Showing posts with label beekeeping. Show all posts
Showing posts with label beekeeping. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Bees are toiling non-stop at Gamone

Long ago, when I was working at IBM headquarters in Paris, a friendly but loud-mouthed French colleague, whose first name (if I remember correctly) was Michel, used to amuse us greatly by his regular phone call, every afternoon around 4 o’clock. He was young, and had not been married for long. Jewish, he liked to enhance his conversation by throwing in bizarre Yiddish exclamations, which only our elegant and brilliant young French-Moroccan colleague Jacques Cohen-Rothschild seemed to understand and appreciate. The subject of Michel’s phone call was always the same: “Darling, what are you cooking for dinner this evening?”

Whenever visitors are due to arrive at Gamone, my first and foremost question is: “What am I going to give them to eat?” That’s not all that surprising because, at Gamone, it’s not as if I can step out rapidly to a nearby shop to buy foodstuffs, or even decide that we might eat in a nearby restaurant. What I mean to say is that there are few nearby shops and restaurants.

Knowing that my swarm of bees would be moving in at Gamone the day before yesterday, I asked myself the same question: “What are they going to eat?” Well, it appears that there’s no problem whatsoever. My property includes about a dozen giant linden trees, which are all in bloom at present.

I can’t actually see the bees in the trees, because they’re probably attracted by flowers in the upper branches, warmed by the sun. But, whenever I stroll beneath one of my linden trees, I detect buzzing in the branches above my head. I’ve got into the habit, since Sunday, of standing for long periods of time near the narrow takeoff and landing zone at the front of the hive, and watching the fascinating movements of the tiny aircraft. This morning, at dawn, I noticed that all the bees entering the hive seemed to be wearing thick yellow woollen socks. It’s linden-blossom pollen, of course, caught up on their hind legs. I’ll try to obtain photos of this delightful scene, but I don’t want to get so close to the hive (protected by my beekeeper's costume) that I might upset the insects. They’ve got a lot of work to do in the near future, building cells on the 5 empty frames in the hive and then starting to use these new cells either to make and store honey, or maybe to create a maternity ward for new bees. It’s all extremely mysterious, enthralling and indeed awe-inspiring: a very Dawkinsian environment.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

BeeMan’s inaugural solo flight

When BeeMan stepped out onto the lawn in front of flight headquarters this morning, the onlookers were in a state of excitement. Even a dog rushed up, out of the crowd, to get a closer look at the hero of the day.

BeeMan’s spacesuit and helmet were impeccably white, almost as if they had never been worn before. In his hands, he clutched a high-tech device that he had learnt how to use in all kinds of situations, to protect himself.

BeeMan knew that his mission was dangerous, but he had faith in the engineers who had designed his equipment and taught him how to use it. In the early hours of the morning, BeeMan’s precious payload for his inaugural flight had arrived in a big truck that had traveled all the way from Slovenia to France. On the outside, it looked like an ordinary cardboard box. But, as soon as you held your ear up against the box, you realized that much was happening inside.

Exactly 90 minutes earlier on, BeeMan had carried out personally a delicate task that consisted of cutting a hole at one extremity of the box, whereupon parts of the payload started to escape.

As soon as he arrived on the launching pad, BeeMan started to pump on his smoke gadget.

Then he used a cutter, courageously, to slice open the payload.

The air was suddenly filled with buzzing, and BeeMan pumped harder than ever on his smoke gadget. Then the real action started when BeeMan got around to extracting frames from the payload and placing them carefully in the 5 empty slots of his hive.

Often, to carry out particularly delicate operations, BeeMan would get down onto his knees.

My neighbor Jackie took dozens of other photos that recorded for posterity all the operations of BeeMan during this momentous adventure. But all these photos look much the same, and I’m sure that my readers have grasped already the sense of BeeMan’s daring solo flight. Finally, the job was done, and BeeMan closed the lid.

As he contemplated his new hive, BeeMan was relieved and elated… like Sisyphus watching his rock roll down the slopes.

BeeMan was happy.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Getting ready for summer projects

I’ll be fetching my swarm of bees tomorrow afternoon. They’re arriving on a truck from some mysterious place in the Middle East, so I hope they haven’t suffered during the voyage. If I understand correctly, they’re a race of calm honey bees designated as Armenian. God only knows what language I’ll speak with them. Everything’s ready for their arrival at Gamone, where they’ll moving in to a hive located on a grassy roadside mound in the middle of the hairpin bend at the level of my house. Alongside, there’s an old cherry tree, a pair of recently-planted fruit trees, and the grave of my dear dog Sophia.

Click to enlarge slightly

Behind the house, this afternoon, I used a white ribbon (old electric fence material) to trace a big rectangle, some 9 meters behind my house, on slightly sloping ground (by Gamone standards) at the base of the hill.

The rectangle—8 meters wide and 5 meters deep—encloses an area of 40 square meters. I intend to construct a wood cabin here. First, of course, the ground will have to be levelled. This will involve the removal of about 15 cubic meters of earth, which will be pushed down onto the zone between the rear of my house and the lower edge of the future cabin.

The cabin will be used above all to store garden tools such as lawn-mowers, weed-cutters, etc. I haven’t yet worked out the exact form of the future cabin. Unlike the simple mono-pitched roof of my wood shelter, the roof of the future cabin will certainly be dual-pitched. Will it be possible to build the roof high enough to envisage the creation of a small attic with Velux skylights looking out over the roof of my house, in the direction of the so-called “circus” of Choranche? We’ll see.

Incidentally, this is the basic kind of structure that I'll have to build:

The massive triangular assemblage is called a ferme in French (the same word as for farm, but meaning "closed" in the roof-carpentry context). In English, I believe it's referred to as a closed couple, where the couple in question is of course the pair of diagonal rafters. For a cabin that's 8 meters wide, I'll probably need to erect 4 such assemblages. For me, it's quite fulfilling to discover the world of carpentry, and to examine the mechanics of the traditional solutions.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Swarm of bees at Gamone

This afternoon, for the first time since my childhood in Australia, I had a closeup view of a swarm of bees.

My neighbor Jackie had come upon the swarm, by chance, in a small oak tree just down from his house. He immediately phoned Fabien: the experienced beekeeper whom I mentioned in an earlier post entitled Raising queen bees [display]. Fabien and one of his companions were soon on the spot, and he gave instructions to Jackie.

The basic idea was that Fabien would hold an empty hive directly beneath the swarm, and Jackie would then start to shake the branch, causing the bees to drop down into the hive. The situation was tense as everybody got ready for the shaking.

Jackie shook the branch… and I had the impression that all hell broke loose.

I suddenly found myself in the middle of an angry cloud of bees. I was totally protected by my beekeeper’s clothing, of course, but I backed away instinctively and rapidly from the scene. My dog Fitzroy was an intrigued onlooker, and he received a few stings, which sent him scrambling down the slopes to roll in the grass. Even Fabien got stung… which wasn’t surprising, in that he wasn’t wearing any kind of protective gear.

This first shake wasn’t entirely satisfactory, since a lot of bees still remained attached to the tree. Fabien had the impression that the queen was up there too, which meant that the part of the swarm that had dropped down into the hive would return inevitably to the tree. So, Fabien donned his protective gear, and they decided to have a second shake.

This time, the operation appeared to be more successful, and Fabien had the impression that the queen had fallen into the hive along with a good part of the swarm. So, he decided to close the hive.

The bees would make up their mind, overnight, about whether they intend to move down into the hive, or rather stay up in the tree. For the moment, it was impossible to guess what will happen, as there were still quite a few bees up in the tree. Fabien tried to persuade them to leave... but bees, as we all know, are determined creatures, with minds of their own.

Tomorrow morning, we’ll find out what the bees decided during the night.

PS I'm starting to realize that the Antipodes blog is likely to become terribly boring for readers who are totally uninterested in bees.

BREAKING NEWS The bees decided unanimously to remain in the oak tree, at exactly the same spot. Incidentally, I hope that my readers understand that I'm using anthropomorphic terms such as "decided", not to mention the concept of the "mind" of bees, in a purely poetic sense, because those tiny creatures arouse in me a feeling of admiration. The truth of the matter is, of course, infinitely more down-to-earth from a scientific viewpoint. For the queen and her bees, communications are largely based upon the secretion of mysterious chemical substances known as pheromones.

MONDAY NEWS Within a lapse of a few hours, the bees have totally disappeared. Don't ask me why...

Monday, May 5, 2014

Beautiful beehives

Beehives have to be painted, because they’re left outside all year round, in all kinds of weather. Most often, beekeepers use an aluminium-based silver paint whose brand name in France is Thermopeint. It is a thermal insulator, which plays a role in keeping the inside of the hive at a stable temperature both in winter and summer. It also protects the fragile wooden hive (and its occupants) against dampness, and acts as a fungicide. But Thermopeint is not the only solution. Recently, ecologically-minded beekeepers have start to replace the silver paint with a method that uses linseed oil.

A few days ago [display], I spoke of the work of young beekeepers who’ve installed their hives at Gamone. They've painted their hives with mixtures of linseed oil and ochre (for the reds, yellows and browns) or commercial pigments (for the greens and blues). The results, as you can see here, are truly beautiful.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Raising queen bees

Fabien and Melody are experienced beekeepers, who have recently installed a row of hives at Gamone, in a small sloping field just opposite the house of my neighbors Jackie and Fafa. Their current project consists of raising queen bees. Last Friday, the first step was to extract a stock of young larvae from their special-purpose hives at Gamone.

The young beekeepers then took time off for a snack on the edge of the Bourne at Choranche, near the small weir that channels water to the old Rouillard mill.

Finally, they drove to the lovely house of a professional beekeeper where they performed the delicate operation of inserting tiny larvae into queen cups.

Back at Gamone, these queen cups were installed in small hives, where young worker bees will hopefully feed the larvae with royal jelly.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Gamone beekeepers

Click to enlarge

On the left, my Gamone neighbor Jackie Ageron is wearing his special beekeeper’s jeans, designed to give the little beasts a fair chance in their age-old battles against beekeepers. With my colonial hardhat (similar to what I used to wear as a child in South Grafton), I look like some kind of a Choranche cosmonaut. It was my first hands-on contact with bees, and it was marvelous.