a french garden


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Snow!

An unusual sight today 30 March 2020, it is snowing from early morning.  The air temperature is around 3-4 degrees C so the snow flakes melt when they touch the ground.

Two days ago I was sunbathing in my swimsuit in the garden.  However, the temperature is not forecast to drop below zero.

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I have certainly spoken too soon.  The snow is giving a very decorative dusting to the garden.

We can never complain about the weather being boring.


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Some winners and losers of the dry summer

I’m going back into September here and the garden is dry.  Just as I was hoping to get a bit more out of the vegetable garden, I encounter our hottest, driest summer.

I was so concerned that there would be nothing left to flower even outside the garden for the bees that I chucked down loads of Cosmos and Cosmos sulphureus seeds in the vegetable garden as I felt I could keep them watered.  They were just seeds that I had gathered last year from the garden so I had plenty.

My attempt at growing chick peas was a failure but I did discover that you could eat them raw from the pod like green peas.

The Borlotti beans produced very little and the parsley refused to grow.

This is my sole butternut production.  I shall be dependent on my neighbour Annie for her pumpkins in the winter.

There have been notable successes.  The aubergines did well, as did the courgettes.

And these delicious little cucumbers kept producing all summer.

In summary the vegetables performed poorly but our pear trees produced more fruit this year although the apple trees produced hardly any apples.

The Comice pears above were very good but I think our Conference pears beat them on flavour.

The tomatoes survived as I watered them and they produced enough to eat in salad and make coulis to freeze.  The little Sungold did well on the wigwam we made.  The leeks and Brussel sprouts are planted for the winter but everything needs to be tidied and sorted for next season.

I think the bees probably think I should just stick to planting flowers.

The senna plants that I have grown from seed are doing well.  Whether they will survive the winter remains to be seen.

I watered late in the evening and by that time the senna had closed their leaves and gone to sleep which I find a very endearing trait.

I have noticed less leaf cutter bees in the garden this year.  They are such pretty bees with their abdomens bright yellow and full of pollen.  I have had no leaf cutters nesting in my bee houses either this year despite providing fresh bamboo tubes and drilled holes.  I do not know if the dry weather could affect them adversely.  I’d be interested in anyone else’s experience.

We will have to wait until next spring to see how a lot of the plants have survived.  I do choose drought tolerant plants.  There are some good surprises, like many shrubs such as fuschia will just look totally miserable yet survive.  Others have been disappointing and I will not plant anymore Tithonia rotundifolia which I thought was drought tolerant but does not grow well from seed unless it is well watered.

I am going to try to grow from seed, Tithonia diversifolia, which is a big brute of a plant and is supposed to be drought tolerant.  It is a perennial and I may live to regret it but it looked quite stunning when I saw it.

There were plenty of opportunities for tea and coffee in the garden, in the shade, and we shared these moments with the various garden visitors.  This bee seems to have recognised her stolen honey in the dregs of my lemon balm and mint tea.  She just cannot work out how it got there.


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Garden Birds

The real hot days of summer (la canicule) are behind us.  Amelia and I found that this summer with the temperatures often between 35 and 40 degrees Centigrade, we were sitting less in the garden.  Oh, well, I told her, it is a good excuse to go to the beach!

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Now in late September it is milder and we can attend to the neglected tasks in the garden.  And to admire the autumn flowers and of course to sit down for a cup of coffee.

front garden

Our garden is usually very peaceful, except for the chattering of the birds.  But the garden would surely not be the same without the birds.

When we first bought this house we had very few visiting birds.  Now I am amazed with the variety of the birds.  They all need water, and so we have placed several watering havens for the bees and the birds.

The hoopoe has become a regular summer visitor to the garden.

Hoopoe

The green woodpecker made a bright splash of colour in the garden.  It is the first year that I have seen the woodpecker in the front garden.

woodpecker 1

The Redstarts have remained one of my favourite birds.  This year they occupied four nests that I had made for them and they raised at least four young ones in each nest!  We get both the black Redstarts as well as the common Redstarts.

red start 1

Birds require plenty of water, not only to drink but to keep their feathers clean and their antics in the trough provide us with lots of amusement.  We  see Redstarts taking their bath almost every day at the moment.

red start 2

I am almost sure that they actually enjoy frolicking in the water as much as my granddaughter used to do.

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The sparrow make their nest under the eaves, and I am sure that they must have had three broods this year.  Like all baby animals, they too look cute.

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But without a doubt, my favourite, at least for this year, is the warbler (I believe it is the melodious warbler).

Sometimes we have mistaken it for a sparrow as it is shy and moves away quickly, but its fine beak is a give-away.  The warbler has also started taking bath, but it is a quick dip in and out.

A couple of year ago, from a holiday in Malta, we brought with us a few seeds of what I call the giant fennel.  It has grown to well over two metres high and its flowers certainly attracted the bees.  Now in seeds, it seems to attract the warbler.

warbler 3

We shall certainly try to replant it next year, if nothing else to make sure that this beautiful bird keeps coming to our garden.

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– Kourosh


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Summer visitors

We are expecting most of our summer visitors, like this hoopoe, but when they arrive it adds a zest to the garden.  I suppose it gives a touch of exoticism to the garden as I have never seen them in the U.K. where they would be very uncommon visitors.  This year we have had a pair in the garden, perhaps they like the hot weather we have been having.

The young green Woodpecker has been visiting us lately and whereas we often here them we see them less often.  Perhaps they are less shy when they are young.

The birds do not have to be exotic to raise a smile, we like to see the blackbirds with their young.

We are pleased when the sparrows have raised their second brood.

The Redstarts keep us amused with their splashing in the water dishes.  They will take off at the end of the summer to the West African Sahel (that’s the bit that borders the Sahara, to save you looking up Wikipedia, as I had to.)

There are also the new finds like this Tussock moth that I cannot remember seeing before.  I think it has a bit of growing to do and it will probably support this growth by munching through some of our tree leaves.  The trees seem to have enough leaves to spare so I am not worried.  Let’s just hope it is not some new species that will now defoliate the entire tree cover in the Charente-Maritime.

When feeling endangered it curls up in a tight ball causing its rear tuft of hair to protrude.  It makes the tuft of hairs look very much like an extremely sharp beak and I am sure it will give most birds and predators pause for thought.

Kourosh found this bright blue beetle on the cut trunk of a tree in the garden.  Very eye catching and easy to find on the web.  It is a Rosalia alpina.  According to what I can find out, the adult can be between 15-38 mm.  So we must have got an extra large sample!

It was a very frisky specimen and I could not get it to stay in place inside my white box.  The larvae spend two or three years growing in dead wood so this is one of the species of insects that you could hope to support in a garden that left some dead wood lying around.  When trees are coppiced or pollarded this provides good sites for the females to lay their eggs, but as these practices are becoming more rare…

Of course, the Dasypoda bees mean summer time too.  I love to watch them bounce around from flower to flower.  Or rather, they are more measured in their flight, it is the flower heads that bounce around as they land and depart.  Soon she will fill up the silky hairs on her back legs with pollen and the fine hairs will be lost from sight amongst the heavy load of pollen.

One of our hives surprised us by swarming mid June.  It was co-operative enough to use the much favoured branch of our quince tree.

This let us get things sorted out quite quickly and the bees accepted their new home.

The young queen, who was left at home to start over and build up a new colony, is having a difficult time to get things going so late in the season.   Still, the departing swarm left her a super of honey so you cannot say that they were not generous.

We are not the only ones to receive visiteurs in summer, the bees get their share too.

 

 

 


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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.

bee on camelia 2

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.