Sunday, February 27, 2011

Bee Removal Phase 2: The Smell of Honey and Death

Yesterday (Saturday), it was misting heavily when I would like to have begun the nest box cleanup, and, under those circumstances, just handling the plastic covered steel cable that runs through a block and tackle to raise and lower the box would have been a challenge. Also, I’d’ve either had to stifle in a rain suit, or be soaked during the time it would take to get the box down and begin the cleanup. So, cleaning didn’t start until this (Sunday) afternoon. As you may gather from the photos below, this won’t be a quick cleanup job. Unfortunately, time is of the essence, so I have to find some way to get it all done very soon.

Since it died in 2009 from the combined effects of the 2008 and 2009 droughts, the nest box tree has been falling apart more and more with every set of strong winds that move through the area. That didn’t get underway until the wood had had a chance to dry out and become brittle, which fortunately didn’t occur until after the 2010 nesting season, but it did begin occurring shortly after the bees had moved into the owl box in the Spring of 2010. Unfortunately, the work of cutting away major broken limbs could, it seemed to me, run the risk of provoking the bees, so I hadn’t attempted to remove any of the mess until now. Just cutting away enough of the broken limbs to clear the patches of ground beneath the tree where I needed to work was a major undertaking, so most of this mess remains as you see it above, prior to the start of today’s work.

The nest box on the ground and opened. The bees’ combs nearly fill the entire interior, and the layer of black material on the floor of the box is composed entirely of dead bees. The smell was strong and vile – a combination, I presume, of the cloying scent of a large amount of raw honey, and the odor of hundreds of dead bees. I had hoped that I could accomplish the removal of the combs with hand tools, starting with a small pruning saw to sever their connections to the ceiling. Unfortunately, they were well connected to the back wall, too, and that meant hand removal. For some reason, I'd expected the combs to be stiff, but, in fact, they turned out to be flexible, soggy, heavy, dripping with honey, and, of course, reeking with that smell I found so vile. That olfactory and tactile combination made for repugnant work. Just to make the experience perfect, the removal distributed honey throughout the interior of the box, adding an extra dimension to the mess I still have to clean-up.

The front wall of the nest box, which is also the fold-down access door. It’s never been that color before. Beeswax, I presume.

The nest box interior after the initial comb removal. Observe that there’s still plenty of comb to remove where it attached to the ceiling (not directly visible, but the cut-off comb hanging from it can be seen in the shadows). The back wall also needs a good bit of attention. So, the honey running down the back wall is only the first of the cleanup problems I have to tackle there.

Comb remnants and honey on the aluminum walls, infrared illuminators, and glass window of the side camera compartment. Unfortunately, I can’t just hose it off as a first step in cleaning, because the compartment’s inner wall isn’t water tight. (It only needed to keep out owls and bugs, not rain, and letting its interior breathe a bit is, ordinarily, a good thing.)

The interior’s left wall with the thermometer and experimental perch. The comb hadn’t yet been built into this area, so it is less affected than most of the interior. All the same, it’s a mess, too. Fortunately, it can be hosed down.


  1. that shot of huge combs dangling in there is ***astounding***. I've only ever met well-behaved tame combs built in frames. So sorry about the gross work and dead sticky business. Those owls had better appreciate this...we certainly do...

  2. FYI, as of this moment, I’ve disassembled the nest box into its major components: (1) the fame, which includes the back wall visible in the photos, (2) the fold-down front with infrared entryway sensor assembly, (3) the side compartment with thermometer and perch, (4) the side camera compartment, and (5) the roof, which includes the ceiling-camera assembly. So far, components 1, 2 and 3 have been thoroughly cleaned and are drying (the Beeswax is a permanent part of the wood now, which may attract hives in the future, but there’s nothing to be done about that). The roof component didn’t need cleaning, because the glass window, which separates its camera and infrared illuminators from the interior of the nest box proper, kept the bees out. However, that window was the attachment point for most of the combs, so cleaning it took quite a bit of work, but that’s done and drying, too. (Careful handling, hot water, dish soap, a putty knife, and especially a Scotch-Brite Heavy Duty Scour Pad, were the keys to making that window immaculate again.) That only leaves the most complex component to be dealt with: the side camera compartment. Cleaning that is going to take some further disassembly and careful work around the embedded electronics. But that cleaning, and reassembling everything, is all that remains to be done.

  3. whew. I'm amazed that the window came unwaxed w/o solvent of some sort. Weird dreams tonight, huh.

  4. Lesson Learned: Don't clean glass with a Scotch-Brite Heavy Duty Scour Pad. While the pad did a great job of getting every last trace of bee comb off of the ceiling camera compartment window, it also scratched the glass. (No wonder it was so effective.) I didn't notice that my “immaculate” window was scratched until I used the same cleaning technique on the window of the side camera compartment. Something about the lighting where I worked on the side camera compartment cleanup was different, and it made the scratches apparent. I went back and checked the window for the ceiling camera compartment and found that when the light hit it just right, a host of scratches were apparent on it, too. So, don't clean glass with a Scotch-Brite Heavy Duty Scour Pad, or you’ll regret it, just like me.

  5. Alison in Indiana8:26 PM CST

    As I read this, I was thinking that the glass is no match for the scouring pad.
    We appreciate your efforts greatly.