Hallucinogenic Honey?

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Dallas went off on one of her of her Nature Walks, but for the very first time I wasn’t allowed to go along. Genepi and I don’t really understand this pre-occupation with bugs, flowers and such – but normally we go along with it, because whilst she’s prattling around with a camera, we get to play hide and seek in the undergrowth, and chase rabbits.

thornapple1Today the focus was in the corner of a nearby sunflower field, where the flowers weren’t big, round and yellow but long, thin and white. Exquisite. And Dangerous.

There’s an extensive patch of Thorn Apple (Datura stamonium), also know as Jimson Weed or Devil’s Snare.  It is HIGHLY TOXIC and belongs to the Nightshade family. Now I know why we are locked in the kitchen. Imagine Genepi high on some psychoactive stimulant. She’s mental enough as it is.

All parts of this Datura plant contain…

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Sunflower Safari

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Sunflowers to the north of us, sunflowers to the south of us. We are surrounded. The farmer planted them later than everyone else’s, as usual. And they are now at their peak.

Dallas declared it time for a Nature Walk, to principally check out the bee activity on the sunflowers. And also to see what other bugs and butterflies are out and about.

True enough, the sunflowers were abuzz.

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Coming up to midday, and its getting hot.

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The thistles and teasels were also teeming with life. Butterflies, beetles and bumblebees…

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Spiders and wasps…

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But the key thing is that those honey bees are out working their little socks off, and very soon we will be able to see if they have managed to perform their alchemy. And transform sunflower dust into scrummy honey.

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Honey harvest in about two weeks time, all being well.

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A Tale of Two Hives

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We were rejigging the strawberry patch. I have made an Observation about the vegetable patch. During a couple of weekends in late spring, They put plants into the ground, and then spend all the rest of the summer pulling other plants out.

Andy says its called Weeding. It seems to take up an inordinate amount of time.

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There was a strange noise – it started as a low hum, and got louder and louder. And then a black cloud came low over the trees. Aaarghh, a swarm of bees coming straight at us. Run for cover.

We made it indoors and luckily they buzzed off quite quickly. But from whence had they come? Time to check out our hives.

Hive Bee was fine and dandy. Lots of bees and lots of lovely, sticky honey.

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Sadly the same could not be said for Hive A. It was completely infested with Wax…

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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?

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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Alfalfa Sprouting Up

Apart from ducks and geese, the farming in this particular bit of south-west France is predominantly arable. The cereal crops, mainly wheat and barley, were all harvested by the end of July. The sunflowers are now thriving and the maize is coming on strong. There are one or two fields of soya beans here and there, and usually thats about it.

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field of alfalfa or lucerne

However, yesterday, I noticed this beautiful field of purple and lilac flowers, and thought, bingo! Surely this is going to be butterfly-and-bee-tastic. And I was right.

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honey bee (Apis melifera) on alfalfa flower (Medicago sativa)

It turns out to be alfalfa, also known as lucerne, and is grown as a livestock fodder, predominantly for dairy cows. It is a member of the pea family, is a perennial and is the most cultivated forage legume in the world.

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and another one

If you talk to a french person about cricket, this is probably what they are imagining…

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cricket on alfalfa flower

There were loads of butterflies, but as usual they were too busy fluttering and flittering for me to get a decent shot.

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Another thing I couldn’t capture is the scent of the flowers, not to mention the humming and buzzing from the insects.

I’m going back tomorrow to see what else is in there – didn’t really have long enough yesterday.

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alfalfa field under a beautiful August sky

 

Latest Sunflower / Bee News

WARNING : this post contains yet more pictures of bees on sunflowers.

However, in an effort to mix it up a bit, I have tried playing around with some of the sunflower pictures, trying out various photoshop effects. Here is one of the sunflower field in front of our village church…

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LittleWorld image : Sunflowers in Garac

With the sunflowers in full throttle, Hive B has been extended by adding a super.

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Andy just about to add a super to Hive B

We aren’t terribly optimistic that those additional frames will be full to busting come the end of the sunflower season. The bees haven’t been in residence that long, and with the rotten weather in May and June, they are still establishing themselves in the brood box.

We do however have higher expectations for Hive A.

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Honey building up in Hive A

I am now noticing alot of mobile hives in the fields around and about, and cannot decide if this is a new phenomenon or whether its now something that I can easily spot. Just wondering about the levels of competition for the pollen / nectar.

And finally, the obligatory bees-on-sunflowers shots…

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Albee Rugby

Being keen on live sporting events, we happily accepted an invitation to join friends to watch a rugby match at their local stadium. It was being played by the mighty Castres Olympique, who are League Champions of France no-less (champions of Top 14), against SCA Albi, a team from the second division, playing in a pre-season friendly – a local derby hosted by Lavaur, an amateur rugby side.

In this instance, we went along as neutrals, just there for the craic and to enjoy the atmosphere in the warm, nay baking hot, evening sunshine. Neutral that is until Andy pointed out their team mascot…

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Blachu – the SCA mascot

Albi rugby team play in a very fetching strip of yellow and black, and their fans are known collectively as KOP de la Ruche (the hive).

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supporter of Albi rugby

Usually, when spectating at a sports event, we have a clear favourite team or individual, and we passionately cheer along our preferred choice, be it the Ashes, the FA Cup, the Ryder Cup, Wimbledon, the Six Nations and so on. However, in club rugby union we are decidely fickle, and our loyaties are easily swayed, and have variously supported Munster (lent a shirt), Edinburgh (given a shirt), Harlequins (smashing post match party), Toulon (Jonny Wilkinson) and now, for one evening, we had become ardent Albi supporters.

It all started well, and Albi were actually winning at half time. CO however dominated the second half and the match finished 26-19 in Castres’ favour.

There was a superb festival atmosphere at the ground after the match – and we were invited to continue the party by our Castres supporting friends – perhaps now was a good time to change allegiance?