And The Cold In Mendota Arrives

Well, the blast of cold air has arrived. Just walking from my office to the car tonight was brutal. I had planned to get my nails done on the way home, but I was driven by a higher power to do something else.   I wanted to check on my bees.   Again.

This is the scene that met me.   Brrrr….winter in Mendota.   Gray.  Dreary.  Cold.   The trees behind the house make a swooshing sound all winter, and even though I’m almost 60, I am afraid of the dark during the winter months because of this sound.   Seriously.   Vampires, zombies, walkers..what if they’re out there?   

Behind Our House

Hard to believe that the picture above is this same place…I guess the earth has to rest, but I do miss seeing the lushness of spring.

Vegetable Garden June 24
Back to the bees that keep interrupting my thoughts at night or while at work.   I was worried that the bubble wrap was not enough.    Here’s the link to that post.    And what if I’m not doing my part to ensure we have honeybees?   It’s an awful thought.   This picture came from Pinterest and I do not know where it originated.  Someone did some very nice work.


Mike is retired, and while my butt jumped in the car in the dark this morning, he grumbled something about wanting to sleep a little while longer. So…he woke up to a list!! The list said important things like  “get cat litter; get mulch.” Without asking, he knew what that mulch request meant — he  knew I was thinking about those bees again.   All of his work getting the hives wrapped yesterday was wonderful…but it wasn’t enough.  No, I’m sorry, Michael, you must work harder on those bees you dislike.    A bag of mulch on top of the hive is, in my opinion–and my bees did survive last winter when lots of others lost their bees–extra insultation.

Of course, I didn’t want just any mulch. I like buying the mulch at Southern States. Mike said “have you tried to buy mulch on the coldest day of the year? No one is mulching right now!” So, where do you think he went to finally find some mulch? Did you guess Walmart? Yep! And…it was frozen. He said he and a Walmart employee like to have NEVER loosened up the six bags to get them on the truck.

But they did….and here they are on top of the tarp.

Mulch on Hives

Even though I almost froze my rear off, I went out to check things out.   And guess what I did? I have these little welcome mats in front of the hives that have carpet tacks sticking up from them. They are to keep the skunks from standing in front of the hives eating my bees. I stepped on one. Ouch! They are still working real fine.


So, the bees are okay for the moment.  I’m in the house where it’s warm.  What is a fun January thing to do?   Did you say “seed catalogs?”     Oh yeah.



Thank you for reading RiverCliff Cottage and following us on our journey of living well on less, starting a small business when everyone else is retiring, and living 17 miles from a grocery store.    We are living abundantly and hope you are, too.




Bubble Wrap Those Bees Bubba!

Today on NPR, I learned that the phrase “polar vortex” was not  a cool word.   Apparently, we misused it all last winter.   So, how do I give a dramatic explanation of how cold it is…how about “it is as cold as a titches wit!”    Forgive me, memories of my mother and her wicked personality seem to pop up more regularly as I get older.

I’ve been sitting working at my desk today fretting about my bees.  I had meant to go out at lunch and buy duct tape so that I could wrap them tonight.  Instead, I slugged through payroll and ate at my desk.    So….at about 4:30 pm today, I stuck my head in my bosses’ office — his name is Ken — and asked “do you mind if I leave 10 or 15 minutes early, I need to work with my bees.”    He looked at me like I was crazy…who works with bees when it’s freezing out outside?     I’m sure he thought I said “do you mind if I leave 10 or 15 minutes early, I need to learn my ABC’s” or something. At any rate, he turned me loose.

I got home just in time to start working with the bees before it got dark, but a miracle occurred and Mike had already done it.   Obviously, he found the duct tape that we lost.   And look…he wrapped my beehives.    Mike must want something, because he is not a beekeeper or bee lover.   He reminds me of a word that NPR says word people want returned to our English dialect…he’s a rapscallion.    

Hive 2

I inspected his work.  I checked to make sure he left an air hole at the top…it’s important to maintain ventillation.   Check!  A+!    If air gets trapped in the hive with no exit point, condensation can occur which turns into icey drips on the bees.

Hive Upper Vent

And they must have a small opening to do their housekeeping remove waste, dead bees, etc. A+ again!

Hive Exit Vent

Compared to my set up last year…this looks quite neat!!  I’ll go out tomorrow and make sure that plastic has not slid down.   Here’s last year’s set up.  Shanty town — but remember, it was -8 degrees and my bees lived.

Wintering Bees 1

This plastic bubblewrap should really help.   I have not always lived in this pretty yellow house on the hill.  I’ve lived in mobile homes at different times in my life, and I remember the difference in the inside after I put plastic on the windows.  It was pretty dramatic.  I’m hoping this extra bit of insulation during the nights when we’re in the single digits with windchills that are even colder will help the bee team inside keep their queen comfortable at about 90 degrees.   They cluster around her to keep her warm.

Likewise, Mike knows how much I value living in a warm house.   The Central Boiler woodboiler heats both our house and the guest house.   He keeps it at about 180 degrees at all times.   This queen–that would be me–likes a toasty 70-71 degrees, and I have no guilt washing with hot water.    It also is so much quieter than the heat pump which truly sounds like a train.

Central Boiler

Are you staying warm during this Polar Vortex cold spot?


Cold November Day in Mendota

It’s a nippy 24 degrees today in Mendota.   I washed an old quilt that Luckie wallows on and hung it on the clothesline.  It took it almost all day, but it came very close to getting dry.   Miracle!    Yesterday I removed the sugar water feeders from our beehives.  I also changed out the spacer which provides them with their opening to come and go.

My Bees

As of this morning,  they have only a tiny hole as their entrance.   This will keep the hive a little warmer.   They will remove dead bees through this hole as well as their waste.   Just noticed this picture has dead bees that they’ve already tossed out.  Gross.   Apparently, bees aren’t much on ceremony for the bees that pass on before them.  Just toss ’em.

Bee Hive in the Winter

I’ve been watching the temperatures.   On Tuesday night,  it will be about 15 degrees in our area.   I won’t do anything special to the hives as they can survive that type of temperature every once in a while.    Each one of these hive boxes is full of honey.   It has to last them until the honeyflow in the spring.  I’ll say a prayer tonight for these little pals.

I’d told you about the woodboiler earlier this week.   We had to go get a part for it in Peterstown, West Virginia.


Mike and Gerald got it up and and running, and the house is so warm, and whatever improvements were made are working.  It’s not using as much wood.  Yay!  I went over to the guesthouse, and it’s toasty warm, too.   We heat both houses with one woodboiler.

We do not have the woodboiler heating the water in the guesthouse at this time, but we do in the main house.  It’s really hot.   Because of this, I went back to my “homemade” laundry detergent.    It’s the recipe you see all over Pinterest and the internet using Fels Napta soap.   Here’s the recipe from the blogger I got it from.      I do not like using this recipe with cold water and my high efficiency washer.  It stays on dark clothes.  However, if I use it with hot water which helps dissolve the ingredients, it works very well, so with my free hot water from the woodboiler, I can use this detergent which costs very little.

I’ve been looking at Pinterest and thinking about next year’s vegetable garden today.   Gardens are so rewarding, but they are especially rewardng in the winter.  I’m making soup tonight and instead of store bought tomatoes, I’m using my own.   Here they are…looking fine in a cabbage stew that is on the cooktop.  It smells so good.

Cabbage Stew

I’m taking these pictures with my iphone, but on Black Friday, I am getting a new camera!!




Last Day Feeding The Honeybees

Ecclesiastes says there is a time for everything and a season for every activity, but yikes…did winter have to come so soon?  It was just a few weeks ago that my mums looked like this…

Summer Flowers

They looked so happy!  Did they know what was ahead?    I pruned everything in our yard a few weeks ago but I left this giant mum because of the bees.  They were loving it.  It had about 100 on it every day.  I didn’t cut it back because I knew they were still getting some benefit from it, and honestly, I would have had to suit up and fight them for it!  But today, I did cut it back.   Winter is coming and there is nothing much left for them with this plant.

Dead mums

I spoke with John of Poor Valley Bees and he said that many beekeepers are finding their hives empty of honey.   Bees have to have their honey in the winter to survive.   It’s what they eat.   Humans should only take the excess, but this year, there wasn’t really any excess.  We had less than 20 pints of honey from six hives (some were swarms that we did not expect to have honey from), but we are entering winter with all of our hives full of honey.   I’m thankful for that.

It’s also the last day we’re feeding them.  Tomorrow morning, very early, I’ll go out and remove the jars and replace the spacer in the bottom of the hive with a spacer that has only about 3/4 of an inch opening.   This will give them added protection from winter weather.  They’ll use that tiny opening to remove dead bees and their waste.   Here they are enjoying their last day of the thick, sweet sugar water which we’ve used to supplement their foraging.    The sun is shining on the face of the hive, and I imagine it to be very warm inside.  They are probably fanning the queen to keep her comfortable.    As it gets colder, they’ll cluster and keep her warm.   The barn is my wind barrier.  I love where these bees sit because they are protected from the wind and get the evening shade.  More importantly, it’s easy to walk over and check on them.  Watch them do their work.   They are so clever.    Reminder to self.  These are just insects.  

Bees 1111

About six weeks ago, honeybees attacked and killed someone doing landscaping somewhere…I can’t remember where.  It was in the news.     It’s a hard reminder that they are who they are.  Still, today, I think of them as my little pals.  They light on my hand and I look right into their little faces.   I’ll be watching out for these pals this winter.   When it gets below 15 degrees, I’ll be out with my bubble wrap, duct tape, tarp and protective cover and my little apiary will look like Shanty Town for a few days.   This is what it looked like at -8 degrees last year.  Everything was very strategic because even though the hives were covered, they could get air flow.  When the sun came out, I’d lift the tarp draped over the front and let it hit the front of the hive.   Make fun of me all you want.  My bees lived.  And thrived.  And swarmed! and I caught the swarm!

Wintering Bees 1


Honeybee Update 2014

This post has two things — an update on our bees and honey but also a You Tube video that Mike came across that is funny. Please scroll down and watch the video.

Lots of neighbors and folks who read RiverCliff Cottage have messaged me about the availability of our honey.

Unfortunately, we will not have any additional honey in 2014. We have checked the hives to determine if there is enough honey to extract, and we found in most cases that the top “supers” had little to no honey. We must leave three “boxes” which are a combination of deep hive bodies and supers on each hive so our bees will have adequate food for the winter. Their health is our first priority, and during our first year, we took too much honey and starved our bees. On the upside, our bees look healthy and numerous so, hopefully, we will be greeted with healthy bees come spring. In the meanwhile, you can rest assured that if there is another Polar Vortex with -8 temperatures in Mendota, Virginia, I will be out there with bubble wrap, black trash bags, and duct table! Our hives looked strange for a few weeks, but they survived the brutal winter.


The above picture is an old one — I’ve lost my DSLR camera! How did I do this? I’m not sure. I’ll be off RiverCliff Cottage for a couple of weeks–at least the remainder of October– while I (1) finally find my camera or (2) purchase a new one. Ouch!

In the interim, while Mike has been researching kayaks and the potential to have Go Pro cameras for Adventure Mendota (yay) he came across this You Tube video which is hilarious. I hope you enjoy it was much as I did.

Have a great October and I’ll be back in November!! I’ll miss you!!


Honeybees and a Black Squirrel Winter

Have you heard that the winter of 2014-2015 is going to be long and “bad”.   Perhaps “snowy?”   I have.   I have specifically heard it called a “Black Squirrel Winter.”  Sounds serious!

At any rate, it means one thing for me in the coming weeks.   Sugar water.   Each time I speak with another beekeeper, they are saying “feed them.”   Since I don’t know enough to argue, I listen, and I start stirring the sugar in the pot and putting it in quart jars.

Sugar Water

Three of these…every day.   One for each hive.   Five pounds of sugar makes four quart jars.  You can do the math.  It’s expensive!


The nights are already cool enough to be concerned about mice entering the hives so we’ve taken that wide opening at the bottom of the hive (pictured above) and inserted a spacer which limits the access.   Looks like this now.

My Bees

And just in case we experience temperatures well below zero again, I’ve got my bubble wrap, duct tape, bags of mulch and tarp ready to pull out and set up to protect my bees.      Because…remember this…




Back in Business and Why Do I Live Here?

We are back in the honeybee business. My brother-in-law, Gerald, was discouraged coming into the early spring, because he was down to one hive. I had two hives but one was very weak. I so wanted to keep going…I’m always optimistic…but I knew without his help, I could not do it. Mike has many good qualities but he is afraid of bees. He likes them because I love them.

So you can imagine how happy Gerald and I are as we come into May, we now have six hives. We’re talkin’ honey..talking next year…watching our bees settle in. Our two hives remain strong, and our weak hive has been requeened. We have three new hives from catching swarms. God seems to be smiling down on our efforts and encouraging us.

Welcome Hive Number 6! It’s two deep-hive bodies, and that’s sugar water with Honey Bee Healthy for a little extra help for their housewarming. Our babies are buzzing!

Three Hives R

And now for the second part of my post. Why Do I Live Here? This question was asked recently.

I shared something with some visiting friends about a recent event that bothered me. I was at Cheddars on Exit 7 in Bristol and someone at the table near us requested a different waitress before being served because the waitress working that area was Black. The swap was made. It turned my stomach. I didn’t realize people felt that way in 2014. The waitress was matter of fact about it and said it happened occasionally. Does Cheddars need the business so bad that they accept this from customers? I probably won’t go back. They will have to have their racists customers keep them in business; not me. My friends were appalled and asked “why do you live here?” It caught me offguard. I didn’t answer them as I should have.

First, I think most people are like me–not like those who were seated at the table near us. There is some bad everywhere. When I was in Alpharetta working, I stepped out from the hotel one evening to go to Bahama Breeze to have dinner. I was alone and within spitting distance of the restaurant. It was dusky, but not dark. The hotel employees insisted I call them to come pick me up when I was through, and they stood outside and watched me walk across the parking lot to get there. Really. Maybe they were making a big deal about nothing to make me feel welcome and secure at their hotel. I’m not sure.

Perhaps it’s that way here, too, and I’m just naive. I do know that if I drive into Mendota, which is 18 miles from a grocery store, and my car breaks down, I’m more likely to have help from someone or a fair idea of whose door I’m knocking on. We’re not perfect, but I prefer to live here. I’m still trying to think of the right answer to my friends’ question so that I don’t sound like I’m condemming another lifestyle above my own, but I don’t want anyone to think I do not prefer to live where I live.  I like to visit an IKEA but it’s not important to live near IKEA!   Ha ha!    The reason I started this blog was to answer that question. I’m not sure that I’m doing a very good job of it. I want to share the sweetness of my rural lifestyle.

So much for seriousness. Here’s some simpler reasons….my friendship garden. Plants that folks around here have just given me “starts” from. Friendships are more likely to be forever here–not until the moving truck takes us to our next assignment. These are Katie Harris’ irises that probably started in her father’s garden. Each spring they remind me of that family. Katie, her sister, Lisa, and I were sisters growing up. We all live here now. By choice.

Irs by Katie R

And there’s another special garden friend from someone I love. It’s from my True Love (Lowe’s). Got most of these off the half dead plant rack a few weeks ago. Look at them now! They are surely not half dead plant flowers anymore!

Half Dead Plant Flowers


My Big Surprise Today

It is so pretty and green in Southwest Virginia right now, but it’s the time of year when we have storms. I have friends in Alabama and Arkansas, and I can only imagine the stress during times like this. I slept in the closet last night. We have a storm radio, and there was no tornado warning or watch by the time I went to bed, but I thought I’d just go ahead and get in the closet and sleep. Luckie and two cats followed me. It was cozy. I am grateful for the rain, but I don’t like wind.


Everything is really coming along. Here’s my grapevine…


Eating greens from the garden now…in fact, I’m finishing a great salad as I type this. I like salads because they are one of the few things the dogs and cats don’t beg me for, and I just breezed right by the organic baby spinach at Food City which is normally one of my regular purchases.


And now for my big surprise of the day! Today my bees swarmed but the swarm did not go far. It was nothing like our adventure in catching a swarm earlier in the week. Read here and here. They moved in right next door, so there is no “catching” to be done. This was such a huge surprise and what good luck. We had this little white “Nuc” box beside the hive just for this purpose, but I really doubted anything would come of it.


I was wrong! Welcome Hive #6. This is like finding a $100 bill in your pocket! I am so happy!! We’ll transfer them to a proper hive tomorrow!


The Swarm and The Day After

For those of you who read RiverCliff Cottage regularly, you know the Third Annual Dale Jett & Hello Stranger Cemetery Benefit took place last night.  It was great.    I am so grateful to the artists, the folks who came how to see Dale, Teresa and Oscar and the Poor Valley Girls.   I’m very grateful to Domtar who helped us so much by providing seed money.   The melodies have been in my head all day.   Carter Family music is alive and well in Poor Valley!!

I didn’t take the next two pictures.  Friends took them and put them on Facebook.   Here’s the final song where everyone is gathered around singing “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” and we were singing, too.

The Gang on Stage

This picture below is of the Poor Valley Girls.  Great CD.   If you attended and did not purchase a CD and want to, message me, and I’ll hook you up.   CD’s are $15 and they are worth every penny.     Dale Jett & Hello Stranger have several CD’s.   They are more easily found, and I’ve downloaded a couple of their songs to my MP3 player, too.  The Poor Valley Girls are just getting started with recording, so their CD is trickier to find.

Heads in the Building

So I am very grateful for last night, but whew!    This morning left quite a bit of work to be done….after the benefit stuff.   I got up early…it was still foggy in the valley…

Butch's Lambs

First on my list was taking down banners.   In the past, I’ve felt sorry for the Elk Knob guys working on Barnrock Road who have to put the signs up, take the signs down, move the signs around and so on. What a pain!  I thought about that today as I followed the truck. I took a picture.


So I was doing the same thing this morning.  Taking signs down.   I hate seeing out-of-date signs left behind, so I wanted to get these down quick!!    I had no makeup, uncombed hair and my pajama top out scurrying around.   I’ve got one left that Mike will have to help me with. I’ll reuse them next year.

Dale Jett 2

So after taking the banners down, it was about 9:30 am, and I ran down to the community center to help break down tables, pick up all of the stuff like chalkboards, ferns, etc., and I came back home thinking I’d rest. My feet were killing me. And then the call came….Gordon (pictured below) had been told by the Elk Knob guys working this morning that there was a swarm of bees up in one of the hollers.


Gordon’s wife, Janet, called to let my brother-in-law, Gerald, know.  My sister, Nancy, called to ask if I wanted to help.  Off we went on our bee adventure!    Who cares about tired feet when you have bees to catch!!   We had to drive about two miles.  I could not take pictures while we were doing all of this because we needed all of our hands, but I went back later with my camera.  Here’s the holler.


It was muddy…really muddy. It had rained hard last night. My foot got stuck in the mud.


And then both Gerald and I had to channel our “inner goat” and climb the bank. It doesn’t look that steep in the photograph, but we were climbing around with sugar water, a plastic container and a nuc box. Here’s where the bees were.  I can look to the left in this picture about half way down and see two tracks.  That was me.  Sliding.

Bee Swarm

When we first got there, we could not see the bees.   We decided to best thing to do was listen, and Gerald heard them first.  We walked toward the sound but couldn’t see anything, and then, I saw them!!   There were probably about 8,000 bees there in a big clump.  We then got our stuff and Gerald swept then in the nuc box while I squirted sugar water.  The bees were very calm.  They were probably thinking “it’s raining sugar water…we hope it never stops!”   Once they were in the nuc box,  we had to carefully scale back down the slippery, muddy bank.  We each had to do this one-handed because the other hand was on the nuc box.  We had to make sure the top of the nuc box did not come off.  Yikes!    We’d be covered in thousands of bees.   A fleeting thought of where my Epi-pen was went through my mind, but we were too involved to worry about that.

We finally got back to the truck.    Someone drove by and saw us in our white suits and heckled. This picture wasn’t from today, but here’s what we look like. A haz mat team!!    However, I would not heckle anyone carrying bees. It’s just not polite! What is that bumper sticker????…”Watch out, I’m low on estrogen and I’m carrying a gun, and I’ve got a wad of bees I’m going to throw at you!”

Beekeepers Again!

We got the bees installed in the nuc…this is a picture I’ve used before.  The nuc is a small box with five frames.  It’s where they’ll stay while we are setting up and airing out the hive structure.

Recapping the Nuc 2

We put them in the back of the truck and I climbed in the back of the truck with them. Gerald now looked like he was hauling an astronaut around with a white box. I wish I’d got him to take a picture but we were just so excited that I forgot all about it.

Tomorrow, we’ll put these bees in a hive.  You might be wondering where the bees came from?  We are,  too. Most likely, since they were a mile from the house (as the crow flies), they were OUR bees!! We’re so glad that they are back home and we can keep them safe and they can grow their colony.  Their instinct is to separate and find a new home with their newly hatched queen.  It’s how they reproduce.  Now,  they’ll think they found that home even though they are right back where they started.

Had the nice folks at Elk Knob not seen them and told Gordon, they would have surely perished. Thank you Elk Knob for watching out for our honeybees!



The Status of the Honeybees

It was in the 50’s yesterday, so I went and checked on the honeybees.  I like chronicling them on  RiverCliff Cottage because it will remind me next year what I did wrong or right.  Doesn’t technology rock?

I’m embarrassed at how bad my efforts to sustain them through the extreme cold temperatures look. The bubble wrap is hanging down…the tarp is pulled back and looks nasty.  However, my bees are alive so I’m pretty much over feeling silly about it.

I always say my bees are mean, but I’ll let you decide.  When I recorded this, there weren’t a great many bees out but there were a few.  I was in a short sleeve t-shirt, no veil, etc, and they never threatened me.   They are just busy being bees.

I forget they are deaf so you’ll hear me chatting with them on the link below.   And now, allow me to introduce you to Mendota’s very own Rock Star Bees!






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