A bit of a theme in my tree following posts has been the inclusion of a photo showing the full(-ish) moon at around the 7th of each month. I didn’t include one in the June post earlier because I thought it’s worth a brief extra post, to show the moon around midnight last night / this morning.

A ‘honey moon’ over a sweet chestnut tree at La Fosse taken from the top of the drive

The June full moon occurs when the sun is furthest from the earth and the moon is closest. When the moon is close to the horizon, the ordinary atmospheric pollution causes the moon to have the golden (ish) halo, the colour of honey. Apparently, in the 1500s, June was a popular month for weddings and they often took place around the time of the ‘honey moon’.

This evening, wait until dusk and then go out to see if you can spot the moon hanging near the horizon. Does it look any more spectacular?

Take the opportunity of seeing whether the International Space Station is due over at the same time. Using this ISS site, you can put in your post code and country and get forecasts of when you’ll get sightings, the length of visibility and brightness. Sky needs to be clear and the reason you can see the ISS is because the sun is reflecting off it as it moves through the skies enabling it to be easily visible to the naked eye.

For those in northern France / southern England, there’s a good view tonight at about 22.10 22h10 (BST) / 23h10 (CEST) for about 6 minutes. Alternatively, try on Saturday night at 23.00 (BST) / midnight (CEST) on Saturday night. Planes have blinking lights, satellites and the ISS do not – they’re just fast moving lights orbiting the earth.

And though it’s a bit of a leap of faith for you, honestly, this smear of light was the ISS as it passed over the chestnut tree at about midnight (CET) last night…

The International Space Station moving through the sky above the chestnut tree at La Fosse – midnight on 12/13 June 2014

Sorry about the camera shake!



And another month has passed. This year is speeding past at a scary rate. We’re rapidly approaching the longest day and yet it feels as if spring has hardly sprung.

It has been a really good month in some respects – lovely guests, some great weather, 70th Anniversary of D-Day commemorations on 6th June (or 5th June if you count the 50 miles of coordinated firework displays along the landing beaches on the evening before), some spectacular views of the International Space Station as it scuds across the clear night sky, the roses are beginning to flower in profusion and the scent at the back of the house has to be sniffed to be believed, particularly in the evening… and the insect activity has to be heard to be believed.

But for now, I will stick with the Tree Following project…

Sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa) at La Fosse – June 2014 – which is part of Loose and Leafy’s tree following project

Isn’t it looking fabulous?

Until the beginning of June, the weather was distinctly chilly even if it was a sunny day. I was still taking a hot water bottle to bed until the first few days of May. Okay, I admit, sometimes that hot water bottle was a great furry Maine Coon cat called Gussie but even so, the effect was the same… though it’s easier to get out from underneath a hot water bottle. An 8 kg cat can dig in for the duration. So that’s a roundabout way of saying that while we’ve had some exceptional spring days (in a good and sunny way) overall I think it’s been a fairly standard year and trees and flowers are where they would normally be at this stage.

The sweet chestnut from the top of the drive

Looking around the fields, first cut silage was done several weeks ago; hay is cut and lying in the sweetly scented fields as I type and it’s ready for baling up tomorrow, the maize – a cattle food crop – is planted and making much better progress than it did last year in the sodden spring 2013 ground. And then there are the crops that have to be grown under licence… more about that in a separate post.

Silaging in the field across from La Fosse

Altogether, it’s looking a more average year… which means the sweet chestnut flowers will be out within the next few days. Pooh.

Leaves and catkins which have yet to open… but they’re close to flowering

In fact, the stale, damp and sweaty, several days old gym kit scent won’t be too bad if it doesn’t rain… it is when it rains that the scent swirls around in its full glory. Oh, it’s not as bad as when the local farmers are muck-spreading and spraying wonderfully nutritious brown stuff around but even so, on a warm and humid day, if a strong, old gym shoes whiff takes me unawares, I do have a panicked moment trying to remember if I showered and used deodorant that morning. 🙂

I do have more to say but I don’t want this to be a too long : didn’t read sort of post, especially as it is quite photo-heavy so I’ll stop there and post a few more details in a few days.

Before I add a post with this month’s Tree Following photos, I thought I ought to link to the rather nice photos that I took last month, a day or two after my tree following post:

June’s full moon behind my Tree Following sweet chestnut tree at La Fosse

Full moon ‘hanging’ above the fields at La Fosse, Perriers-en-Beauficel

I shall report on my sweet chestnut tree’s progress tomorrow.

It’s been a busy month – guests (who’ve all been absolutely lovely), fleeting visits to the UK (my mother’s house is on the market), Patrick has started a new job, the bees need our attention… so despite all my best intentions, regular blogging has fallen to the bottom of the to-do list… along with far too many other things.

Oh, and probably the biggest challenge is working with our appalling internet connection – even in rural France, you’d expect better than a 0.10mb download speed and a 0.02 upload speed. Okay, I admit that those speeds are the worst we experience but they’re not uncommon and it makes uploading photos next to impossible… unless I get up at 3am.

Right, whinging over…

In spite of the above, I was determined to hit Lucy’s Tree Following – May deadline so here we go.

My sweet chestnut tree at about 8pm against a turbulent sky!

The tree in silhouette against a west sky shows the slow development of the leaves. After a warm late March / first few weeks in April, it has been colder, windier and there’s been lots of rain. Our rainwater capture tank (5000 lites which does all the outside watering and also flushes our loos) has been at 100% every day.

Leaves in evening sunlight

The leaves further down the tree – bottom half, probably – are more advanced compared to those higher up as the higher the tree the more exposed to the wind it is. And often, tucked away in our fold of the hill, it is several degrees colder at the top of the drive in comparison to the south terrace of the house.

You can see the pod-like strands developing which, in another few weeks, will become the flowers

“Normal” flowering time for the sweet chestnuts in this area is first half of June. My tree is certainly on schedule for that but if the promised warm weather arrives at the end of this week (yes, right!) with the amount of moisture in the ground, the flowers may be early.

La Fosse’s sweet chestnut is down the hill on the right – a slightly smaller, presumably younger tree is at the top of the drive… the tree on the left.

It’s interesting to see how the habit of the two trees mirror each other. Yes, I know that’s what trees of the same type do – think of avenues of trees planted along roadsides, long drives… but it’s useful to see it pictured so clearly in the landscape.

And just to finish off, not a full moon this time but…

Not quite a full moon – top of the photo – and not quite dusk… it was 20h30-ish (France) and still very light

Oh dear. I hate being late. I really did intend to post my April observations on 7th April but that evening, I was due to leave for the UK for a week and and and… non-screen life got in the way. So here I am, hoping that I’ll still hit the 7 day posting window.

Sweet chestnut tree at La Fosse… under a full moon at 9pm in the evening

After a warm – sometimes hot – spell in March, it’s been a bit chillier of late. The tightly closed buds are opening but as you can see from the photo above, there’s no real fuzz of green on the tree. And yet! There are a few young replacement sweet chestnuts thrusting their way towards the light and they are in full leaf.

Perhaps the bigger the tree, the longer it takes to push the sap and other leaf-unfurling instructions up the trunk and out to the branches. And perhaps that’s a hopelessly unscientific thought. I suspect it is also to do with the air temperature higher up the tree versus the comparitive shelter at the base where there’s a soil bank to the north of the wanabee saplings.

Buds in the same area as those photographed in March

Buds unfurling

It is beautiful in the detail but also amazing to see what is developing out of what looks such an unpromising start – the closed winter bud

Out of tiny beginnings, big trees grow… though this is very close to the base of the tree so unlikely to survive to be a replacement.

Two of the tiny seedlings which have germinated over the past couple of years – on the left it looks to be in its second year; on the right, that’s this year’s germination showing its first leaves

These seedlings are in the leaf litter at the base of the tree – as is the little hazel. They’re very vulnerable at that size – risks range from being grazed by passing wildlife or trodden on, or scratted up by a passing chicken in search of insect life. The chickens spend a lot of time underneath the tree turning over the leaf litter.

Baby hazel (Corylus avellana) – a rabbit would snack on that in a moment


I’m following a tree !

Sorting through my photos just now, I was reminded that my second choice for a tree to follow was an oak in a field adjacent to La Fosse which has been damaged by a couple of lightening strikes and is gradually reaching the end of its life.

A misty Sée river valley, winter sunset and an oak that has literally been through the wars… or at least WWII

Some winter evenings – and mornings – if the climatic conditions are right, sea mists swirl up the Sée valley straight from the bay of le Mont-St-Michel about 30 kms (20 miles) to the west and the villages of Juvigny-le-Tertre on the opposite ridge and Chérencé-le-Roussel down in the valley vanish into the haze.  Take a deep breath as the mist steals up the fields towards La Fosse and you can distinctly taste the salty, mineral-y tang of the sea on your tongue.

This tree was almost my Tree Following choice but the disadvantage is its location in a neighbour’s field. He often grazes sheep or young cattle in the field during the year and I wouldn’t want to disturb them by making regular treks over to examine the oak.

Gorgeous Normandy cattle – they’re a breed as well as a region. They’re robust, hardy animals and multi-purpose as they’re good for both milk and meat

Also, it has to be said, Sylvain – if he saw me – would probably think I was completely bonkers; enough people already think I’m odd as they pass by and see me peering into trees, down into verges, photographing ivy covered tree stumps (insects) or screeching to a halt in the car in my continuing and so far unsuccessful quest to photograph closeup either a buzzard on a telegraph pole or a kestrel hovering over a field edge.

I mentioned the second world war. I should explain that while the date in everyone’s mind is 6th June, 1944 because that is D-Day in Normandy, D-Day was very much only the start – the vital start – of the battle of Normandy with the eventual liberation of France and the other occupied lands of western Europe.

Perriers-en-Beauficel itself wasn’t liberated for further two months. The Allies, fighting their way down the peninsula from the direction of Cherbourg, Caen and inland from the coast enabled this village to be free again on 11th August, 1944.

There were recorded, intense battles around La Fosse for four days prior to Perriers-en-Beauficel being liberated on 11th August, 1944. The level of fighting in this area was brought home to us when we were having drainage trenches dug back in 2005 and the digger unearthed a cache of tracer ammunition which had been in the ground for the previous 60 years.

WWII ammunition unearthed during the restoration of La Fosse, Perriers-en-Beauficel, in 2005

The authorities are used to WWII ordnance being found across this region – indeed, local legend is that there is a lost and so far undiscovered arms cache somewhere on the back road to Chérencé-le-Roussel.  The local authorities do the rounds every so often and collect all the latest discoveries that are often unearthed during ploughing.

We were a little nervous about our discovery and stored it under cover at the edge of our field as far from the house as possible until it could be collected. Eventually, our Maire (mayor) turned up, peered at our find, chuckled knowingly… and casually popped the box into the back of his car. We watched him in awe as he bumped off up the drive with a cheerful wave. Sooner him than us. I read a few months later of a maire further south who had a similar insouciant, devil-may-care attitude to the old shell he heaved into his hatchback. Unfortunately it was the last bit of attitude he displayed as the shell exploded.

The storms in January this year had unexpected consequences when 80+ WWII shells were found on a beach in Brittany.

But… back to the start and the point of this post… that blighted oak tree, which is probably not long (comparitively) for this world, must have seen a heck of  a lot over its life.

… in more ways than one.

Honey bees, honey (top, capped cells) larvae (brood) and pollen

First of all, we’re very sorry to be waving bye-bye to very good friends who’re moving back to the UK for a year or two. Getting Very Good Jobs is difficult in France if you’re not French and have no directly transferable diplomas or other qualifications – even if your French is very good and you’ve years of top-class, exceptional experience elsewhere.

And France doesn’t try to be friendly to small, independent businesses in the way that the UK (and no doubt other countries) is. A positive “can do” attitude doesn’t count for much here. Ability to pay about 50% of earnings in social taxes does. Anyway, having had a slew of Very Good Job offers back in England, our friends are putting their much-loved Normandy home to bed for a while and relocating to pastures new… but their little house will be waiting for them and we know they’ll be back!

Dusk, Thursday evening – three colonies of honeybees safely abed for the night

Part of putting their house to bed is re-homing their bees. They were kindly looking after two of our bee colonies over last year while Patrick became officially bionic with two new hips and now we’re returning the favour by looking after their Warre hive (the tall, elegant one) while they’re away. Well, not so much the hive but more the inhabitants and contents – honey!

Moving bees is a process. There are many different opinions, probably as many opinions as there are beekeepers 🙂 – for example in the link I’ve just provided, the recommendation is that bees are ideally moved in winter. That makes little practical sense as bees are often moved to where there’s a crop that needs pollination and will provide nectar which will produce honey – an orchard full of blossom; a lavender farm, an avenue of lime trees – and those movements necessarily happen in spring or summer.

Then there’s the three feet vs three miles rule of thumb: either move your hive less than 3 ft or more than 3 miles to avoid confusing and possibly losing your bees. But even so, allegedly you can move your bees more than 3 ft providing you force the bees to reorientate themselves on emerging the morning after the move. You can do that by putting a barrier in front of the exit.

This unexpected obstacle – a surprised that wasn’t there last night…” is my anthropomorphic description of the reaction – forces a re-boot of each bee’s internal sat-nav. Before flying off in search of food, the bees will take the time to work out why there has been a sudden and major change so close to the hive and, if that’s new, what else has changed? Having re-established their location and landmarks, they’ll successfully find the hive again on their return. After a few days, one can safely remove the obstacle as by then, the bees will have established their new position and while they’ll notice the lack of obstacle, it won’t affect their arrival on the landing board at the entrance.

Travel board being fixed across the hive entrance which gives some ventilation to the hive but the holes are too small for the bees to be able to exit

You should only move hives in the evening when all the bees are done flying for the day and are home for the evening. You should only do it when the weather is sufficiently warm; it doesn’t have to be hot, but ideally you don’t move bees when the weather is really cold: no matter how carefully you drive, there’s a danger of the cluster of bees around the centre of the hive being jarred apart. If that happens, they’ll re-group but in warm springs, if they have already started raising the new season’s bees – the larva, the brood – is liable to chill and all that egg laying and nurturing goes to waste.

Dusk – bee hives secured for moving – strapped down to prevent sliding on the trailer base and all exits secured to prevent bees leaving during transit

There’s a big advantage – in our opinion – to moving the bees at dusk: you’re more or less guaranteed to move the entire colony. Call me an old softie but I hate the thought of late-returning bees arriving at an empty space if they’ve missed the departure. As far as I could see last night, only one bee left the building while the hives were being made ready for transport so only one bee will have returned last night to an empty tree stump to be left wondering where her home had gone.

So we drove them carefully to their new abode in our field near the workshop just below Perriers-en-Beauficel and in the dark we carried them on to their new stands. Can I say that unless you’ve rested your cheek against a buzzing box, you really haven’t… experienced fear! Very annoyed bees sound exactly that. Having located them on their stands, we left them to settle down and at 7am this morning, Patrick tiptoed over to remove the travel boards which enabled them, once the air was warm enough, to come out and greet the morning.

Two and a half bee colonies – the box on the left is a small colony which is in a half-size Dadant hive – they were a late swarm from last year and we’re delighted they survived the winter as we weren’t sure there was enough bee-mass to keep the interior of the hive warm and dry

Their location on our land in Perriers-en-Beauficel is as good as we could get it: north side they have a thick hedge so deflect the cold, northerly winds; east side is similarly protected. They get any winter sun all day but once the trees and hedges are in leaf, they’ll be protected from the full summer sun in the middle of the day.

The Warre hive will stay with us year round but the other hives will probably go on their holidays to the gardens of friends (both over 3 miles away!) where they’ll get a good variety of flowers, trees and shrubs. Then we’ll plan to bring them back to overwinter in the spot they’re in now.

The Warre hive at about 2pm this afternoon

All the hives were showing a nice level of activity this afternoon – it was breezy but sunny and bees were not only setting off to forage but they were bringing back plenty of pollen.

Busy bee with pollen saddlebags

The entrance guard is dual purpose – this way up it is a mouse guard and is used in winter to preventing mice nipping in and stealing honey; inverted, the smaller holes provide ventilation but not a way to exit the hive during, for example, transportation to a new location

The weather isn’t forecast to be so good for the next few days but the bees should still get some flying hours in and, depending on the temperatures, we may give them another feed of fondant – in which case photos will be taken and blog will be updated – to ensure they settle in well.

Bees in the full-size hive this afternoon – I love the two on the left who look as if they are having a real head-to-head confrontation… perhaps they are?

Dear me, bit of a marathon post this time. The thing is, bees are so interesting and there is so much to say about them that it’s difficult to be brief and pithy. If you’ve made it thus far, you deserve a pot of home-produced honey. Although… you do know that honey is more or less dehydrated bee spit? Don’t you? 😀 And on that note…

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Mostly a wildlife and plant diary for this part of Normandy in the Vire / Mortain / Villedieu-les-Pôeles area. But also a record of a miscellany of thoughts, events and activities. Pictured below are Red Admiral butterfly, Great Green Bush Cricket, a glow worm and a Jersey Tiger moth

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Mostly a wildlife and plant diary for this part of Normandy in the Vire / Mortain / Villedieu-les-Pôeles area. But also a record of a miscellany of thoughts, events and activities. Pictured below are Red Admiral butterfly, Great Green Bush Cricket, a glow worm and a Jersey Tiger moth

Pencil and Leaf

Mostly a wildlife and plant diary for this part of Normandy in the Vire / Mortain / Villedieu-les-Pôeles area. But also a record of a miscellany of thoughts, events and activities. Pictured below are Red Admiral butterfly, Great Green Bush Cricket, a glow worm and a Jersey Tiger moth

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Mostly a wildlife and plant diary for this part of Normandy in the Vire / Mortain / Villedieu-les-Pôeles area. But also a record of a miscellany of thoughts, events and activities. Pictured below are Red Admiral butterfly, Great Green Bush Cricket, a glow worm and a Jersey Tiger moth


Mostly a wildlife and plant diary for this part of Normandy in the Vire / Mortain / Villedieu-les-Pôeles area. But also a record of a miscellany of thoughts, events and activities. Pictured below are Red Admiral butterfly, Great Green Bush Cricket, a glow worm and a Jersey Tiger moth