a french garden


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Honey, honey

It was first Violette and then pissenlit that we lost in May after they swarmed.  In each case the story was the same.  The colonies came out of winter very strong, but a week or so after they swarmed, the new queens did not manage to develop the colonies well.

I saw a bundle of bees on the grass in front of the hive

Bees around the queen on the ground

On close inspection Amelia and I saw the queen right in the middle, with the bees protecting her.

Bees around the queen

The story seems to have been similar with other beekeepers.  I talked to another beekeeper near us with 44 hives and she had lost 11 colonies after they swarmed.

So, despite the fact that in May and June we collected 10 swarms and gave them all away, we started the summer in our own apiary with only 3 hives.  Unfortunately when August came, the bees were once again attacked by the Asian hornets and I had to instal the modified muzzles with larger grills (1cm x 1cm) in front the hives  to protect them.  The hornets still come and take a few bees, but at least the rest are not so stressed.

our hives summer 2017

The acacias flowered and then the chestnut trees all around our house.  They were followed with the sunflowers.  Just a short distance away I could look through the woods and see the fields of sunflower

view around the corner looking at sunflower field

A short walk and there laid before us the yellow field

Sunflower field 2017

We did check the individual flower heads, and true enough, our bees were busy.

Sunflower 5 bees

At  6.45 am on 21st August Amelia and I removed the frames from the supers of all three hives and placed each of them in a separate plastic box and took them to my friend, Michel’s house for extraction.    Michel was standing in the garden, waiting for us.

The first stage was taking each frame and removing the wax before placing them in the centrifuge.  It was, however, immediately obvious that we had two distinct colour of honey; the darker one containing more chestnut honey was even more viscous.  So we tried to keep the darker honey separate.Honey getting ready for centrifuge

Once the wax was removed we saw beautiful glistening honey.

honey comb ready for centrifuge

Soon after placing the frames in the centrifuge and starting the motor, the honey started to flow.

Honey from the centrifuge

It is something truly amazing about honey.  Depending on the flowers near us, we get different colour as well as different flavour of honey each season.  Even the honey of our friend Michel who lives only a kilometre away  is distinctly different from ours.

Last year we had really yellow honey that obviously a large proportion of which came from the sunflowers.  Only two or three jars are left from last year.  We gave a lot away and now I wish we had kept  more for ourselves as the flavours of the individual honeys are so different and the yellow honey would bring sunshine into the winter days.

Last year’s honey is on the left of the picture below, with this years dark and light honey in jars.  The second jar from left is our spring 2017 honey, which comes mostly from the spring flowers and also the rape seeds.

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At the moment my favourite desert is the natural yogurt that Amelia serves with our own raspberries and a drizzle of this year’s honey.  Delicious!

Yogurt desert with rasberries and honey

So another season has finished and a new season for the bees has started.  We will do everything we can to protect our bees this winter and hope that the winter will also be mild and mellow for  all of you.

– Kourosh

 

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And the prize goes to Sunflower

It seems that we all had a hot summer.  Here, in August we had what they call the canicule – the dog days – with the temperatures nearly every day in mid to high 30s  centigrade (95 to 100F).

Throughout June and even July I didn’t mow the area near the beehives.

Beehives at la Bourie

Throughout August and now in September, the grass – well forget the grass – has been a patch of desert.  The more mature trees have decided that they just would rather go into autumn mode and their leaves have turned yellow. Amelia has been watering her precious flowers and smaller shrubs that she has so lovingly nursed, every evening.

We have always enjoyed our daily walks in the countryside around us.  After all, isn’t that the main reason why we settled to rural France?  However, the recent heat wave has meant that most afternoons we had to close the curtains and stay in the relative coolness of the house.  Nevertheless, one walk that we particularly enjoy is to a small lake where Amelia likes to photograph the solitary bees and bumbles.

The lake at Madion

I prefer to just enjoy the peaceful surrounding and look at the waterlilies.

waterlilies at Madion lake

We had practically no rain since June and I was beginning to wonder if there was enough nectar in what was left of the flowers to feed our girls as well as fill the supers with honey.

Last year I found that the change in the self fertilising variety of  sunflowers planted around us meant that the bees could not reach the nectar.

Sunflowers at Virollet

Fortunately, this year the farmers returned to the more traditional seeds which was much more attractive to bees.

Honeybees on sunflower

They do need to dig deep to collect the nectar, but at least there is no need to fly from flower to flower to collect the precious nectar.

Bee collecting nectar from sunflower

Despite the August dryness and the heat we are fortunate to have a lot of gaura around the garden.  Early morning is the best time to see the bees collecting pollen.  By around 8am, they have stripped all the pollen from the flowers.  But, they do return later in the afternoon to collect the nectar.

A bee collecting nectar on gaura

I must not forget the lavender also which has been buzzing with bees, bumbles and butterflies throughout the summer.

A bee on lavender

Our hive Violette suffered most from the afternoon sun.  So, for most of this summer I had to shelter her under a beach umbrella, the violet colour of the umbrella is just coincidental!

Hive Violette sheltered

The bees need plenty of water in summer, mainly to cool their hives.  So right in front of their hives I have placed an inverted bottle to fill a dish with water.  But it seems that they prefer to go to the zinc basin that is usually filled with water for the birds. I have now modified it by placing a large stone in the middle, so that any bees that might fall in can do a bee paddle to safety.

Honeybees drinking water

Our beekeeper friend, Michel recommended that we collect our honey on 19th of August.  We used his extractor once more and Amelia and I were delighted to see that we had actually collected a total of 74.5 Kg (164 pounds) of honey. Each of the hives, including the two divisions of this year (Iris and Pissenlit) had done an excellent job.  But the prize went to Sunflower hive that had produced the most honey.

We collected two different types of honey: the dark coloured honey containing mainly the nectar from the chestnut flowers which are abundant around our house.  We also collected the beautifully yellow honey from the sunflowers.  This year the summer honey is different from last year.  It is slightly granular in constituency, but has a lovely flavour, as it is mixed with wild flowers.

I do feel a bit guilty stealing their precious honey, but I have checked and they do have adequate reserves in their hives and the ivy is just starting to flower.

bee-on-ivy

Ivy is very important allowing the bees to complete their winter stock.  Beekeepers season really starts after the honey collection, when we have to make sure the bees are healthy and ready to go through winter.

– Kourosh

 

 


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A beekeeper’s notes for the year

A beekeepers Notes

My copy of “A beekeeper’s notes for the year” by Emma Sarah Tennant arrived this week.  Emma is a beekeeper who writes the blog Miss Apis Mellifera and the book  has  been based on her blog posts.  She keeps her bees with a hive partner, Emily Scott, who also blogs at Adventures in Beeland and I have followed both their blogs for some years now.

Emma has managed to capture the essence of her 2015  beekeeping year in her apiary in Ealing, London.  Dedicating a page to each month, we can follow her month by month through the pages that are well illustrated to show the changing seasons.  Here in France, we enjoy the convenience of having our hives at the bottom of the garden but I envied the camaraderie and companionship that she enjoys on her visits to the apiary.

The book would not only be a pleasure for an established beekeeper to read but also ideal for anyone just interested or tinkering with the idea of starting to keep bees.

It can be downloaded as a free ebook or a hard copy can be purchased with £2 of the purchase price being donated by Emma to the charity Bees for Development.  For all the details check out Emily’s web site Miss Apis Mellifera.


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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.

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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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A Sweet Present

Miel en brèche

I got a present from my bee keeper friend Michel today.  He knows I like honeycomb so he gave me some “miel en brèche” as it is known in French.

It was up to me to cut it avoiding the metal strips running through it which serve as guides for the bees to build the comb on.

1-Cut up

I think I managed quite well, for a beginner.

1-Bread and honey

Morning coffee with fresh bread and honeycomb.

Empty honey frame

I thoroughly scraped around the frame so I would not waste any of the honey and then I put it outside for the bees to clear up the rest.

Bumble on frame

However, so far, they do not seem interested in my leftovers but this bumble bee is not going to pass over some easy pickings.

Earlier this morning I had read Emily’s post, “All about the hunny”, in Adventures in Beeland’s Blog,  explaining that she and Emma had difficulty extracting their honey.  I wonder if this could be a solution in areas where the honey was difficult to extract.  However, I am not a bee keeper (not yet).  I also love honeycomb and if some pieces of the comb mix in, it does not bother me, in fact I like it. I always remember honeycomb being something extra special and it was a particular favourite of my grandfather.   I wonder whether this is an unusual taste or not?

1-bee on breche

 

 Just as an update – some honey bees did come.

1-bumble on breche

And the odd honey bee deserted the Nepeta underneath to sample the honey.


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Fête des Abeilles

I promise; I promise, this will be my last post on behalf of Amelia who will return back home tomorrow.  However, I could not resist sharing with you all, my visit today to the Fête des Abeilles – The gathering of the members and the friends of the Association of Apiculture of the department of Charente Martitime, where we live.  By this time of the year, that is to say the summer solstice, we should have really nice weather, and we have had two or three days when the temperatures soared to about 30 C [that is about 86 F].  But sadly today was not one of those and although it was not cold at all, we had a drizzle most of the day.  But it did not deter the people and they came to see the main attraction which was the extraction of honey.  For me, however, the great excitement was something else that I had never seen at close quarters.

They had chosen an interesting location which is a center recently opened to study and shelter wild birds along a corridor of the busy motorway A10 which runs between Bordeaux and Paris.

The Bird Sanctuary

The Bird Sanctuary

On one side is a forest and the several acres of land was purchased partially because it has a lot of lime trees, in full flower at this time of the year.

Lime tree o "tilleul"

Lime tree flower or “tilleul”

Those perfumed flowers produce some of the best honey I have ever tasted.  For that reason, different members of the association of apiculture  have left some of their hives in that center.

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The extraction was demonstrated by one of the members who had opened one hive and had removed a few of the elements.  He first showed how with a special knife the waxy coating was to be removed.

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They were very keen to encourage and educate the participants, specially the curious young children.

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Several children participated in the preparation of the elements for extraction.  They even placed the elements in a transparent extractor and were in a practical manner taught how the centrifugal force works.

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But as I said for me the absolute excitement was being able to see her majesty the queen bee in her court. She is not normally removed from her hive, but this day when Michel had removed one of the element for transport in a glass hive, he had not noticed that he had also transported the queen.  She is in the middle, larger than the others with a prominent back – may be it is there she wears her crown!

Her majesty the queen bee

Her majesty the queen bee

Michel assured me that a separation of a day should not disrupt the harmony of the hive.    I was so absorbed by the events of the day that I did not notice until I was  leaving that there was another queen bee amongst us.

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And so, or as they say here “et voilà”,  I  thank you for all the encouraging comments that you wrote for the last few blogs and I leave you in the good hands of Amelia.  Au revoir    – K


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First visit to a beekeeper

We have been buying honey supplied by a local producer, Michel Henry.  In fact we discovered that he lived very close to us and we were able to make his acquaintance and were invited to visit his hives.

Hives in the garden

The entrance to the house is very discrete but once inside a beautiful well-tended garden opens out and tucked away on one side are the beehives.  He keeps the black honey bees that are native to France.  As he talked his passion for bee keeping became obvious and he was happy to answer all my questions.  He has been keeping bees for twelve years and it is a hobby that has grown over the years.  He started with one hive and when one year the honey that he had harvested did not last the family over the winter he decided to add more hives.  Now he has twelve hives.

Glass topped hive

One of the hives is equipped with a glass top so I was able to take a peek inside without troubling the bees.

Bees with pollen sacs

At this time of year there is still a good number of flowering plants in the area and on the day of my visit the ivy had just started flowering.  There are large quantities of ivy flowering in the woods nearby.

Hornet trap

I mentioned that I had not seen any Asiatic hornets since I had trapped them in the spring.  Unfortunately they seem to target the hives as one swooped down and took a bee as we watched.  Michel explained that he has to watch helpless as they sit on a branch out of range and chew the head, legs and wings off before taking the body back to their nest.  He was quite surprised to see one attacking so late in the season as the bees are used for feeding the hornet larvae.  Later in the season the hornets would be more likely to try to steal the honey, especially from weaker colonies.  Michel keeps a large spade handy which he uses to swat them with.

He uses the hornet trap constantly and when he discovered I had success with mine in the spring he gave me a bottle of his special lure which he makes himself from bee by-products and which he says will prove more efficient than my beer and fruit jam concoction.

Pet bees?

Apart from the other hives Michel possess another hive which he does not keep for its honey.  He allows the bees to use it like a wild hive.

The hive exposed

He explained that the bees are capable of surviving cold weather but dampness is a problem, so he protects the old hive with a plastic tub and keeps it under the shelter of a tree.

I was surprised by the old hive and straight away thought of some of the pictures of hives portrayed on honey labels.  This was the shape of hives I had seen drawn in old books when I was a child.  He explained that these hives had no supers and would have to be renewed annually and he doubted if anyone would be able to make them any more.

He said they were made from straw bound together with bramble.

Eighty year old hive

This hive belonged to an old uncle of Michel and by back calculation he reckons it must be about eighty year old.

Old style hive

This one he believes to be a little younger and he saved it from being burnt as rubbish when a house was being cleared out, although many others were destroyed.

There is something very homely about the old style hives.  I am impressed by the neatness and care that went into their construction.  I would have loved to know how anyone could make something like that out of straw and brambles.

I did a quick internet search and found what I was looking for, unfortunately the commentary is in German but the film speaks for itself.  It does last for fifteen minutes but I found it fascinating.  I think they cut young willow to use as the binding material but perhaps someone could enlighten me here. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-gT-VeHAFIQ&feature=mfu_in_order&list=UL

Honey comb full of honey

It was such a lovely visit.  He showed us equipment for extracting the honey and testing that there is not too much moisture in it, inside his spotless centre of operations.

He asked me if I intended to start keeping bees.  I explained that I was very interested in Bumble bees and asked him if he knew of anyone else that might be interested.  He did not, and mentioned that at one of their regional bee keeping meetings someone had brought a Bumble bee along for identification but no-one had been able to help.

I also explained I went back to the UK for short periods from time to time.  He said that should not be a problem and on the financial side beginning bee keepers often borrow equipment.

I must admit I am greatly drawn to bee keeping but I would still have to learn a lot more before I took the big step.