a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France


Am I killing our bees?

Amelia and I spent two week in the UK in late October.  Before our departure we were so happy with our bees. They had given us loads of honey and all the frames of each of our five hives were either full of brood or honey reserve.  This was much better than last year at this stage, when we had to remove three empty frames from Violette and two from Poppy and place a partition in their hives.

The entrance of each of our hives is fitted with a metal strip that just permits the bees to enter the hive but is (in theory) too narrow to let the Asian hornets (Vespa velutina) and European hornets (Vespa crabro) enter the hive. (Grille d’entrée anti frelons )


During the Spring of this year we had captured over a hundred Asian hornets – mostly queens – and as the result we had noticed very few attacks from the hornets during August, September and even October.  Despite that I had left several frelon traps not far from the hives.

On our return from the UK, we went to the hives immediately, even before entering the house.  What we found just broke our hearts.  The hives were being badly attacked even though it was late in the evening.  We noticed that the Asian hornets appeared to be smaller than the previous year and they were coming out of the hive we call Iris.  She was our youngest division from Violette and in October she had a large brood and all frames at the sides were full of honey.  She had even given us honey.

The next day I opened Iris as there did not appear to be any guard bees.  I noticed a very small brood in the middle two frames but only a small handful of bees on them.  I could almost cry!

We had already bought hive muzzles and decided to place an entrance reducer on some of the hives and the muzzles on others.  Maybe it is the case of closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.  Maybe as far as Iris is concerned we have lost her.


Just above the metal mesh, there is an entrance to the hive, but only some of the bees are getting used to entering through that entrance.  The problem in any case is that the metal mesh in front of the muzzle has 6mm wide entrance for the bees.  Theoretically they should be able to enter and leave, but some get stuck in the mesh, others do injure themselves or die.  Others try to remove their dead sisters which makes it even a sadder sight to watch.


I cannot decide whether the muzzles are helping the bees or harming them.

My other problem is that I have fitted two of my hives with a small canopy which makes it even more difficult to fit the muzzle.  On Violette with her canopy I had to fit the muzzle above the canopy so it is really badly fitted.


Fortunately during the last few days it has been raining and there are less bees coming and going.  I have not had the courage to fully inspect all the hives when it rains and disturb them even more, but I am seriously worried for at least three of the hives.

A few days ago we found eight Asian hornets had actually managed to enter the space within the muzzle of Iris.  Once inside the muzzle the hornets do not attack the bees and appear to panic.  Eventually they die.


I watched Poppy’s guard bees actually attack two hornets inside her muzzle and eventually killed her.  But to be honest I am getting desperate.  Perhaps someone – not necessarily a beekeeper – can suggest a better design for the muzzle that would protect the bees without killing them.  For the moment I am not sure if I am hurting them more than protecting them.





The story of noisy bees, bald brood and continuing hornets attack

I had hoped that as the summer was almost over, the Asian hornets (Vespa velutina) would ease their pressure on our poor bees.  Sadly that has not yet been the case.  A couple of weeks before the end of October I noticed an enormous nest right in the middle of our nearest town, only 4 kilometres away.

Asiatique Hornets nest

Asian Hornets’ nest

It must have been a good half a metre in diameter.  I could easy see large number of our  number one enemies  circling around the entrance.

Asiatique Hornets

We have placed several hornet traps at the bottom of the garden and each day they trap numerous hornets, but I am afraid that the battle at the hive entrance continues unrelentingly.  But we soldier on and several times a day Amelia and I stand guard with the shrimping nets and at each occasion catch a couple of dozen of hornets.  But we cannot stay there all day.  You can see the attack, just before Amelia catches the hornet in a short video clip.

Despite the temperatures during the day reaching as high as 20 C, the nights are cool and the preparation for winter must be made.  We decided to treat all our four hives with Apilife Var against the varroa mites.   The recommendation has been to treat whilst the temperature is above 20 C.  It was also suggested to close the metal plate under the hives so that the treatment becomes more effective.  For about a week in early September, however, the temperature here exceeded 35 C and the bees were definitely upset and we had to open the plate under the hive to let them cool down.  We also found that two of the hives were covering the pieces of treatment material with propolis.  The other interesting discovery was that Violette is definitely a hygienic colony and the varroa drop before and after treatment was almost nil.

Being my first year, I find it amazing how the behaviour of each hive is totally different.  For example, when we approach Sunflower we can hear that inside the hive they are much more noisy than the others.  They also appear to be very hard worker bringing in pollen all day long.

Although we are told that the threat by the hornets will soon disappear and apart from the queens, the rest will die naturally, we need to prepare ourselves for the following year.  We have looked at several anti-hornet devices and eventually I decided to test a new anti-hornet muzzle (see short video).

The muzzle fits neatly at the entrance of the hive.

Anti- hornet muzzle at the entrance of bee hive

Anti- hornet muzzle at the entrance of bee hive

The bees were a bit confused and as I had not yet tightened the screw at the top, they decided to choose the easy way by entering their home just behind the top board of the muzzle.  I felt sorry for them as they were coming home loaded with pollen so I removed the muzzle.


I bought two muzzles and I have asked our beekeeper friend Michel to try one as well.  So, we will have to wait a little longer before giving a verdict on this device.  If successful, I will install one on each hive.

Opening the hives for inspection we also noticed that two of the hives still have a frame at one side that was not touched at all, although there appears to be an overall adequate quantity of honey reserve .

Empty frame

Empty frame

The next frame was well build up with honey.

Frames with the build up of honey

Frames with the build up of honey

We took all the unbuilt frames and replaced them with solid wooden partitions with additional insulation.  Another action was based on something that we read Brother Adam used to do and that is placing a super under the brood box during the winter.  The idea is that it provides a volume  of still air, keeping the brood box warmer and also reducing the humidity from the ground.

Poppy repositioned on super

Poppy repositioned on super

One other problem that we discovered in Violette was that there were bald brood on one frame.  The little pale heads look quite spooky.

Bald Brood

Bald Brood

I am told that there are different factors that can give rise to bald brood.  It can be due to wax moth infestation but we have seen no sign of this.   Violette has always had a very low varroa count so this maybe part of her hygienic behaviour to open larval cells containing varroa and destroy them.  We treated her with the others but the drop was very low.  The bees sense something strange and uncap the cell, but in most cases the larvae do emerge as an adult bee.  We will need to keep a close eye on her, but I would appreciate any comment or suggestion.

You can see that whilst I repositioned all the four hives, Amelia was faithfully keeping guard with the shrimping net.

Repositioned bee hives with an empty super underneath the brood box

Repositioned bee hives with an empty super underneath the brood box

The good news is that there are still flowers in the garden and the bees have been busy bringing the pollen from the cosmos, the odd dahlia and the aster.

Bees on aster

Bees on aster

The story will continue, but meanwhile the bees keep us smiling when we watch their antics, like the bee below who did not want just to walk through the door.

Trick bee

Trick bee

  • Kourosh