a french garden


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Flowers on the roof

Flowers on roof

I have flowers on the roof.  I have not planted them but the seeds have found a home and the rain has done the rest.

Anthophora plumipes

This solitary bee (Anthophora plumipes) takes shelter in the house wall as it whiles away the time until the females are hatched.  If it was sunnier he would be out patrolling the garden but he is inside – like me.  The continuous clouds and frequent rain makes the garden option less attractive than usual at this time of the year.

Another male, this time an Osmia cornuta, continues his vigil outside the bee hotel.

He had less time to wait after the photograph as the female Osmia cornuta are now hatched and busy filling up the holes and bamboo sticks in the bee hotel.  She makes her own mortar to carefully seal in each egg she lays, tamping it in place with the little horns or “cornes” she has on her head.  One of the horns is visible in the photograph, she has two, but the other is obscured by the antenna.

At least during the bright spells I have had some chance to check out some of my newer plants for the bees like the Lonicera tatarica.

The flowers have been given the seal of approval by the bumble bees.  I would be interested if anyone had any other shrub type of honeysuckle other than the L. fragrantissima which I have also got.

It also let me have my first view this year of the early bumble bee (Bombus pratorum) which looked like a queen with full pollen sacs starting up her colony.

Another new shrub flowering this year for the first time is the Elaeagnus umbellata.  I was pleased to see the bees on its flowers as I have bought quite a few of them.  They are covered in flowers although they are still small and are in their first year in the garden.  I think they should look quite impressive next year.

A lot of the fruit trees are in flower just now.  The apple, Belle de Boskoop gets first prize at the moment for the most beautiful flowers.  The buds are a beautiful deep pink that softens as the flower opens.

The bees, however, differ and award first prize to the cherry trees.  It is interesting to see that, despite being offered apple, pear and plum tree flowers at the same time, the bees favour the cherries.  Obviously, they visit all the flowering fruit trees but they do have their favourites.

The Victoria plum gets its fair share of visits.

But what had me guessing was this bee that was only visiting the faded flowers of the plum tree.  I find that so unusual as their were plenty of fresh flowers around even on the same tree.  So why should she do that?  Just to keep me guessing?

We do care about the other visitors to the garden and we have put up some more nest boxes this year.  However, the wren has decided to make a nest in the coils of rope Kourosh has left in the outside workshop.  We try not to go too near it but it looks beautiful constructed from moss that has been gathered.  At least it must have been easy gathering moss this year!

We always hear the cuckoos at this time of year but rarely see them, however, this year we have spotted one that comes in a tree at the bottom of the garden.  Kourosh has even managed to take a short video of it “singing”.  It is fun to hear the first cuckoo but if you are working a lot in the garden it does not take long before you wish it had another tune to sing.

We are now being promised more sun and less rain.  I truly hope the forecast holds true this time.

The bees have had enough of being stuck in the hives sheltering form the rain.  They are hoping for sunshine as there are plenty of flowers available for them now.

 

 

 

 

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March in the garden

Up till now we have been subjected to chaotic changes in the weather this March.  High winds, freezing temperatures overnight, sunshine and rain and more rain and clouds with temperatures about ten degrees under seasonal average take turns to fill the days.

The first of March saw the plum tree flowers frozen and brown.

Whereas a week earlier it had been full of flowers.

Four rows of broad beans were frozen overnight in an extremely low temperature.  I could have avoided the damage by simply covering the plants with a fleece or even some newspaper but they completely slipped my mind.

It has not been all bad news and the Goat Willow (Salix caprea) is open and welcoming the honey bees, bumble bees, solitary bees and butterflies – especially when it is sunny.  As you can see our hives are very close to the willow, which is on the left of the picture, so they can take advantage of short sunny spells in between the rain.  Standing under the tree and listening to the hum above your head feels so peaceful.  There is a 19 second video if you would like to share the bees.

It is good to see the girls collecting such healthy sized sacs of pollen.

The willow provides nectar as well as pollen.  This is a  Andrena cineraria (Ashy mining bee).  They have nested in the past under the large plum tree.

Checking under the plum tree I saw a number of male Andrena cineraria flying over the ground and this one was kind enough to pose on a daisy for me while he had a snack.  It looks like they are keeping to the same nesting area.

Last week the Osmia cornuta emerged from their holes.  The males emerge first and on sunny days they fly constantly around the bee hotels hoping for a female to emerge.  I have just seen a female prospecting one of the bee hotels so it will soon be time to watch the nest building.  Check out last year’s post if you would like to see more.

On the opposite side of the garden from the bees is an area that has always been full of lesser celandine (Ficaria verna).  I do my best but I find it difficult to do more than try and keep it out the borders.

I probably would not mind it so much if the bees liked it but usually it is only flies that I see on them.

One thing you can be sure about bees is that you can never say never, when it comes to their behaviour.

Keeping on the unusual – this is a double headed daffodil.  It is the first one I have seen.  Is it unusual?

This hyacinth is probably easier to explain, as it looks as if it has self-sown.  Not very striking but at least it is a pretty colour.

It might be worth looking under your Hellebores as there are lots of seedlings under mine.

Looking closer the second leaves are just starting to appear but they could easily be overlooked by an enthusiastic weeding.

This spring has been so wet and windy that I have come to realise how useful the downward facing flowers of the Hellebore are.  The pollen is kept dry for the bees and they are sheltered from the winds that make flying and nectar gathering difficult.

The green tubular structures are that the bee is visiting are the Hellebores nectaries and provide nectar which is collected by honey bees and so very valuable to the overwintering queen bumble bees when they awaken on warmer winter days.

This year my previous year’s seedlings have all done well and are settling into positions at the base of deciduous trees and plants.  I have my seed trays all ready so my next job in the garden is to fill them up with more Hellebore seedlings as I have already marked out in my mind where I can plant them in the autumn.


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Return to the garden in March

After two weeks of holidays we were happy to see the garden again but it was at a slow, measured pace we gave the garden its customary “so good to see you” check over.  We have returned with a ‘flu the like of which we have not suffered from in many a year.

Even the dandelion clocks in the grass look good.

There is more red dead nettle (Lamium purpureum) than grass but that suits the Anthophora and bumble bees.  The Anthophora fly very quickly but look very similar to fluffy grey bumble bees – only there are no grey bumble bees (in France, anyway).

The Hyacinths where we sit at the front of the house smell delicious, overcoming our poor sense of smell at the moment and kindling the hope that soon all will return to normal.

We have missed the main pollen fest from the big willow (Salix caprea) at the bottom of the garden.

All kinds of bees are still visiting the tree.

There seems to be plenty to satisfy the needs of all comers.

The Hellebores have done well this year and are constantly visited by the bees.

In the vegetable garden the broad beans are doing well and are very attractive to all sorts of solitary bees.

I wish I could have stayed looking longer as I saw these two almost immediately.

Certainly the wild bees are wherever you look.

Our apricot trees are flowering and I am sure will be well pollinated but whether the weather will allow us to have apricots this year remains to be seen.  Temperatures of 21 degrees yesterday and 23 degrees today are warm for this time of year and we can have frosts up until May.

But the one thing that lifted our spirits was to find “our” Barbastelle bat was waiting for us on our return.  He had taken up his usual position behind our living room shutters.  He is only little, I would estimate about six centimetres from the back of his body to the tip of his head.  He has been visiting us annually for about four years now and we look forward to his visits, see “Many Happy Returns” for last year’s visit.

I find him very attractive and he does not seem to mind me taking photographs although I try to be as rapid as possible as it does disturb his beauty sleep.

 


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A welcome home

Male Osmia cornuta

Back from two weeks holidays and the first thing I saw as the car turned towards the house was the bees flying around my bee hotels.

Male Osmia cornuta waiting

It was so good to see them chasing each other and flying from beehouse to beehouse.

Male Osmia cornuta patient wait

These are the male Osmia cornuta with longer antenna than the female and cute white tufts on their heads.  I don’t know when they hatched out but last year there was a two week gap before the females hatched.  Perhaps this wait weeds out the weak and the impatient.  The males seem to spend most of their time chasing each other or looking longingly inside the holes which must contain females.

Male Osmia cornuta shelters in hole

When there is no sun and it gets cooler they retreat into a spare hole to wait.

They gave me such a welcome back home!


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It had to happen…

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The frost arrived this morning.

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The frost rimmed fuschia looked like a variegated variety.

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There is no time for the pumpkin flower to produce fruit in October but I am sure the bees will be happy to take advantage of its pollen and nectar at this time of year.

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All the seasons seem to be confounded at this time of year with frost on the flowers and the seeds providing a treat for the birds.

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I enjoy the confusion of the plants with the delphiniums coming up for a second round of flowers.

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Sunflowers in October make you think that summer is not really finishing.

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But mostly the plants know what they are doing and my saffron started to show two weeks ago.  I was rather worried about it as I had sown Phacelia for the bees there in the spring to add natural nitrogen to the soil.  Phacelia is one of these handy plants whose roots have nodules sheltering symbiotic bacteria that can fix atmospheric nitrogen.  Once the Phacelia had finished flowering I cut it down, contented that not only had I sheltered my Saffron patch from too many weeds but I had fertilised it too.  Then the Phacelia started to grow again fueled  by seeds dropped during the summer.  I wondered if the Saffron would be choked out and I would have killed it with kindness.  It seemed to be taking longer but when I checked on my blog last year it was coming up at the same time but the new row of thinned out bulbs was taking slightly longer to flower.  So far, the Phacelia bedmate seems to be working – until someone leaves me a comment that Saffron does best in nitrogen poor soil!

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I have to pick off the red stigmas of the saffron every day and  this afternoon I noticed a carder bumble bee burying its head deep inside the flower in search of nectar.  As you pick the saffron its perfume wafts in the air, I suppose it must smell just as good to the bumble bee.
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The autumn asters and cosmos are ideal for my solitary bee watching and I was very excited to catch a Megachile that I find so attractive.  I think it is a male Megachile willoughbiella (remember I am no expert) and I love his muff like forelegs.

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Close by was a Coelioxys bee which is cuckoo bee laying its eggs in the nests prepared by Megachile bees like the one above.

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The bumble bees are the most active bees in the garden, flying for longer parts of the day and making the most of the widest variety of flowers.

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As for us – we have been spoiled by an exceptionally tasty crop of sweet chestnuts in the woods around us.  We have been roasting them in the oven but soon it will be easier to put them to roast in the fire as the nights get colder.


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More bees in the garden

Swarm 2 6.00 pm

This week has been a busy “bee” week.  We had been sure that the bees had intended to swarm into the ruchette before we left on holiday but they obviously delayed their arrival until we were back home.  This time we missed the exciting arrival as we were working in the backgarden during the afternoon and it was not until 6.00 p.m. that we realised what was happening.  Just over an hour later all looked quiet so perhaps it is a smaller swarm than the first.  We have left them in peace but whatever the size it is an extremely active swarm and was happy to join the first one at the bottom of the garden.

Carboard hive

When the last swarm was moved to the bottom of the garden some stragglers kept returning to the spot on the roof where it had been.  They looked very pathetic huddled together in a ball at night time and we tried to brush them off into a box and release them near the new emplacement.  As they seemed so reluctant to move the last time, Kourosh constructed a mini cardboard hive and put it on the roof where the ruchette had been.

Carboard door

We put some hastily made hard sugar and water mix (faux candy) to keep them going and the next night they were swept into their box and unceremoniously united with their swarm at the bottom of the garden.  So we did not have to endure watching any homeless bees passing and re-passing over the roof.

Extension board

It is not that Kourosh is over anxious but he has put an extension board in front of the hive because he noticed that some of his girls were so heavy with pollen when they returned to the hive in the morning that they missed the entrance and landed on the stone underneath.  He is a lot happier now that they have a longer runway.

Phacelia patch

My Phacelia patch is in full flower now but I am disappointed with its pulling power.

Bumble on phacelia

I am getting a reasonable number of bumble bees but not more than I get on borage or nepeta or a lot of other flowers.  I have not seen any other bees but I have been busy.  Perhaps this gives me an excuse to stand and stare for longer, just to make sure.  I would love to hear about other peoples’ experience with Phacelia.

Amelanchier fruit

These are the last berries growing in my Amelachier.  I had read in a post of New Hampshire Garden Solutions earlier in the year that the berries were edible and was looking forward to trying them.  I tried the first few berries that ripened and found them sweet and delicious.  My intention was to harvest them all but the birds stripped the tree before I got the chance – they went the same way as our cherries go every year.

Linden tree

The Linden tree (Tilia platyphyllos) has started to flower.  I love its perfume and I also love the tea made with the flowers so I must remember to collect some before the flowers are over or spoilt b the rain as we have been having some thundery episodes.

Food shelter bumble

After a night of particularly heavy rain I was surprised to see the poppies being worked early in the morning while still wet.

Food shelter bee

The bumbles are hardy bees and fly in much cooler and inclement weather than many bees.  However, these poppies must provide very valuable pollen to make it worthwhile for the honeybees too.  The poppies higher petals bend over like an umbrella keeping bee and pollen dry.

Wet pink poppies

The double pink poppies alongside the red poppies were not being visited by the bees as their petals turned outwards and the pollen had soaked up the rain making it far too heavy for the bees to carry.

Bee diamond

Talking about bees – and I know I tend to a lot – one has left what looks like a diamond in the bamboo sections.  I can’t take a better photograph but it actually sparkles and appears to have facets.  I would love to know what it is.  I have seen the bamboo being closed with a substance that reflects like a mirror but it has a flat appearance and I thought that those could be possibly made by Hyaeus bee species.

Shaved verge

This week the powers that bee (sorry be!) have mowed or rather shaved all the roads around us making the place look extremely sterile.  This is where I see so many wild bees on the wild flowers in springtime.  Some more will push through but in the meantime?

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It seems practical steps in helping pollinators is taking a long time to arrive at grass root level.  Jeff Ollerton explains how important a later mowing of these verges could be in his Biodiversity Blog.

Hare

It’s not often a cute furry mammal makes its way into my blog.

Hare 2

Actually, the photographs were taken by Kourosh as he watched the hare (Lepus europaeus) from the kitchen window.  We often see hares in the nearby fields but we have had no trouble from them in the vegetable garden.

Hare 3

We have no problem with this one either as it is heading straight to the neighbours garden!

 


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Mason bee hotels or houses

We have been having our share of cold weather this week. Our weather is still very tempered by our position and proximity to the Atlantic Ocean so I am talking about temperatures dipping below zero centigrade at nightime and rising to a high of 7 or 8 degrees during the day.  From comments I am receiving on the blog, I get the feeling that a lot of gardeners are nevertheless eager to get their seeds sorted and start with the spring planning.  If you are restricted in your gardening activities at the moment, it might be the time to think about building or looking for a bee hotel.

My first bee hotel had been a gift that had languished under the lilac tree until in March 2013 I had seen the male Osmia checking out the holes in search of newly hatched females. (Short Mason Bee Update).

I found watching the bees as they nested fascinating and decided to add more bee hotels to the garden. (New Mason Bee Nests)

I decided to examine the best places to mount the bee hotels and monitor the best designs and sizes of holes.

Osmia leiana

What I discovered is that it doesn’t matter!

Megachile at bee hotel

Once you have provided the holes, the visitors will begin to arrive.

Solitary wasp

You are likely to see more than just bees.  I get solitary wasps.  These are not aggressive creatures so no worry about being attacked and stung, unless you are a caterpillar!  These solitary wasps are the gardeners’ friend and will stock their nests with caterpillars and other goodies for their carnivorous larvae.

Osmia ...

If you give them a varied selection of holes and hollow stems, they will do the rest.   Here is an Osmia bee (I think caerulescens ) cleaning out the holes drilled in a cut log.  This is in June.  Some bees will come to my garden in March or April, others will come in the summertime and others may return for a second time in the same year.

Megachile emerging

I must admit to have been pretty excited the first time I saw a bee emerging from “my” bee house in May 2014. This is the very bamboo cane that had been so carefully sealed with a rose petal by a Megachile the previous September.

Heriades t.

It is also exciting is to watch which bees decide to take up residence.  This little bee (Heriades truncorum, I think) is less than a centimetre long and as well as nesting in the bamboo canes was also quite happy to use the much finer old, cut stems of my Leycesteria formosa (Himalayan nutmeg.)

So the most important action is to put something up.  Whether it be approaching a work of art or some hollow stems stuffed into an empty plastic bottle: there are lots of ideas out there on the web.  I think they like the sunny spots but all my bee hotels have been used, even the ones in shady places.  If you hope to photograph the nests you should think about having good natural light available as you will need to be using a fast shutter speed.

For the curious, like me, there is also a solitary bee nest that can be opened so that you can see exactly what has been happening over the summertime.  I found it on http://www.wildlifeworld.co.uk/p/solitary-bee-hive?pp=24

I did not buy it until the end of the summer but I could not resist putting it up, although I thought it was much too late to attract any interest.

Anthea

But then on the 29th. of September last year Anthea arrived.  Yes, it has got that bad!  I’ve started giving them names – Anthea, the Anthidium manicatum.

Anthidium chooses wrong hole

We had lots fun watching her bringing her bales of cotton to make her nest.  She harvests her cotton wool by clipping off the soft hairs that cover the grey/green leaves of plants like sage, stachys, artemisia and verbascums.  But sometimes she gets it wrong and flies into the wrong hole and makes a hasty turnaround like she has done here, to return to the correct one.

Anthidium cocoons

In the middle of December I decided to take my boxes down and I had a look at the inside of the new box.  The cocoons were beautiful with no sign of mites.  I will take another look before the bees come back to see if they have survived the winter intact.

I also decided to buy some nesting tubes and paper liners from the same site, Wildlife World.  The tubes are well cut and will save time as I have been promised another new bee hotel for this year 🙂

Lizard in bee hotel

One problem I have had is that our lizards love to sun themselves on top of the bamboo stems of the bee hotels.  However, to make themselves really comfortable, they kick out the tubes.  This year the tubes must be firmly wedged with pieces of wood so that not even the strongest lizard can displace them.