A Bee-autiful Experience

I thought this little outhouse was the perfect picture for this post, because we had bee problems this week and the word was Sh*t!

Outdoor toilet

Gerald (my brother-in-law) and I have three hives between us.  Last Sunday, two were very strong (one of his and one of mine) and one (mine) was weak–we suspected the queen was dead since we could not find her in two searches and the hive continued declining. By late Sunday afternoon, half of Gerald’s strong hive had swarmed, and while I was trying to get my protective clothing on to help him get them off the apple tree they were hanging on, they flew off.  Gone.  Just so fast. I could not believe it because we take such good care of them. They’d rather live in a tree where no one brings them sugar water? Stupid bees!

So…two things became really apparent after this. We had to do something about my weak hive, and we had to do something about my strong hive that might be planning to swarm and as well as the bees remaining in Gerald’s hive (still a lot of healthy bees). The strong hives were very crowded and this may have influenced the fact that his hive swarmed, so the first thing we did was add supers to the two healthy hives to give them more room.    A super is one of these white boxes.

Bee Hives

I then emailed John Rhoten at Poor Valley Bees to discuss getting a new queen for my weak hive. Thankfully, he had some queens arriving this week. I got the new queen yesterday. Here’s John….

John Rhoten

And here’s the queen…she’s the large bee in the tiny little box. My queen!!

Box of Bees

I also talked with John about moving some of the healthy bees over to the weak hive that we believed to be “queenless”. He said to move five frame over. We swapped out five empty frames from the weak hive with five frames full of bees, honey and brood (eggs). This is called “splitting the hive.”

Here’s Gerald doing all the work..I was just out of reach of the picture.

Gerald and the Bees

The picture below is the healthy hive…about to lose five frames full of bees. When you pull the frames out, they are covered with bees. We had to check and make sure we weren’t moving the queen bee. That would be bad.

Healthy Bees

In this picture, all the frames are swapped and we’re preparing to leave the tiny box with the queen bee and her helpers on top of the frames. Over a three-day period, the hive will accept her as their queen, and they’ll also eat her out of the candy part of the little box. On Tuesday, we’ll open the top of the hive and see if this happened. Hopefully all of this occurred, she’ll be free from the box, and her presence will restore order to the hive.

Installing the Queen

I’ve got sugar water with Honey Bee Healthy in it on the hives.

Hive No 1

I’m not sure if feeding the bees is necessary because Mendota is in bloom. Here’s some pictures…Swinging Bridge Road…just in front of the house.

Swinging Bridge

Back to the little outhouse just down the road…have you ever used one of these? Tell me!! I have! My grandmother used to have one.

Outdoor toilet


Bittle Ones of Itches

Polecats — that’s what my daddy called them. I call them skunks, or something that rhymes with “Bittle Ones of Itches.”


So these Bittle Ones of Itches used to treat me with respect. Of course, that is when I had young dogs that didn’t mind getting stinky. Now, since Luckie and Gracie’s retirement, and their hunting is more aligned with eating fried worms on the driveway (see picture below), the Bittle Ones of Itches are taking over.

Worm Eaters

My beehives are behind fencing because of them. Carefully constructed so a skunk cannot dig under the fence, the Bittle Ones of Itches are climbing over or squeezing through the fencing. They sit out in front of the hives and when the bees fly out to protect their hive, the skunks eat them. They can destroy a hive.

It’s war. I was thinking of shooting them. I can shoot a 22; it’s easy — however, everyone says there is still a bad stinking problem. Someone suggested trapping them as a more humane resolution but who wants to check the trap? Not me. John Rhoton of Poor Valley Bees came up with the fix!

A welcome mat of sorts…

Welcome Mats

But it’s a special welcome mat…look closer.

Welcome Mat 3

Aha! Some Bittle Ones of Itches are not going to have happy paws when they try to get my bees! It’s a great resolution. They’ll leave unharmed except for an “ouchy” on their feet, and my bees will live another day.


Update From the Apiary

They are alive! Gerald opened up my two hives for a peek last week and to add a super. He said they looked healthy. Busy as bees. I am afraid to hope…but maybe these are the bees that we’ve been waiting for.

Beehive 5

In the early morning, before they leave the hive, I stand behind them and they sound like electric wires buzzing. They are getting ready for their day.


Honeybees Are **Really** Back!

I’m taking you with me to feed the bees. Shhh…it’s early in the morning. The world seems new and clean. Does it seem that way everywhere or only here?

Wet Morning In Mendota

I added Honey B Healthy to the 1:1 sugar water I’m feeding my two bee hives. Beekeeping is not cheap. This little bottle of Honey B Healthy is $24.95, and I am lucky enough to live near Poor Valley Bees so I don’t have to pay shipping.

Honey Bee Healthy

Just takes a teaspoon per quart jar of sugar water…they love it. Lemon oil, spearmint oil…all things bees like and need.

Honey Bee Healthy Teaspoon

At the hive, which is blissfully near the house, I look in and see an empty jar. They are drinking one quart every 24-36 hours. This means they are alive so this is a good thing for me.

Empty Jars

So I swapped them out. It was so easy since the bees were in the hive due to the early hour. This afternoon I visited the hive again…it was reassuring as I could see the bees coming in and taking off. The ones that were coming in had their little hind leg baskets filled with pollen. Not much of the sugar water is gone — maybe they are all foraging and just using it as a “bar” where they go for a drink at night???

Hive 1

They are working hard. I’m going to work hard, too — I’m going to go outside and work on my garage organization and plant some tomatoes!! But before I go, I was a little concerned that my super duper potatoes might be all potato vine and no potato…so while walking back from my little apiary, I reached down in the raised bed and felt around and pulled out this! Taterhead rules!!

Tater Today


A Beesy Day

Patsy from the Mendota Post Office called this morning and said “they are here!” The bees are here!! I went down to get them but my sister beat me to it. Here are the bees waiting in her den.

Bee Boxes

We “installed” them this afternoon, but two of the queens were dead. Didn’t survive the trip. Thank goodness, Poor Valley Bee Farm in Hiltons had some queens. Tonight, it looked like this at my little apiary…

B Hilton

Bees are setting up housekeeping and learning their way around. Mike was washing the car when they started familiarizing themselves with our property. Unfortunately, they were thirsty and he and a bee had a “run in” and he got stung in the foot.

It was a very busy day. Tonight is a two Advil night as my feet are really hurting. I’ve been standing on concrete working on my garage cleaning/reorganizion project. Here’s me working on removing the bottom vent of the freezer that’s in the garage. Looks like I had a wipe out. Thank you to my husband for taking such a flattering picture of me.

Glamour Shot

I’m making progress…here’s where I was yesterday…

Unorganized Garage 1

And here’s where I am today. Lots still left to do but progress is being made!

Garage Reorg Day 2

Have a great weekend. I’m going to go see about those Advil now.


The Bees

Not too long ago…just a few months ago…it was this.

lots of bees

Tonight, there are nine hives near our house that have not one single bee that is alive.

Depressed? You bet. There is a great deal of money and heart in our bees. However, we’re on the search for new bees. We’re hoping to get bees that have wintered in Virginia.

While we’ve talked to people in Roanoke whose bees survived, we’ve been told that our story is not uncommon throughout the entire Commonwealth of Virginia.

I’ll keep you posted on our progress. We need our bees. When we get them, we’re moving them closer to the house in a spot that we think will be better with morning sun, evening shade and a wind barrier. If this doesn’t work….I don’t even want to think about that.


Getting The Honeybees Ready For Winter

We’re still getting ready for winter here.    The barn is now full of wood for the woodboiler.  This will last us into next season.   The woodboiler heats the guest house and our primary house as well as providing hot water in both houses.  It’s a very warm heat.


Barn Full of Wood

It makes me feel secure when I look at the barn.   Country people like being self sufficient. As I write this, our generator is self-testing–sounds like a train coming but I don’t mind! After seeing the news of what is happening in the northeast following Hurricane Sandy, I’m grateful once again that we have it.   Our powerlines run through heavily-treed areas, and even with the aggressive tree trimming that took place this summer, an ice storm or heavy snow would leave us without power for days.

It’s also time to do some winterizing on the beehives preparing for harsh weather. During the honey flow season, we keep the bottom of the hive open so that bees may easily get in and out during their frequent foraging trips.   Gotta make sure they can get the pollen and nectar in for yummy honey.   As it got cooler last month, we inserted a spacer in the bottom which limited the access to about three inches.    This was to keep mice out of the hives yet still allow a fairly easy exit and entrance for this season’s remaining foraging.

Have No 2 November

I’ll use the same spacer, but I’ll turn it so that the opening is very tiny. Here’s a picture of the spacer.

Entry Spacer

Can you see the small entrance and the larger entrance?  The small one is for cold winter weather and the large one is for fall when the temperatures are just starting to get a bit cooler and, as mentioned above, mice are hunting a warm spot. We don’t want mice in our honey!!! Yuck!

Here’s the same photo with more description. Look what I’m learning to do in Photoscape!

Entrance and Exit Opening

And here is the photo of the beehive winterized.

Winterized Bee Hive

When I was working with this hive, I found an alarming number of dead bees just inside the entrance.  This hive has been strong, and I’d just been working with it three or four weeks ago when I put the spacer in for fall.  No cause for alarm at that time.  Now, however, I’m worried.

There are still live bees in the hive, but why so many dead ones in the entrance area?

We’ll be looking back in this hive next weekend. I’ll let you know what we find.   I hope, pray that my bees will be healthy.

I don’t want to see this.

Dead Bee

Thank you for reading RiverCliff Cottage, and thank you for supporting local beekeepers!



Mendota Daily September 26

We’re in about the 4th day of fall, and the nights are getting very cool here in Mendota. I love sleeping in on these cold mornings.

Tomorrow I will not be sleeping in. As I mentioned in the post earlier this week, Sam the Cat has a lump on his little neck/jaw area. I did not think it was bothering him. I just found the lump on Monday while petting him, so I made an appointment for next Monday. Sam is a challenge to drive to the vet, and I wanted to be the one to drive him. Since I’m working on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday this week, I felt Monday was best since he did not appear to be in any discomfort and was eating normally. Now, however, he is in pain, and I’ve left my vet a message that he’ll have to see Sam tomorrow. Sam was abused as a kitten and he’s really a mean cat. He’ll have to be sedated before the vet will even be able to touch him. He also gets car sick. Poop pee puke. You get the picture.    I hope you weren’t eating when you read that!

We’re still working on projects and getting ready for winter. This weekend, I worked on the beehives.   I worked and took these pictures just as it became daylight as I wanted the bees to be inside their hives and not hanging around the entry way as they do during the day. 

Here’s Hive #2. If you look  at the base of the hive, you’ll see an opening going across the width of the structure. We leave that open during the “honey flow” so the bees can get in and out easily. If all is well, these hives have many thousands of bees bringing in pollen and nectar, and traffic can get quite congested. It reminds me of Federal Express in Memphis during take offs and landings.   Quite fun to watch as they zoom in with their little pockets full of pollen. 

As the weather cools and the bees become less active, we close this off. We do this to keep out cold and pests such as mice.

Here’s a picture of the same hive after I inserted a spacer.  Look at the bottom now…

When it gets much colder, we’ll close this off to a very tiny opening which is much smaller than what you see in the picture above. I’m very worried about my bees and how they’ll do this winter. They are positioned so that they don’t get strong wind, but they also are in the shade.   I’d really like for them to get the morning sun and the evening shade but it’s reversed.  If we know in advance that there is extreme cold this winter, we may bubble wrap the hives to help hold in warmth. The bees will cluster around the queen and keep her at about 85 degrees.  In summer,  they fan her  to keep her cool.

It is also time to remove the vents from the top of the hive.  In the picture below, I’ve removed the cover, and I’m getting ready to remove the vent.  The dark brown that you see under the screen are a few hundred bees. 

The vent is very useful in the summer. Just like in your house, the hot air rises and the vent allows the heat to escape. If you have attic vents, it is a similar principle.


In the picture below, I’ve removed the vent and placed the heavy block back on the hive to keep the roof in place.  I left the vent on the side of the hive so that the bees will be able to get back into their hives.   On the day following, I picked up the vents and took them home.  I’ve now got to ask Gerald how I clean them up to store it for winter.  We’ll be using these vents again next summer.

I really enjoy these bees. I was up at the hive this evening swapping around Mason jars of sugar water for these little guys. They’ve got used to my being there every day and are paying little attention when I make the swap. For some reason, one got up my sweatshirt sleeve (I wasn’t wearing the protective clothing). “Yikes,” I thought..”I’m going to get stung.”  Wonder of wonders…I did not!! Thank you little bee (who by the way would have been dead tonight had he or she stung me.)

 There is so much to learn and so much to risk if you do something wrong.

I will be so happy if next spring I have four hives of healthy bees.

To those who buy our honey, we greatly appreciate it.   We are working hard to provide a quality honey and to to our part in restoring honeybees to Southwest Virginia. 


We’re Getting Ready! And Stuff…

Hi everyone!   We are loving this beautiful fall weather here in Mendota.   I’ve really enjoyed these Susie flowers that have come up during the past month.  They self seeded from the Black Eyed Susie baskets that were hanging on my porch last year.   They’ve taken over!

Here’s another one..I accidentally put a border on this picture…

This beautiful fall weather reminds us that winter is not far off.   Since we heat our house, guest house, and hot water with a wood boiler, we have a barn full of wood. We actually have enough wood to go into the following winter.   This is extra wood, and it will be cut, stacked and covered.

Mike recently repaired the bird feeder in the picture below.  It had some rot and needed repainting.   It’s ready to go. Soon I’ll start filling it with bird seed daily. 

We’re are continuing to get our beehives ready for winter.

This is hive # 3 in the picture below.   It is a hive that survived last winter.   Can you see the space underneath the silver roof at the top of the hive? It is a vent which allows heat to escape the hive in the summer.  I’m going to remove the vent this week since we’re having cooler days and nights.   We’ll also be closing off a portion of the entry space on the lower portion of the hives.  When the bees are foraging heavily, they need the extra space to come and go from the hives — else it becomes like a traffic jam!   In winter, they primarily come out to do housecleaning and do not need the space which lets in cold air or possibly mice.

I was a bit lazy today, but I did paint the bathroom baseboard.   It just looked dirty and the Magic Erasers weren’t doing the trick anymore.   It’s all taped up in this picture.    When I look at pictures, I see what is wrong with a room.  For instance, that picture hanging beside those plates looks silly.  I just stuck it up there today because I like the colors.  I saw it on a clearance rack for $7 at Walmart a few weeks ago and tossed it in the cart.   I believe it may return to the clearance rack.  I may do an arrangement of plates.  I actually had an arrangement of plates up there at one time.  There are only two left as I broke THREE!  In one day!! 

The bathroom pictured above has been hot pink, wallpapered in yellow flowers, painted green, painted pink, and now painted this beige color.  It has had three floors and two counter tops.   All of the original tile was pulled up and replaced last year.

Back to plates…I bought the platter below for $3 at the Salvation Army in Kingpsort.  This is one good place to go find bargains that might be trash to treasure” candidates.  This is not fine china, but who cares???    I will find a good home for this platter.

The dogs kept bothering me while I was in the bathroom so I gave them some doggy treats to occupy them.  Then..instead of working on my paint project, I started taking pictures.    Have you ever wondered who buys the Dogsters in the ice cream section at Food City? It’s me!

Luckie really enjoys them.

She usually tears the cup up and makes a mess after she’s finished. She’s just resting before this starts.

This dog was thrown away like trash. She was so scared when she got here that she would not sleep inside the garage or house.  She had to be where she could get away. I hope whoever threw her away suffers like she did. She has been a wonderful pet and so much company for Mike. They are together every minute. She is the only dog that ever gets to ride in his Porsche. She is 12 and she’s on Remadyl for her arthritis. She’s had both ACL’s replaced in her rear legs by the great orthopedic vets at the University of Tennessee. Luckie even has her own health insurance.    She’s just special.

So…after watching Luckie eat her Dogster, my sister Nancy came up. She’d made this beautiful apron for her granddaughter, Lacy.  I would have included Nancy in the picture but she’s all splotchy from poison oak.

Isn’t this pretty?



The Baptism and the Bees

I have two things to write about, and they are both different. I’ll do them in the order they appeared today.

Mike and I arrived home from church this morning and saw a car parked near our entry gate. It was my cousin,Terri, and she told me her brother-in-law, Pastor Sammy, was going to baptize someone in the river in front of the house and asked if I wanted to come. I did. I always do. It is very common to baptize in the slow moving North Fork here in Mendota.

My sister Pat and I used to play in the very spot where this morning’s baptism took place. We took turns playing John the Baptist and baptizing each other. No sprinkling for Pat and me–we believed in full, repeated immersion!

In case you’ve never attended a  river baptism, here’s how it works…

There is a sense of waiting. It’s a reverent occasion. We stand there listening to the sound of the leaves. The river is flowing quietly. This is followed by singing. Sammy leads the small group in singing Amazing Grace. The voices are naked and beautiful.  I love it.

There is a prayer. Since I attend church elsewhere, I do not know the young man being baptized, but I learn that his name is Caleb  and he made his commitment to Christ during Vacation Bible School.

They are in the water now, and I can tell it’s cold. Someone whispers…”I hope Gordon and Sammy remembered to remove their wallets.” This is followed by a nervous giggle and then quiet.



It was over soon. It was time to get this young man home into dry clothes.

I walked up the hill following the baptism.  I’m glad I live where we still baptize in a river.   I started thinking about my week ahead.

One of the things I started thinking about was our honeybees as today is the day I will start feeding two of the beehives.

Beekeepers have so many different instructions. One beekeeper says do it this way, and another says do it a different way. Some feed the bees and some do not. We have two hives that appear to be weak and to help ensure that they have an adequate supply of honey for the winter, I’ll be feeding them for the next 45 days.

Here I am…getting suited up to go put the feeding apparatus on the hives and to start them on their beloved sugar water.  They love this stuff. I have to take my shoes off to get them through the bee suit.   Check out those nasty shoes.

When the hive is new, we add a vitamin supplement called “Honey Bee Healthy,” but today I’m giving them only sugar water. Five pounds of sugar will make up four quarts of sugar water. It’s not cheap.

Each day I’ll zip up to the apiary on the golf cart and feed these little guys and girls. I don’t mind this feeding system because the swap of the empty jar of sugar water for the full jar is easy and I don’t kill any bees.

They will get used to me after about a week and won’t take much notice when I’m around.   Our previous system held more sugar water but was very harsh on the bees. I dreaded feeding them, and they chased me out.  I had to be fully suited up to feed them.   I’m glad we’re returning to the old feeding system.

Once I’m comfortable, I will not wear the entire bee suit.  I might wear the veil and gloves, but unless they appear aggressive, I won’t feel the need to suit up.

Last year, I think I got overly comfortable because I was feeding them in my shorty pajamas…not veil, no gloves, no covering on my arms and legs.  I think that might have been a little risky.  I won’t do it again.

It comforts me to know that the bees have plenty to eat…they forage in a two-mile radius. This yellow flower is everywhere in Mendota right now. It’s around the apiary, and I could hear it buzzing as I walked by. The bees were foraging. Is this goldenrod? I don’t know!

I imagine them flying up Clinch Mountain, over the North Fork for a sip of water and into my neighbors flowers, trees and vegetable gardens. There is a cultural move to stay away from pesticides here in the valley. I’m glad.

This past winter we had a bit of a crisis. It was a mild winter, there was too much room in the hives, and they did not cluster properly, and we lost a lot of bees. I was in Georgia and I got an email from Mike saying that Gerald had looked in the hives and while there was honey, many of the bees had died. I was sick. Gerald was sick. We were all depressed.

Learning from this, we removed the top supers last week. This leaves the hive more crowded..they must keep the queen at about 85 degrees year round, and the closeness will facilitate proper clustering.

I’m glad we have the bees.




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