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A Big Dilemma
By: Ed Colby

Cats are a dime a dozen, until you need one.

Mice rule the barn where I store my honey supers. They like to defecate on the top bars and eat the comb. I mean eat the entire comb, wax and all, leaving just the wooden frame.

I put out poison, until my gal Marilyn piqued my conscience, convincing me that the killing doesn’t stop with the mice – it moves up through the predator food chain.

Mickey and Minnie laughed at my multi-mouse traps. Why would they be tempted, when there was honey stacked to the ceiling, free for the taking?

I like cats. Their diabolical inclinations don’t faze me. That’s Nature’s way. But I don’t like it that they kill songbirds.

Meanwhile, the mice not only destroy comb – they eat the stored surplus honey that I sometimes need to feed my bees.  Honey bees keep a better and cleaner house than I do, so those mouse droppings vanish off the top bars once a super goes onto a hive, but don’t tell that to the health department, OK?

This cannot continue. Why not find a lively cat or two, introduce them to the barn, provide food and water, and start counting mouse tails? That’s the one part they don’t eat.

But try to find a barn cat! The shelters all want background checks – yours, not the cat’s – and assurances that you’ll love and cherish your little adoptee. Of course they also want money. I just want a mean mouse-killing machine, preferably a free one. When a coyote or fox finally evens the cosmic score, I intend to replace said cat with another one just like it. I’m sorry about the birds.

If you belong to the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), this is pure savagery. If you’re a farmer, it makes perfect sense.

Now watch the plot thicken. My gal Marilyn owns an ancient, half-remodeled house in town – a diamond in the rough, if there ever was one. She has the biggest heart. Her hard-luck tenant John-John lives there rent-free, in exchange for dog-sitting and a little remodel help.

The cat lady lives across the street. She feeds about 17 feral felines. So Marilyn and the cat lady both take care of the needy. Those two do-gooders don’t normally speak to each other, however. The cat lady confines her communications to police reports filed against John-John’s dogs.

But her cats are no angels, either. They find ways into Marilyn’s basement to commit cat obscenities. The stench stops you in your tracks.

You see where I’m headed. Marilyn insists she’s within her rights trapping a feral cat fouling her basement. She’d have to do it on the sly, but she’s sick of the little trespassers.

This could solve my mouse problem. You can look at this two ways. It’s the sneaky part I don’t like. Is it even right? I’m not sure I can go through with it. I’m inclined to go back to the feed store and buy another five-dollar block of Bar Bait poison for my mice. Unless you have an extra barn cat . . .

It’s early December as I write. Our western Colorado bees should be clustered up all cozy for the holidays. The mercury hit the 70s in October while we were on vacation. In November it got downright Arctic for a couple of weeks. Now it’s blue skies with highs in the 40s and even 50s. Bees fly every day. Queens continue to lay. Some colonies powered through their winter honey stores. In a way, the warmth is a blessing, because I’ve been able get gallons and gallons of sugar syrup down them. This fall I got behind on feeding, and then I got pinched by the November cold snap and return to work on the ski patrol.

I had priorities. First I tackled my bees headed for the almonds. In bleak November, Paul hauled my 40 California-bound colonies to his holding yard, along with hundreds of his own hives. I still wasn’t finished feeding. I drove down to the holding yard bundled up like Santa Claus madly sticking honey frames into hives, before the big trucks came and hauled them away.

That done, I focused my attention on my stay-at-home colonies. Thankfully the weather broke. For a time, I couldn’t get some bees – especially Carniolans —  to take their syrup. Did I mix it too thick? But the Italians were insatiable. Hives that wouldn’t eat their syrup got an extra super of stored honey from the barn that the mice didn’t devour.

I never dreamed I’d be doing this in December. I’m open-feeding pollen supplement powder, and the brood looks well-nourished. In December! This is so unnatural, in my mind so wrong. Do the bees think it’s spring? What impact does all this artificial stimulation have on the production of fat winter bees biologically engineered to live through the long winter? Have I thrown off my little darlings’ biological clocks?

I don’t know. I do know that in this imperfect world you do what you have to. And I’m still looking for a cat.