Flat Stanley and the Honey Harvest

Howdy – its Flat Stanley again, reporting in after an exciting day’s honey extraction! We collected the honey from the hives of Dallas and Jean-Philippe – three hives in all. I was asked to help out in the Extracting Room.

Flat Stanley and a frame dripping with honey

Flat Stanley and a frame dripping with honey

Firstly we had to make sure that all the equipment was spotlessly clean. It is after all a year since it has been used. You see me here atop the centrifugal extractor, surrounded by uncapping trays, buckets, sieves and honey tanks.

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All was fine and dandy, so we installed all these bits and pieces in the so called Extracting Room. When Dallas’ house was used as a farm in the olden days, this room was part of the area where they kept cows and horses. There is a massive vat in the corner which some say was for water for the animals, others say it was for wine making – now its used for showering off the dogs. Folks also say that this room is haunted!

The honey extraction was a big success, especially for Jean-Philippe, who had over 30 kilos of beautiful honey. I watched as the honey cells were uncapped and then spun to extract the golden juice.

One thing we did notice on one of Dallas’ frames was a patch of paler, crystallised honey, which must have originated from the oil seed rape.

pale colza honey on the left

pale colza honey on the left

This OSR or colza honey was set too hard to extract – all we could do was leave it and the bees would recuperate it when we leave the frames out for them to clean up.

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Liquid Gold

After we had finished the extraction and tidied up, washed all the equipment and tried to make the floor less sticky, we all sat down with some ice-cold beer and a platter of fresh bread and mild goats cheese, drizzled of course with super fresh honey – it was scrumptious.

Karl, I am developing quite a liking for these French cheeses. In fact, France produces alot of wonderful food stuffs – perhaps its time I was thinking about coming home, whilst I am still nice and flat?

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Honey Harvest Part Two : extracting the honey from the frames

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I love uncapping honey. Its a sticky, messy business, and seeing that sublime, golden honey released from its cell, to slowly ooze forth is just glorious.

We use long serrated knives, employing a short sawing motion, trying to remove just the topmost layer of wax, without disturbing too much the honey below.

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The frames are put through the centrifugal extractor, three at a time – and another satisfying moment comes when it is time to open the floodgates and let the honey gush forth…

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After sieving, to remove bits of wax, the honey is then poured into another plastic tub, to be left to settle. Except for a jar or two for immediate consumption.

Jean-Phi seemed keen to do a weigh-in. Last year he had 15 kilos from one hive, this year he managed over 30 kilos from two hives, which to our amateur eyes seems like an awful lot of honey. I’m not going to divulge any of my numbers – suffice to say I have enough to be self-sufficient, but won’t be giving out pots of honey willy-nilly.

And I am very happy to report that the honey is utterly DELICIOUS!

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Honey Harvest Part One : extracting the frames from the bees

Its Honey Harvest Day!  The weather is okay – not as hot as last year, but warm enough, and critically no rain or wind. We are a team of four (five if you count Flat Stanley), myself, Jean-Phi, his sister Beatrice and her friend Patrice. The question on everybodys’ lips is ‘Will there be much honey?’

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After a thorough equipment / clothing check and a run though of responsibilities, we head for Jean-Phi’s hives. He is on Frame Extraction duty, I have control of the Smoker (as well as being Helper of the Tools), Patrice stands guard over the extracted frames and ensures that they are hidden away from the bees, Beatrice is Chief Photographer.

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‘Nurse, the brush’

The honey quantity question is soon answered at the first hive – the frames are gloriously, abundantly full to busting. The first hive yielded 9 frames packed to capacity.

heavy with honey

heavy with honey

And the second hive was equally productive. The bees were calm, and certainly didn’t seem to object to us pilfering the fruits of their labour.

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spillage

So with all the frames from two super Supers purloined, all the kit was loaded into the cars and its off to my house to see if my bees have fulfilled their brief just as impressively.

Rather annoyingly, Jean-Phi’s girls outperformed mine – but there was still honey to be had. This year the sunflowers were quite a bit further away than last year. And was there indeed competition from the mobile hives?

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So, all the frames gathered in – its off to the Extracting Room…

Extended Bee Team and the Precious Cargo

Extended Bee Team and the Precious Cargo

Honey Harvest Part Two coming very soon!

And Flat Stanley tells his side of the story.

Down at the Thistles

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Back down to Blog’s Gallop, this time to check out the thistles, on the opposite side of the track to the wild mint. These thistles are of various shapes and sizes – tall and thin, big and fat – I’m going to leave detailed thistle identification for another day – just concentrate on the myriad of bugs feasting upon the nectar.

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we start of course with the good old honey bee

Interesting Fact : the French for thistle is chardon, and is believed to be the origin for the name of the village in Burgundy – Chardonnay, which in turn gives its name to the grape variety.

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White Tailed Bumblebee on Thistle Flower
(Bombus lucorum)

Belted Hoverfly (volucella zonaria)

Belted Hoverfly
(Volucella zonaria)

Also known as the Hornet Mimic Hoverfly, it has no sting and the larvae live inside wasps’ nests.

Halictus scabiosae : male

Comma Butterfly (Polygonia c-album)

Comma Butterfly
(Polygonia c-album)

When I first downloaded this image, I thought here we go again, trawling through the reference material looking at countless orange/brown butterflies. But no. That tiny little white inverted ‘C’ or ‘comma’ neatly distinguishes it – not to mention the jagged outline and the withered leaf-like underside.

Blowfly sharing with a honey bee

Blowfly sharing with a honey bee

I was thrilled to see this chap below, but I’m not thrilled with the quality of the image, the light was going. Its the first time I’ve seen one of these bumblebees, with his very distinctive orange-red bottom.

Red Tailed Bumblebee : male(Bombus lapidarus)

Red Tailed Bumblebee : male
(Bombus lapidarus)

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Working on my inner lepidopterist

Having happened upon a small alfalfa field, just 2 kilometres from the house, I made a couple of return visits, to have a better look at the bee activity and see if I could find my inner lepidopterist.

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Large White or Cabbage White
(Pieris brassicae)

On both occasions, there was plenty going on, but it was breezy, making photography tricky.

I thought about estimating the relative presence of various creatures – without recoursing to a butterfly net, walking of transects, traps or even a clip board. Let’s call it semi-empirical, quasi-quantitative Observation.

Clouded Yellow Butterfly (Colias croceus)

Clouded Yellow Butterfly
(Colias croceus)

Here are the results of my in-depth study :

Creature

Quantity

Honey Bee Countless
Bumble Bee One
Ladybird One
Cricket Many, at the edges of the field
Cabbage White Butterfly Plentiful
Clouded Yellow Butterfly A handful
Peacock Butterfly One
Common Blue Butterfly Quite alot
Queen of Spain Fritillary One
Heath (?) Fritillary Two – with more on their way

and some pictorial proof…

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Honey Bee
(Apis mellifera)

White Tailed Bumblebee (Bombus lucorum)

White Tailed Bumblebee
(Bombus lucorum)

I have invested in a reference book – Papillons (Larousse), as it has become apparent that my little guide is inadequate and too UK focussed. The new book is by no means exhaustive, but it is certainly handy to have something more oriented towards the butterflies of France.

It has only recently dawned on me how different the butterfly populations can be from one region to another.

Common Blue Butterfy (female)
(Polyommatis icarus)

I agree, she isn’t particularly blue – but the male below does have a violet nuance.

Common Blue Butterfy (male) (Polyommatus icarus)

Common Blue Butterfy (male)
(Polyommatus icarus)

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Get a Room!
pair of Fritillaries – could be Heath, Meadow or Provencal?

Another lesson learned is that it really helps to have a view of both the upper and the underside of these butterflies.

And that even with a book, and the internet, identification is something of a challenge. Its not all black and white.

Another Purple Patch : wild mint

One of the dogs’ favourite walks is direct from the house, round the woods, coming back along a rarely used farm track, which we refer to as Blog’s Gallop. It’s serious rabbit country.

Blog's Gallop oak woodland on left, stream (hidden) on right

Blog’s Gallop
oak woodland on left, stream (hidden) on right

There’s a goodly selection of wildflowers down there at the moment, of various colours, but predominantely different shades of purple – particularly a band of wild mint running alongside the stream, which is proving popular with our wee flying friends.

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Queen of Spain Fritillary (Issoria lathonia)
on wild mint flower (Mentha arvensis)

This Fritillary is considered as a rare migrant species in Britain – but is more widespread in Europe. It is similar to the High Brown Fritillary (the UK’s most endangered butterfly), and is distinguishable from it by having larger white / silvery blobs on the underside of its hind wings.

The ‘Queen of Spain’ name was given to the butterfly in 1775 by Moses Harris in The Aurelian’s Pocket Companion, but there is no explanation as to why he did so.

With the naked eye, I thought I might have happened upon a new creature – an intensely yellow honey bee (Apis aurum?). Upon closer inspection however, it seems that this little lady has been frollicking in the sunflowers and was covered in golden pollen beads from head to tail…

we know where you've been!

we know where you’ve been!
attention – incoming hoverfly

She’s collected more pollen about her person than in the baskets. I wouldn’t be surprised if Little Miss Messy here is one of mine.

And this is how its supposed to be done…

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As usual, there were plenty of butterflies, and quite a variety – ones I hadn’t come across before. There’s a danger that this is turning into a butterfly blog, which was never my intention, but I do feel that they are worthy of a mention.

Southern White Admiral Butterfly (Limenitis reducta)

Southern White Admiral (Limenitis reducta)

Skipper Butterfly my, what big eyes you've got

Skipper Butterfly
my, what big eyes you’ve got

underside of Peacock Butterfly (inachis io) on wild mint

underside of Peacock Butterfly (Inachis io) on wild mint

Large Tortoishell Butterfly (Nymphalis polychloros)

Large Tortoishell Butterfly
(Nymphalis polychloros)

Large White or Cabbage White Butterfly (Pieris brassicae)

Large White or Cabbage White Butterfly
(Pieris brassicae)

And now for something completely different. Here is Blog enjoying a gallop at one of his other favourite walks…

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Blog the Dog at the lake

Many thanks to Amelia (afrenchgarden) for her input in correctly identifying the butterflies.