a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France


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More rain and floods

At the bottom of our garden the river has been rising.

France is now under a curfew at 6.00 p.m. in a winter that has been exceptionally dull and rainy. Many parts of France are suffering from floods. These winter floods are becoming recurrent and coupled with hot dry summers as the world climate becomes more perturbed.

The river Seine in the Paris region has flooded some houses so frequently that there is a plan by the municipality to buy the houses and revert the area back to nature. We wonder at the planning permission when we see films of the houses washed away by the rain and flooded by the high tides.

This is the road leading to our house. The house is just behind the line of trees on the right.

Looking from the same spot to the left of the road, the fields are completely under water. More and more in this area, the trees and hedges are cut down to give larger fields to cultivate maize, sunflowers, rape and cereal.

This is the canal that was dug about 70 years ago to make sure the road was not flooded. The land rises towards the house and the water passes into the vast stretches of marshland around the Seudre as it heads for the sea. Our little river is on the left of the photograph and although both strips of water are moving fast, I don’t expect it to get high enough to overflow into the garden.

This is a nostalgic photograph of one of the last apricot flowers from our garden. We have cut down the last apricot tree and I gathered the twigs and brought them inside to watch them blossom for the last time.

The highs and lows of our spring temperatures here mean that we seldom get a good crop of apricots.

However, our apple and pear trees are more successful and Kourosh has wanted a Nashi for some years after he found a tree with the delicious fruit nearby in an untended garden. The fruit was delicious, it looked like an apple but was extremely juicy with a flavour reminiscent of pears.

So the decision was taken to cut down the apricot tree (see stump on the left of the new Nashi.)

Kourosh had tried to graft the unknown fruit onto our apple trees. The grafts were unsuccessful and I wonder if this is because that despite its appearance of a sleek, round apple the Nashi is Pyrus pyrifolia – a pear.

So despite the rain we took the decision to buy a Nashi. We were able to source a Nashi “Kosui” and we hope it will thrive in its new home.

The garden seems to have decided to push forth with vigour. The Hellebores are shooting up and I have so many this year I did not mind cutting some for a table decoration. Anyway, the bumblebees are not awake yet so they won’t miss them.

My Cornus mas or Cornelian cherry has just started flowering but the plants are not big enough to attract the bees – not enough flower heads to make it easy work for the bees.

On the other hand my bushes of Viburnum tinus are large and full of bees – so size does matter.

Every year I patrol our hazel catkins to get a photograph of the bees gathering pollen which my French sources say is one of the most important sources of pollen in the spring for bees. I have never seen a bee on the hazel catkins. So I was quite excited when I read in theFebruary 2021 issue of BeeCraft magazine that the bees will ignore it if other pollen is freely available.

So the bees can be choosy too!

The size of the actual flower does not count for the bees. We have lots of tiny blue speedwell growing in the grass and the bees visit them assiduously. The visit does not last long so once again it will be the quantities of flowers that attracts.

The girls are very busy at the moment. We put a layer of insulation over the brood box in December as we had freezing temperatures. We do not intend to remove it yet as it is only the beginning of February and colder weather is forecasted.

Nevertheless, the girls seem determined to get cracking. The short video (30 seconds) shows the different colours of pollen being taken into the hives. I like to watch them and guess where the pollen comes from.

As I have mentioned everything seems to be powering ahead to grow in an unseemly haste. These polyanthus have sprung into new plants on the seed heads of their old flowers.

Is it a vegetative growth or have the seeds decided to germinate on the flowerhead? It seems a good strategy on the part of the plant to find a less crowded place to grow – at least a flower stem’s length from the parent plant. I have never noticed this before. Is it common?


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The Season Starts or Finishes now?

The beekeepers, consider that after the honey harvest in autumn, the next season just begins.  There is so much to be done to tidy the equipment and make sure that the bees have enough provisions to last them through the winter. We been lucky this year.

Honeybee on winter honeysuckle (3)

Even these last days of November, the winter flowering honeysuckle provides both nectar and pollen for our bees.

bumble Bee 1

It is not just the honey bees that interest us.  The bumble bees are frequent visitors at this time on several mahonias in the garden.

Beehives near la Seudre

Our five hives are tucked away at the end of the garden, and the autumn so far has been mild.  This has not been the story across France, where the French Union of Beekeepers (UNAF) have named 2019 as a black year,  UNAF has applied to the French Government to take the necessary steps to indemnify the beekeepers in the worst affected regions,  The cold spring and exceptionally hot summer contributed to the loss of many bee colonies across France.

Here the summer was so dry that even the sunflowers did not have much nectar, so the bees could not produce as much honey as usual.  Normally one hive can produce 20 or even 30 kilograms of honey in autumn.  The average in this region was around 5 kilogram per hive.  As I said, we were lucky as around us there are forests of sweet chestnut trees, so we collected a fair amount of all flowers honey as well as forest honey which is mostly chestnut honey,  Certainly enough for us and our friends.

In total we also collected 11 bee swarms that came to our garden.  We housed them and kept them for a few weeks and then passed them to friends who had lost many colonies.

Beehives near la Seudre. 1. jpg

During the past month we have had a lot of rain and after 18 months that the river at the bottom of the garden was dry, now la Seudre is almost full of water.

So, Amelia and I are already looking forward to next year beekeeping life.

For me, apart from occasional visit to see how the bees are getting on, the pleasure is to watch the birds. coming to our front garden.

Robin

The robin, specially at this time of the year reminds us of Christmas cards.

She comes regularly bathing in front of the dinning room.

Robin bathing 1 (2)

So does the sungthrush.

Song thrush bathing 1

Sometimes I wonder if the birds like washing themselves or do they, like children, actually enjoy bathing.

Song thrush bathing 1 (3)

I think this one was washing his ears!

At this time of the year Amelia likes collecting the leaves for composting, but some of the trees have not totally lost their leaves, The liquidambar leaves, however, are so pretty even on the ground that Amelia does not have the heart to rake them.

IMG_0057

So I wish you a happy autumn and together we look forward to the start of another year of beekeeping as well as gardening.

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