a french garden


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Spring update on the bees

Well, at last the Spring is here (I think!).  I know that because it is now two weeks since we started hearing the Cuckoo.  It is also because the birds have started pairing and courting.

Pair of doves

And… our tortoises have eventually come out of hibernation.

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The  birds we rarely see in the garden in winter, including the green finch

Greenfinch

and the green woodpecker, have returned.

Woodpecker

As for our bee hives, unfortunately we lost one of our bee colonies – Iris – to the Asian hornets last November.  The hornets don’t just destroy the colonies, but weaken them  in autumn at exactly the time that the colonies need to produce the winter bees to keep them warm and stock up with provisions for the winter.  So perhaps Iris was not a strong enough queen to keep up producing enough young to replace the losses.

But we were very lucky.  In this region of France, the Charente-Maritime –  many bee keepers  have lost large numbers of hives this past year – on average more than 50%.  One beekeeper friend near us lost 10 out of a total of ten hives.  Another has lost six out of seven hives.  So we have taken it upon ourselves to give a helping hand to our friends.

The bees maintain a temperature inside their hive of over 30 degrees centigrade,  In February the outside temperature is still low to inspect the interior of the hives, but one can get a very good idea by just observing their coming and going.  If they bring in pollen that is a sure sign that they have brood and need to feed the young.  So by clicking on the link (1 min 07 sec.), I invite you to see what the entrance of one of our hives looked like on 16th February with outside temperature of 7-8 degrees centigrade.  You can also notice three different colours of pollen brought in by the bees.

Strangely, now that the weather has improved the bees do not come out until it warms up to over 10 degrees centigrade.

Our other four hives have survived the winter and emerged as strong colonies, and the inspection in March showed that they have strong broods on three or even four frames in March.

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At the end of March we decided to divide two colonies – Pissenlit (Dandelion) and also Tournesol (Sunflower) – These were our two strongest colonies.

The division of a hive is in theory to expand the number of colonies and also to prevent the almost annual swarming of a hive – although we have found that when the swarm fever sets in a colony, nothing will prevent them from swarming.

One can remove a brood frame with a queen cell, if it is observed, and make a new colony, or one can remove a frame without the queen or queen cell, but containing fresh eggs, and hope that the colony will make their own new queen.

In both hives we found the queen and removed the frame with the queen.  We decided to give away our queens plus  two frames of broods and plenty of bees.  Our friends are naturally delighted and the bees are expanding at a fast rate.  This means that we have now two orphan colonies.  We hope that they will make new queens.  So like expectant parents we just keep our fingers crossed.

We have meanwhile placed a six-frame beehive above the old hen-house to attract any passing swarm.  During the last few years we have caught a number of swarms there.

Hive on the old hen house

The scouts bees have already started coming each day.  So we wait and see what happens this year.

There is plenty of flowering shrubs and flowering fruit trees at the moment for the bees. This little lady has been taking pollen from the Camellia

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She emerged laden with pollen.

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Meanwhile on Sunday 31st March, whilst entertaining an old friend for lunch a large swam arrived on the quince tree at about one pm.

New Swarm March 2019

All thought of lunch was put aside as Amelia and I rushed to put on our bee suits.

We placed a sheet under the quince tree which is full of blossoms.  I shook the lowest branch vigorously  and caught the swarm directly in Iris’s old hive and left her there until the evening to let them settle in.  As the queen was now inside, the rest of the bees you can see below on the outside of the hive just marched inside.  They were really gentle and the operation was very smooth.

This is the first time we have put a swarm directly into a full sized hive, previously we have used the smaller 6 frame hive to collect swarms.  As this was a large swarm we feel it was a good choice.

swarm hived

Quite a few of the bees in the swarm were carrying pollen, which I thought was unusual.  Then on Monday morning at about 9 am I saw the new hive was bringing in pollen.  Again strange as I had placed undrawn wax sheet on the frames and surely, I thought, the bees have not had the time to draw it in order to stock the pollen.  Oh, well, I guess they know what they are doing!  I hope that a more experienced person can give me an explanation.

New Swarm hived

So here we are with a garden full of flowers and blossom and our now five hives.  I hope that the two orphan hives will do their job.  But that is hopefully for another update in the future.

Our Hives Spring 2019

Kourosh

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to Autumn

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Summer fading, winter comes–
Frosty mornings, tingling thumbs

– (Robert Louis Stevenson)

Autumn mist and early morning frost arrived without warning.  It is strange how it was that only two weeks ago we spent the day on the beach.  But now the night temperature reached minus 3 degree c (26F).

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It is early morning and the sun is already making the tips of the trees golden.  Our girls (the bees) are all busy inside their hive at the end of the garden.  A few hours later I looked at them closely and they were still bringing in pollen.  So the queens must still be laying eggs.

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The liquidambar has lost a lot of its leaves, but still looks gorgeous.

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Phacelia  that self seeded was in full flower until yesterday, but now is frozen.

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So is the cosmos sulphureus. I guess we and the bees just have to accept the end of the summer flowers.

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The blackbirds have stripped the berries on quite a few of the cotoneasters in the garden but this plant still has plenty berries on it.

So for the time being we can occupy  ourselves with various chores inside the house.  In the afternoon Amelia and I will go for a long walk enjoying these bright autumn days.

“Come then, find your ball and racket,
Pop into your winter jacket,
With the lovely bear-skin lining.
While the sun is brightly shining,
Let us run and play together
And just love the autumn weather.”

Autumn Song by Katherine Mansfield

Wishing you also a happy autumn.

Kourosh


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Here’s to an untidy garden

The Cosmos in the garden are a motley crew.  Most of it is self-seeded from last years plants.

The bees have no care for floral coordination of the garden but I suppose we have them to thank for the multitude of seed heads around the garden.

So now in October we have the Cosmos plants attracting the birds.

Kourosh has noticed that they often arrive in pairs and you can see that there are two in this photograph if you look closely.

The Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) is one of the most colourful birds we see in the garden.

They give me a great reason for leaving the Cosmos free to seed and to delay any tidying of the garden.

I’d rather have the Goldfinch than a tidy garden.

 


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First flowers for the Eucryphia!

The little stick on the right hand side is my Eucryphia nymansensis.  I planted it in November 2015 and I have been nurturing it with attention ever since.  It is one of the favoured plants that gets watered.  It is privileged with extra water because I can’t imagine that it is that happy finding itself in sandy soil that dries out quickly.  The Nepeta stalks covers most of its base and the Gaura does its best to protect it too.

That was why I was surprised to see what I thought could be a flower.  When I saw the brown tip I thought I had missed the flower and it had already started to dry up.  But no, the bud seems to burst its cap to flower.

As the flower opens the cap falls off.  I would have been disappointed to miss my first flowers.

I was very excited to see my first flower open and smell the perfume.  I was not disappointed.

We even had some rain and it did not destroy the flowers which dipped and let the rain run off.

Perhaps this is another reason that the bees love the Eucryphia flowers.  They can act as natural umbrellas.

Apart from the beauty of the flowers and their perfume, the flowers also attract bees.  This year I only had four flowers on my tree but I could see that it was going to be popular with the bees.  I hope it does some growing next spring and produces some more flowers next summer.


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The canicule

A canicule (the dog days), in French, is a period of time when the daytime and the night time temperatures are extremely high.  We are having a canicule.  That means that what few apricots that the sudden late frost left us are now ripening fast.

The tomatoes are growing at an amazing speed.

The first lavender is just opening its buds and I steal some of the stalks from the bees in the early morning.

I look up, lavender in hand to see a hot air balloon between our Ash trees and I wave.  (A hot air balloon?  Is it the heat?)

Pull up!  Pull up!  I hope you know where you are going!

I knew where I was going.  The garden is too hot during the day so we may as well take advantage of living near the sea.

 

 

 


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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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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.