Rough around the hedges

It was beginning to resemble Sleeping Beauty’s not-so-enchanted forest of tangly thicket out there, in the ‘garden’.


all very well for jam and keeping out invaders

There are some fabulous stretches of hedgerow surrounding the land, providing habitats for all sorts of flora and fauna, but one component, namely the blackberry bush (Rubus fruticosa) is spreading like wildfire and threatening the other shrubs and trees.

In amongst these brambles are woody plants such as :-

  • Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)
  • Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa)
  • Hazel (Coryllus avellana)
  • Oak (Quercus)
  • Quince (Cydonia oblonga)

Not to mention ex-elm trees, and climbing shrubs such as dog rose (Rosa canina), and traveller’s-joy (Clematis vitalba).

small copper butterfly on travellers joy flower

small copper butterfly on travellers joy flower

I’m all for letting nature take its course, but the rate of encroachment was becoming significant and it was time to intervene. Time for something more effective than a pair of sharp secateurs and stout leather gardening gloves – bring on the tractor mounted flail cutter.

Monsieur Debroussaillage has spent a good 4 hours noisily reclaiming the margins of the land, and clearing in between the old oak trees.

Before : line of contiguous vegetation

Before : line of contiguous vegetation

After : oaks and other trees stand alone

After : oaks and other trees stand alone


Let the Battle of the Ronces commence

Additionally, the so-called uncultivated pasture (aka Lower Miller Beck Fell),  was being invaded by acaia trees, which take hold at a phenomal pace. Another half days work for Monsieur D., and the field looks so inviting that we have started to talk about keeping sheep or goats again.

choked and overgrown

Before : choked and overgrown


After : neat and tidy

maybe one day?

maybe one day?

Flat Stanley notches up more air miles

Howdy! My name is Flat Stanley, and I come from Austin, Texas – where I live with Karl, having being created by Riya as part of the Flat Stanley Literacy Project.

Flat Stanley has a penchant for fine French champagne.

Flat Stanley has a penchant for fine French champagne.

My dream is to travel the globe and learn about beekeeping in different countries. When I heard I was to visit Dallas, I thought fine, not terribly far (about 200 miles from Austin) and certainly not as historical as London, England or seasidey as the Isle of Wight (England’s smallest county at high tide). However, it turns out that this Dallas is a Person, and I arrived after a stress-free journey in a small farming village in south-west France.

Being something of a connoisseur of fine wines, this is rather a coup (notice how I am already picking up some French vocabulary).

After a short siesta, we went off to have a look at the bees’ foraging grounds, which at this time of year means sunflowers, sunflowers and sunflowers.


This means that the  honey from Dallas’ bees will be a monofloral honey. Last year it was a fabulous rich sunny yellow, and looks like it is packed with solar energy. It crystallises rapidly, has a creamy consistency and is rich in calcium, boron and silicon. In France, sunflower honey (or miel de tournesol as I now call it) is top of the leaderboard in terms of production.

Sunflowers are originally from North America (just like me), and were cultivated by the native Americans. They were brought to Europe in the sixteenth century by the Spanish, and cultivated for the oil from the seeds.

We also visited an alfalfa field – which last week, apparently, was buzzing with bees, but was now eerily quiet. Alfalfa honey is big in the United States and Canada, but Dallas says she hasn’t noticed it much in evidence in France. Yet.


Its not quite as hot here as it is in Texas. Today its been a pleasant 28 degrees (or 82° Fahrenheit) – but it can sure get darned hot inside that beekeepers outfit – so time for a bit of R&R…


The honey extraction is scheduled for September 7th. Karl, can I stay here please to help with that?

Bentley Pinfold Open Day

Following the recent post charting the story of the restoration of Bentley Pinfold, the latest news is that the pinfold has now been officially opened, with a proper ribbon cutting…


The day was attended by local folk, with their memories and stories. For example, Mavis remembering when the pinfold was used for its intended purpose (enclosing stray animals).

The wildflowers are flourishing, as is the Butterfly Bush (Buddleia davidii).


the wildflowers thriving in the favourable Doncaster climate

And now that the pinfold is officially open for business, the bees have started to arrive.


An observation hive was brought along by Alan Woodward of the Doncaster Beekepers Association – which generated keen interest.


Alan Woodward of Doncaster Beekeepers Association, demonstrating the fascinating world of bees

Thanks to Adam Howard, seen in the image below, from Growing a Greater Bentley, for the images and news.


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.


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.


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.


and another one

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


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.


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.


alfalfa field under a beautiful August sky


Who lives in a house like this : episode 2

Following leads from Agents Amelia, Laura and Karl, we now have a prime suspect, and I am hot on the heels of the Potter Wasp or Mud Dauber Wasp.

This erstwhile squatter, who thinks she can build residences for all her offspring just wherever she pleases, still remains at large – but the evidence is mounting. Further sleuthing has turned up more mud structures. These dubious looking pods were found in the shed attached to a garden chair cushion.


Exhibit B : more mud huts, albeit of a different architectural design

Needing said cushion necessitated their removal – they wern’t stuck too tight and I took the liberty of breaking through the crisp skin – only to find it packed with little spiders, some still alive. So, my fiendish quarry is not averse to incarcerating her victims alive – what a horror bag!


Crime Scene : store of baby wasp food

The wasp will have stung these spiders to paralyse them before dragging them off into their Cell of Doom. And then the wasp will have deposited a single egg, and sealed up the nest pod. The larva then has enough handy food to sustain its development into adulthood.

As is typical with most things, when you actually WANT to find wasps, there are none to be seen. I did track down this possibility, but it seems that she has a different MO.

off the hook

off the hook

I would dearly like to capture Madame Mud Dauber red-handed, in flagrante delicto – the pursuit continues.

Who lives in a house like this?

Something is constructing little tubular mud huts in the front door…


I’m at a loss as to identifying the culprit.

This door is rarely used, and this construction is only visible when the door is ajar. A lovely old vine grows around the door, and the bunches of grapes are popular with wasps (and birds).

The door is so old and weather-worn, its doesn’t exactly seal hermetically – and offers living accommodation to various creatures, from spiders to snakes. The baby grass snake falling onto Andy’s head when he answered the door is an incident I would very much like to forget.


To Let : single roomed accommodation, internal diameter 7mm, would suit ???

Door with vine, south facing, mud huts now hidden

Door with vine, south facing, mud huts now hidden

I would be most grateful for any pointers, so I know what creatures are now making themselves at home in the door jamb.

Hopefully its something that repels snakes!

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…


LittleWorld image : Sunflowers in Garac

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


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.


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…



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…


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).

supporter of Albi rugby

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?

Bentley Pinfold Wildflower Garden : a good news story

A very good friend of mine, Adam, has just sent me an article, concerning a Restoration Project in a South Yorkshire village.

Its a heart-warming story, with social, environmental and historical threads,  and tells of the preservation of an ancient structure, the creation of a wildflower garden, all achieved by the community working together.

The tale unfolds in Bentley, a small village near Doncaster and tells of a dilapidated, unloved Pinfold. A Pinfold? Its a saxon term for a walled, lockable enclosure, used to impound stray livestock.

Bentley Pinfold what lies beyond the gate?

Bentley Pinfold
what lies beyond the gate?

By the 16th century most English villages and townships would have had such a pound. The animals owners could only reclaim their wayward beasts after paying a fee, to the Pinder or tallyman.

Bentley Pinfold is Grade II listed, dates from 1832 and over recent years has been used as a dumping ground, becoming overgrown with ugly weeds.


pinfold in a state of decay

In 2011, various community groups came together to discuss ways of improving the area. Enthusiastic local volunteers from “Growing a Greater Bentley” offered to spearhead the development of a wildflower garden, for the enjoyment of locals and wildlife alike.

Work began to clear the area in 2012, with the Community Payback team clearing 10 tonnes of undergrowth and rubbish.


clean and tidy

Cash funding was secured from the local “Community First” scheme, and donations of plants, bark chippings and other materials were made by the Borough Council and by local people.

In Spring 2013, the development of the garden began. Wildflower seeds were sourced from Green Estate, and volunteers came to prepare the earth.

The walls of the pinfold were professionally restored and a path laid of the bark chippings.


Children came from a local primary school to help sow the seeds, and nurture the seedlings.


And now, in July 2013, the first flowers are appearing…


an amazing transformation
bees and butterflies welcome

In my humble opinion, a Huge Success!

For the full story, written by Adam (a director of GGB), with proper accreditations, 4 pages in all, click here.

Butterfly Photography Made Easy

Butterflies are excellent subjects for a photograph, with their gorgeous colours and markings, and often taken in conjunction with some pretty flower or foliage. They do however tend to flit about, rarely staying in one place for more than a second or two (the same can be said for the bees), flying off just as the shot is composed and in focus.

Say Cheese!Peacock Butterfly (Inachis io) in stealth mode

Say Cheese!
Peacock Butterfly (Inachis io) in stealth mode

This perfect specimen below however was much easier to work with, on account of the fact that it is sadly dead. I found it lying on the path, in a remarkable state of preservation – and thought I should honour its memory by taking an image.

Scarce Swallowtail (Iphiclides podalirius)

Lights, Camera, No Action
Scarce Swallowtail (Iphiclides podalirius)

Despite the name ‘scarce’, this swallowtail butterfly is quite common (although not in the UK). It’s habitat is blackthorn or sloe bushes, which abound in the hedgerows surrounding the house. I would really have preferred to try to capture an image whilst it was still alive, and am now on the lookout for other members of the family – but it did make an excellent, well-behaved model.

Below are a couple of beauties, who managed to stay still long enough to get a shot…

Painted Lady Butterfly (Vanessa cardui)

Painted Lady Butterfly (Vanessa cardui)

Marbled White Butterfly (Melanargia galathea) on clover

Marbled White Butterfly (Melanargia galathea) on clover