I gave up making new year resolutions decades ago. By February memories of what I’d promised to do – or not to do – had faded due to the urgent pressures of the moment and life in general. But this year will be different: I resolve to wage war on unwelcome visitors to the garden.
Last June a swarm of bees arrived in the fig tree just outside the kitchen, in July a hornet’s nest appeared in the roof of the summer house, then September was spoiled by the destructive nocturnal visits of the local wild boar or sanglier.
When I kept bees in Devon. I followed the advice of the local beekeepers’ association and placed an empty hive next those occupied by these hard-working and productive insects. The idea is to transfer any swarm that might arrive nearby into the empty hive with a warm sense of gratitude for a new colony since it’s an old tradition that bees should not be purchased.
Usually, bees swarm during warm, humid weather. But it was still a surprise, one afternoon during the June heatwave, to open the kitchen door and see a dark triangular shape in the fig tree that provides shade over the terrace. One bee sting is painful and unpleasant, to be stung by a swarm can be fatal.
I immediately consulted my neighbour, Juliette, and she rang the beekeeper living at the other end of the village. He arrived with his smoker and a large cardboard box. He was a real pro, wearing his normal clothes and not garbed in the white boiler suit, caged hat and long gauntlets that I always wore when dealing with my own bees.
He also maintained a running commentary – another bee keepers’ belief is that you should always talk to your bees – as he climbed the ladder and swiftly knocked the tightly-knit bundle of bees clustered around their queen into his cardboard box. Then, using his bare hands, transfered a few stragglers to join their friends. The whole operation took only a few minutes.
So my first New Year resolution is to enter the number and address of my local beekeeper in my address book, to keep in the kitchen.
It took me rather longer to spot the hornet’s nest, attached to the sloping wooden ceiling of the summer house. But since my daughter with a bevy of young children were in residence on holiday, I thought I should try to remove it as soon as possible since a hornet sting can be serious.
After consulting the internet, I rejected the practice of using a flame-thrower as recommended in an America video, and adopted the safer advice to dress as though opening a beehive. Then one climbs up to the nest after dark to fill the brown, papery cone-like nest with multiple sprays of a powerful pest-killer.
The bravest of my grand-children held a powerful torch to help me while everyone else cowered in the open doorway of the house. Looking into the nest by torchlight, wiggling larvae could be seen. This was the right moment to attack, before the grubs developed wings and escaped. So I climbed the step ladder and pressed the sprayer on my largest can of wasp-killer. Immediately, the queen flew out of the nest and escaped. Then several lavae fell out of the nest onto the ladder. Mission accomplished, I hoped, so we all retreated into the house for restoring drinks.
A careful inspection the next morning confirmed that the queen hornet had indeed flown into the woods far from the house in order to re-establish her colony. And there was no sign of life in the abandoned nest.
So my second new year resolution is to look upwards more often, particularly in the summer-house and keep a large can of insect killer to hand.
My next unwelcome visitor was the wild boar. His visits are actually destructive since he delights in digging up any newly planted shrub, especially those that I’ve bought from the local nursery, he appears to be addicted to potting compost.
The damage done by these fierce porcine creatures is well-known around Saint Montan, as they use their powerful snouts to routle under oak trees looking for grubs and anything tasty especially black truffles that might be growing in the vicinity.
From mid-August the hills of the Ardèche echo with the sound of gun shots as local huntsmen kill wild boar, both as a sport and to limit their growing numbers in France. The strongly-flavoured meat in prized in the region, cooked in a daube and it also adds a satisfying depth of flavour to a country terrine. But I don’t wish to acquire a gun licence and need a simpler way of dealing with my local uninvited sanglier.
I’ve tried beaming movement-sensitive lights into the garden which seemed to work for a while. But now that this pesty creature has begun to attack the potted plants on the terrace – experts tell me the animal is searching for a snack of tasty grubs and juicy roots – I resolve to find a permanent discouragement.
Sadly, this means a fence. For thirty years, our garden has run seamlessly into the wild hillside in a natural and attractive way. So I’m reluctant to install wire-mesh fencing that has to stretch underground for a few feet to deter M Sanglier. After discussing my problem with neighbouring farmers I’ve learnt that the only way to deter wild boar is a strand of electric wire.
So my third new year resolution is to install the ultimate sanglier deterrent to prevent this marauding, boring boar from digging craters in my flowerbeds and uprooting seedling trees and shrubs. I will report back.