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Une petite surprise – plus des abeilles

Busy in the garden tooling around making a new chicken house for our broody hens and Joan calls out – “Adrian, something’s going on with your bees… is that a swarm?”

They have all been exceptionally active since the weather has turned and in the last few weeks we’ve had them gathering flowers from chestnut and maples. In the last 5 days all of the Robinia has been alive with bees – an exceptional year for flowering trees.

Swarm? No chance. I think I’ve done everything right. Given them new frames of foundation, new supers for excess honey. Last inspection there were no queen cells so things were rocking along. A very strong colony in one hive and I’d decided to split that and grow on another colony. The work was scheduled for Sunday, two days away.

So I suit up and go and have a look. Feck-a-doodle-doo. It looks like they are making moves to up sticks. This, for a bee-keeper could be bad news. Your bees have raised a new queen (or queens) for reasons best known to themselves the queens take flight, hop on the good foot and do the bad thing whilst in the air and then go and search out new digs.

So. Caught them having bee-sex and then watched them land in their *thousands* on a nearby shrub and that’s it. RESULT!

I had a ‘ruchette’ ready to rock… new frames of foundation, old empty cells ready for a queen to lay eggs and a frame full of spring honey. So, all that was left to do was jump in and catch them.

Easy. Peasy. Lemon. Squeezy.

Checked the old hive. All fine, tons of frames of brood – they’ll be fine. Checked my second hive. CHOCK FULL OF HONEY. Dark, heady, aromatic – I suspect the very best spring honey from our fruit trees, chestnut, maple and acacia.

Off to the bee store next week for new hives. New supers and it’s time to look for an extractor.

Allez, les Abeilles !

A couple of days working in the garden and we’ve been joined by a busy horde of hundreds of bees all¬†frantically¬†gathering in the pollen. We’ve eight peach trees all in full blossom in the orchard right now and spring blossom honey is the order of the day!

Honey bee with pollen baskets full on peach blossom

Pollen baskets filled. A Bee on Peach blossom

That’s a peach blossom from the petite white Italian peaches that we get. Assuming we have no very late frosts then I’m predicting a massive bumper crop this year. We have had in prior years literally wheelbarrow loads of these peaches to deal with and I’d guess we’re in for the same again.

A double bonus for keeping bees in the garden is not just the superb quality honey you get but that everyone gets to benefit from better pollination rates. Not only do our neighbours get a few jars of honey they’ll also get much better crops from their own fruits trees and bushes. Nice!

Honey bee with pollen baskets full

Bee with full pollen baskets

It’s a real thrill to see both of my hives come through the harsh winter so well – they’re both very active and will be building up strength after the winter. Another week or so and I’ll be putting down fresh frames with foundation to grow the hives I have and will try and split one this year. I’ve never raised (and kept!) a Queen before and I’m determined to learn this old beekeeping trick.

A Swarm of Bees in May…

… is worth a load of Hay. Or so goes the Nursery Rhyme..

A swarm of bees in May is worth a load of hay;
A swarm of bees in June is worth a silver spoon;
A swarm of bees in July isn’t worth a fly.

So when trolling around the Garden on my tractor I spotted…


Snowy Day

Sub zero temperatures have been with us for a few days with last night dipping to a chilly -9. We had a smattering of snow but nothing quite as spectacular as the great ice storm of 2006.

The place does look pretty in snow… and I don’t need much of an excuse to take some snaps!

A photoset of a snowy Bellebouche

There’s a shiny belle with a shady bouche, there’s more where that came from – click the photo for the full slideshow.

Now… hot coffee, dunky biscuits and more logs on the fire are required.

Oh, Bee-have.

… or a tale in which Adrian has insects raining down on his head.

After a mad, mad 60 hour working week, delayed flights and a generally too-hectic spell away from France, we were sat at home, small glass of Lambic in hand and watching the alternately funny/grisly movie “In Bruges”. A brief few hours later and a turn of events re-grounds me instantly with a reconnect with all that is good about Bellebouche.

Honey Potter and the Sticky Fingered Adventure

The culmination of my first years beekeeping activity and it’s time to get the first harvest extracted and potted up.

Before getting going on beekeeping I’d made contact with a knowledgeable ex-pat British beekeeper, Vic. He’d freely doled out help and advice throughout the course of the year and had offered us the loan of his extracting equipment when the time came. I’d had the honey super off the hive for quite a few weeks and it was time to get cracking.

The bees capped the frames in the super with a thin layer of wax. I’d sliced the top off of one of these previously in an impatient attempt to get at my first taste of the Bellebouche honey harvest. But, there is another way! (more…)

Sweet Satisfaction

It was a long time in the coming but this afternoon saw a small milestone passed and for me, something uniquely satisfying – our first honey harvest.


The queen – discovered!

Our first hive inspection – didn’t go entirely to plan but we had the result we were looking for.

Upon hiving the swarm last weekend we examined each frame and whilst we found lots of larvae, capped brood we didn’t see the Queen – not easy looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack. Time comes around for our first examination and frame after frame my heart was sinking. No capped brood – no honey on the first couple of frames. Then.. Honey stores! and then… finally a couple of frames of capped brood and hundreds of larvae. The Queen is there and she is doing her job!

As we move to the centre of the hive – teaming with larvae – and there a false alarm as I mistakenly spotted a drone and then, eagle eye Joan to the rescue… The Queen!

Lighter coloured than I’d imagined but unmistakable. A few minutes watching her move around – her attendants all in tow and she’s busy laying fresh eggs. The tiniest fleck of white egg on the rear of her abdomen – future bees!

Dark bees

Photo credit to Joan for very bravely taking a macro shot (focal length under 6mm!) whilst I was holding the frame whilst clad in my protective bee suit! A prize of a jar of Miel de Bellebouche if you can spot the Queen in that image.

I had hoped to see a baby bee emerging but approaching rain clouds, my smoker running out of steam and a result achieved and we decided to call it a day

And then – OUCH! a sting. My fault, not enough smoking, not enough smooth slow movements. The bee was sat on my thigh and as I bent down to pick something up I squished it and got a little sting through my jeans. I’m quite sure it won’t be the last.

Things I did wrong. LOTS. Too many to list, despite having read up on things time and time again. There’s no substitute for experience but at last, after many years of waiting and wanting – I’ve got my first beekeeping experience under my belt.

L’apiculteur cherche… and all that

Progress with acquiring an assaime sauvage last year was slow – but interesting! Three sightings of wild swarms. One visual, one audible.. (like a fly past of lancaster bombers) and one resident in an old oak tree just a kilometre or so from home.

Visiting our neighbours, we found that they have a resident swarm that the local pompiers treated a few years ago. Unfortunately for them, the swarm returned and re-established a fresh colony. So… it’s got to be worth a go.

A fortnight ago we installed the hive.. a few metres below the entry to the problem swarm and on their inbound flightpath. I was rather hoping that the allure of fresh wax foundation would be like crisp cotton sheets at the Hilton. Not so. Not even a whiff.

So… Along to our local bee-store for a chat and a bit of a discussion about bee capture. Our optimism took a bit of a hit when our prospects where pronounced as slim. Still.. we picked up a little tube of ‘Le parfum d’Ariste’, a bee attractant that you are supposed to smear all over the inside of a hive and the charming Monsieur Matisse went out the back and gave us a ‘loaner’ frame – full of established comb and dripping with honey.

Food and lodgings laid on all we have to do now is wait. If that doesn’t entice them into new lodgings then I don’t know what will. We have established a fall-back position though. As much as we’d like to capture our own swarm… our bee man may yet come to the rescue. He’s the long established man who can in the area and this time of year – as hives grow and start to chuck the odd swarm – he gets the call and off he goes to collect whatever is around and about. We went round to see his ‘nursery’ and he has five nucleus colonies under development so I suspect that this time next week we’ll be round there with our empty hive and one of them will get transferred in.

Watch this space

l’apiculteur cherche des abeilles…

A quick trawl through the internet and we found a friendly local beekeeper who invited us to go and chat all things bee. Confidence bouyed by this I did some more hunting around and found… by complete blinding coincidence.. a specialist bee-store that carries just about everything I could ever need in the bee department. What’s more they’re not much more than ten minutes away in the car at La Chapelle Bertrand. Funny thing is I’d driven past this place plenty of times and it had never actually sunk in that the giant picture of a bee outside and the workshop full of hives was a clue. My excuse is they’re right opposite an interesting looking restaurant and, as ever, my stomach was overiding my otherwise razor sharp observational skills!

My ebay find left me short of some wax foundation for the frames and I needed a Queen excluder..a special sized grille that seperates the breeding Queen out from the upper tier of the hive where (eventually) honey can be harvested from.

So, we visited, the proprieter and his wife were both extremely helpful, very tolerant of my dismal French and rather delighted to have un nouvel apiculteur anglais on board. They ordered in the excluder I needed and said call back tomorrow, they’d have it delivered by then. So return we did on Saturday evening and we’re ready to go.

Driving home with the car full of the heady waft of fresh beeswax I was busting to get it all set up. And set it up I did.

freshly wired frames. Just add bees.

Our rear terrace is surrounded by thyme and sage which is teaming with bees helping themselves to the nectar.. so as I’m loading up the hive with frames full of wax a couple of bees were sufficiently tempted by the waft of the beeswax to come and investigate. It’s a good sign (I hope), I’ve installed everything in place now and will let it all settle for a few days for the hive to develop it’s own beeswaxy aroma… right now it’s all very new smelling.

So the search begins for some bees… it’s the last piece in the jigsaw. I need a young breeding Queen bee and her entourage. It’s perhaps a little late in the season to pick up a free swarm and as I’ve already missed the springtime nectar flow I’m not in a great position to get a harvest of honey – but that’s really secondary right now. Just getting the thing up and running will be quite fun enough.

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