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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 mixed with 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.)

The bees absconded

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.

The ascension of bees

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?



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

  • 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.

  • 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 🙂

  • 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!

  • 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 …..

  • 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.

  • 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.

    • 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.

      • Valentin and Thom,

        The hives, you were talking about, were occupied by killer bees, right?

        I’m aware that they spread all the way from Brazil or from anywhere southward around Brazil and that army ants can mostly or always win against the aggressive bee species.

  • 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 !

  • 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,

  • 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?


  • 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.

  • 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…)

  • 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

  • Guard Star.

    Cans of oil for the legs of the stand.

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

  • 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.

  • 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?

    • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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?!

  • 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.

    • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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.

    • 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.

      • 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.

        • Greendruid,

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

          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.”


  • 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.

  • 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.

  • — 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 . . .

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

  • 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.

  • 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.)

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • 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!

    • 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.

  • 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

  • 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!

    • 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

  • 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.

    • 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.

      • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

    • 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.

      • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • 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…

  • 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!

    • 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.

  • 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).

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

    • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.


  • 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.

    • 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 .

      • 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!

  • 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.

  • 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.

    • 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.

  • 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

    • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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,

    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.

    • 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.

  • 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!!

  • IT WAS THE ANTS…or at least my gut and experience here in San Diego County says, ants, ants, ants. The Argentine ants are everywhere here and they don’t get a winter freeze. It is very strange and I am trying to observe the best I can but here is what I know: In my area you cannot have any hive without ant guards or moats. That being said, I have pulled colonies out of stumps with no ants, but the moment they are in the box without an ant guard, it never works out.

    If I leave the box on the ground without an ant guard, the ants will be attacking within 30-60 minutes. I think it has to do with the box and frames and corner areas that are hard to police ants. A wild colony seems to have better coverage over the comb and will keep the ants at bay. I think it is also the volume of ants that attack the hive at one time. The bees always leave when they are attacked by ants. My experience is limited to dozens of colonies in OC, LA, IE and SD Counties. I have yet to see one colony able to keep the ants at bay without ant guards. (Again, but they seem have no ant issues in wild colonies in meter boxes or stumps.)

    • Forrest,

      What an fascinating observation; sounds like something about a bee box really favors the ants. It would be an interesting topic for research.

  • Just a couple of random thoughts…

    If you use diatomaceous earth, you could try getting some cheap placemats from the dollar store. (I’m thinking of the bamboo/wicker type.) put down the DE then put one of the placemats on the ground in front of the hive.

    The ants will most likely crawl under the mat, while the bees will walk on top of it.

    If you can find the ant nest, disturb it so the ants come out to make repairs and sprinkle the DE on top of it. They’ll wind up tracking it all over the nest. (Ever try to keep a teenager from tracking mud into the house?)

    With water pans under the hive legs, just use some hardware cloth running from the hive leg, going into the water. Bees that fall into the water will have the hardware cloth to grab onto and pull themselves out, before they drown.

    With yellow-jackets and and other larger attackers, try a robber screen. I’m thinking that using a small size might force some larger ants to go around. They’ll have a screened porch they would have to walk through, in order to reach the actual hive entrance.They’d basically be running a gauntlet, giving the guard bees a little more time to deal with them.

    Some type of rubber weatherstripping between the telescoping cover and the inner cover might keep the ants from that dead zone between the two. At least the ants wouldn’t be attacking from inside the hive, then.

    I’ve no idea how well any of this will work for anyone here but some of it might be worth a shot. From my dealings with ants, it seems that the only thing that will keep them out of anything is to make it more trouble than it’s worth to them.

  • WARNING! Diatomaceous earth=fossilized remains of diatoms [amorphous silica] a type of hard-shelled algae that nature compacted into clumps like a rock then we grind into powder. Food grade doesn’t attract bacteria, fungi, protozoa, viruses, or E-Coli it cuts them to shreds and roto-rooters your intestines with fine scratches but heals. Lungs are a whole different issue; your lungs don’t heal as fast. They are delicate tissue. Breathing any dust>DE pool grade>DE food grade EVEN CORNSTARCH OR FINE PARTICLES OF SMOKE it doesn’t matter. ANY THING that coats the lungs blocks the coated areas functioning short or long term. It takes yrs for the lungs to absorb any calcium and amorphous silica it’s likely to be there long after you die.

    A big name department store, known nationwide in USA. Use to use diatomaceous earth as a cockroach/ silverfish/ flea/ etc product for home room carpet treatments. TILL THEY STARTED FINDING, that it did cause breathing problems and a few deaths in small short pets. [big risk to crawling babies] they switched to borax -good ol “20 mule team” quality. Use diatomaceous earth very carefully it’s not safe to breath by any living thing.

    ANTS -many remedy’s mentioned already, but I haven’t seen the mention of white vinegar [not apple cider vinegar] Wiping down spills on the outside of hive, any landing board area etc. not sure if that will bother bees. It won’t kill them and it does dry removing sugar smell and ant trails. Misting it on spills in grass and ant trails, it will mess up the ants being able to follow a path. some types of ants won’t even cross a 1/4 inch wide white vinegar line, even when they know what they want is on other side. But will cross if it’s just water. Most Ants can swim/float and make connecting ant group rafts or bridges. Some ants even hold their breath, from experience even longer than I can. So I suggest using white vinegar instead of JUST water in containers for hive stands.

    Also a possible use “Dioctyl sodium” that sounds scary, till i tell you it’s in most over the counter laxatives for people, it’s in only one brand dog cat flea product, [they hold the patent] it’s the best safest that u might [never] heard of “De Flea by natural chemistry” and Dioctyl sodium is used popularly for crops of olives, wine grapes, and oranges. [Fruits skins that absorb easy.]

    How it works? Well for ants it’s a double whammy > drink/eat they get dehydrated you know why! Plus it softens their exoskeleton. But you don’t want the bees to wear diapers. So don’t let them have any. You have 2 ways in getting Dioctyl sodium hunt the local pharmacy or get the dog/cat shampoo and give your dog/cat a flea bath too.

    Who am I, retired with over 30+yrs in breeding exotic small mammals, parrots etc. 9 yrs working for a marine biologist and owned a pool cleaning company 92-til divorce in 2001. Yippy no more carrying 5 gal hydrochloric acid containers from truck to pools, but it does come in handy when retaliating on a mound of fire ants. Goal to have my own bee hives near future.

  • A couple of times my hive has had black crazy ants about 3mm long and which are very active and crawling all over it. They are not called crazy ants for nothing and are desperate for sugar on other plants as well, often taking aphids to the leaf tips of trees in our garden. The first time I was told the bees would look after them and to a certain extent they did. Then I realised one of the straps holding the hive on the stand was draped on the ground and the ants had a pathway up to the hive. The strap was altered so it no longer draped on the ground and afterward there were no significant number of ants. Gooey vaseline was placed over the bottom 30 cm of the stand and the ant problem disappeared. Then a month ago, there appeared to be more crazy ants than I would like again on all the joints and opening of the hive and super. A week later it rained really hard and long with wind the force of a cyclone (hurricane) category 1. I looked at the hive a few days later, and not an ant in sight. The hive was the cleanest I have seen it for a long time and all the bees buzzing to and fro happily.

  • Hello, I’m a Californian currently living in Peru. I adopted a hive a week ago and am a pioneer urban beekeeper in Lima.

    Here there are lots of ants, and lots of beekeepers in the northern jungles where ants are a big problem. They have a very VERY simple solution.

    The hives are placed upon a pedestal with four legs, like a small table. Each leg is placed inside an old can or plastic yogurt-sized container which is filled with oil. The oil will not evaporate, and the ants will never be able to cross it.

    In order to avoid rancification of a vegetable oil, and because it’s expensive, many beekeepers will use old/burned motor oil. Just an inch or two inside each container is more than enough, and it will never evaporate. Of course, you also have to keep weeds in check, as one plant leaning against a hive is enough for an ant infestation.

    This system yields very good results. Heck, if it works in the Amazon jungles, it will sure as heck work in the USA! Thanks for such a wonderful blog! Very informative.

    • I’m a beekeeper, live in Texas, originally from Lima, Peru. Due to the constant rain in the amazon the beekeepers don’t have to go through extensive measures to fight off ants. Since it floods a couple of times a year, the natives keep their hives hanging on trees about 8ft above the ground. Water is a all natural deterrent for ants, and bees like water. Wash off the ants before they get too far in the hive, and you’re good to go.

  • I have just lost 5 strong colonies to Florida carpenter ants, practically over 1 week’s time. I have years of beekeeping experience but never had problems with ants before these characters showed up. I will use some of the above suggestions on the new nucs.

  • Out of curiosity has anyone tried simply growing peppermint around the base of the hive? I’m new to beekeeping but peppermint is a plant nearly all ants (as well as mice) hate. Just saw ants on our hive and thought maybe the peppermint would drive them away. Don’t want them to leave they’re a new hive, only been in there a few days. Any advice would be great. Thanks!

    • Natalie,

      I don’t know offhand, but you could try. Just don’t let the peppermint grow so high that it provides a ladder to the hive.

  • We have the aggressive large red and black ants that rear up on their hind legs to bite. These guys are so strong one ant can carry a wiggling, live bee away. My husband has spent time actually rescuing bees from ants’ clutches and has been successful. Patience! We are trying the wood ashes now and tomorrow we are going after the ant hive location. We think that is about 40 feet away under a covered pile of manure waiting to go into the compost bins. It provides the moist environment they need in our dry, far Northern California climate. Thank you for posting this and to everyone who has responded with what has worked for them. We now have a substantial list of things to try.

  • Well, we put ashes around the hive with the ants, but to no avail. We have found the aggressive red and black ants already inside on a super. The ant was covered in ashes!! Back to the list to see what we want to try next around the hive. I suspect that cinnamon will not do it, but that is an easy try. Since they eat meat, I don’t think they will eat the borax sugar solution. The moats are not an easy fix since the hive is on a slope. We are not thrilled with the idea of taking down the boards and cinder blocks we had to use to level this hive.The only real fix is to destroy the ant nest which we will do tomorrow morning. Dig and destroy is the next game plan. We have a tractor that we will use to move the manure pile and then decide what to do next if smashing their nest doesn’t do it (too far underground).

  • I want to thank the commenter who mentioned Tanglefoot. I live in rural northern Nevada, and this year—coincidentally the spring I had already decided I was going to start beekeeping, gradually, join the local group, make contacts, learn, maybe buy a nuc from a local—well, this was the spring that two swarms in 10 days descended on our property.

    The colony in our orchard has had minimal ant problems, maybe because we have five ducks and Peeps The Hen Who Thinks She’s A Duck living in the orchard. But the second colony, out back of our 1 acre pasture, that one has serious ant issues. The girls are all stressy and buzzy, probably because of the ants.

    The box in the orchard is sitting on a part water-filled plastic barrel with a lip, so I squeezed some of the Tanglefoot (we call it “Tree Snot”) under the lip that runs around the top edge of the barrel. Mostly out of the bees’ reach, so accidental capture shouldn’t be much problem.

    The one by the pasture is in the shade of a Russian olive, atop an abandoned pony keg. I snotted the top circumference of the keg, around the handles too to avoid sneak attacks. I’m hoping they settle down soon, those ants can be aggressive—I know, I do the fencing around here and nothing tweaks an ant colony like hammering in fencing staples on the post they’re nesting by.

  • Since I last posted, in our back yard we we standardized on hive stands with ant-proofed water pipe legs. Each leg has an inverted cottage-cheese container at the top with the opening facing down. The top three inches of the leg and the inside of the container are coated with high-temperature disk-wheel bearing grease. The center of the pipe is plugged with a wine cork, or calk so the tiny ants can’t bypass the barrier.

    Ants don’t walk over the grease. The barrier is high and shielded from rain and dust. Ants can’t make bridges across it. We’ve been mostly free of Argentinian ant problems for two years. The cobwebs have to be brushed out about twice a year with a greasy home made yarn brush.

    At a recent beekeeper meeting the speaker suggested (food grade) Diatomaceous Earth powder spread around the legs of hive stands, and even directly on ant hills. The powder gets into the insect joints and grinds them away. This has to be renewed after rains.

    My spouse found another “sure fire” cure which we have yet to try.
    It sounds promising.

  • I just started two new bee colonies from packages in the state of Georgia. They are resting on landscaping timbers and cinder blocks. I installed them on April the 28th. It has been only ten days. I have top feeders that are enclosed inside hive boxes. I noticed after a couple days that black ants were interested.
    I went out early this morning (Before daylight) to check their feeder jars and saw many black ants on the outside of both hives. It isn’t an alarming number, but there are enough to draw my concern.
    I sprinkled ground cinnamon all over the landscape timbers, the cinder blocks, and the ramp leading up to the landing area in front of the hives. I sprinkled what remained on the ground. Using a lantern I can see black ants vacating the area as I squash them on the ground. In other words black ants are moving quickly in directions away from the hives. I sprinkled some directly on some ants and they basically went into convulsions. I will be keeping an eye on this, and I will update this.

  • I tried the peppermint and the plants have definitely reduced the amount of ants but aren’t thick enough yet to completely get rid of them all though the bees seem to be holding their own and keeping them out of our warre hives. The other thing that I found that works on ants is if you can find their source and sprinkle it with active dry yeast and a small amount of sugar they carry the small particles back to the colony and then consuming both sugar and yeast at the same time they kind of explode a little. I’ve taken out three ant colonies in our yard this way including a large carpenter ant colony we had in an old stump, some small red ants, and the larger black ones. Within a few days to a week no more ants. I only put it on the ant colony not near the bees but I don’t think yeast would hurt them? Correct me if I’m wrong somebody. Just a suggestion.

    • Natalie,

      Wow, I’ve never heard of fermenting ants to death. Interesting. I don’t believe bees would carry active dry yeast because the particles are too big. In any case, they wouldn’t eat it but they would store it along with the pollen. Pollen in the hive ferments all by itself, so I don’t think it would be a problem. I’m guessing, of course.

  • Hi Rusty,

    IMHO, the blame lies on the beekeeper who a) sold this fellow his package and/or b) the new beekeeper himself.

    Starting with new equipment, the seller should have acknowledged and advised a nucleus with established comb, bees, queen, brood young and capped. Being new myself, I was soundly advised NOT to install a package into new equipment exactly because of this…and was sold a nucleus, which would have been at their insistence had I argued….plus it is incredibly hard on the bees! Too bad for the loss…it is a steep learning curve, and wise to read and learn as much as possible before investing.

    • I have installed bees on new wood without problems.

      If you are very concerned about bees absconding, a pair of queen excluders (one above, one below) will pretty much prevent that.

      When you buy a nuc, you aren’t buying someone’s best equipment. Comb may be contaminated with chemicals or disease causing agents like nosema or others, and you also will be getting a head start on your varroa population, and possibly some small hive beetles.

      So either way, there are plusses and minuses. My preference, based on limited experience is to buy packages. However, some people prefer nuc’s.

      Either way you can have trouble. However, as I said, my experience is limited, so I would defer to those who have more.

  • Rusty,

    Keep up the good work….

    For your possible interest and others, we installed 23 new package Carnolian on an 16″ elevated 50′ long table, 4 hives per section, side by side on 4/19/15. They have been on a formula similar to Honey Bee Healthy (HBH) in sugar water and our formulated HBH patties. They consume it all! Each hive, except for 2 problem hives, are on 7-10 frames and several now have a second 10 frame deep hive body. The bees started with totally new wired foundationless frames.

    The point is this: we were going to install ant traps but haven’t needed to yet. We have large carpenter and smaller red ants and they are hesitant to visit the hives and are almost non-existent. The population of yellow jackets and nests are down. Why? We now believe that the HBH (spearmint, lemongrass, wintergreen) is having a positive impact on the hives and the ants don’t like the oils. We believe he strong presence of bees is having an impact on the yellow jackets. We have had no presence of mites…yet! We will do a PS dusting next week to verify any mites. The bees are healthy, our apiary bee population is up and the new bees seem to have regressed in size already. We used the moisture quilt boxes this spring until temperatures went up. We will keep the moisture quilts boxes (minus the quilts and filler during summer) on the hives year around. The moisture boxes have been great in increasing the hive ventilation thus far. We have had some high temps here already, but with no bearding on the hives. We are inland from your location, in Sandpoint, Idaho.

    • Vern,

      One point to remember: yellowjackets and bald-faced hornets do not present much of a problem to honey bees until the fall when their food source changes. Be ready to for them when the weather cools.

  • I’m not a beekeeper, but have you tried using instant Cream of Wheat to control ants? I live in southern NM with two young kids and a LOT of ants. The Cream of Wheat kills the ants when they eat it, and is safe for the kids. Had a anthill sprout in the sandbox, one package of the instant kind wiped out thousands (including the ant queen), haven’t seen any around there since.

  • Hi, has anyone tried salt around the hives or legs of the hives. We use salt around our house all the time to control ants. Ants will not walk over a line of salt. It looks a little funny especially if you watch the tv show Supernatural, but it really works. Plus salt is very cheap and if the line is think enough rain just makes it even more solid crust. We have used standard table salt and pool salt. We don’t have snow so we can’t buy the salt that would be used on pathway etc, but I am sure that would work. Would it be harmfull to the bees? Plus salt kills weeds and grass.

    • Diana,

      Interesting idea. I’ve never heard of anyone using it, but it’s certainly worth a try. I cant’ imagine it would affect the honey bees at all.

  • Hi I’m Mr.EH Lim from Penang Malaysia, recently started my new hobby on honey beekeeping and plants grafting/air layering. The beekeeping activities started two months ago making the beekeeping box and transferring the wild bees & beewax from the nearby tree into the box. Lately I found small tiny red ants going in and out of the bee box. I thought is okay but is not okay as this morning I found the whole swamp of bee relocated to the nearby branches. That make me curious, and I open the bee box and found lots of ants attacking the beewax stealing honey beewax pieces by pieces to their nest.Too bad found lots of dead bees inside the box need some advice how to prevent these tiny thieves from going in to the bee box. I brought down the whole bee box to wash and clean it.

  • I built a hive stand out of 4×4’s and 2×4’s. It holds my three hives up off the ground at a height that makes inspections easy, and provides good air flow under the hives during the hot days of summer. To give it added strength and keep it from being knocked over, I sank the legs into concrete. For my first three years, I had no issues with ants. But this year they have discovered the hives, with the legs of the stand offering perfect routes up out of the grass. To tell the truth, the ants don’t yet seem to be interested in robbing, but they love to build their egg nurseries in the space between the top board and the roof cap. Today I found hundreds if not thousands of them, along with many, many egg cases, atop one of the hives. I cannot sit the legs in water or oil, because they are set into the ground. I cannot spray for ants that close to the hives. I tried slathering the legs with petroleum jelly (Vaseline), but that does not work. I’ve tried red pepper and diatomaceous earth. No luck. Do you (or any of your readers) have any ideas, short of digging up the whole stand and all that such an operation would involve?

    • Michael,

      Honestly, I have no ideas that are not included in the 100+ comments already here. I’ve never had an ant problem, so I’ve never done any experimenting myself. The problem with ants is they are in the order Hymenoptera along with bees and wasps, so it gets real tricky to kill one without killing the other.

      If they are not bothering your honey, I think I would scrape away the ants and cocoons somewhere away from the hives, and see what happens. If they don’t come back you might save yourself a lot of work.

    • Instead of petroleum jelly, use Tanglefoot. It is an organic product you should be able to find at a local fertilizer or agricultural store. It is a highly sticky, long lasting (I apply annually, unless blowing dust or debris covers it up) compound which you can slather on your hivestand legs. It is typically used in organic agriculture to prevent ants from getting into fruit trees to farm aphids or eat ripe fruit. What I do to prevent the bees from getting stuck on the Tanglefoot is I coat the inside of a disposable pie plate with it, and place that upside down (Tanglefoot side down) on top of my hivestand legs, and then place the box, or in my case the boards which hold the boxes, on top of the pie plate. This way, the bees are unlikely to get stuck, as they would have to fly under the pie plate and up into the goo, whereas ants climbing up the hivestand legs will have to get thru the Tanglefoot to go any further up. I also place homemade ant traps all around my apiary (water, sugar – or peanut butter, boric acid in a plastic water bottle with small holes drilled in the lid – you can google recipes). These draw the ants away from the hives and kill the ant colonies. Good luck.

  • Rusty,
    My wife Regina and I spent a couple of hours pouring over your web site and page after page of information. We had discussed the idea of keeping bees several months ago as we are in the process of building up our own little farm for our retirement. Lo and behold to our delight, (and dismay which I will explain later), a swarm showed up out of the blue and took up residence in an old bird house. Their arrival prompted us to look seriously at plans for hives. The simplest approach seemed to be the top bar hive. After researching several plans we settled on a design we liked and the scraps and sawdust flew. The result was a 4′ long hive. Moving the bees was no problem. We went kinda on the cheap and bought painter’s tyvek with booties and hoods for bee suits. I simply removed the top four screws on the roof and lifted the entire hive out. Once the bees were in place we thought we had it made. Little did we know the redneck queen we had liked the bird house better than the brand new super bee condo we built for them. 3 days after they had been moved the bees absconded to a branch of the gum tree directly overhead. (this is the dismay part). Research went at a frenetic pace….What did we do wrong? What could we change to make this work? Hmmmm bees don’t like new wood! We put the wax we had in a double boiler and Regina “painted” the entire inside of the hive with the wax. While she was cooking up a new idea I set to work modifying the hive roof to hinge rather than lift and changed the bottom board out for an older piece that I had laying unused. Could it be ants? Sugar ants were finding the hive rather quickly. The posts regarding cinnamon helped with that situation. Again, cudos to you and your helpful hive of input. I backed my truck under the swarm and put the 9′ ladder in the bed and we suited up. The first attempt at re-capturing the swarm was not successful as I didn’t get the queen off the branch. we watched (again in dismay) as the bees milled around for a bit and then we lost count of how many bees were leaving the hive….again. My wife had her heart set on this working and I thought…”alright bees this is war! I WIlL NOT BE DEFEATED!” Regina went in and mixed up a sugar water solution in a spray bottle and this is what I went back up the ladder armed with. The bees got a pretty good misting and set about cleaning each other not seeing the gigantic brush that was inbound on their location. Three sweeps and three trips to the hive and the branch was all but clean of bees. We set some pure unfiltered honey in jar tops on both sides of the entrance at eat end of the hive. It took only seconds for our friends to find this and about 15 minutes to clear the lids completely of every last speck. A second round of this and they had nearly all gone inside for the evening loaded with food for the hive. The swarm was roughly 3000 bees considering their size and how much of the branch they covered and the depth they covered it in. 5 stings later, (all for me, none for her…would have shared…sheesh!), and I believe we overcame the absconding issue. Time will tell. None of it would have happened had we not gotten to spend some time with you and the great folks who have commented here. Tomorrow will be the 7th day of our first week of beekeeping. Now I have an idea why God rested on that day.We look forward to many years of doing this. Folks might think we’re a bit nutty as we find amusement in watching our pigs and goats at play, commenting on what we think they are thinking. Now we have a new pastime…..but after all this work I’m thinking fishing is called for. Thanks!

  • I used cinnamon on the ants around my hives and it worked fantastic. A Costco size container. Dust the ground around the hives and the top edge under the lid very hive heavily. I did not put any inside of the hive. The ants left or died very quickly. Within a week there were no more ants and the bees are doing great. If you see small holes in the ground near your hives, the ants may be coming from the holes. Make sure you put a layer of cinnamon on the ground around the holes.

  • In hiving 15-20 packages swarms, and nucs over rthe years, we only had one abscond,. We have been careful to hang a caged queen when introducing the bees to new quarters and let the workers eat their way to her with the standard candy plug. . The bees that absconded from ironically, old equipment, were a TINY swarm that we stupidly hived next to a boisterous hive of curious bees– the small group obviously felt vulnerable in that spot and took off almost immediately.

    ANTS: we don’t have problems with ants when the bees are tending their own honey, but they have come into our hives when we feed comb and/or sugar that has some accessible sugar. I think folks here are on the right track with oil, BUT you don’t have to make a moat out of it. At least in my experience, ants won’t cross a trail of oil. I have had success by simply wiping them off the hive wherever they are entering and then taking my finger and spreading an oil trail along the trail they were following. If you don’t entirely obscure the trail the first time or they find another way in, you may have to do this a second time. Also, you can put a small band of oil around each leg of your hive stand. I have found this discourages the ants until the bees take care of them. You can use anything from olive oil to butter.

    This oil thing also works whenever we have sugar ants in our house– which only happens when we don’t lock up all the sugar! We store our gallon honey jars in water moats in large plastic tubs.

    And somewhere on this site someone also asked about bee repellents. An experienced beekeeper told us this one to us in awkward places we want swarms to leave so we can collect them (as woven into the top of a soccer net this year!) They highly dislike artificial almond flavoring that you can buy in the bakery section of your grocery store. Must be artificial– they evidently don’t mind the real thing!. Haven’t tried this much, so I can’t personally vouch for it, but we now carry some in our car in case we run into a swarm.

    Best to you all.

  • I vehemently warn my beekeeping students about ants. Here in Southern California we have a non-native ant takeover and they are a force to be reckoned with! They are Argentinian Ants. I have had many new colonies abscond due to ants. Once the bees get more established they tend to keep the ants out on their own or confined to just the bottom board, but if the hive weakens at all ants will start to be a problem again. I think that the seriousness of the any problem for beekeepers varies by geographical location. Did he say where he was located? If you didn’t charge him for the advice you gave I don’t think you are responsible for reimbursing him, but I do think you gave the wrong advice here. No doubt because you don’t have the kind of ant problem in your area that some of us do.

  • I had this happen myself on the installation of the new package of bees. It had nothing to do with us though and I think the experience that I had might be the one that occurred with this fellow’s bees. Basically I have fed my package bees sugar syrup for just a little bit too long. Thankfully though, they had laid brood, left some workers, and there were queen cells built in the hive. What it turned out to be and I learned this as a result of a book by Michael Bush on beekeeping, was that the package bees had backfilled all that comb with sugar syrup. Since they ran out of room the bees looked for a bigger home. Typing by voice sorry for the typos. Important note when installing a bee package – it seems you can feed them for too long. Don’t really know if this was this fellows problem but I thought I offer my experience that I had.?

  • Hello Rusty. I know you are in the PNW like I am so I am wondering if you have come across this problem……slugs in the hive! Of course my whole reaction is to do the hebegebee!
    So I have two bee yards. And the one I have here in town with me seems to have drawn the attention of slugs.
    I have hives with windows, so I can take a look inside and see what’s going on without opening the top. When I looked in this morning there as bold as punch was two of the nasty buggers rite on the wax!
    From my research there seems to be some slugs that are carnivorous! But I have not found a blog/article addressing the issue for our area.
    I’ll go and get copper stripping this weekend – but I need to know if this is a normal problem and should I worry?
    I’ll move the hives to a new location and surround the area with bark mulch – but I can’t get to that for another couple weeks.
    If you have already answered this question – I’m sorry. Just point me in the direction and I’ll go read the blog.
    Thanks so much!

    • Monica,

      That is so gross. I have actually never seen slugs inside of my hives, although I have seen plenty on the outside. I have just flipped them away with a stick and never worried about them, so I don’t know the answer to your question. I don’t recall anyone else asking me about slugs, either. I wonder why you are attracting them. Let us know what you learn!

      • So after reading a ton on the net I found this little tiny blurb on a Australian site.…

        “Slugs and Snails:

        After periods of cool and wet weather conditions don’t be surprised to find slugs and snails in your hive, not a very appetising image. Apparently bees don’t want to touch these slimy creatures; who would? This applies in particular when hives are located in grassy areas. When weather conditions are getting warmer and dryer these visitors disappear, but snails who crawled into the hive when they were little, have grown and cannot escape through the entrance; the result: dried out snail shells in the hive.”

        So with these hives are surrounded by grass. Even though we keep the grass cut and its grassless under the hives – there seems to be a lot of moisture in the ground. So my solution is creating a large bark-o-mulch area and putting the hives in the middle. Slugs and snails will cross b-o-m but not often.
        When they are in the hive, it looks to me they are eating the pollen cells and maybe the uncapped nectar.

        With it still being cool weather I am not wanting to do a huge hunt and take out in all the hives. I am thinking the cold damp would be more destructive than the slugs.

        But still – ewwww! :-))

  • I have been doing research on the sbb, and have heard that wax cappings and pollen debris falls through the screen that draws in ants and wax moths. Has anyone had any bad experiences with sbb and ants or wax moths? I’m thinking about switching to sbb but I’m wondering if this is a good idea. Thanks!!!

    • Terry,

      First, I never use the initialism here because I’ve seen it go both ways, screened bottom boards (SBB) as opposed to solid bottom boards (SBB). However, to answer your question, if you have a solid bottom board, all of that debris can accumulate on the solid bottom board and attract ants, wax moths, and hive beetles to the inside of your hive. Now, it usually won’t accumulate if you have a strong colony to keep it clean, but they will eventually drop it on the ground outside the hive where it can also attract scavengers. I don’t know that there’s a clear benefit either way, but in my opinion the extra ventilation is worth any other inconvenience.

  • Terry
    In our Mediterranean climate (SF Bay Area) the most bothersome ant is the Argentinian.
    Choice of bottom board has little to do with ant problems, except, that the ants
    get a little more food on the ground if the screen bottom board doesn’t have the counting board installed below the screen. The ants feed on dead bee carcases too.
    I leave the counting board in, but clean it often; it goes into the wax melter. Also… you can learn a lot about what the bees are up to when you examine what the bees are discarding.
    Our SBBs are configured so air can flow in between the screen and the counting board. During the nectar flow we only open the hive entrance half-way, and when the dearth starts the we close the entrance down to an inch or two to discourage robbing.
    With Migratory bottom boards, the entrance opening is a much more important factor in ventilation, so narrowing the entrance may not be an option in a hot climate.
    Someone with small hive beetle can comment on SHB larva dropping through the screen onto the soil (SHB pupate in soil). (I’ve only seen fewer than two dozen SHB in five years)

    Consider what happens to the debris bees drop to the bottom of the tree cavity they’re living in. Scavengers certainly eat through it. Wax moth lay eggs in all of our hives too. Those colonies persist and donate swarms and drones to managed hives.

  • Rusty,

    From what you said about ants and bees being closely related. So are the wasps (on of the bees enemies/predators).

  • This is our second two hives that we started, the first producing honey and then the bees swarmed. But on the subject of ants, all of my hives are on legs in oil. I also use medium-gauge plastic as a sleeve around the legs to cap the oil trays that the legs sit in to prevent rain and water getting in or at least a lot of rain and then I put a layer of oil on those plastic sleeves so ants can’t walk across them. And I also cut a whole that’s slightly larger than the legs so there’s a gap between the plastic and the legs.

  • If you have a big black ant problem you might look up. I have a terrible problem with them in a hive under a tree. The further from the tree my hives get the less ants they have. Cinnamon has zero effect on these ants and I have watched numerous ants walk right across a four inch band of grease on the hive legs as if it wasn’t there I also spread DE on the ground in a ten foot radius around my hives to control SHBs. It seems to have no effect on the ants. Everyday I take the cover off and squish as many as I can and everyday there are fifty new ones. I am sure they are dropping from the trees. Carpenter ants nest above ground. They pretty much stick to the feeder area as I have never seen them in the brood box or the supers. . I just don’t like them.

  • Oh man!!! I just read through this post for information about diatomaceous earth on the bottom board (something I saw in a different post) and can’t help but comment on the post about slugs!! I am in Salt Lake City, UT (thought I left the slugs behind in Seattle)…high mountain desert and you would think slugs wouldn’t be a big deal. However, while installing a robber screen at night with a flashlight, there was a large slug heading up the leg of my TBH and was either eating a bee or a bee had been in its path and was sort of attached to the underside of the slug! I haven’t seen one in the hive yet but I can totally see how that could happen.

  • Hi, Rusty, someone in our local club asked for advice about ants. I and several other members dropped various comments about oil barriers and cinnamon, and then I came here, my go-to source, to see if there were other ideas. As usual, I then wasted – er, happily spent an hour or 2 wandering thru your delightful and knowledgeable prose. On this one, I am not sure if the title is supposed to refer to “bad advice” about ants, or advice about “bad ants”.

    I also enjoyed what you made of the reference to bees ascending. He may indeed have been a literary genius, or perhaps it’s just another example of inadvertent humor from a humorless spell-checker. A friend once made a comment on my FB page about the Beatles, which the spell-checker helpfully corrected to “Beetles” – thus turning the earworm in my original post into a June bug.

  • Yeah well, guess what? I absolutely have no luck with beekeeping. Did it for 2 yrs in Pa and now gave it a try in Ga. I figured 3rd time”s a charm. Wrong!

    I took a year off because I couldn’t stand the disappointment. The Ga experience is no better. I figured it would be good because the weather is substantially better. Yeah, no way. Installed bees in 2 different hives, left them alone, and checked on them 3 wks later. No bees in hive #1 and only half in hive #2. I’m hoping the remaining hive comes back but it’s not looking good.

    Oh Well. Not cut out to be a beekeeper. I also noticed that the hive has many issues. Moths, hive beetles, etc It’s killing me because of the investment and the fact that no matter what I do or don’t do. I have not had any success.

  • I’ve just spent the last 2 hours reading thru all comments. A swarm of bees came into my yard and ended up inside a 4” dia. 6 to 8 ft fence post. Two holes in the post cap, chewed by squirrels, provided entrance.

    Three months later I found a swarm on the ground and dumped them into a new hive box. Checked the fence post and saw lines of argentine ants. Sprayed same. Removed cap and all comb was covered with the ants. As far as I could tell they had already killed any brood and emptied the honey cells. So the swarm on the ground was the FP hive. In revenge, I sprayed inside the post with HotShot and sealed the post before recapping.

    The next day saw bees pushing their prone on-her-back queen out the door! Have been feeding the queenless bees since, but I know they won’t survive. The nurses that have already died, were small. Perhaps the colony hadn’t been getting enough food in their post life. Most flowers around here are no longer blooming and many homes feature cactus and other succulents.

    Appreciate all the comments for fighting off ants. Will be trying them. Already found that a line of grease only lasts a couple of days in our hot SoCal weather then the ants walk wight over it. Thanks again for your very informative site.

  • I found that using coffee grinds (get free bags at Starbucks) mixed with Sams Club cinnamon sprinkled around the hives on the stands and under the stands helps keep the ants away. If they are going into the hive, I make an oil mixture, mineral oil mixed with about 10 drops of each essential oil (peppermint, tea tree, oregano, thyme, orange, lemon, lemongrass, geranium, and clove oil) and with a disposable glove smear it on the outside of the hive bodies and bottom board. And up the legs of the stands to ruin the scent trail. Reapply when necessary or after a storm.

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