a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France


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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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The ivy is flowering

Rear honey bee

WARNING – This post contains a heavy bee content.

I know only too well that not everyone is so besotted with bees as I am, so you are warned.

In fact, I am not sure I know myself what drives me to wait with baited breath in the hot sun beside a hedge of ivy. just because I want to catch a glimpse of Colletes hederae.

Ladybird

There are lots of honey bees and other insects, like the ladybird that catch my eye and I click out of restlessness.

Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)

Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)

Butterflies are just as much drawn to the nectar source as the bees, but they are not what I am looking for today.

Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria)

Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria)

The trouble is when I cannot see the bee I am looking for I get distracted by the other visitors.

Chafer

I haven’t seen as many chafers this year but there is one on the ivy.  Click.

Bumble on Common Toadflax

The cute bumble on the toadflax gets her picture taken too!

Bee mimic

And I cannot help marvelling at the best bee mimic I have ever seen.  It only lacks a pair of long antenna to be just about spot on.

Male Coletes hederae

Just as I was wondering if I was missing them, I saw my first, and I think probably a male Colletes hederae with his long antenna.

Female Colletes hederae

And there are more, a female this time with plenty of pollen on her hind legs.  They do not fly until late summer and should stay around into October. They gather pollen mainly from ivy which seems an odd strategy but as it is late flowering they will have less competition from other solitary bees (but not from honey bees) and perhaps less problems with parasites.  They are ground nesting bees, digging tunnels often in large groups.  I have never found a site near me but there must be one around as there is plenty of ivy.

I am delighted to see them again and I won’t be passing any ivy now on our walks without checking it out.  I don’t understand why it gives me a thrill to find them, but it does.

Female colletes hederae on ivy

It is worth the wait to see them again, even though my nearest and dearest find it all rather strange.