a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France


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Is this the last bee swarm of the season?

For us, in this little corner of France Spring 2020 was a little unusual.  The winter was rather mild, and then we had quite a lot of rain in early Spring which together with warm weather pushed all the plants forwards – specially the nettles and other weeds.

So, during the self isolation period of the pandemic of Covid 19, Amelia and I spent a lot of time weeding, and gardening and weeding!

Bee on Glycine

But gardening has its rewards, as we could take our coffee breaks and smell the heady perfume of the wisteria along the fence.

Poppy and Bee

A few years I brought the seeds of a rather large poppy from Spain.  We simply named it the Barcelona Poppy,  It is now much appriciated in several spots in the garden.

Bee in Rose

Another favourite of mine is a rose bush called Phyllis Bide.  It has smallish flowers but very delicate colour.

Bee Swarm

During the cold months of winter the queen bees almost stop laying eggs as there is shortage of pollen and nectar outside,  But not in our garden.  Amelia has planted so many winter flowering plants that the bees pop out frequently for a little snack all through winter.  Of course outside in the open fileds there are also plenty of wild flowers like dandilions that are welcomed by the bees.   As the result the colonies grow quite fast and then nearly half a colony swarms forming a new colony.  We had our first swarm of the season on the 21st of March (the vernal equinox).  We collected it and placed it in a 6 frame nucleus hive.

Since that day until the 26th April, we had a total of 8 bee swarms all landing within a few metres of our beehives.  We know that at least two the swarms came from our own colonies.  Early last winter we lost two of our hives and so two large swarms were directly placed in hives.  Two other hives after swarming did not develop as well as we had hoped.  So after a couple of weeks that the newly arrival swarms had well developed, we mixed them with each of the less-developed hives after sugar dusting both colonies to help them accept the odour of each other.

Our friends who keep bees a short distance away also had similar experince and we gave them the other swarms.

Hives in Sring 2020

We had promised ourselves that we will not keep more than 3 hives at the bottom of our garden – OK, we said just 2 more in case we lose any.  But by end of April the bottom of the garden had become a nursery of hives and nucleus hives.

Field of Poppies

Each year, on 5th of May the Europeans commemorate the end of War in Europe.  On that day, I passed the centre of our village and noticed a field some half a kilometres long full of red poppies and it made me think of all those brave young men and women whose blood was spilled on the European soil.

Bee in Cotoneaster

The cotoneaster is now in full flower and you should hear the buzz of the honey bees as well as the bumble bees on them.  Sometimes when I pass the bushes, I wonder of there is a swarm, as they make so much noise.

Essaim 28.05.2020

Just when we thought the swarm season has finished, on 28th May we had another bee swarm very low on a branch of our loquat.

We are happy that we have now all our five hives active and we have placed super on them to hopefully collect some summer honey.  However, we did have to recombine 4 of the swarms with our colonies as they were weak.  We also gave four of the swarms to our friend as they lost four hives.  So, that is why I found this spring somewhat strange.

I hope that all is well that ends well.

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