a french garden


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First days of May

House front

This is the time for the first and best bloom of the roses.  The climbing rose at the front of the house is Madame Isaac Pereire and has just started flowering.

Madame Isaac Pereire and bumble

The early bumble bees have claimed this rose as theirs.

IMG_1734

The male early bumble bees have started to appear.  They will be looking for the new queens so their cycle will soon be finishing.  I will miss them, they are so quick and lively.  I will have to wait until next spring until the new queens appear and start their own nests.

Rosa Mutabilis on side

My Rosa Mutabilis is making a bid for freedom.  I planted her too close to the willows, which were cut short at the end of March, and now she is trying to escape from them before they shade her again.  The willows will win the race so I must really find a better place for her in the autumn.

Rosa Mutabilis

The colour of this rose changes as the flower matures.

Rosa Mutabilis and bee

Of course, the best feature is that the bees love the rose pollen.

Red hot poker and bee Kniphofia

It’s amazing how my view point of plants can change.  I was given some Knipofia or red hot pokers but never really liked them and I removed most of them.  Kourosh saved this one.  It is in a very poor position but it attracts a lot of honeybees.  It must have a lot of nectar as they stay inside the flower a long time and I often see two or three bees on the same flower.

Smerinthus ocellata Eyed Hawk moth 1

It is not only bees that we notice.  The “dead leaf” on the young willow shoots looked a very unusual shape – for a willow leaf.

Smerinthus ocellata

A closer look showed us a beautiful moth, Smerinthus ocellata, the Eyed Hawk Moth, I think.  It looks so clear in a photograph but the resemblance to a dead leaf is uncanny in the light of day.

Laurel hedge (1)

The bees are omnipresent in our lives at the moment.  Our neighbour opposite has a laurel hedge and I had warned her to tell me if she saw any strange insects flying near it because Asian hornets often nest low in hedges for their first small nest.  Two days ago she came to see me because of the flying insects and the noise of buzzing in the hedge.  I immediately got on my bee suit as the laurel was not in flower so I presumed a swarm had landed in the hedge.

She was quite right.  There was a lot of noise and it was honey bees!  I searched all through the hedge, it was empty in places, but there was no swarm and the noise was not in the one area but all over.

Laurel hedge (2)

Then we noticed that the bees were all doing the same thing.  They were on the underside of the very young shoots and lapping up the surface exudate.

The laurel is known as Laurier palme here.  I checked on it and its latin name is Prunus laurocerasus.  The leaves are actually toxic if you were to choose to chop up the leaves and make cherry-laurel water.  However, small doses of this water has been used in the past to give an almond flavour to pastries and sauces.  Traditional medicines have used the cherry-laurel as an anti-spasmodic and sedative and to treat coughs.  It contains hydrocyanic acid and I can think of better things to flavour my sauces with.

However, the bees want it.  Could it be an ingredient of propolis?  Propolis is what the bees use to fill any holes in their hives and has antiseptic, antibacterial and antioxydant properties.

Swarm in hawthorn

The bees are omnipresent.  They tax our ingenuity by swarming in tall Hawthorn trees but Kourosh has improvised with very long stick and a plastic bucket secured with packaging tape.  I did not think it would work – but it did.  We are at swarm number seven now.  It has been a busy time for the bees.

Tree frog.JPG

At the moment I look forward to a quieter life, like that of our little tree frog that sleeps under the plastic cover of our outdoor table.  He only wakes up when we lift of the cover to have our morning coffee.

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The bees in January 2018

After a long hot summer, we had a cold spell in December.  I feel the cold and in addition we attended a very interesting bee meeting with an interesting talk on the relative insulation value of the different types of hives and nucs.  That started me worrying about our bees and we decided that we should give them a bit of extra insulation.  They are already well insulated over the top of the hives.

Actually, the cold spell did not last long and in January I started watching the catkins of our purple hazelnut start to open.

There are a lot of hazelnuts (Corylus sp.) around us and we planted some in the garden as we read that these catkins are often the first source of pollen for bees.

I have another reason to keep my eye on the hazels at this time of year as it is now that they produce their tiny flowers.

Their petals (actually styles) remind me of the tentacles of sea anemones and it is surely a sign that spring cannot be far behind.  However, I have never seen a single bee on the hazel catkins.  Hazelnuts are wind pollinated but this does not stop the bees gathering the pollen.

Near some of the hazelnuts are gorse bushes and the bees will fly at least a kilometer from their hives in January to collect the pollen.  It is easy to see the orange pollen being taken into the hive and know where it comes from at this time of year.

The most pollen we see being brought into the hive in January comes from the Winter Flowering Honeysuckle.  There is a large bush about 20 metres from their hive and they visit this bush at amazingly low air temperatures.  It was only 9 degrees centigrade today but sunny and the bush was buzzing.

Today the Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) was sharing with the honey bees and the queen buff-tailed bumble bee.

A bit further away is the Viburnum tinus which buzzes on sunny days like today.  Size does matter and it is now a very large bush.  Not a bad investment for one euro at a fête many years ago.

The V.tinus pollen is a pale ivory and we like to watch the hives bring it in.  Most of the pollen is the yellow Winter Flowering Honeysuckle pollen, then the V.tinus pollen and also some orange Gorse pollen.  You can watch the video (less than 1 minute) of our busiest hive “Poppy” bringing in the pollen today.

My heather (Erica darleyensis) gets plenty of attention.  I am trying to increase this Erica as it does so well here but it is not a rapid grower.

The bees like to keep you guessing and I had not thought these early crocus would be so tempting.

Just beside the crocus some Mullein leaves are shooting up (Verbascum thapsus).  I try to keep as many as I can in the garden because their flowers attract so many pollinators in the summer, especially in the early morning.

There are no flowers in January but I wonder if the dew droplets become impregnated with minerals from the Verbascums leaves.  Mullein has a long history as a herbal plant.

It does not look as if it will be long before our willow tree (Salix caprea) will have the bees exploring the fluffy buds.

Until then we should follow the example of our green tree frog sitting in the sunshine today and take advantage of the day, wherever we are.

 


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The loss of a beehive.

On 7th May, we lost our brave Violette.

For those of you that might be interested to know, in April I wrote that our favourite hive, Violette, swarmed.  The swarm arrived happily in a nuke that we had placed on the roof of the old chicken coop and subsequently we transferred her to the end of the garden where we keep our hives.

Violette BeehiveTwo weeks later we noticed a small bundle of bees on the ground, in front of Violette.  We suspected that the new queen was among them as I had read that sometimes on return from her nuptial flight she is so tired and heavy that she cannot fly well.

Queen bee outside the hive with her courtSo I decided to gently pry the bees to see what I could find.  “There she is!”, Amelia noticed.

Queen bee outside her hiveI lifted the queen gently and placed her in front of the hive entrance.  She walked in and soon the rest of the bees followed her inside.  Unfortunately, this happened three times, over two days.  Each time she appeared to have tumbled out of the hive.  Something strange was definitely happening.

So a couple of days later, on Sunday 7th May, we prepared the smoker to open up Violette.  There was no need to use the smoker, as the hive was completely empty.  No bees to be found, dead or alive.

I spoke with a couple of very experienced beekeepers who told me that they too have had hives completely empty.  They believe that whilst outside the hive they must have been poisoned and subsequently died.   We found three closed queen cells in Violette and opened them to see fully formed queens, abandoned by the bees.  There was no visible sign of disease on the bees before.  We found it strange that a week earlier the hive was full of bees and then nothing.  No bees!

The swarm that we had collected from Violette in a six frame nuke, however, was so busy that for a couple of nights we saw some bees staying outside the hive at night.  It appeared that there was no room in the inn.

Nuke with too many beesAs we had the smoker ready we opened up the nuke, and found out that she had very large brood on both sides of five frame, and a lot of bees moving around.  We quickly transferred to a full ten frame hive, plus a super.  She is now called Iris.

Iris Bee hiveViolette’s frames were all destroyed in case of any illness, or transfer of any possible poison.

But nature is what it it is and we have to accept that sometimes we win and sometimes we lose.

The two pairs of blackbirds in the back garden appear to have each raised two chicks and the fledglings are ravenous.

Black bird with fledglingsThe large poppy seeds that I planted at the edge of the vegetable garden last year and they did not grow then, are now in flower and are loved by the bumblebees as well as our honey bees (and of course by us!)

PoppiesThe phacelia that self-seeded from last year’s planting is also well loved by bumblebees and the honey bees.

IMG_0180So as consolation, I made a cup of coffee for Amelia with a little chocolate bunny.  “But who is sitting in my chair”, she cried!

IMG_0128The little tree frog, our daily visitor, was nonplussed by our intrusion.

Tree frog

Kourosh


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Many happy returns

Purple crocus

All it takes is a little bit of sunshine and splashes of colour return to the garden.

Willow stamens

After all the rain the plants are ready for the big opening.  There is not much pollen on the willow yet, these stamens were the only ones I saw and they were high up, but it won’t be long.

plum flower

I saw my first blossom on the big plum tree in the garden.  In warm years so many bees come to the plum tree when it is in flower that I can hear the buzz from about 100 metres away.

Red Camellia

The red Camellia provides more than colour.

Halictes bee in Camellia

The thick layer of petals has been providing a comfortable B&B for this little halictes bee.

dandelion and bees

The dandelions are out and this one is being shared by a honey bee and a solitary Andrena bee.  I look forward to the return of the bees and butterflies in the garden.

Barbastelle bat

One returning visitor came as a surprise.  My husband spotted him at the end of February and he is still with us.

Barbastelle bat 27.2.15

He is a Barbastelle bat (Barbastella barbastellus).  Barbastelle bats often pass the winter in underground caves or cavities.  As he has decided to take up residence behind our living room shutter again I would presume he is starting to get active.  Once again I presume that if I have been seeing butterflies during the day he will be finding moths (to which he is partial) during the night.  I can keep an eye on him during the day by looking in sideways without disturbing him and I have noticed that he changes position between roosting on the wooden shutter and the stone wall of the house.

This means that it is the third year that we have noticed a Barbastelle bat in exactly the same place (see last year “A furry visitor”).  They have been known to live for 23 years so it seems likely that it is the same individual.

Reinettes

The warm damp weather is ideal for the green tree frogs ( Hyla meridionalis).  They have returned to bask in the sunshine in front of the dining room window.  Often we hear them before we see them and they are difficult to see until one of them moves, as you can see on the picture above.

This is my favourite time of year in the garden as everything makes its first appearance.