Water, water everywhere

Since last week it has been raining more and the field behind the garden is covered in water.  You should just be able to see the hives in the background, of the photograph.

Looking in the exactly same direction but further back, a second field is also completely flooded.

Fields on the other side are much the same.  In fact, any low land the Seudre flows past in this area has been flooded.  A lot of the land in this area was marsh land so it is not so unusual.  It is just these areas have been much drier in the past forty years.

The rain has kept me out of the garden but the bees have always taken the opportunity of the mild temperatures and any sunshine to get out of their hives.

We had five hives at the end of the summer.  Pissenlit was the smallest and we reduced her to six frames, hoping she would thrive on the ivy in the autumn.  She seemed less and less active until at the beginning of December we opened her to find no bees.  The frames of honey were there but no bees and no signs of disease.  She was a large swarm that had come to our apricot tree in the front garden on 31 May this year.  She had built up quite well but did not keep up with her original energy.

Our next disappointment was when we opened the Poppy hive for the winter oxalic acid treatment on 16 December and found the hive empty.

This was a surprise as she had gone into winter as our largest and busiest hive.  We have had the Poppy hive from 2015 and she has swarmed and re-queened every year.  We had noticed in the past couple of weeks that she was not so busy but we were not too concerned.

Once again, there were no signs of disease and there were plenty of stores of honey and pollen.

I will add a close up of the same frame, so that you can see the different colour of pollen as well as honey that they had stored..

The few bees we found at the bottom of the hive were all perfect with no wing malformations.

There were never any large number of dead bees in front of the hive.  It was just empty and we feel that the emptying must have taken place relatively rapidly as we watch our hives regularly.

Moving onto a happier note, we have now three large bushes of winter flowering honeysuckle near the hives and they are soon popular with the bees when the rain stops.

The Mahonias, Charity and two Media, are all flowering and much appreciated by the bees.

The Eriobotrya japonica or Loquat has even more perfumed flowers and that attracts the bees too.  This tree would be hardy in most places in the UK but I do not recall seeing it.  You would be unlikely to get fruit in the UK but I highly recommend it for its perfume.

Our Viburnum tinus on the fence is full of buds and the bees will not have long to wait until the flowers open.

In fact, some of the flowers lower down have already opened.

These plants are very easy to propagate if you cut off some roots from a large plant.  We are hoping to have a few more on the road side and we were very pleased to see these cuttings thrive and start to flower this year.

I finish this post marveling at the optimism of this white tailed bumble bee.  In the UK the bumble bee queens are supposed to snuggle down and rest/hibernate until the spring allows them fine enough weather to start making their nest and their colony.  This white tailed bumble bee has pollen on her hind legs so I can only assume she has started her nest and is raising her young.

The rain is against her but I hope she finds enough nectar and pollen in the garden to raise at least some worker bumble bees to help her find food and to keep them warm.

After the break all is quiet in the garden


We have just returned from U.K. after spending Christmas with the family.  On arriving, the first thing I do is check out the garden.  I like to see what the plants have been up to while we have been away.  The period between mid December and mid January must be the least active of the year.  So the short version of my inspection is – not a lot to report. I had hopes for my Hellebores but only one of the plants is pushing through buds.


Some crocus are appearing but it is still too early for much activity on my bulb front.


The old stalwarts like the Sarcococca confusa and the…


primroses are doing their best.


Of course, it is not only the plants that we check on because the bee hives receive the first visit.


It was only nine degrees but the sunshine had tempted all the bees to stretch their legs and some even some to stretch their wings.


The light varnish on the “au vent” or sunshade of Violette’s hive is peeling.  I will have to think of a way to clean it up soon.


The temperature was only ten degrees when I noticed the bees on the Loquat (Eriobotrya japonica).  It is not far away from the hives but I was surprised they would venture out for the nectar and this bee has also taken the time to gather some pollen.  It is a wonderful tree because even at such a low temperature I could smell the perfume when I was close to the flowers.


The winter honeysuckle is about the same distance for the hives but was receiving less visits.


The heather is further away but these girls are hardy and it is nice to see them taking advantage of the winter flowers.


The Viburnum tinus is holding onto its buds to open up when the weather is warmer.  According to our weather forecast that will not be anytime soon as a cold front is coming in from the north of Europe.  I hope 2017 will be a good year for everyone and, of course, for the bees too.


Early bumblebees

Really  early bumble bee (Bombus pratorum)
Really early bumble bee (Bombus pratorum)

I think I should give an early warning  here – this post  is about bumble bees and honey bees.  It is a sort of warning cum apology but the weather this week was amazing and the bees really took advantage of it.  I took these photographs on Tuesday 19 February in the warm sunshine although the air temperature did not go above 12 degrees Centigrade.

Early Bumble bee (Bombus pratorum)
Early Bumble bee (Bombus pratorum)

The winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima) is just about the end of its flowering season but there were three or four Early Bumble bees gathering nectar from the flowers.  The pollen baskets are visibly empty.

White-tailed bumble bee (Bombus Lucorum)
White-tailed bumble bee (Bombus Lucorum)

There was a White-tailed bumble but she (they) have been visiting throughout the winter.  It was the first time I had seen any Early bumbles.

What I noticed was that that the bumblebees appeared only to be taking nectar.  They were carrying no pollen.

Honey bee on honeysuckle
Honey bee on honeysuckle

There were not many honey bees on the Honeysuckle but they, on the other hand, were carrying its distinctive yellow pollen.

Honey bees on Viburnum tinus
Honey bees on Viburnum tinus

The Viburnum tinus was alive with honey bees but no bumblebees.  The bee on the top right of the flower is carrying the ivory coloured  pollen about the same size as the bud.

Honey bee on plum tree
Honey bee on plum tree

The plum tree was starting to buzz but it was all honey bees and they all seemed to be interested in gathering pollen.

I presume the bumblebee queens are woken up by the warm weather and feel the need to restock on their energy stores.  It is certainly too early for them to start nesting.

Thursday brought glacial winds and daytime temperatures of just over zero that even the Charente sunshine could not warm.  I hope the bumblebee queens are back tucked-up in the same place that they have spent the winter.

Cute Early Bumblebee
Cute Early Bumblebee

This photograph serves no purpose except that I found it cute!

Question carder
Question carder

On the other hand I was wondering if anyone had an opinion on this photograph.

Perhaps a carder
Perhaps a carder

Another bumblebee on the honeysuckle on Tuesday was not the same colour as the usual carder bees I see.


It was overall much redder in colour, toning to grey on the underside rather than a pale beige.  Perhaps it was her winter colours and she goes redder in the winter like some plant leaves!  I’d be interested to hear any ideas.

Peacock butterfly on plum tree
Peacock butterfly on plum tree

I found it strange that the bumblebees did not take advantage of the plum blossom.  The peacock butterfly seems satisfied and there are far more flowers on the plum tree than the honeysuckle.

Plum tree in flower
Plum tree in flower

There seems more than enough flowers for the bumblebees to share on the plum tree but they kept themselves to themselves on the honeysuckle.  The plum tree had only burst into bloom in the preceding few days whereas the honeysuckle has been flowering all winter.  Perhaps the queen bumblebees need to refill at a known nectar source rather than wasting energy foraging if they have a steady supply.  They are on their own at the moment unlike the honey bees who have their foraging bees that are able to alert the hive to a new source of nutrients.


Back home

SnowdropIt cannot be compared to The Savill Garden but at least I was correct in guessing that the snowdrops would be through in the garden.  Seeing the first snowdrops appear in the garden always lightens the winter for me.

Group of snowdropsMy only regret is I do not have as many snowdrops as I would like but then again I am not sure if I could ever get too many snowdrops.  I could always try.  Even their name is evocative.  In English the name works on the picture of snow dropping from their slender stems.  In French they are called “perce-neige” recalling that they often push their way through the snow to flower in the coldest of months.

Yellow Crocus Just as early as the snowdrops is my first crocus.  The weather has been dull and wet since my return but the mild temperatures have encouraged the bulbs to appear.

Broad beansI planted the broad beans later than I meant too but the mild, wet weather is helping them catch up.  Cold weather is forecast to follow but I’ll have to wait and see what the rest of January has in store for the garden.

Hazel catkins

The garden is certainly not at its best in winter but their are some things that I like, such as the hazel catkins at the bottom of the garden.

Viburnum tinusThe Viburnum tinus is a mass of flowers.  It has grown from a tiny cutting in a few years and is such an easy shrub to maintain.   While it has been cold and damp nothing has been attracted to the flowers.  Yesterday it was sunny and we had friends for lunch.  After lunch I grabbed my camera, said, “I’ll be back in 5 minutes” and tore off down the garden.  I proceeded to shoot amazing shots of bees gathering nectar and pollen in the Viburnum.  Overjoyed at discovering there was another good source of food for the bees in the garden, I took the camera on our after-lunch walk, so I would not miss anything interesting.

In between chatting on our walk I managed to take some photographs of fungi.  The mild, wet weather must be ideal for them.  It was not until later I discovered that  in my keenness to tidy I had put my camera in its bag and left the memory card in the computer.  So no shots of bees in the Viburnum (yet).

This is not the first time it has happened to me.  You would think there would be a warning that you are not recording the shots.  Has anyone a tip for avoiding forgetting to replace the memory card?

Bee on winter honeysuckle

As the saying goes this was one I had taken earlier, with the card in the camera.  Although it was only 10 degrees C and not sunny the bees were all over the pefumed winter flowering honeysuckle (lonicera fragrantissima) on Thursday.

Bee with pollen bags

What surprised me was that some were gathering pollen.  Perhaps my beekeeper friends can help me out but I thought they would only gather the pollen to feed the larvae.  I thought they only foraged for nectar in the winter to keep up the food stores but perhaps I have misunderstood their winter needs.

Hoverfly on winter jasmineAnother thing I was surprised to see was a hover fly (Eristalis sp. ?), I associate them with the summer but perhaps another false assumption.

White tailed bumble bee, Bombus lucorumOne thing I was not surprised to see was a white-tailed bumble bee (Bombus lucorum).  They have been coming to the honeysuckle when it has only been 7 degrees C and have had all the flowers to themselves.

I have missed the bees whilst I’ve been in the UK, now I really feel I’m back  home  when I hear them buzzing in the garden.

A frosty December morning

Frosty mornings on the Charente Maritime are not too common but this year I was keen to get out and take a look before all the frost was melted by the winter sun.

Frosty brambles

I found even the bramble leaves looked different covered by the frost.

Ice crystals on bramble

The cool evening temperature had formed ice crystals on the leave.

Frosty red bramble leaf

The autumn reds had been changed into frosted Christmas decorations.

Frosty wild rose hips

The wild rose hips were taking the frost in their stride.

Frosty spindle tree  berries

The spindle tree (Euonymus europaeus) berries looked sugar coated by the frost but will not survive many more freezing and de-frosting cycles.

Robin waching

The little birds flew out of the bushes as I approached, it was only the robin who could not retain his curiosity about the only person who was entering into their domain and lingering to look at their territory on such a frosty morning.

Frosty persimmonI decided to return and check out the garden.  The birds, mainly the blackbirds, I think, have turned one of the persimmon into a frosty dessert.  They choose to open the fruit at a ripe spot and I admire their choice as it is conveniently placed for easy perching.  A real fast food option for the bird on the go.

Frosty lonicera

In the back garden the fragrant honeysuckle, Lonicera fragrantissima, is completely frosted over with its perfume sealed within the ice waiting for the sun to arrive.

Frosty winter honeysuckle

The delicate flowers look as beautiful in the frost as they do in the sunshine.  More flowers will follow the flowers frozen by the ice.

Frozen bee

I was thinking of the bees that would be enjoying the new flowers on warmer days when I caught sight of a bumble bee.

Frozen bumble bee

The poor creature had been seeking overnight shelter on a flower and was frozen in place.  Male bumble bees do not survive the winter, the queens will be snuggly overwintering but the others will not see the spring.  My poor bumble bee had the added affliction of mites which survived the low temperatures remarkable well.