OK Bees…You’ve Got To Live Through the Winter

“What kind of Mickey Mouse operation is this anyway?”   That was Mother’s words I heard in my head as I looked over our make-shift arrangement to protect my two hives of bees from the extreme wind chill.  Mama…what are you doing out here in the cold?   You live in my heart where it’s warm–and besides, you’re being a little sassy.”

Ok..for the sake of pleasing Mother, I’ll admit it does look a little like a shanty town for bees…

Bee Tarp 2

During the last “Arctic Blast” of air through Poor Valley, I wrapped the hives in bubble wrap and worried constantly for three days.  You can read about that here.   I removed the bubble wrap because I was concerned about trapping moisture in the hive.

And then we get the forecast for this evening…5 degrees with a windchill factor of about -5 this evening.    Great.   I’m short on bubble wrap.   Mike came to the rescue with a tarp.  Brilliant!  The barn is the first defense for the chilling wind, but the tarp will give an added barrier, and tomorrow I can just pull it back.   At any rate, I’ll sleep better knowing they’ve got a bit of extra protection.  They have to work hard to keep their queen warm.   Here they are on a nice warm day when we were working with them.    I love them, but–excuse my French–these little pals are meaner than s*!t!  If you come see me in the summer, you’d better bring your Benedryl!!

Healthy Bees

The tarp had to be loose around the front of the hives because there are two openings that provide ventilation.  One is right at the top of the hive…just under the roof.  Warm, moist air inside the hive moves upward and it has to have a place to go.  If the ventilation hole is closed off or blocked, the moisture may result in icey cold drops of water falling on my bees.  No way are we going to allow that to happen!

In this last picture, you’ll see the tarp going down in the center.  I was worried about air getting underneath the tarp and pulling it up and possibly pulling my hives over.   Am I overthinking this wind?  Anyway, we used bungie cords to prevent the wind from getting under the tarp.

Wintering Bees 1

If this is all fallen over in the morning, I will be so upset. Stop by tomorrow and I’ll let you know how this worked.

Thank you for reading RiverCliff Cottage. If you’ve never commented, hunt around the bottom of this post and please leave me a comment. When you visit the blog, I can see where you come from but not who you are. For instance, someone in Washington State visits several times per month. I’d love to hear from them…you…anyone! Thank you!!


Honeybees and a Harsh Virginia Winter

If you’re reading this from Virginia on January 6, 2014, you are joining me on the coldest day we’ve had in many, many years.   We have a low predicted tonight in Southwest Virginia ranging from -1 to 4 degrees.   My cats step outside, shiver and run right back inside.  While they don’t normally use “indoor facilities”, they are pleased to have that option today.

What about the honeybees?   This Artic blast of winter is not typical for Virginia.  While my honeybees have a wind barrier from the barn and they get morning sunshine, this only gives them so much protection.   Someone asked me if I could move them to the barn.  Nope, the hives are a stacked arrangement and must stay in one place.  However, yesterday, Gerald and I decided that we had to do something to give additional protection and insulation.   So…we wrapped the hives in bubblewrap left over from holiday mail shipments.  Merry Christmas honeybees! Necessity is the mother of invention.

We left the opening (it’s only about 1/2 inch opening) for their coming and going and to get air inside the hive, but the remaining exterior is wrapped in bubble wrap taped into place with duct table.   It looks a little strange…

Beehive Winterized in Bubble Wrap

The white part of the hive you see in the picture is completely covered in bubble wrap. The trash bag is on top of the hive and taped across the bubble wrap. If it rains, the trashbag provides a “tent” of protection so water doesn’t get down under the bubblewrap. Genius. I know.

Bee Hive 2

And notice the top of the hive. What is that you may ask? The Artic blast is bringing wind gusts which could tear apart the whole bubble wrap/trash bag protection system, so for additional protection, there is one heavy bag of mulch on each hive — which also provides additional insultation to keep heat inside the hive. I might just become an architect!

We’ll leave this on for the next few day until temperatures return to normal winter temperatures.

Onto other things…check out the beautiful winterberries in my backyard. It’s so nice to have color in the landscape during this time of year.

Winterberry By the Fence

And a few for the table.

Red Berries in Winter

Stay warm!!


Mendota Virginia Honeybees in December

Everyone always asks about my honeybees.  “How are they?’    I’ve asked the bees the same question, and they never reply.  They are too busy stalking me.    Today, I went to my small apiary to check on them.  When the recent temperatures moved into the “teens”, I have worried  about them.  “Are they clustering properly?”  “Will they have enough honey if the winter is long?”   “Is the queen alive?”

Today’s temperature was 70 degrees, and one would think I’d feel relieved when I visit them, but I’m not.  This 70-degree weather could be confusing for them.  They might leave the hives and not get back.  They might cluster improperly and when it gets cold, and it’s suppose to be back in the teens near Christmas Day, will they keep the queen warm?   If  the queen dies, the bees will die.   I do not want my bees to die.   

The mean babies in what I call the “Left Hive”….

Honeybees December 2013

And the even meaner babies in the “Right Hive.” This hive seemed agitated today.

Honeybees December 2013 2

If you look closely at the picture above, you’ll see some wood in the photo. Here’s an even closer look below, and there’s Neth and EJ sawing wood.   These boys are all muscle–they are working hard!   They have their coats lying in the grass.  No coat is necessary when it’s 70 degrees and you’re sawing wood.

Woodpile December 2013

This is wood that will be used in the 2014-15 season. This means we’ll go into summer with all of the wood we’ll need in the winter.  However, this seems a little weird because all of this is taking place on Winter’s Solstice 2013.      Living the simple life takes planning!


Treating the Bees for Mites and Washing The Fence

Two things happened in the last day or two that made me feel good.

The first thing is that Gerald, with me helping, opened the hives to see how much honey was inside, how the bees were doing and to treat for mites — varroa destructor is an external parasitic mite. Little bloodsuckers. I hate them. We’ve never treated our bees in the past, as we’d hoped that the hive would be healthy enough to sustain, but after losing all of our bees, we’re not taking any chances.

We got a nice surprise when opening up the hives..”Argh” Gerald said as he picked up the heavy super. It was heavy with honey. A good thing.

Full Super

See the super (box of frames) in the upper part of the picture below? We installed that on top of the hive so the bees have more space for their honey. These bees will have plenty to eat and no mites. Hope!! Last year we were told that the fall honey flow was not a good one. We’re hoping this doesn’t repeat. At any rate, I’ll continue feeding these bees through October to ensure there is adequate food for them in the winter. We want to give them every opportunity to survive and succeed during the winter months.

>Super in Process

So at least for now, we’re beekeepers again. Mike took this picture of Gerald and me before he high tailed it away from the bee enclosure. He’s afraid of bees. Lots of people are. I don’t blame them. One stung me last week for the first time in 18 months. It hurt for about 36 hours.

Beekeepers Again!

My second good thing involved mostly work with quick results. Concurrent with our bee activities, I scrubbed the white vinyl fence around our backyard. Many of us dream of a little yellow house with a white picket fence. I did anyway. No one told me about the mildew. See the green on the “pickets”?

Fence Before 2

More green in this next picture…it was actually worse in many places. This isn’t as bad as some years.

Fence Before 1

I took a Windex bottle that was made for attaching a hose and spraying windows. However, instead of window cleaner, I put a half bleach/half water solution in the bottle and sprayed the fence. And I rubbed on it with a sponge in the really dirty spots. It doesn’t seen to harm the plants.

Here’s how it looked after this process…

Fence After 1

Woohoo…I think that painted fencing is prettier than vinyl fencing, but when it comes to keeping them up, the vinyl wins. Just some elbow grease and bleach, and it looks very nice.

Fence After 2

I slapped our marigolds from our JSB Horticulture Class in the dirt early in the spring…I almost gave these away. I’m glad I didn’t because they look so cheerful.

Marigolds 1

So..there’s some Rudbeckia my sister, Pat, gave me a few years back, some marigolds and a Cala Lilly my sister, Nancy, gave me. My sister garden. All kind of wild looking.

Marigold Row

I’m going to work tomorrow and then be back at my Little Bathroom Project with the “Eternity” paint that is taking me an eternity to finish. I’ve still got the commode wrapped up like a giant tomato in red Saran Wrap.

Painting Behind the Commode


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.


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