a french garden


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A queen is born

Perhaps it was only the beginner’s luck, but last year we had three bee swarms that all came directly to a six frame hive that we had placed outside to attract them.

This year we thought we were well prepared with our three polystyrene hives to attract any new swarms.

Swarm fever seems to have been contagious.

Between 14th April and 27th April, we collected a total of nine swarms on trees close to our hives! A couple of days two swarms arrived on the same day.  Three of the swarms came from our own hives.  There are one or two professional beekeepers near us who keep their hives at the edge of the woods.  I assume that the swarms came from there.  We gave all the swarms to our beekeeper friend, Michel, to whom we have always relied for help.  The last swarm we kept for our friend, Angélique, from the bee school.

Queen Angélique for Angélique

When we first noticed a queen cell in Amelia’s favourite hive, Violette, we divided her.  A week later we saw more queen cells and divided her once again.  I know experienced beekeepers would have told us that a division might not prevent swarming – and they were right.  Violette swarmed a week later.  It was a risk, especially as we appreciate that divisions in hives are not always successful.

Three weeks later we inspected all hives as by then all should have had new queens.  To my dismay, there were no brood as yet either in our three hives, nor in the two nukes that we have made divisions.  I was disappointed, but then I read  the very informative blog by Rusty, on ‘When will a newly-hatched queen begin to lay?’   Rusty’s response to that question was:  ‘Holy guacamole, give the woman a chance!’  Despite my impatience, we did exactly as Rusty ‘commanded’.

On 20th May we opened all the hives for inspection.  They all had two or three large frames of brood.

Brood on the newly divided bee hive

I was especially pleased to see that both divisions from Violette had each three frames of lovely brood.  In fact it was not until afterwards that I looked through the pictures Amelia had taken whilst I inspected the hives, that we noticed the new queen.  We placed the first division of Violette into her own 10 frame hive which has now been named Pissenlit, as at this time there are a lot of dandelions growing  in the countryside around us.

New queen bee

The bottom of our garden is once again adorned with active hives, all with new queens.  We will wait for another week or so before we place the second division into her own hive (any suggestion for a name?)

Our beehives at Virollet

The second hive from the right is Queen Angélique, which will be transported to our friend’s house early tomorrow morning.

One final note, I must mention that a couple of weeks ago we attempted to extract honey from one super.  At that time the nectar was mainly from rapeseed flower.  As all beekeepers know, it crystallizes very quickly and is very difficult to spin out in the centrifuge.  We did make a small quantity of honey, and cut up the rest to be used by ourselves and our grateful neighbours as we all love comb honey.

Honey and Comb honey from rapeseed

Kourosh

 

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The first beehive inspection in February 2016

February has been an unusual month for us.  The weathermen told us that the tail end of the storm that passed over Eastern USA, affected our weather also.  The result of it was a drop in temperature and a lot of rain.  The fields on the back of our land once again looked like a lake as the river Seudre broke its banks.

la Seudre Fev 2016

On our side we have a slight mound that protects our land and of course the beehives.

River Seudre Feb 2016

Some days I definitely feel the cold of the late winter, but on other days I get the impression that the spring has once again returned.  Our next door neighbour, Jean-Marie, has kept a few sheep and one has produced a twin and that has added extra excitement for us.

lambs in Feb 2016

I must confess that I have been like a father expecting the arrival of our first child.  I have been perhaps over anxious wanting to open up the beehives and have a proper look inside.   Certainly during the warm parts of each day, the girls have been busy coming and going and bringing loads of pollen. Passing underneath our plum tree you can hear the symphony of bees as they move from one blossom to the other.  Our salix caprea or goat willow, or as it is know here saule marsault, near the river is quite big and its yellow catkins are opening and attracting the bees.  Less than a couple of hundred metres away a field of rape is beginning to flower.  The net results, as you see, is great activity at the hive entrance.

Bees bringing pollen

Amelia and I had a management committee meeting and made a few decisions.  First step was to remove the empty supers that we had placed under each hive to raise the brood box away from the ground.  That was based on the recommendations made by the late Brother Adam of the Buckfast Abbey.  We also used the opportunity to remove the screened bottom boards and cleaned them with washing soda solution.  There was not a lot of debris present.

Beehives made ready for Spring 2016

A couple of days later when the temperature had reached around 14C (58F), we decided to open up the hives one by one.  The main reason for that was that the previous day we had noticed a large number of bees flying around the entrance of each hive.  This looked as if the newly hatched bees were taking their flight of orientation, which meant that the eggs their queens had laid around Christmas must have resulted in new bees emerging from their hives.

Last November we had put partitions in three of our four hives.  So, if there were new bees, the bees might need more frames for brood and food storage.

Our youngest colony, Sunflower, had two partitions on either side, but the remaining seven frames were full of bees.  In autumn we had not removed any frame from Cornucopia, but the other two, Poppy and Violette were similar to Sunflower.  The frames inside the partitioned areas were full of bees.

beehive with partions

We removed the partitions to give room to the colonies to expand. We did not wish to disturb the bees any more that day. So we waited another few days until 26th February 2016, for the full inspection.

The frames with honey on the sides were full of bees and a noticeable quantity of yellow pollen stored.

honey frame in the brood box

We saw what we had hoped to see, that is fairly large area of brood cells as well as larvae.

honeybee brood

Cornucopia, our first swarm of 2015 had 6 frames with brood on either side and four frames heavily laden with honey.  The only little concern was that we found what appeared to us to be one queen cell on frame 7.

Brood cells with one queen cell.

Looking up on the internet, I am lead to believe from FERA that there are 3 distinct type of queen cells, namely swarm cells; supersedure cells; and emergency cells.  Ours appear to me to be a supersedure cell and if so the recommendation is not to destroy it and let the bees sort it out for themselves.  Naturally I would welcome any comment.

One brood arrangement looked to be almost the shape of a bee.

honey bee brood cells.

I have been told that usually when bees fly out, they either bring in nectar or pollen, but not both.  As we upturned the inner cover with a partially eaten candy on top, this little bee came hungrily sucking up some syrup that had oozed out.  But she was already laden with pollen!

honeybee with pollen sucking syrup.

Violette is definitely Amelia’s favourite hive.  She was therefore delighted that when we opened her she could see Her Majesty.  The queen just wandered calmly around the brood cells.  I myself was amazed watching how much pollen they had collected.

queen bee in Violette hive

Having seen the colonies, and especially seeing how full Cornucopia was, we decided that there is so much pollen and nectar around us that we must give more room to Cornucopia.  I was also remembering that the queen cell we had noticed in Cornucopia, and I felt that it is again as good a time as any to give extra room to the colony.  The bees certainly were finding every flower in the garden.  This one was busy on the camelia that has just started flowering.

bee on camelia

On 29th February we placed our first super on Cornucopia with fresh frames. We placed empty supers on the other hives to save us time for the future. Hopefully in 2 to 3 weeks we will examine those hives and see if they are ready to accept fresh frames for collecting the spring honey.

Our 4 beehives near the river Seudre

Kourosh

 


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Honey Bees

It was all the fault of our beekeeper friend Michel who had me hooked on bees.   Every time he visited our garden, he kept telling me: ‘There, you can place a hive…. and over there another….in fact you have room for several hives near the river and just outside the wooded area.’

Looking at the garden through the wooded area

Looking at the garden through the forest walk

In January we bought the first and then the second hive and Amelia lovingly painted them and decorated them.  In a normal year Michel would have given me a swarm, but this was not a normal year, and he had lost far too many of his own hives.  So after waiting and waiting – and I am not a patient man – I phoned all over the place to buy a swarm.  It proved difficult, but eventually I found someone who promised to sell me a swarm, but not before end of May.

Then the first  May Swarm arrived.  I was delighted, especially as it directly entered the little ruchette (six frames mini hive) that I had placed on top of the old chicken coop.  Later in May it was transferred to its permanent hive, now named Cornucopia, because of the horn of plenty that Amelia had painted on it.

Oh, well, I thought that plus the swarm I had ordered we should have enough on our hands.  But the bees had another thought in mind.  One sunny Friday afternoon in early June More bees arrived, this time in the little ruchette above our main house. The second swarm were named Violet, after the little violets that Amelia had painted on their destined hive.

A few days later I set off to my rendez-vous in the Périgueux region to collect the swarm that I had ordered.  Michel accompanied me as I must admit that being actually allergic to bee stings, I was somewhat nervous travelling back the 220 km (135 miles) with a car full of bees.

It was an idyllic spot for anyone and a lovely place to keep bees as well as his horses.  The rolling hills where surrounded by forests and farmlands.  He told us that he had in all over 100 hives.

Beekeeper's house near  Périgueux

Beekeeper’s house near Périgueux

We loaded the hive with the promised black bees (Perigueux Noir) and drove back full of excitement.  Back at home we opened the hive and let the bees discover their new home.  However, our excitement somewhat evaporated as we discovered that the bottom board was not fully aerated and in our hot summers that was something that we urgently needed to change.

We had to wait a couple of days for the ladies to settle down.  Then Amelia and I armed ourselves with the necessary tools and the smoker to investigate the hive properly.  The second problem was that lifting the top outer cover, we saw that the top inner cover consisted of a piece of very old plywood simply nailed to the brood box.  Carefully I removed the nails and lifted the entire hive to place it on a new fully aerated bottom board.  When we lifted the body of the hive, one of the frames dropped through the bottom of the hive.  We had no choice but smoke the poor creatures and open the hive.  Once we lifted the old frame, we saw that it was very old decayed Langstroth frame with the support ends rotted away.  We also noticed that there were no waxed sheets on the frames but the bees had started making their own honeycomb wax.  We did what we could, namely replacing the broken frame with a new waxed one and replaced the bottom board and the top inner as well as the outer cover which also was broken and looked like a museum piece.  So the moral of the story was never buy swarms from strangers, no matter how friendly they might appear.

Nevertheless, we named this hive of black bees as Poppy as we had noticed them returning to the hive with black pollen, distinctive of the poppies in the garden, as well as yellow pollen.

A week later Michel came over so that with his experienced eyes we could inspect the ruchette Violet and see if they could be transferred to their permanent home.  We also hoped to examine the new arrival from Périgueux, as it was clear to us that they were not a big colony.  Task one was accomplished very successfully and we even managed to see her majesty Queen Violet.

Queen Viollet

Queen Violet

She had already made a sizeable brood on at least two of the frames.

Violet - 1st Inspection

Violet – 1st Inspection

The inspection of the hive Poppy confirmed our original feelings that the colony was indeed quite small.  The good news was that they had started making a small area of brood cells on an old frame.  Nothing too exciting, but not having seen her queen we had to content ourselves with that.

Poppy first Inspection

Poppy first Inspection

We scheduled a second inspection a week later.  That proved much more exciting.

Firstly the hive Cornucopia was doing so well that we had to place a honey super on the hive.  Opening Poppy we saw that indeed there was a sizeable brood area on at least two frames.   Although we had placed a ruchette on the old chicken coop in case we had to replace Poppy, things looked more hopeful for Poppy.

Poppy second inspection

Poppy second inspection

Violet was doing admirably with classic areas of brood cells  on both sides of several frames.

Violet second inspection

Violet second inspection

She was duly transferred frame by frame from her ruchette to her beautiful new home

Violet transfer to hive

Violet transfer to hive

We returned towards the house when I pointed out to Michel that there were a fair number of bees again around another ruchette on the old chicken coop.  Michel walked closer for a closer look: ‘You have a new swarm’.’  There bees all over the tiles on the roof.

June Swarm

June Swarm

I had promised Amelia that I will not keep more than three hives, but at the end it was not me that chose the bees but they chose us.

We have chosen the name of Sunflower for the newly arrived swarm as the arrived the week that the sunflowers have opened up.

L to R: Sunflower; cornucopia; Poppy; and Violet

L to R: Sunflower; cornucopia; Poppy; and Violet

The forest of sweet chestnut trees are less than half a mile from our garden and they are still in flower; the sunflowers in the field across the road have not yet opened, but other sunflower fields have opened only just a few hundred yards away.  Around the numerous forest, not far, there are plenty of brambles in flower.  So, I hope that we can keep our bees happy and more importantly healthy, and I hope that they will like Amelia’s French garden as much as we do.

– Kourosh