a french garden


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Saints de Glace

At 7:30 am today 27th April 2017, the temperatures dropped to minus 4.5 degrees C (24 degrees F).  We see around us many vineyards devastated by the frost.  The vines that had just flowered were frozen.

Frozen vinesThe last few weeks of really warm weather (up to 27 degrees C), have advanced the vines 12 to 15 days, compared with previous years, making them more vulnerable to the sudden frost.

The morning papers report that in our department of Charente approximately 25,000 hectares of vines have been damaged – in some areas up 80% of the vine flowers have been destroyed.

There is very little the farmers can do to protect their crop against low temperatures. However, from very early morning some farmers tried setting fire to straw bales near their vines to raise the nearby air temperature.  Others called in helicopters to fly low over the vines, to create turbulence and avoid cold air staying low on the ground.  This managed to increase the temperature by up to 2 degrees.  But sadly even these efforts  were not sufficient to avoid the extensive damage.  

The French farmers as in other parts of Europe believe strongly in the Saints de Glace. The three important are:  St Mamert (11 May), St Pancrace (12 May) and St Servais (13 May).  They say in France: “Beware, the first of the ice saints, often you will see its trace.  Before Saint-Servais, no summer; after Saint-Servais, no more frost.”  There are even those who recommend caution planting fragile plants outdoor until 25th May (St Urban) as a frost can occur up to then.  They say: “Quand la saint Urbain est passée, le vigneron est rassuré.”  When St Urban is passed, the vineyard owners are assured.

Our pretty garden was also touched by the sudden frost.  The potato crop is partially frozen and the lovely lagerstroemia that was so kindly given to us last autumn by Michel and his wife is frozen.

Frozen lagerstoemia

Our hydrangea is well protected against a stone wall, but some of its leaves are badly damaged.

Frozen hydrangea

A few other more fragile flowers and plants have also suffered, but my heart goes to the farmers that for the last twelve months have laboured really hard in their vineyards and have overnight lost so much.

Kourosh


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Jumping spiders!

I think most of you will have seen the great video by Jürgen Otto’s of the jumping spider Maratus speciosus https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d_yYC5r8xMI.  It is coming up on six million views now.  I really like some of the other ones that are set to music like the YMCA https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xYIUFEQeh3g which always makes me laugh.

However, I had never expected to see a jumping spider waving its legs at me in real life.  Especially not on the dining room table.

saitis-barbipes-2

I would like to point out here that it is only 5mm. and apart from scuttling very rapidly – it can jump.

saitis-barbipes-1

Even a bad photograph is better than none as I am not sure whether I would have believed it myself since the famous Maratus spider is a native of Australia.

Working back with the help of Wiki I found out that there is a large family of Salicidae or Jumping spiders and there are members of this family present in Europe.  My spider bears a striking resemblance to Saitis-barbipes which is present in France.

I feel rather favoured that he waved his fluffy orange legs at me before skilfully disappearing under the books and papers on the table.


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Have you seen a glow worm?

glow worm

This is what a female glow worm looks like and as you can see from its size against the grass stem it is not very big, maybe two centimetres at a stretch.  However, at night time all you will see is a spot of green light.

The group Estuaire is trying to study glow worms in France and if you have a garden in France your assistance is invaluable to them.  They would like to find out where glow worms can be seen in France.  Are they more common in city gardens or country gardens?  Are they on the increase or decrease?

So have a look after dark in the garden and if you do see a glow worm let the association know http://www.asterella.eu/index.php?.

In addition, you can check out the summer skies and maybe even spot a shooting star.  Late July and early August might give you an even higher chance.

Close up of glow worm

In fact, glow worm hunting would be the ideal pastime for insomniacs, you just need to wait until it is really dark to start your hunt.  Like all sports it has its dangers and unless doted with extra sensory perception it is best to have a torch at hand to avoid the odd rake or misplaced rockery.

Last year I was given a “Special Mission” by the Association, so you are warned that glow worm hunting can become addictive.  I have other blogs and pictures of glow worms I have met but for more information check out the Association’s web site and good hunting!

 

 


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A welcome home

Male Osmia cornuta

Back from two weeks holidays and the first thing I saw as the car turned towards the house was the bees flying around my bee hotels.

Male Osmia cornuta waiting

It was so good to see them chasing each other and flying from beehouse to beehouse.

Male Osmia cornuta patient wait

These are the male Osmia cornuta with longer antenna than the female and cute white tufts on their heads.  I don’t know when they hatched out but last year there was a two week gap before the females hatched.  Perhaps this wait weeds out the weak and the impatient.  The males seem to spend most of their time chasing each other or looking longingly inside the holes which must contain females.

Male Osmia cornuta shelters in hole

When there is no sun and it gets cooler they retreat into a spare hole to wait.

They gave me such a welcome back home!


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The first beehive inspection in February 2016

February has been an unusual month for us.  The weathermen told us that the tail end of the storm that passed over Eastern USA, affected our weather also.  The result of it was a drop in temperature and a lot of rain.  The fields on the back of our land once again looked like a lake as the river Seudre broke its banks.

la Seudre Fev 2016

On our side we have a slight mound that protects our land and of course the beehives.

River Seudre Feb 2016

Some days I definitely feel the cold of the late winter, but on other days I get the impression that the spring has once again returned.  Our next door neighbour, Jean-Marie, has kept a few sheep and one has produced a twin and that has added extra excitement for us.

lambs in Feb 2016

I must confess that I have been like a father expecting the arrival of our first child.  I have been perhaps over anxious wanting to open up the beehives and have a proper look inside.   Certainly during the warm parts of each day, the girls have been busy coming and going and bringing loads of pollen. Passing underneath our plum tree you can hear the symphony of bees as they move from one blossom to the other.  Our salix caprea or goat willow, or as it is know here saule marsault, near the river is quite big and its yellow catkins are opening and attracting the bees.  Less than a couple of hundred metres away a field of rape is beginning to flower.  The net results, as you see, is great activity at the hive entrance.

Bees bringing pollen

Amelia and I had a management committee meeting and made a few decisions.  First step was to remove the empty supers that we had placed under each hive to raise the brood box away from the ground.  That was based on the recommendations made by the late Brother Adam of the Buckfast Abbey.  We also used the opportunity to remove the screened bottom boards and cleaned them with washing soda solution.  There was not a lot of debris present.

Beehives made ready for Spring 2016

A couple of days later when the temperature had reached around 14C (58F), we decided to open up the hives one by one.  The main reason for that was that the previous day we had noticed a large number of bees flying around the entrance of each hive.  This looked as if the newly hatched bees were taking their flight of orientation, which meant that the eggs their queens had laid around Christmas must have resulted in new bees emerging from their hives.

Last November we had put partitions in three of our four hives.  So, if there were new bees, the bees might need more frames for brood and food storage.

Our youngest colony, Sunflower, had two partitions on either side, but the remaining seven frames were full of bees.  In autumn we had not removed any frame from Cornucopia, but the other two, Poppy and Violette were similar to Sunflower.  The frames inside the partitioned areas were full of bees.

beehive with partions

We removed the partitions to give room to the colonies to expand. We did not wish to disturb the bees any more that day. So we waited another few days until 26th February 2016, for the full inspection.

The frames with honey on the sides were full of bees and a noticeable quantity of yellow pollen stored.

honey frame in the brood box

We saw what we had hoped to see, that is fairly large area of brood cells as well as larvae.

honeybee brood

Cornucopia, our first swarm of 2015 had 6 frames with brood on either side and four frames heavily laden with honey.  The only little concern was that we found what appeared to us to be one queen cell on frame 7.

Brood cells with one queen cell.

Looking up on the internet, I am lead to believe from FERA that there are 3 distinct type of queen cells, namely swarm cells; supersedure cells; and emergency cells.  Ours appear to me to be a supersedure cell and if so the recommendation is not to destroy it and let the bees sort it out for themselves.  Naturally I would welcome any comment.

One brood arrangement looked to be almost the shape of a bee.

honey bee brood cells.

I have been told that usually when bees fly out, they either bring in nectar or pollen, but not both.  As we upturned the inner cover with a partially eaten candy on top, this little bee came hungrily sucking up some syrup that had oozed out.  But she was already laden with pollen!

honeybee with pollen sucking syrup.

Violette is definitely Amelia’s favourite hive.  She was therefore delighted that when we opened her she could see Her Majesty.  The queen just wandered calmly around the brood cells.  I myself was amazed watching how much pollen they had collected.

queen bee in Violette hive

Having seen the colonies, and especially seeing how full Cornucopia was, we decided that there is so much pollen and nectar around us that we must give more room to Cornucopia.  I was also remembering that the queen cell we had noticed in Cornucopia, and I felt that it is again as good a time as any to give extra room to the colony.  The bees certainly were finding every flower in the garden.  This one was busy on the camelia that has just started flowering.

bee on camelia

On 29th February we placed our first super on Cornucopia with fresh frames. We placed empty supers on the other hives to save us time for the future. Hopefully in 2 to 3 weeks we will examine those hives and see if they are ready to accept fresh frames for collecting the spring honey.

Our 4 beehives near the river Seudre

Kourosh

 


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A barbastelle in the atelier

I suppose we should have realised from the time of year that we could be receiving a visit from our friendly Barbastelle bat (see https://afrenchgarden.wordpress.com/2015/03/06/many-happy-returns/ and https://afrenchgarden.wordpress.com/2014/02/21/a-furry-visitor/).  We have been looking around the front shutters but when Kourosh went out to collect some logs from the outbuilding the other day he felt a bat fly around his head and he noticed where it settled.  The bat is quite small with a body about six centimetres long so I have marked the spot where he roosted on the wall at the corner of the joists as that is not visible from the closer photograph.

Atelier

We are not sure whether it is the same bat that comes every year but in view of all the rain we have been having this looks like a much better choice of roost.  It looked very cosy between the outside wall and a supporting bean of the mezzanine deck.  Much drier than behind a shutter!

However, I note from the book “Le Guide des Chauve-souris en Poitou-Charentes” by Olivier Prévost (2004) that small colonies have been found behind the shutters of abandoned houses.  Another place that they use frequently is the lintel space on doors of barns.

France is fortunate to have representants of thirty one of the forty one European species of bats.  The Barbastelle is a threatened species if viewed on a European basis but not rare in this area.  However, they have a tendency to move around and shift their roosts depending on weather conditions so they are not easy for researchers to keep an eye on.  They are also found sheltering in the abandoned quarries of Poitou-Charente.

It eats mainly moths of the type that would be found flying in dry leaves and litchens in wooded areas and its natural roosting spot can be presumed to be cracks in trees.

Barbastelle in atelier

So the Barbastelle (Barbastella barbastellus) is not just a pretty face but an important link in the health of the European forests.


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Distractions

Cerinthe

There is a lot of dew in the garden at this time of year.  The grass is wet and Wellington boots are a necessity.  But trudging down the garden early in the morning I noticed what lovely patterns the dew left on the flowers.

Phacelia

The Phacelia was well sprinkled…

Winter Honeysuckle

as was the Winter Honeysuckle.  So I felt the urge to sprint, as fast as my Wellies would allow, back to the house to get my camera.

Full rose 2

In the front garden the fully open rose was in competition …

Rose bud

with the rose bud to produce the most delicate drop patterns.

House

Then I spotted and extra big drop on a Persimmon left hanging as a winter treat for the birds.  I managed to get an upside down image of the house!

But all this had started with good intentions, my weeding tool and Welly boots.  It is too easy for me to get distracted in the garden.

Bemused robin

As the Robin followed me back and forth through the garden, he seemed to be trying to work out what I was up to.  It was as if the rolls had been reversed and I was being watched for the entertainment value I was providing.

Only fair really, after all the hours of pleasure I get watching the wildlife in the garden.