a french garden


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We lost Iris

My camera endoscope ‘Potensic’ arrived by post which enabled me to inspect the inside of the hive Iris without opening it.  It comes with a 5 metres flexible tube that can be bent and pushed through the hive entrance.  It has a powerful light whose intensity can be adjusted easily by hand.  The camera was easy to use and quite effective.  It can be joined to a laptop or a smartphone to take still photos or videos.  I took a couple of pictures.  Sadly, the space between the middle frames looked empty.

snap_001The next day as it was sunny and the temperature was hovering around 16 degrees C (60 F), we decided to open up Iris.  I was saddened to see just three or four bees inside.  The outside frames were full of sealed honey, but no bees.

iris-with-dead-beesThere was  no doubt that they eventually succumbed to the attack by the Asian hornets. There were a few dead bees in the bottom of the hive, plus two dead hornet that had obviously been killed by the brave bees.

The other four hives were still busy, but despite the fact that December has arrived and the night temperatures have been for several nights around zero C, the Asian hornets had not stopped attacking the hives.  Amelia and I had searched the countryside around us during our walks but had not found any hornet nests.  But our friend Patricia told us a couple of nights ago that on cycling around she had seen a nest.  So off we went looking out for it.

img_0034There it was just over a kilometre from our house.  A nest at a height of some thirty metres from the ground.  Now that the trees had lost their leaves the nest was quite visible.  I could see the hornets coming and going.

It is important to note that unlike summer bees who live only 6 to 8 weeks, the winter bees live 3 to 5 months while the queen will be laying a very reduced number of eggs.  Therefore any attack on winter bees will deplete the colony more rapidly and as we found will be quite disasterous.  The other issue we have noted is that there is a misconception that by the end of October, the Asian hornets are all dead and any young queen is hidden in a hollow of a building or a tree until next Spring, when she creates a new colony.  We learnt to our horror that even the first week of December, they were attacking the bees.

After our walk in the country, we went over to see our neighbours Annie and Yvon.  He is the master of the hunt around here.  I showed him the photo and he agreed to come over in the morning with me and do what he could.  The next day we went to the site.  At that height, it is almost impossible to destroy the nest, but Yvon fired four shots in the middle of the nest, making a few large holes in it.  The idea being that the cold will do more damage and the birds will start attacking the nest, thus hastening its demose.  Firing into their nest is considered by many to be dangerous, ineffective and certainly should not be attempted in the summer time.

img_0040You can see one hornet near the top right hand side, and the nest entrance underneath where the hornets enter and leave.  It was a desperate attempt at a desperate situation.

This week the daytime temperatures have really climbed and Amelia and I have managed to have out lunch out in the garden.  She even shed her fleece!

The other four hives have been showing a great deal of activity, as you can see in this short video clip.

We felt sorry for the bees that were crowding around the entrance reducer of their hives.  They were busy bringing in pollen and naturally nectar.

img_0056Amelia felt really sorry for the girls and she asked me to take off the entrance reducer of Viollet, since we have not seen any hornets in the last couple of days.  Amelia has always had a soft spot for Viollet.

img_0074Some of the bees had huge sacs of pollen.  I can assume that although it was sixth of December, the hives still had brood.

We are fotunate that throughout winter there are still enough flowers for the girls to visit and bring in the nectar and pollen.  Gorse is a favourite at the moment, the photograph below was taken on the 7 December 2016.

img_7481Meanwhile. Viollet had finished her 2.5 Kilogram bag of fondant, so we replaced it at the same time as removing her entrance reducer.

One final observation.  When we returned from the UK in early November, we were devastated to see that despite the warm sunny days, the bees were mostly stuck inside their hives and reluctant to come out to face the hornet attack.  Panic and stress is as bad for the bees as it is for us.  So, although we sadly lost Iris, we are so glad that now the other four hives appear to be strong and all of them flying in and out in great numbers and are bringing in pollen.  We hope that the bees and all of us will have a good end to this year, or as the French say:  ‘Une bonne fin d’année’.  An early Merry Christmas to everyone. – Kourosh

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The bees in winter

Hives 12 December

This is a picture of the bee hives on the twelve of December.  They are enjoying the sun but the air temperature is only ten degrees Centigrade.  We have our nets at the ready because we have still been catching a few hornets this week.  Later in the day the air temperature rose to fifteen degrees.

Back to the hive

We had noticed that all the hives have been active this week, especially Sunflower our youngest who brings in a lot of pollen.  I decided to try and find out where the pollen was coming from.  Apart from this rich orange pollen she is bringing in an almost white pollen, a yellow pollen and a tiny bit of light green pollen.

IMG_2887

I must admit I had a good idea of where to look for the orange pollen.

Gorse spines

Gorse is a good winter provider of pollen for the bees.  But look at those spines!  Not a plant for the garden but a good plant to have in wild areas for the bees.

Clouded Yellow

I saw several Clouded Yellow butterflies (Colias crocea, I think) warming themselves in the sunshine not far from the gorse.  It seemed strange to be walking in the sunshine in December and seeing butterflies on the wing.  However, night time temperatures are going down to only two or three degrees Centigrade so they will have to find somewhere to shelter when there is no sunshine.

Honeybee on thyme

I do have my doubts whether all the individual bees are equally industrious.  This bee attracted my attention as she was sitting on the thyme on the other side of the rockery just out of sight of the hives.  You will note she is not sitting on a flower.  The thyme has flowers, which she could hardly miss, but she chose to sunbathe on the tip of the stem to soak up the sun’s rays. Perhaps she is an autumn bee – programmed to take a more zen approach to life and to enjoy life until next spring.

Bee on Rape

There is a lot of Rape (Brassica napus) flowering at the moment.  These are the self seeded plants that have grown when the Rape was harvested earlier in the year.  Stretches of the flowers can be seen along the lines of bare vines where the seeds must have been trapped by the wind.

Rapeseed pollen on bee

Today I noticed a bee collecting pollen on the Rape flowers, so this is a possible source of the yellow pollen the bees are bringing home.

honeybee on winter honeysuckle

However, my Winter Honeysuckle is only metres away from the hives and is proving very popular with the bees.

10.5 degrees

The air temperature was only just over ten degrees when this lady joined the bumble bees to take her share of the nectar on offer.

Honeysuckle pollen

Later on some of the bees started collecting pollen which is a rich sugary yellow colour.

Garden bumble bee

The Honeysuckle flowers are also appreciated by the bumble bees that are active on the warm days too.

Large bumble in winter

If you compare the size of the Honeysuckle flowers and the queen bumble bee it will give you an idea of how big she is – much bigger than a honey bee.  I think she is a Garden bumble bee, a bombus hortorum, as she has a long face – but I find bumble bees difficult to identify so I am not sure.

Honey bee on Erica

I have been pleased to see the bees visiting my Erica darleyensis but I have not seen them taking any pollen.  So I have not solved the mystery of the source of the white pollen yet.

Bee on Lambs' ears

But with the bees there are more mysteries than answers.  This bee was sourcing something tasty from my Stachys (Lambs’ Ears) leaves!

Scabious in flower in December

So I have managed to work out that the majority of the pollen is coming from the gorse at the moment with smaller additions of yellow from the Winter Honeysuckle and Rape.  I did not get any photographs of bees on flowers gathering white pollen but there is plenty of Scabious flowering at the moment so that is my best guess as to where that white pollen came from.

I just hope that the bees are not as unsettled as some of the plants in the garden at the moment.  The fruit trees are starting to bud and we have seen our first apricot flower.


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Bees in the trees

Flowering Plum

This is my favourite time in the garden when my plum tree is in flower.  It heralds the official opening of springtime in the garden.

Bee gathering plum pollen

It attracts honey bees in their hundreds to fill the canopy with a constant motion and buzz that adds to the cloud of its special bitter sweet perfume that floats over the garden.

Bumble bee in plum tree

The bumble bees like to take the top flowers but this one has fallen asleep and stayed for the night amongst the flowers.

Carpenter in plum tree

The carpenters have been very active early this year and visit the plum tree as well as the spring flowers.

Goat Willow

The plum tree is not the first tree to provide pollen to the bees.  We have a willow at the bottom of the garden which I think is a goat willow (Salix caprea).  It is an old tree which we have inherited but it provides the much needed pollen very early in the year.

Bee flying to catkin

At this time of year it is mainly honey bees that come and load up with the pollen.

Wild bee in willow

There are also wild bees like this one and bumble bees that need the valuable pollen.

Apricot blossom

The apricot blossom just doesn’t do it for the bees.  It comes a poor third choice when the plum and the willow are flowering.  I have a feeling that the apricot tree produces flowers at intervals so that it can increase its chances of fruiting in case it produces flowers when there are not so many pollinators around.  I’ll try and keep a closer eye on it this year.

Border

The spring flowers provide colour in the borders.

White daff

And the daffodils brighten up a day when a thick grey blanket of cloud covers the sky and prevents any chance of a glimpse of the solar eclipse.

Hellebore (1)

The Hellebore provide lots of pollen too but it seems to be more appreciated by the bumble bees.

Bumble bee in hellebore

The bumble bees are difficult to see in the Hellebore but their loud buzzing gives them away.

New plum flower

Baby plum tree’s first flower

My plum tree is so important in the garden that I can’t quite imagine the garden without it.  In the summer it provides a cool parasol to dine under.  Its strong branches can support a swing.  It even has its own bee hotel!

That is why we were excited to notice what looked like a baby growing in the hedge nearby.  We looked after it and planted it out last autumn.  We were not sure if we had been looking after a “foundling” and that it would turn out to be another tree but this year it has flowered for the first time.  The flowers looks the same as our plum tree and it has flowered with it at this early time, so we are very happy that the plum tree is not on its own any more.