The Week of Mice

Sunday 11th. Adam had a demo for how to prepare your bees for the winter today, during one of the Eastern CT Bee Association meetings. However, I was not there. This year, he had to have the demo at a site in Woodstock CT. This was over an hour away. There was also something going on at the twins' school that they really wanted to go to - Discovery Fair - at about the same time. So in the end I decided it wasn't going to happen, I was not going to get to go to the bee demo.

In any case, I had been to the one last year at this time, and so I had a good idea of what he was going to say: now's the time of year to 1) treat your hives for mites with Apivar (miticide), and 2) feed with sugar syrup as often as you can, so that by the time winter comes, they have enough reserves stored up so they can make it through the winter. Last year he showed us how to put Apivar strips in each hive box, and explained that you only do this when the honey you are harvesting has been removed. It stays in for 42 days. Then you have to go back and take them out.

Monday 12th. Went to feed the bees with sugar syrup today. Only Hives 3 and 4 got any, though. Hive 2 still had honey in the honey supers, and Hive 6 seemed to be laying down foundation in their honey super. (Hives 1 and 5 are no more). According to Adam, you should not feed bees sugar syrup when they are storing honey in the honey supers because all you will get is sugar syrup in the cells instead of honey when you try to extract the honey. Unfortunately, I didn't think to order more Apivar strips, so I'm going to be a bit late getting those in.

I took a look at Hive 1 (the one overtaken by wasps). I thought at first bees had moved back into the hive, but when I looked inside, it was not the case. Wasps still lived in it and bees were just going in and taking whatever they wanted. What to do about this hive, I don't know.

 Wasps hanging out on Hive 1.

Wasps hanging out on Hive 1.

 Hive 2 has two honey supers, full of honey.

Hive 2 has two honey supers, full of honey.

If I remember correctly, Hive 2 had filled up it's honey supers all the way back in June/July, but I got so busy with the vegetable farm I kept putting off taking them off for extraction. Norman had ordered the honey extractor, but I was a little unsure about how to get the bees out of the honey supers. I had finally put in an order for a fume board and bee repellent with Dadant, but a week later and it hadn't yet arrived. As I explained in a previous post, you are supposed to spray the felt pad on the inside of the board (shaped like a lid) with the repellent, and then place it on top of the super (after removing the hive lids), and the bees are supposed to kindly move down into the main part of the hive, leaving you free to remove the now bee-free super. If it arrives this week, perhaps we could try extracting honey by Sunday.

At one point, I grabbed one of the concrete blocks that had been a stand for the hive that died and I had removed last week, to use somewhere else. But when I removed it, I noticed some fuzzy stuff tucked in one of the holes of the cinder blocks it had been sitting on. "Oh, there's a mouse nest in there, I thought" and then, "Oh, there are some eyes... and in fact, looks like there's a mouse, looking up at me with a worried expression..." whereupon I replaced the block. Didn't want to disturb the poor thing.

Tuesday 13th. The previous day, I made twice as much sugar syrup as I usually do because I thought I had four hives to fill, forgetting that two of them had honey supers and I wasn't going to be filling them. So I left the plastic watering can I use for pouring sugar syrup almost full of sugar syrup in the garage, as I usually do. So it was kind of a shock when I happened to glance in there today and saw a dark, mouse-like shape, floating in the syrup, quite dead and quite stiff. Yuck!

Wednesday 14th. More mice troubles. The twins and I were just getting into the car to go to dance class after school when Alex (amazingly) spotted something under the car. Two baby mice! They were still blind, pink and wriggly. Where on earth did they come from??? Inside the car? We peered under the car to see if we could figure out where, but it just looked like the underside of a car. Not knowing what to do with them, we put them in a critter cage with tissue, and drove off. I wondered if they were babies left behind by the mouse that drowned in the sugar syrup. But if that were the case, how could they still be alive? She died more than 24 hours before!

When we got back they were still alive. Two, very cute, wriggly babies. What to do?? Norman wondered what the problem was. Get rid of them! But I knew we were in trouble when Alex and Desta informed me of the babies' names: the bigger one, they told me, was named Patch, while the little one was Whisky. Sigh.

So I looked up on the internet how to care for baby mice. From the pictures it looked like they were about 4 days old. Someone on the internet gave very detailed instructions on how to care for baby mice, which I tried to follow as closely as I could. However, she recommended that it would improve their odds of survival considerably if you found a surrogate mouse that has babies of the same age, such as at a pet store. So until I could make it to a pet store, I fed them round the clock with an eye dropper, with some help from Desta and Alex, and kept them in the critter cage on a towel placed on a heat mat set on the lowest setting, in my closet, with the door closed (we have cats!).

Thursday 15th. I was rather busy with other things the following day, and was unable to feed the babies for about 3 hours in the morning, and when I got back to them, the littlest one, "Whisky", looked rather grey. I fed the larger one, then tried to feed the smaller one, but it died in my hands :-( So we were down to one. Off to the pet store I went, hoping against hope they had a mother with babies I could foist this little one off on. No, they hadn't. Hmm. Then I remembered the mouse with a nest in the cinder blocks back at my bee hives. I drove back there.

 Mouse nest in the cinder blocks Hive 5 used to rest on.

Mouse nest in the cinder blocks Hive 5 used to rest on.

 Closer view of nest.

Closer view of nest.

I went to the bees to check the nest to see if the mother was there. The article I read said you had to insert orphaned babies while the foster mother was away from the nest so she didn't get nervous that someone was messing with her babies. A nervous mother is likely to abandon her babies. Then I would have even more abandoned baby mice on my hands! You were also supposed to rub the babies you were inserting with some of the nest. She could kill the newcomer if she didn't recognize them as her's. So I removed the top cinder block and looked. This time, no mother mouse looking back at me. Ah ha! Then I tried using my hive tool to work the nest open. Didn't work. It seemed to be very well woven and not very easy to make an opening without it being really obvious. Things were moving around in there. Were these the baby mice, or was the mother actually inside too? I got too nervous and couldn't go through with it. I put the block back and left. No foster mother for my mouse. Sigh.

Then when I pulled out of the driveway to go and pick up the twins from school, I thought, "Oh, I should have checked under the car first! What if there are more babies that dropped out?" Sure enough, when I looked back at the garage floor where the car had been, there was something small and wriggling. Oh no, not another one? I went and checked and sure enough, another baby mouse! While driving off I had this image of baby mice falling out of the car while I drove along! What a thought!

When I picked up the girls, I told them, "I've got some good news and some bad news. One of the babies died. But then we got another one!" Desta bawled all the way home.

But baby #3 (given the name Whisky again since Whisky was the name of the one that had died, apparently) didn't last long. We were feeding it, and Alex was holding him, when he suddenly went grey and limp. Nothing I could do would bring him back. Whisky #2 was dead too.  There were lots of tears.

Friday 16th. By morning I was really beginning to wonder how I was going to survive 2 weeks of this. The article said they can be weaned by 3 weeks or so. I still had Patch to feed every 1-2 hours. He seemed to be going strong, though I got an idea of what might have killed Whisky #2. I had to place this huge eye dropper with watered down kitten formula up against his mouth, whereupon he would start to lap it up. But there was not much distance between his mouth and his nose, and he had a habit of butting his head against the dropper (which works great for milk let down on a mother mouse, I am sure), so quite often the milk got on his tiny nose and went up his nostrils. If this happened, he started to fade quite rapidly, and I would panic, blotting his nose with a tissue, and (if truth must be told) suck at his nose with my lips. This seemed to do the trick. But I would get really nervous now whenever I held the dropper up to his mouth. Then I would check that I could see a band of milk through his thin skin on his belly, to see if he had drunk enough. Unfortunately, though, when you care for a baby this intensely, you start to get attached.

 Patch, the baby mouse.

Patch, the baby mouse.

 This is how I had to hold him to feed him.

This is how I had to hold him to feed him.

On Friday, I managed to feed him every hour or so, despite setting things up for the CSA. But the problem came at night. I fed him at 12:00 midnight (Norman had moved to another room throughout all this), then at 2 the timer went off, but by the time I crawled out of bed, feeling like a wreck, it was 2:30 am. I opened up the critter cage and he was dead. Did I leave him too long between feedings? Or was it something else? I will never know. I felt very sad, but I also felt a HUGE relief, I have to say. This had just been too much. 

Saturday 17th. The bee repellent stuff did finally arrive, so I guess we will be extracting honey this weekend.