Bad-ant advice and the ascension of bees

You have no idea how terrible I feel about the following turn of events. I feel remorse. I feel guilt. I feel like I should buy the guy a new package of bees. At the same time, I don’t think I was wrong; I gave him solid, well-reasoned advice. Still, the entire incident is heart wrenching.

It all started with this e-mail:

I’m a new beekeeper and I installed my 1st package last weekend. By Sunday morning there were ants walking on the outside of the hive and ants inside the hive walking around my container of sugar water. Should I try and control the ants or leave them alone and hope that the bees can control the ants? I sprayed soapy water on the ants (but avoided spraying bees), which killed them. Is that enough? Or should I place those small metal containers with ant bait around the base of my beehive?

I hate ants but I answered with equanimity:

Don’t do anything more for now. The bees are just getting accustomed to their new home. As they start building their nest and “taking ownership” of the hive, they will take care of the ants. Ants and bees are very closely related, both in the order Hymenoptera. Anything that kills ants will kill bees, so it is best to not use ant bait. The bees probably wouldn’t go for the bait, but if any gets in the hive it could do some damage.

The killer wrap-up came a few days later:

Thank you for replying. My bees ascended last Saturday around 12 noon, 7 days after their installation. There were a lot of ants in the now empty hive. I’ll try again next year after I figure out a plan to keep out ants. (The package cost $99.)

No way! His bees absconded! I was mortified. Still, in my heart of hearts, I don’t think it was related to ants. I tried to get more information from him but, so far, I haven’t heard back. My guess is that he installed his new package on brand-spanking-new equipment, did not use foundation or drawn comb, and then released the queen before any comb was built. The colony—not finding any delicious used-comb odors—decided to sample the market. Sure enough, they found something they liked better and were off. It happens. I’ve had it happen more than once.

Bees may abscond because of excessive heat, noise, strange odors or just because they feel like it. It’s hard to assign a reason but a well-fed package with a strong young queen has lots of options. In my own experience I have found that new wood, especially with no foundation, is a crap shoot—maybe they will hang around and maybe they won’t. After learning the hard way, I always advise people who are starting on new wood to keep the queen tied up until you see comb. Like us, bees hate to walk away from a down payment.

By the way, I don’t know if he made a typo when he wrote “ascended” instead of “absconded” or if he is a literary genius. But I have never encountered such a poetic allusion to bees on the run. I imagine them at high noon arising from the hive in a slow spiral, circling up through the trees, up past the clouds, up through the blue, up, up until they mingle, glistening and shimmering among the stars and indistinguishable from them. Magic and melancholy all rolled into one.

In any case, I can’t think of anything so discouraging as losing a new package, especially when it’s your first and your only. I wish I could say something consoling and reassuring. I wish I could issue a recall to his bees. Instead I feel like I led a lamb to the slaughter. So what do you think? Did the ants do it?

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

Comments

Kristin Okerholm on Facebook
Reply

My first package absconded. No ants, but it was a brand new hive with no drawn comb. I think your advice was spot on.

Tom
Reply

Advise him to set the legs of the hive stand in some oil next year.

Heidi
Reply

I agree with your assessment and enjoyed reading your “ascended image” – the bees could have left for a number of reasons. If the bees were interested in staying, I would think they would have protected their new home and done away with the ants. Loosing a hive is always a sad and disheartening moment.

Sam
Reply

Bees abscond sometimes, like you said. I remember hearing somewhere the ratio of packages and abscontions some people experience, this in part might be why folks around here sell nucs instead of packages, several problems with nucs as well but that exceeds the scope of this comment :)

Vicki
Reply

I wonder if the soapy water ended up in contact with the bees . . .

Carol
Reply

I’m currently duking it out with ants, too! Here’s what I’m doing:

• When replacing feeder jars (I use an enclosed feeder board) invert the jar over a bowl until it stops dripping. Place it carefully into the cut out circle in the feeder board.If there are ANY drips anywhere (inside on the board or on the outside of the hive) wipe them up immediately with a wet sponge and rinse the sponge in a bucket of water. Do not drip any syrup on the ground around the hive.

• When your jars have been replaced and all syrup drips cleaned up, sprinkle the surrounding area of the feeder board with ground cinnamon, right up to the edges of the board. Put your empty super on your board making sure you place it on the sprinkled cinnamon edges. Put on your inner cover and sprinkle more cinnamon on the top. Put your t-cover on and weight it down.

• Sprinkle more cinnamon all around the base of the hive, on the corners of the bottom entrance, and all over nail boards and cinder blocks (if using).

• After every rain all the exterior cinnamon has to be re-sprinkled. It’s very labor intensive but as soon as it stops raining I am going to get my three hives up on legs which will stand in a container of oil.

Needless to say … I HATE ANTS!

Peter
Reply

Not sure I agree … there is not really enough information to tell. It depends on what size these ants were. Based on what I see here, if they were large black ants then the bees did not abscond, they were all taken away by the ants. Ants can totally clear a colony in two days, especially if it is just starting. If you see the ants early then a very small amount of ant powder on the ant column (by the hive legs) will stop the problem in about ten minutes. If the ants are more established then you have to take the ants out of the hive which really is a challenge when the colony is not yet established and there is only one hive body available …..

Herb
Reply

One thing you can do to help prevent the newly installed bees from leaving …is to place a queen guard on the front of the hive for about a week…then remove the guard after the bees have started building out the foundation.

Thom
Reply

Here in Belize we have army ants and they will clear out a hive very quickly. We build special stands and keep the weeds away from the hive, but still can loose hives because they build ladders or bridges.

Valentin
Reply

Hello,

Here in Venezuela we built a hive stand over a couple of car wheels. The vertical pole welded to the wheel on top has a horizontal crossbar that holds two longerons on which the hives are located. The vertical post about midway has welded all around a metal container which we fill with burn out oil from engines. I should mention the car wheels are in horizontal position, not vertical as they are in a car.

Beverly
Reply

When I have had an infestation of ants in my bottom board and/or around my hive base, I put cinnamon, and while it doesn’t bother the bees, it gets rid of the ants every time. I keep the Costco size containers of the stuff on hand and just sprinkle very liberally after clearing away what ants I can. (When it comes to ascension , that is an understatement if I am blessed, so to speak, by a swarm……they ascend 100+ feet up into an oak tree near the hives where there is no hope for salvation before they go on to their new abode.)

I’m telling you, bless-ed be thy cinnamon !

John
Reply

Like you say Rusty, a lot of unanswered questions although my sympathy goes out to this first time bee keeper. I hope he/she does not give up.

I lost my first hive in late January here in N. Illinois. Was so disheartened, I neglected to clean out the hive until just before installing 2 new packages (decided to double down). The neglected hive was infested with numerous large black ants doing their best to ‘rob’ the remaining honey from the comb. I cleaned them out as best I could and re-installed. Ants are in evidence (exterior to the brood box) but in nowhere near the previous numbers.

I did put Miller type feeders on top of my newly installed packages as well as providing them with some drawn comb, much of it with stored honey.

I very seriously doubt that ants alone were responsible for either ascending or absconding. Just my 2 cents from my very limited experience.

Hang in there all,
John

Brad
Reply

I started 4 hives last year on new woodenware / plasticell frames just sprayed with sugar water on install… no problems, but I didn’t have ants. Can’t you use vegetable oil in tuna cans for four legs of a hive stand to keep the ants out?

Brad

Tom
Reply

Hi Rusty,

It may depend on where you live. Here in dry Monterey, CA we have the little Argentine ants, which if left unchecked, will drive even an established hive off to new quarters in 2-4 weeks. They love sugar and once they have a chemical train into the hive it is all over unless you stop them. I’ve lost 3 hives by not controlling the ants, two the first year when I didn’t know any better. It’s a running battle though.

To stop the ants, I’ve tried tanglefoot (works OK on thin metal table legs, but still kills bees who seem to think it looks good). I’ve tried bowls of water with flower pots in the middle to create a moat and drowned hundreds of bees over a summer. I’ve since seen a better design that keeps most of the bees out of the water. Currently I use borate in sugar solution (Terro or Aptiguard) and put it in covered cottage cheese containers with small holes near the bottom to let the ants in and keep the bees out. I used to put it out more in the open until this spring when I accidentally killed a few hundred bees and the queen in a hive when the ants didn’t find the bait but the bees did. That queen seemed to be my most resistant to Varroa mites and so I really regret the loss.

Cheers and thanks for all the great information.

Alia
Reply

Regarding the ants, you can build an ant bait dispenser that excludes bees while feeding the ants delicious poison. Take a plastic jar/tub and drill 1/8″ holes around the top. Put in something the ants can use as a ramp down to the bait, like styrofoam peanuts or dry grass. Fill the jar about 1/3 of the way with boric acid ant bait. (The bait I use is 2 tsp boric acid, 1 cup sugar, 2 cups water to make a 1% boric acid bait. The max ants accept is 2%, and 0.5% can also be effective. If they ignore it, you can always add a little of the honey they’re used to…)

Scott
Reply

Rusty: I think your advice was sound……better to be safe than poison……and concerning their swarming, there are so many variables, and things that could have played a roll in that, that it would be futile to even try and guess without more info. He likely did something erroneous, not knowing any better, and they decided to take their chances in the woods instead.

I would call him and have a fact finding, and if the reason can be revealed and was simply a newbie error, I’d get him straightened out, then offer to sell him a small nuc, complete with bees, laying queen and brood. Allowing him to linger in failure, depression and hopelessness for a whole season, is counter-productive to our greater cause and devastatingly heartbreaking. I’d find a way to get him up-n-runnin’ asap regardless. It’s an effort for the craft and for the bees/environment……fulfilling a greater need, at a higher level…. We will need all the beekeepers we can muster for support later…..helping him is like sowing another ”seed of hope”, and worth the effort. I believe that such efforts will be rewarded down-the-road…good Karma…. LOL

Kerry
Reply

Guard Star.

Cans of oil for the legs of the stand.

Ants will kill the queen. They know what she does.

Greg
Reply

Hi Rusty,

Being a new-bee to this quest, all I can add is a pun. If the bees “ascended” from the hive, and the ants left, would they have “descended?” I have recommended your site to three friends and they appreciate it also. Thanks.

Tricia
Reply

Poor Rusty and poor thwarted beekeeper. In the UK we buy bees as nucs – small colonies with brood and stores. Bees don’t like to desert their babies so I assume we’d be less likely for this to happen – but I think in the US buying as a package is more common. Can you buy nucs in the US? Or is he able to put his name down for a swarm? Perhaps if you have a blog follower who lives near him and who collects swarms, they may give him a swarm to salve your guilt?

Rusty
Reply

Yes, you can buy nucs here. Good idea, I’ll see if I can find someone down in his area. It would be good to get him up-n-runnin’, as Scott says.

Sarah
Reply

I had a piece of Styrofoam between my ventilated inner hive cover and the outer hive cover. In spring I opened the lid to see if they had eaten any of the fondant I had given them and ants were chewing tunnels through the Styrofoam. I took out the Styrofoam and the ants started POURING over the sides. They are not a big problem as of now. I really can’t imagine my bees leaving the hive because of them, though.

Scoobydobee
Reply

Too little information to determine anything. I can imagine how conflicted you are over that, tho, Rusty. You did the right thing – gave him the advice you thought best. If it was a mistake, those things happen. Sorry it happened with you somehow involved and mostly sorry you can’t get feedback. How else are we to learn?!

Pat
Reply

I’m a soon-to-be brand-new beekeeper – I pick up our two nucs next weekend. I’ve been planning this for two years now, but now that bee-time is so close, I’m fretting about everything, including this now. I wish we had some drawn comb or honey to give them, but maybe since they’re nucs, they will be less likely to abscond? I will have to investigate a queen guard for the entrance.

Rusty
Reply

Pat,

Yes, the chances of a nuc absconding is much less than a package. They have a home established on those few frames which they will guard, rather than an unfamiliar empty box. You will do fine.

LJ
Reply

It would be difficult at second-hand to discern whether either potential cause—ants or package bees—is related to the ‘ascension’. I, like you, am taken with this word, and have seen both of my hives ascend, and one of them descend (unswarm) this week. It is a mesmerizing sight, if you weren’t so worried about the neighbors!

Greendruid
Reply

I had a bad ant experience lately. I went to check on my new hive two days after I first installed it. I had received a six-frame nuc (no typo) from one of our senior co-operative members. When I checked it, the hive was covered with ants. I’m not sure what the species is called but it is by far the most prevalent species on our farm and on our island (Cape Breton). They are about 1/4” long, red on the front half and black on the back half. They always attack if you step near them.

They build large sand mounds in fields with grasses or blueberries growing nearby. They were not only covering the hive but were also building their own hive in the spaces between the bottom board legs and the tops of the concrete cinder blocks that the hive is resting on. There are four of these in place and every one was being used. I managed to kill hundreds of the ants every day for three days, morning and night and eventually thought up a plan to discourage them. I bought four dish-washing basins, placed one under each of the four cinder blocks, and filled each one half full of water. The remaining ants on the hive I killed or brushed off. The next day – no ants! I am confident that these aggressive ants would have taken over the hive without my intervention.

Rusty
Reply

Greendruid,

I wish you had taken a photo of the mounds. I have heard others from Canada complaining about “nasty red and black ants” but I’ve never heard about them moving in so close to beehives. I’ve seen huge ant mounds on McNeil Island in Washington State and I’m wondering if they are the same or similar. I’m not an ant person, so I don’t know much about them.

Good solution you came up with and I’m glad to hear it worked. So one more time I have been proven wrong about ants and beehives! I appreciate you (and others) setting me straight.

Greendruid
Reply

I’ll gladly take a picture but how can I post it? I don’t see a .jpg file manager on here. People here call them fire ants but everything I’ve read on fire ants says that they’re a southern US and southern hemisphere phenomenon. These ants actually point their stingers at you or rear up on their hind legs if you approach them slowly with your finger to kill them. I’ve never actually been stung by them but they can clamp on with their mandibles. I don’t react if they have a venom that they can inject from their mandibles.

As for dead bees with the water basins, I get anywhere from 0-4 a day. I usually check on the hive everyday and to me, it’s a lot better than the havoc that the ants were creating when the basins weren’t there. The oil is really just to quickly drown the ants I assume. Sooner or later, they drown in water too and it makes less of a mess. I’m going to drill some drain holes half-way up the basin too to make it so that there is no overspill when it rains. The more work the ants have to do to get to the hive, the less likely they’ll bother with it. If they have to climb up the outside of the basin, then halfway down, then swim across water, they’ll give up. My quandary was also that our co-operative is organic so I had to come up with an organic solution.

Rusty
Reply

Greendruid,

Sorry I forgot to give you my e-mail. You can send the pic to me: [email protected]

I like the idea of using water without the oil, just because oil is so messy. It sounds like it’s working. Killing ants it tricky business since ants are so closely related to honey bees. Things that kill ants, kill bees so you have to hone in on those differences in “lifestyle.”

Rusty

susan
Reply

When I tried the oil thing it turned out to be a horrible mess. Even with covers over the oil the bees got into it and drowned, then the rain got in and the bees were rotting and smelling. I have a birdbath with water and floats for them to land on, but they would rather drown in the oil and water that is covered. It all seems so complicated. I took the oil pans out from under the cement legs, along with rotting bees.

Pat
Reply

My hive stands have built-in moats for the legs. I fill them with water, not oil. They need to be topped up frequently in the heat, but I just keep a watering can nearby and fill them when I check on the bees. (My hives are in my backyard, so I’m out there pretty much every night.) Because I’m a softee and worry about every bee, I put screen cloth on the outer side of the moats so any bees that fall in can climb back out. I haven’t seen any ants, so it’s just preventive measures at this point.

susan
Reply

— I hear from a seasoned beekeeper here in PA that you can overwinter a nuc, just an idea . . .
— Thanks for the screen cloth idea, I just couldn’t keep the bees out of the water/oil.
— What does seem to be working is pouring a mixture of sugar water and borax on the ground of the hive, I sprayed it with water briefly to wash it into the ground and keep it in the soil with the ants but out of reach of the bees. Maybe risky . . .

Rusty
Reply

Yes, you can overwinter nucs. Tricky, but many people do it. Interesting idea with the sugar and borax. Let me know how it works.

susan
Reply

it seems that applying borax to the ground lasts as long as sprinkling cinnamon on the ground, until the rain washes it away :/ I think borax is more effective than cinnamon. If I don’t constantly put something out (cinnamon..) I have those tiny brown ants going in and out of the hive, mostly when I have an entrance feeder on. The bees don’t seem to care and I thought the bees would chase them out.

Diane
Reply

Cinnamon for the ants. Haven’t tried it but local beekeepers swear by it! Put some on crown board and around the legs. (Hive legs, not ant legs as that could take some time.)

Diana
Reply

I have been reading all your stories (first-time visitor) and forcing my husband to listen while I share (he loves that…)
He mentioned that you should have a camera crew following you. Your stories are hugely entertaining and written so well. Book!

Rusty
Reply

Thanks, Diana, I appreciate the compliment!

lucia
Reply

I totally agree, next time tell them to put pepper on the legs, it works.

Kim
Reply

I started two hives last year, and after a undependable June, discovered one of my queens had absconded. The workers left behind started several queen cells and requeened themselves within 3 weeks. I attributed it to “dearth” rather than the ants.

BUT I did find:
1) they don’t like cinnamon, but it doesn’t last long
2) oil in the moats kills bees, water doesn’t kill as many bees and is just as effective in deterring ants.
3) diatomaceous earth scattered on the ground under and around the hives and along the ant paths is highly destructive to the ants (like they are walking through/on/around ground glass).
4) once the hive builds up, they tend to defend themselves and chase the ants out.

Rusty
Reply

Kim,

Helpful ant observations. Thank you!

KaCe
Reply

My first visit. I came because I did a word search for “wordphile”. I’ve been on your site over an hour reading your well written posts. I’ve often thought I’d like to have one or two bee hives. I now know how much more work it is than I had thought. My aunt who had a large farm in Idaho had about 16-20 hives and I never saw them doing anything around their hives. I thought, if I find a “good” spot for a hive, I’d put it there and it would do fine. (I was naive.) Love your site. I’m bookmarking it!

Rusty
Reply

KaCe,

I don’t know when your aunt had bee hives, but in the old days (before 1986) you didn’t have to do much with honey bees. Since then many bee diseases and parasites have made their way to this country and made beekeeping much more difficult.

Marian
Reply

Have you tried tansy to repel those pesky ants that love to steal from your hives? Just break off a big handful of leaves from the plant and take it to your hives. Mine are up on cinder blocks. Simply vigorously rub the leaves all around your hive, leaving a trail of ground tansy in your wake. Sprinkle the leafy remains right on the high-traffic areas.

Works like a charm for me. Something in the tansy is quite an ant repellant!

– Marian a Maryland beekeeper

Rusty
Reply

Marian,

When you say “tansy” do you mean the herb, Tanacetum vulgare, or the weed, Jacobaea vulgaris (syn. Senecio jacobaea)?

Marian
Reply

Rusty,

Very good of you to ask for specifics as I was not aware of the confusion.

I mean the plant shown here:
http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=TAVU&photoID=tavu_001_avd.tif
It should be a page with info about Tanacetum vulgare

If in a happy place in the ground, it can spread like mint,
but our mower keeps it in check. Another bonus in our
area – the deer only nibble it — so it survives.

Smiles,
Marian

michaal
Reply

Hi, I’m in Australia where ants are a complete nightmare!! I tried tansy, garlic, pepper, oil in tins, nothing seemed to work! The oil in tins kept the ants away but killed some of my bees :-( I have since made a stand with little channels part way up for oil, with a wooden slab over the top with a sizable over hang so the bees can’t fly into it (its been there for months now with no bee deaths!) its 2m x 1m which gives the bees somewhere to land in front of the hive. Its all finished off with fake turf and it seems to be doing the trick!! I an battling against 5 types of ants here. Bees are so much more relaxed now. Great site you have here, keep up the good work!

Rusty
Reply

Michaal,

Would love to post a photo if you have one. Sounds interesting. If you want to, send it to me at: rusty[at]honeybeesuite[dot]com

Carol
Reply

I installed 2 packages of small cell honey bees on 3.13.13..One in a Langs one in a TBH. On the 18th I saw a couple dead red ants on the porch of the TBH…opened the observation window and saw lots of them running around. I managed to kill most of them with a wet paper towel.. I thought the bees were OK , they started bringing in more pollen..but they left the hive. Stayed in a tree just behind it for almost 4 days but couldn’t lure them into another hive…this is the second one I lost that I blame on Big Red Ants.

Rusty
Reply

Carol,

Thanks for your input. Since I wrote my original post about ants, I’ve heard dozens of similar stories. If you live in an area with aggressive ants, I now recommend you take preventative measures before you install the bees. It’s very sad to lose a new colony like that.

Carol
Reply

We had cups with Vaseline in them to keep the ants out…the big ants were able to bridge the gap and weed-eating and mowing had thrown a few blades of grass to help.

I’ve trimmed the cups and covers and put grease (wheel grease) in them…so far no ants.

Jerry
Reply

In our Mediterranean climate along the California coast, for the urban beekeeper, the Argentinian ants are a severe problem. They have too much garbage to feed on making for huge colonies. I mixed up 1% boric acid ant bait as 1:1 syrup for them. Our beeproof feeders are soda cans with the pull tab carefully positioned. The bait keeps them in check, and out of our kitchen too. We saw this season’s first ants around March 20. We’ve read that cinnamon discourages ants. So does wood ashes piled around the legs of the hive stands.

Carol
Reply

I have a woodstove….nice to know there is a good place to use the ashes…they go out tomorrow. Thanks.

Cheryl
Reply

I have been using the wood stove ashes for a few years and they work great to keep the ants off the feeder. The ants we have at the house (PA) are the little sugar ants. We do have 3 foot high mounds of those aggressive red/black ants near our cabin in NY, but haven’t moved hives up there yet.

Carol
Reply

I just put what I had around the legs of the hive stand. Hope that and the grease work.
Where in NY…my Dad is in a nursing home in Cooperstown and we visit every year.

Cheryl
Reply

I just used the ashes and they worked pretty well. Just dumped them around the legs of the stand. btw. Our place is Sanford, NY.

Judy Hinterlong
Reply

One of the beekeepers in our group makes a “box” on the ground around his beehives and fills it with diatomaceous earth. It kills ants and hive beetles that may fall to the ground, which interrupts their breeding cycle and kills them. The bees aren’t on the ground and are unhramed by it, and it doesn’t wash away or lose potency. He does rake it around once in awhile to keep the top surface from getting crusty. If you use non-food grade, be sure to wear a mask and eye protection, as the stuff goes airborn easily and can irritate your lungs and eyes. Lay it down gently so you don’t pouf it into your hive!

Russ
Reply

Thanks to all for all the good tips about ants. We have lots of wood stove ashes, so will try that for awhile.

Clif
Reply

I have carpenter ants here in Montana that like to attack bee hives. So I made a metal frame for my hives. The legs sit in small buckets of water with a float in it. The ants cannot get in and the bees have water near by. The float helps the bees that fall in a way to get out.

RA
Reply

Have lurked for sometime…. Had an ant problem last W/E and my little honeys appeared irritated… I was raised on a 640 acre farm and consider bees to bee the same as a 300 head heard of cattle. Animal husbandry 101. Recalled the solution to the same problem I had with hummingbird feeders. Feeders were suspended from coat hangers in cedars and the ands would contaminate the syrup inthe feeders by drowning.

A 1/2 inch wrap of grease solved the problem and cinnamon appeared to be a good stimulant when I tried that solution.. Ants were 1/4 in. little black ants. I live in the high desert of NW New Mexico. We have ants.. of all discriptions.

After the cinnamon trial I cut 2 pieces of cedar 1X4 a bit narrower than the base of the hive. A bead of grease about 1/4 inch deep was placed on the edges of the 1X4s… Worked like a moat on fire. Heavey axle grease doesn’t run. I may have to widen the thickness of the board if the invader increase in size bur this does work.

My experience is limited with bees but the nuc I got in Grande Junction on 5/11 is doing well. The door traffic (in and out) doubled or tripled after the irritants were removed…Hope this helps…

Sharon
Reply

I set up my first 2 hives using nucs about a month ago. After one week one hive was infested with ants. A complete marching trail in and out. I brushed them away and got online for a solution. Built a stand about 14″ off the ground with the 2 hives on it–sort of like a four legged table. Then I put each leg in a plastic container and put in used motor oil. And I sprinkled a generous dusting of cinnamon all around.

When I took off the telescoping cover, the ants had started to build a nest inside and had laid eggs! So I squished them all and wiped as many of the ants away as I could see. They left and have not returned. As an aside, I sprinkled cinnamon at the entrance to my garage where the ants were repeatedly building their forts. That took a week and the ants are all gone!

I fully intend to place future hives on similar stands with oil motes around the legs. Thus far, no bees have been sacrificed to the oil pool.
I am really enjoying exploring this incredibly informative site! Thank you!

Rusty
Reply

Sharon,

I never thought of putting cinnamon in the garage; I will try that. Every year in August I suddenly have thousands of ants coming out of a crack in the garage floor and marching up the storage shelves. Time to stock up on cinnamon.

Phillip
Reply

I’ll have to try the diatomaceous earth trick. (I would need buckets of cinnamon to surround my hives.) I’ll report back with the results.

At the moment, I have tiny black ants crawling all over the outside of a large hive and all inside the honey supers. It’s been this way for a while. I think the colony is weak because it was queenless for the last three weeks (and the bees seemed to switch to honey-making mode in a big way).

Davilyn Eversz
Reply

Get Mote Ant Proof Bowls. I will post the link at the bottom. I live in the desert of California and it seems I have every single kind of ant there is; including fire ants. This is the only solution that has worked for me. There again, would only be cost effective for those with few hives and for those who put the hives on table type stands.

http://www.amazon.com/Ant-Free-Pet-Bowls-31-90/dp/B0057PMNGM/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1379006626&sr=8-2&keywords=ant+proof+dog+bowl

Sarah
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I am a new beek with a docile, calm feral colony I got from a swarm-catcher. The first day after I got the hive, I noticed an ant attack and yellowjackets. I hung yellowjacket pheromone traps, and they are catching 100s of the critters a day, and the colony seems well capable of keeping off the few yellowjackets that try to break in.

The ants, well, that has been an experience! First I tried cinnamon. Didn’t wor. Then I coated the paver bricks my hive was on with vaseline mixed with cinnamon. The Vaseline melted and the ants marched right over it. Then I put a circle of cornmeal around the hive and a tighter circle of diatomaceous earth (DE)… SUCCESS!

However, a lot of bees seemed to be on the ground struggling in the DE, possibly because the hive was only about 4 inches off the ground on a stack of 2 pavers. So, I built a hive stand with cinder blocks and 2x6s, and put the pavers on the 2x6s inside pie-tins full of vegetable oil. Then I moved the hive onto the stand. The hive is doing great there, but the oil-pans were FULL of dead bees within an hour. I’m so depressed! And the ants were back.

I think I will go back to the cornmeal and DE… with the hive now about 14 inches off the ground, I think few bees will hit the ground and die from the DE, and it sure does a great job with ants. I use it on my chickens too, to keep them mite and tick free, and on my bunnies, dog and chinchilla to keep them flea-free. Gotta use food-grade DE—NOT pool grade—on the pets. So the oil pans are a failure for me, too many dead bees.

Ike - Seattle, WA
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This is my second season as a beekeeper in the Seattle area. I have 3 apiaries and I have had to defend all 3 against the half red and half black ant called the thatching ant. They are difficult to predict. Sometimes the hive can withstand them, sometimes they will clean out the hive in a couple days. I find that a raised hive stand works well if you smear the stand legs with automotive grease. A 4-inch no mans land of grease is best. I use lithium yellow grease in the summer as it resists the heat. In the winter a less viscous black grease works better. I have had few problems at one apiary but now in November they are making a full on assault. In the past I tried buckets with vegetable oil but they eventually filled with bees. I had a single deep dual colony that I had to remove all the frames from to rid the box of ants. It was April and it was lucky that I noticed.

Rusty
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Ike,

Wow, I keep learning about ants. In all my beekeeping years in the coastal Pacific Northwest, I’ve never had an ant problem. Guess I’ve been lucky.

Andrew
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Borax soap and powdered sugar has worked quite well for me. Ant problems cured in East Texas.

Christopher
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I use Amdro ant bait spikes at the base of my hives. They’re gray plastic spikes with a gelatin based poison in the head. Ants love it, but I haven’t seen bees touch it. One spike in the ground next to the base, and I don’t have any more ant problems. Bees never even noticed it was there far as I can tell.

Dan
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I had a similar experience several years ago. After a lot of research, both asking other beekeepers and spending hours cruising the internet I found that ants do not like cinnamon. So now when I feed my bees I put a stick next to the feeder and I have not had a problem with ants since.

Derrick
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I think I just figured out what happened to one of my hives last summer. I did start out with all new equipment, and I was feeding with a top hive feeder. I did have lots of ants but nothing I thought was a worry. I thought the hive was really doing well. Then one day late last summer I went to open my hives and BAM! Just like that they were gone. Nothing left. No brood. No honey. No pollen stores. Nothing but empty comb. I wrote it off as ccd, but after further research I think they absconded.

Last year as a new beekeeper I purchased 2 nucs both 5 frame deeps. I hived them both in 10 frame deeps and thought I was off and running. The other hive (the one that didn’t leave) I had to requeen because of a really slow start, but after that I thought I was off to the races. I ended up putting another deep on top of both because they were doing an outstanding job drawing out comb and storing honey and pollen. Then just one day out of the blue one of my hives just vanished. What are anyone’s thought on this situation? Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance.

Derrick

Mark
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Thatcher Ants! Yikes, Tried just about every deterrent known, and they keep marching on. “One by One” The second year of dealing with them here on the north Oregon coast. Currently trying the grease trick on the base of a nuc which contains a prized queen. Hope it is not toxic to the bees as some seem to get into it and track it into the hive. The strong hives seem to be able to keep them at bay. Lost one weaker hive which absconded.

Ike - Seattle, WA
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I gave up on trying to coexist with the Thatcher ants. This spring they started getting into my sole winter surviving hive. I bought a Costco container of cinnamon but that didn’t help enough. I smeared the legs with a thick coating of black grease as it was still cold and the lithium grease was to viscous and the ants would walk across it. Neither grease worked enough to make me feel confident. The fresh grease would work for a week or two and then I would have fifty ants on the stand. Then I would add more grease and a week later they would have made it across the grease again. I might have tried tangle foot but by that time I had had it with the ants. I tried to bait the ants with a 2% boric acid sugar water solution. I am not sure if the bait might have killed the ants eventually. I finally located the hive and decided to pour a cup of bait on each week. After 3 weeks I think the hive died, moved on, or the farmer decided to kill poison them. It was about 20 yards from the hive. I still see the Thatcher ants around but the grease seems to help. However, I am not as confident about the grease anymore. Next time around I will give tangle foot a try. I have seen one carpenter ant on the hive recently. Somehow she made it up the greased legs .

Sarah
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Argentine ants were my problem. Tanglefoot coating the inside of a disposable pie plate, turned upside down on top of a hive leg, was the only solution that worked full time, all the time, with no downsides. Cinnamon didn’t work and blew away or needed reapplication after rain; diatomaceous earth worked great, but blew away, needed regular reapplication and killed bees; oil in cups caught/killed bees. Cornmeal on ant trails, around holes did seem to work temporarily, but another colony of ants would always show up. Boric acid traps worked, but introduced poison into the bee yard. Tanglefoot has been so successful for me I now use it on all my fruit trees, bird nets, etc. It is the ant-inator!

jinksto
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Like Dan above I use cinnamon to control ants. Unlike him I use ground cinnamon instead of sticks. I just buy the really cheap stuff on the spice aisle at the local dollar store (99 cents/bottle) and sprinkle a very heavy coat all over my hive stand and under the hives. It completely eliminates ants in the hives and isn’t poisonous. The bees don’t seem to mind it at all.

Steve
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My bee yard is on an organic blueberry farm in South Georgia.
So I do not use any chemical pesticides.
I have been attacked by the Florida carpenter ant .
These things are relentless. I feel that they were responsible
For the loss of at least 8 of 10 packages in 2012.
I didn’t get the packages until the first week of May so
I was feeding the packages corn syrup and water once a week.
I began to notice the ants on my hive stands nosing around doing what ants do.
I did not know the potential for damage they would bring.
In the next few weeks they began to raid the hives in greater and greater numbers.
Even being so bold as to take up residence between the inner and outer cover.
It was on then! I employed my propane torch and visited “anticide” (is that a word?) on whole colonies.
Eggs, larvae, pupae, young and old went the way of the dodo but I could not stop the invasion.
My hives declined one after the other until 8 were gone.
Watching the stages of decline leads me to believe the queen was killed by the ants.
I have no evidence to support that, but the queens were gone with the larvae and eggs before the workers eventually absconded.

Rusty
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Steve,

Eight of ten? That is brutal. I’ve been absolutely amazed at the number of ant problems beekeepers have had. Thanks for the warning about these—I’ve never even heard of the Florida carpenter ant.

Kathy O'Brien
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Hello – I just found this wonderful blog via a link on the website of Santa Barbara Beekeepers Association (a wonderful new group), and I think it must be serendipity that I did. You see, after 20 years of beekeeping, first out in the country and now in the city, I have decided to give up beekeeping (a ritual I go through in spring every five or six years). This year, however, I am dealing with the sixth year of having a ruptured disc in my lower back, as well as a husband who has two broken wrists to heal from. So my abilities to manage my hives are frustratingly and painfully very limited, and I have made the firm decision to this time follow through with my OWN absconding, and donate all my bees and equipment to a local non-profit bee group.

Then I found this blog and read your essay on “messing with bees,” and I knew exactly what you were saying. My husband doesn’t feel this sense of contentment from the work, and he quite honestly thinks I am just someone who likes to work too much and too hard—both on the hives and in the garden. He is ecstatic that I am finally giving it up, but I find myself dragging my feet. I will try having him read that particular essay and see if he can see how it speaks to me. However things work out, I will continue to be a part of beekeeping’s universal family—especially now that millions more people are on board than in 1994—and your blog will be a great part of it.

Many thanks,
Kathy O’Brien,
San Luis Obispo, California

Rusty
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Hi Kathy,

I have the opposite problem: every time I think of quitting, my husband (not a beekeeper) objects. The problem I have is time. Beekeeping is one thing, but beekeeping in addition to maintaining the site, writing, public speaking, answering mail, etc. is an unbelievable commitment. So when I decide to quit (every so often, like you) my husband says, “You can’t quit. Doing what you do is who you are. It would be like giving up your personality.” So here I am, still doing it all.

PeekAKnees
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After reading most all the posts here I don’t feel that I had it so bad.

I realized I had a problem developing when I saw the red and black ants on the hive and a few at the entrance. I recalled stories from the ‘ol timers’ about ants killing out a hive, so I went into action. I recall having seen these ants can develop quite the hive entrance. So I paced back and forth threw the garden until I found the ants hive.

I rarely use harsh chemicals for anything, but this was going to be an exception to my rule. I donned on my bee suit with my rubber boots, wrapped everything up tight with tape I thought the ants could get through, and went out to wage war.

I sprayed the ants I could see on the ground, then went right at digging them up out of the ground. I was spraying them with the poison as I went. Found out as I was going along they had made use of an old mole tunnel. So I followed it along until I was satisfied I had gotten them all. I had dug up a good 5 foot space.

I went out the next day to check my work and see if another application was needed. Nope, no sight of any ants there or at my hive. I was feeling bad about what I had done so effectively until reading over the posts. Now I feel more justified for the sake of the honeybee species. I am pretty sure there are more ants out there than honeybees.

And for those who are wondering, I did double wash the bee suit. No fear of contamination.

Good luck and success to all with the War of the Ants.

Robin
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I have been fighting with ants for a couple weeks on a swarm I caught in May (northern California). Came home last night to find them dragging larvae out. I moved all the hives off the stand and discovered the ants were coming up thru the middle of the cylinder blocks. I turned them with the opening out and placed small sided baking sheets under the blocks, sprayed a thin layer of organic cooking spray in the pans and dusted the oil with cinnamon to try and save any bee that might fly in the pan. For extra protection and save my other hives, in between each apiary I wrapped the 2×6’s with duct tape, sticky side out, and dusted all 4 sides of the tape with cinnamon. I spent over an hour sitting there with my hive brush brushing the ants out as they appeared from the hive. Can’t wait to get home to see if my girls are all ok. Cinnamon does work well but it doesn’t last. Hoping now that I have cinnamon oil and duct tape it will hold out longer.

Sarah
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So I have previously tried DE and cornmeal, cinnamon, boric acid, bait traps, etc., but I found my EASY forever solution. I bought Tanglefoot, an extremely sticky, thick garden product that is used to keep ants out of fruit trees. I spread the Tanglefoot on the inside of a disposable aluminum pie plate, then placed the plate upside down (Tanglefoot side toward the ground) on top of my hive stand blocks. The stand itself goes on top of the pie plate. Any ant crawling up the block to get to the hive must crawl over the Tanglefoot encrusted pie plate to get all the way up. Since the exterior of the pie plate faces up, bees that touch it and don’t get stuck (they would have to fly UNDER and the UP to reach the sticky surface). The Tanglefoot does not dry out, get crusty, drip off… it only needs re-application annually.

Frana
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Here in northern Australia we have green ants which get into a hive, six ants grab a leg each of a bee and walk off with the living bee. Its a distressing sight but kinda pretty with the star pattern they make when there’s lots. Not easy trying to get the ants to release the bee either (I’ve tried). We have tried the legs of the stand in water, with a ramp that the bees can climb up if they go swimming. Also brush a barrier of thick motor grease onto the legs, or tie an oily rag around them. Lastly, for the meat eating green ants, mix a tin of el cheap sardines with the flea & tick goo for your dog/cat. Put this bait where the ants will find it – they take back to nest and it does for them.

Rusty
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Frana,

I’ve never heard of the green ants; that sounds gruesome.

Doug Penning
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Rusty,

I live in Washington and have lots of big black ants. Since I cleared a piece of property I had lots of tree stumps about eighteen inches off the ground. I drove four galv. conduit pieces into the stumps and mounted 2×4 frames on that to set my hives. During the usual monthly inspection I found the inner cover of one hive filled with black ants, one of my strong hives too. They had a runway up the side of the hive that went down under the hive and into the stump. The hive sets about six inches off the stump, so I put three of those “Ant Traps” under the hive. Ants can crawl in and eat the bait but bees can’t. The bait box is very low to the surface and the opening to the bait sets back a bit so bees can’t reach it. I came back about two weeks later and not a single ant was in the hive or on the stump. Now slugs were crawling up the sides of the hive. If it ain’t one thing then its a million other things. Since I had used “galvanized” electrical conduit, I took some copper electrical wire and made some rings to fit loosely around the conduit. When the slugs tried to crawl up the conduit to get to the hive they received a small electrical shock from the two dissimilar metals. Problems solved…sort of… We now have ducks to eat the slug…I think I’m kind of liking the slugs considering the “mess” that ducks make. Love your site, read it a lot.

Rusty
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Doug,

So I thought I was the only one with slugs all over my hives . . . and all the “stuff” they leave behind. I do it the old-fashioned way—flick ‘em off with a stick. Your way sounds much more entertaining.

Karen
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I went out Thursday and my hive was doing so well I added two more supers to it. The next Monday I noticed no activity and opened it up and had a 4 super fire ant bed. There was one bee flying around. Two weeks later I am still trying to kill the ants, and have seen nary a bee. :-(

I guess I need to get the bee trap back out and try again, but that was such a well behaved hive, I am still mourning the loss!!

Rusty
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Karen,

I had no clue the ants could take over so fast. That is so, so sad.

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