the bumbles, like the one above are getting tired and their colours are fading.

The cool weather must arrive soon but until then I can enjoy another “last day at the beach for this year”.

A January day

Comma butterfly, (Polygonia c-album),10.1.13
Comma butterfly, (Polygonia c-album),10.1.13

Red Admiral,(Vanessa atlanta).10.1.14
Red Admiral,(Vanessa atlanta).10.1.14

Honey bee gathering pollen, 10.1.14
Honey bee gathering pollen, 10.1.14

These photographs bear witness to the strange weather we are having this January. The Red Admiral and the Comma are butterflies that over-winter here, and the honey bees don’t have to stay tucked up in their hives for too long but the weather is staying exceptionally mild.

Bumble bee on winter honeysuckle

It is so mild the queen bumble bees have stretched their wings and stirred from their winter torpor to gather some nectar.

Honey bee on tinus

The bees have been visiting the Viburnum tinus.  This is not the preferred winter flower for the bees so I presume the warmer temperatures have activated the plants nectar production.

Winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis)
Winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis)

The first winter aconite has opened in the garden.

Apricot flower 10.1.14
Apricot flower 10.1.14

The apricot flower, as beautiful as it is, must surely be too early.  You would think it could tell by the length of the short days that it is winter and it would not to be fooled by the mild temperatures.

Apricot tree shoots 10.1.14
Apricot tree shoots 10.1.14

The shoots are opening and the leaves unfurling.  I do not want to be pessimistic but I think my chances of apricots this year are low.

Garden in snow  25.2.13
Garden in snow 25.2.13

The cold winter weather is bound to arrive and trees, like my plum tree in flower in the picture above , will lose a lot of their fruit.   I try to recall that we had snow last February and that the winter is far from over.   I would have less to complain about if there were more frequent sunny days but in fact we are having a lot of rainy days.

Poppy seed germinating
Poppy seed germinating

On the wet days I am looking through my photographs of the bees I have seen and trying to identify them.  I have challenged myself to identify 20 before springtime.  I have featured five bees now on my blog Bees in a French Garden so that leaves quite a lot left!

I have been looking at my seeds but it much to early to plant anything as they will need to be kept outside.  So to amuse myself I have tried to grow some perennial poppies from a poppy left behind at my daughter’s old house.  O.K. they will not likely turn out like the parent plant but it lets me grow something indoors.


I just left them under cling film on some moist vermiculite and some have gone mouldy but I have selected a few healthy ones to put into small pots.

Poppy seed shooting

It is working for the moment, but who knows?  I enjoy watching them grow.

But now for an appeal!

Liriodendron tulipifera

Does anyone know if these could possibly be the dried remains of Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) flowers?  We only noticed them when we were pruning the Tulip tree.  I cannot think what else they could be but I had read that Tulip trees take about 20 years before they flower and as we have planted it less then six years ago I do not think it could be that age.

New Species of Yellow-Tailed Carpenter Bee

As you can clearly see this is a Yellow-Tailed Carpenter Bee, a hitherto unknown and undescribed species of Carpenter Bee.

Yellow-Tailed Carpenter Bee

No, only joking, the Yellow-Tailed Carpenter Bee doesn’t exist, but she did look authentic.

She does really look as if the yellow tail is part of her but I have been watching her nectar orgy in the dahlias and I know that it is just the rich yellow pollen of the dahlias that has adhered firmly to her posterior.

How to acquire a yellow tail

She is obviously a meticulous creature and retired to the shelter of the house wall to tidy up a bit and make herself more presentable.  My concern is that she is totally ignorant of the pollen stuck to her rear.  She spent a good deal of time and effort cleaning up all her face parts and sorting out her antenna but the problem at the other end was ignored.

A good wash and brush-up was needed

It does make me wonder if she is not one of these unfortunate creatures that is going to be an evolutionary dead-end.  I have seen many Carpenter Bees on the Wisteria, the Spanish Broom and Jasmine but I have never seen any on the Dahlias.

Happy days in the Jasmine

When Carpenter Bees feed on Wisteria they do not actually come into contact with the pollen, therefore, – no yellow bottoms.

Taking the Wisteria nectar

If I think she is different, what is a male Carpenter Bee going to think?  It could be a faux pas in Carpenter Bee protocol like getting the back of your skirt caught in your knickers. She will be doomed.  Her genes will stay stranded inside her unfertilised eggs.  Her predilection for Dahlia nectar will not be passed on to future generations of Carpenter Bees.

Perhaps the last of her line?

On the other hand the pollen might fall off in time for her to return to her seductive black form allowing her to raise plenty of Dahlia-appreciating offspring.

It will be up to me to keep an eye on my Dahlias next year and note if there is an increase in Yellow-Tailed Carpenter Bees.

Laid back carpenter bee

Violet Carpenter Bee

I took this photograph of a carpenter bee (Xylocopa violacea) in early April this year in the garden.  I was delighted to see the return of these huge black bees who took delight in piercing the wisteria flowers to “steal” the nectar.

I am surprised that they are not universally liked as they are not aggressive, the male does not even have a sting, but I agree they are very clumsy and you could get buzzed if you happen to get in the way of their noisy flight path.  So aside from accidental encounters of a close kind, it is extremely difficult to get near them.  I felt it was somewhat easier to get close to them in the early spring as they must have been just emerging from hibernation and have been famished.  During the summer time I felt that they were extremely frisky and I failed to sneak up to them without being spotted.

This is why I was very surprised to find some very laid-back carpenters feeding on Hemp Agrimony (Eupatorium Cannabinum).  I have seen them over the past couple of days.

Sun catching violet wings

I must admit their different behaviour made me suspect a different species but the red tip on the antenna is supposed to be indicative of the Xylocopa violacea.

Sipping the nectar

I find the carpenters as appealing as the bumble bees probably because of their fluffy appearance.

Serious nectar gathering

They did not seem in the slightest concerned with being photographed by humans at such a short distance, so I decided to make the most of the opportunity and take a short video.  It is only a few seconds long, the battery in the camera was running out for one thing and it is enough to give an idea of its nonchalant nectar gathering.

I wonder if the change in behaviour is due to the approach of autumn and the hibernating season?  Perhaps the greatest driver now is to build up sufficient food stores to be able to survive over winter?

Has anyone any other ideas or has anyone else noticed this change in behaviour?

They’re big, they’re black, they make a lot of noise but they’re shy

I have a fair number of carpenter bees visiting the garden.  In the spring they were in the Wisteria, then it was the Spanish Broom, now it is the Lavatera and Hollyhocks.

Carpenter in Lavatera

Because they are big, black and noisy, Carpenter bees are not considered as cute as the fluffy bumble bees.   They are big and clumsy and if you happen to find yourself in their flight path it can be startling.  More startling for the Carpenter than for you.  They are not aggressive and the male bee does not even have a sting.  The female does possess a stinger but it is rarely used.  It is hard to imagine that these insects are so shy.

Carpenter in Hollyhock

The Carpenter bee is not common in the UK, preferring warmer climates, so it is perhaps for that reason that it fascinates me but it can also frighten someone who is not accustomed to it.  I love the violet tinge the wings take in the sunshine and I chase it round the garden trying to take  photographs.  It is the most reticent of all the bees.  Despite the fact I could always find them in the Spanish Broom I could never get near enough to take a decent photograph.  It became a sort of game between the Carpenters and me.  I would approach from one side and they would go around the other.  I would be quiet so I am not sure whether they have got excellent eyesight or whether they could smell me.

Carpenter with pollen

They are good pollinators where the size of the flower allows them entry.  They are solitary bees, like bumble bees, and have nests where they will take back the pollen and nectar to feed the larvae so they need to collect the pollen for their young.

If the flower is too small for them to gain entry and the nectar too far away for their tongue to reach, they can “steal” the nectar by piercing a hole in the flower near the nectar source.  This is how they gather the nectar from the Wisteria, leaving the pollination to smaller insects.

Carpenter robbing nectar

This is exactly the way some bumble bees gather the nectar from Wisteria as short-tongued bumble bees cannot reach the nectar through the flower.  These holes are often re-used and the Carpenter bees might even help the bumble bees by making the Wisteria more accessible.

Bumble bee stealing nectar

The Wisteria in the spring becomes very ragged as the flower heads are perforated by the bees.

Pollinators have an important part to play in the environment and the carpenter bee is a welcome visitor to the garden.   I’m going to continue playing hide and seek with them trying to get close enough to get some more pictures.  Big and black they may be but I have been completely charmed by these gentle creatures.