a french garden


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The heat goes on

I took this photograph from underneath our lime tree (Tilia cordata).  There cannot be a better place to be on a hot June day.  It is too hot to sit under a parasol but the branches of the tree stop the heat of the sun and the air is full of the perfume of the flowers.  If you want to grow a tree to give shade in the summer then I cannot think of a better choice.

This carder bumble bee would be the first to agree.  The lime tree provides nectar and pollen for the honey bees as well as other bees.

The olive tree is drawing in all the bees at the moment, too.

The main feature at the moment in the garden are still the poppies.

A lot are setting seed now and I go around putting bag ties on the plants with the colours that I like most so that I can have a good variety next year.

The Fallgold rasberries are producing well and are very sweet.  They taste too good to cook with.

The blackcurrants are ripening and will probably be prepared for making sorbet later in the year.

This year has been a bumper year for cherries here (but not in our garden)We have fortunately very generous friends and have not missed out on the cherry bounty.  Last Sunday we picked sour cherries which have made compote, jam and sorbet for us (we picked more than that basket!)

The borlotti beans are managing to hold their own against the poppies and large mullein (this is a type of Verbascum, I think thapsus).

I’ve let this plant seed around the garden because it is so attractive to the bees.  It is also reputed to be a medicinal plant but I have not tried it myself.

The vegetable garden has had extra stakes added for the tomatoes we have been given and could not bear to waste.  If it is a good year there will be plenty to make into puree.

Yesterday I saw that the sweet chestnut trees were flowering nearby and filling the air with their overpowering perfume.  It struck me that this year I seem to have been running to keep up with the seasons and when I checked with my blog mentioning the sweet chestnuts last year it was the beginning of July (The bees and Sweet Chestnuts).

The little pineapple shaped buds in the photograph are the female flowers of the sweet chestnut.  Sweet chestnut is often wind pollinated, for although it produces both male and female flowers on the same tree, flowers are successfully pollinated by the pollen from another tree.  I found it fascinating when I discovered that the nectaries producing the nectar that attracts pollinators are at the base of the male flowers which are held on the long catkins.  Bees and other pollinators can be useful to increase pollination when the pollen becomes damp in humid conditions as the grains become sticky and less easily carried by the wind.

There were a lot of galls on the chestnuts this year.  I picked one of the tree and found a tiny black insect inside.  It looks like the gall could be the oriental chestnut gall (Dryocosmus kuriphilus).  This is another exotic pest which first hit France in 2007.

Kourosh had put up a nest box under the carport this year, it can just be seen vaguely at the top left hand side of the photograph.  It was a brand new Christmas present and we were delighted that a pair of Redstarts (Phoenicurus phoenicurus) inaugurated it.  This is the male and both male and female birds feed the young.

Kourosh could not resist taking a quick shot of the young birds just before they left the nest.  It was lovely to watch the parents flying to and from the nest but we did not see much of the babies.  It was all over so quickly but we can still hear them in the nearby bushes.

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The bees and Sweet Chestnuts

Rucher

Last week I was very worried about the bees.  We are new to beekeeping and we visit the girls everyday (often more than once) just to see how they are getting on as you can learn a lot by just watching them.

However, I noticed a strange odour around the beehives and Kourosh confirmed that he could smell it too.  When it lasted more than a day or too I began to recall bee diseases that had unpleasant odours attached to them.  However, the bees were doing so well and the odour, although unusual, was not unpleasant.  In fact, it smelt familiar but I could not place it.

Chestnut flowers overhead

It was not until we went for a walk into the woods that I traced the source of the perfume (?).  We had been watching the Sweet Chestnuts (Castanea sativa) throw out the unripe catkins and knew that the flowering was imminent but we had never suspected that the bees could bring so much pollen back that we would be able to smell it in front of the hives.

Chestnut flower stamens

The male flowers produce long stamens and the quantity of pollen produced by the tree is enormous.  One method of testing to see what type of honey that the bees produce is to examine the pollen grains trapped inside the honey.  However, the quantity of pollen produced by the sweet chestnut can complicate the analysis and I have read that some honeys in France which are 100% Latifolia (the commercially grown lavender for perfume, essential  oils etc.) and, therefore, monofloral could containe 80% of sweet chestnut pollen!

Stand of Chestnut trees

We are lucky to be surrounded by woods containing Sweet Chestnut trees so the bees are happy just now and we are happy to collect the chestnuts in the autumn.

Chestnut flowers and stamens

The female flowers which are tiny and insignificant in comparison to the stamens of the male flower.  After receiving comments provoked by the Facebook page of the BBKA I need to clarify where the nectaries of the Sweet Chestnut trees are situated.  I have found a paper in which one of the main criteria was to study the morphology of Sweet Chestnut flowers. ( Flower morphology of Castanea sativa Mill From Bulgaria and characteristics of unifloral chestnut honey ( Comptes rendus de l’Académie bulgare des sciences: sciences mathématiques et naturelles · January 2013.Juliana Atanassova, Spassimir Tonkov (Submitted by Academician V. Golemansky on April 19, 2013))  This paper quoted, as a reference, Farkas A., E. Zajacz.  ́ Eur. J. Plant Sci. Biotech., 1, 2007, No 2, 125–148. but I was unable to find this on the internet but it appears another quirk of the sweet chestnut that this mainly wind pollinated tree produces nectar from nectaries situated on the male flowers which also produce pollen, although at different times to avoid cross-pollination.

 

 

Close up Chestnut flowers

Looking closer at the flowers you can see the formation of the prickly green cover that protects the mature chestnuts.

Chestnut flowers

The form of the female flowers remind me of the hazel nut flowers but perhaps the hazel flowers are more stunning with their surprisingly red colour.

Honey bee on Bramble Rubus fruticosus

What did intrigue me was that in spite of the abundance of the chestnut nectar and pollen the bees were still visiting the brambles (Rubus fruticosus) that were growing in the undergrowth beneath the trees .  This will alter the flavour and constituency of any honey produced if the bees mix the nectar of different plants and I am sure ours will.

Megachile on Bramble

It was not only the honey bees.

Butterfly on bramble

But other pollinators were attracted to the brambles.

Honey bee on old man's beard Clematis vitalba

I saw honey bees on the Old Man’s Beard (Clematis vitalba) despite the feast of plenty overhead.  An abundant source of nectar and pollen does not stop the bees visiting the other sources.

daucus carota Queen Anne's Lace

Checking out for bees and nectar sources under the trees I noticed this lovely Wild Carrot (Daucus carota) or Queen Anne’s Lace with its sole red floweret in the centre of the bloom.  This has nothing to do with Sweet Chestnuts and bees but I just thought it was so lovely.

Bees in super

So the odour has disappeared from the hives and it will be something we will expect to reappear next year when the Sweet Chestnut trees flower.  Perhaps we will be less nervous and more confident then.  Until then Kourosh has fitted all the supers with clear plastic covers so that we can have a peek at the bees filling up the frames without disturbing them.


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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.