a french garden


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Spring in February?

garden-long

Nothing looks greatly different in the garden since the big chill.  However, we had the big wind next with winds over 100 km. an hour and the winds were higher in the coastal regions.   This left our area without electricity.  We were out for just over 24 hours but depending on where you lived others lost their electricity for longer.  In areas with no piped gas, houses are frequently all electric.  So it is a good idea to keep in plenty of candles and a camping stove.  The really super-prepared have a little generator but we have stayed at the candles and camping stove level.

plum-blossom-ouside

Now we have sunshine and day time temperatures touching twenty degrees centigrade which has coaxed our plum tree to open its first flowers.

plumblossom-2

After the big wind some of the fine branches of the plum tree had broken and we brought in the twigs to enjoy watching the flowers open inside but they had hardly finished flowering inside before the tree itself had started to flower outside.

red-admiral

Some butterflies are out and from the freshness of this Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) it is a new season butterfly just hatched rather than one that has overwintered as an adult.

bombus-pratoris

The winter flowering honeysuckle welcomes different visitors now like this early bumble bee (Bombus pratorum) queen

carpenter-honeysuckle

and the Carpenter (Xylocopa violacea)

willow

It is not so visible from a distance but the willow tree at the bottom of the garden is opening out its buds too.

pussy-willow

The catkins are still at their attractive fluffy stage but soon the pollen will appear attracting the pollinators to this important plentiful source of early pollen.

hellebore-bee-pollen-1

The Hellebores are making a big impact in the garden now.  The bees make them a noisy attraction but the constant replanting of the self-sown seedlings is paying off.

hellebore-honey-bee

The different groups are spacing out their flowering times somewhat, depending on how much sun they receive.  I find the ones in full sun flower earliest.

bergenia

The Bergenia is starting to flower but I dragged it from one poor position last autumn to some other positions where I hope it will flourish.  It has not welcomed the change gladly.  Still there is always next spring.

bumble-new-heather-1

I was given a heather as a present but sadly with no idea of the species.  It was very pot bound, probably meant for impact rather than planting out.  I sawed of the bottom tangle of roots and sawed it in two.  I had just finished planting it when the bees appeared.  Well, that was one of my questions answered – the bees like it.  The heather I have had success with here is Erica x darlyensis which is more tolerant of chalky soils.  This one does not look the same as my others and has lilac flowers that fade to white.  I hope they will thrive in their new home.

honesty-lunaria-annua

It is only when you look closely that you see the changes in the garden.  The purple flower is self-sown Honesty (Lunaria annua), a bit early, I would have thought.

violet

The violets, both purple and white varieties, appear as weeds in the garden but are always welcome.

weeds

In fact, there are a lot of good stuff in the weeds in the garden.

wild-bee-2

The speedwell (Veronica (perhaps) persica) is covering the surrounding fields and the garden with a haze of blue but this little flower provides much needed pollen and nectar for the wild bees like the one above and also the honey bees.

pollinator-on-veronica

The hover flies too stop by for the nectar.

chimonanthus-praecox

Gardening is not for the impatient.  I have longed for a Chimonanthus praecox for my garden and now eventually I have a bush and it has flowered for the first time.  I do not know the species as I bought it in France where the species does not seem to matter much but I love it anyway.  My main criteria was the perfume and one sniff of the heady, sensual perfume told me I had a winner.  Also called wintersweet but I think of it as the ice flower although the weather at the moment is nearer to summer than winter.


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What colour is honey?

There are those beekeepers who maintain that the bee keeping year ends at this time of the year; others believe that the year really starts after the honey harvest as one prepares the hives for the coming year, looking forward to the Spring collection.

Whatever the merit of the discussion, I feel that the work and the pleasure never ends.  Michel advised us to go ahead and collect our honey a few days before my granddaughter’s visit to France so that the bees calm down after we have stolen their reserve of honey.  Being our first harvest, I followed the advice of using an escape board on the two hives with supers. I placed them on the hives on a sunny evening and the bees were quite content to let me do it without using the smoker that I had prepared. The following morning at 7 am, Amelia and I temporarily closed all four hives by way of precaution, and opened Cornucopia which had two supers.  There were indeed very few bees left on the frames and we easily brushed them off and placed the frames of each super in a separate box closing the lid after each transfer.

Opening up Violette was even easier as she had only one super.  None of the bees seemed disturbed by us taking their honey and once again the smoker lay unused at the side.  In fact, it was only the few stray bees left in the supers and the early birds returning to the hive that were very concerned that their hive was closed.  Once we opened the hive doors all returned to normal.

la Violette

la Violette

Violette is Amelia’s special favourite hive; once she saw the queen, she was smitten!  I admit that her bees appear to be the most gentle of all our hives.

Queen Violet

Queen Violette

We took the three boxes with our frames to Michel’s house where he has a special room with all the equipment necessary.  There is little merit in going through every step for the extraction, as everybody who has already done so knows how rewarding and pleasurable an experience it is.

Honey Harvest Blog

Michel was particularly keen that we keep the honey from each of of our hives separate, including the un-centrifuged honey obtained from the cappings.  We kept the separated honey for a week in 10Kg containers before bottling them.  Being a complete novice I was pleasantly surprised to see that from three supers, we ended with four different colours of honey, the fourth being the un-centrifuged honey from cappings.

IMG_0054

The hard work was almost over.  Our next task, after letting the bees clean their frames, was to start treating them against varroa.  Based on the advice of our regional bee health service, we have started three course of “Apilife Var”, which is an essential oil from thyme and other plants.  It is most effective in temperatures of 20-25 degrees C, which was about the temperature when we started the treatment.  Unfortunately for a few days the temperature rose to around 34C in the shade.  At that temperature the fumes generated could affect the larvae and in addition the bees don’t appreciate the smell.  So we had quite a lot of bees sitting outside the hive, and that left them easy prey to the Asiatic hornets which constantly come and pick the bees one by one.  It is heart breaking to watch this.  Amelia and I stand guard several times a day catching the hornets with a child’s fishing net.  We can win the battle of the moment, but we are not winning the war.  At the end the bees appear to have resigned themselves to some casualty.

The flowering season is not over yet.  The garden is still full of flowers and the bees are quite busy.  The ivy has also just started to flower in the forests around our house.

Honey bees on the ivy flower

Honey bees on the ivy flower

I am glad to see that in the interval between the removal of the supers and two weeks that have passed, the bees have added a considerable amount of additional honey stock for their winter reserve.  The only annoying thing is that the hornets are also visiting the same ivy flowers.

Asiatic hornet on ivy flower

Asiatic hornet on ivy flower

I try hard to accept the battles of the bee life and Amelia and I try to protect our “girls” against the predators as well as the unusually hot days the best way we can.

Ruches et parasols


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What’s happened to the sunflowers?

Earlier this summer when I started putting the supers onto two of my hives, our beekeeper friend, Michel, told me that once the sunflowers opened across the road from us, the honey bees would fill one super in just one week.  Well, the sunflowers have certainly opened across the little road to our hamlet, only a few metres away from our four hives.

Looking at the hives through the sunflower fiield

Looking at the hives through the sunflower field

So, during the warm mornings, Amelia and I eagerly went in search of the bees across the road.

Searching for honey bees in the field of sunflower

Searching for honey bees in the field of sunflower

Amelia walked right through the field but only found a few bumble bees and there were very few honey bees on the sunflowers.

What I have now discovered is that Michel was right and the honey bees did indeed collect loads of pollen and nectar from the sunflowers – however, the emphasis is on the past tense.

The disc florets in the centre of sunflowers have both male and female parts and each female part has a single ovary that develops into a seed.  It appears that the new varieties of seeds planted near us now are self fertilising type, thus eliminating the need for bees to fertilise the plant.  More importantly, these new varieties have a much longer neck to the style and as the nectaries are situated just above the ovaries, this makes it difficult for the honey bees to collect the nectar. So, although the sunflower field does look very pretty across our land, it does very little good for our bees.

On my visit next day, however, I did see a much pollen smothered bee homing in towards a sunflower.

Bee on sunflower

Bee on sunflower

She did look so pretty and I was fascinated to watch her rolling the little reddish ball of pollen on her hind legs.  I managed to take a short video clip of her.  If you would like to see it, please click here.

Nevertheless, we are lucky that there are a variety of flowers around us, as the supers  we put on two of our hives look well on the way to being filled.

So after all there was a happy ending despite the lack of nectar for our honey bees. – Kourosh