HOW TO PROTECT YOUR BEES FROM ANTS

How to protect your hive from ants

Ant season is coming! So, what can you do to stop ants from invading your beehive? If ants are a problem in your area, read on to find out the best strategies for keeping them out of your hives.

In coastal California ants can be a real challenge. We have an invasive species of ant originally from Argentina which has grown out of control. This Argentine ant has actually spread all over the world. In their natural environment, ants from different families go to war with one another, which keeps their populations in check, but scientists have confirmed that the Argentine ant has formed intercontinental mega-colonies. This means that the ants (found in the U.S., Europe and Japan) are so closely related, that they interpret each other as being from the same colony and will not fight with each other. The enormity of these colonies allows them to easily outcompete native species and has made them one of the most damaging ecological invasive species around.

If ants are a problem in your area, all you can do is stay vigilant and approach the problem from as many angles as possible. It’s important to know when your bees are most vulnerable too. Large, strong colonies have the resources to keep ants out, but weakened colonies can become overwhelmed by them. If you are nurturing a recently caught swarm or a new package of bees, you have to be on guard: in our experience, bees will often abscond because of an ant invasion. Sometimes an ant invasion can be a sign that your previously strong colony has weakened. A strong colony can unexpectedly crash and find itself once again susceptible. For this reason, it’s best to have always have any protection in place.  

Here’s what we do at Girl Next Door Honey to keep bees protected.

Place your hives on stands with legs.

You may see photos of hives on cinderblocks or just plopped on the ground, but if you want to properly protect your bees from ants, you need to put them on stands with actual legs. There are various methods for protecting from ants, but most of them involve fortifying the legs of your hive stand. If you are using a Langstroth or a Warre hive, remember that the hive is going to grow vertically over time, so don’t make your stand too tall! Four to Five inch legs are sufficient for ant protection and will make lifting those top boxes much easier when your colony expands. You should also consider the thickness of your stand legs. Of course, you want something sturdy to support the weight of your hive, but bulky legs, like the ones on this stand, make ant control more challenging, while the slender legs of this stand, will be much easier to monitor and keep secure.

Make observation for ants routine.

Keep this list of questions in the back of your mind for things to regularly look out for. Yes answers mean action needs to be taken. Do you see trails of ants going up the hive stand or boxes?Are ants on the inside of your roof, on top of your inner cover, or crawling on the top of frames or inside walls of the hive? If a colony recently absconded — do you see ants inside the abandoned box?

Keep the area around your hive free of tall weeds. 

Be on the lookout for plants, branches, or weeds touching the stand or boxes. This includes scanning for seedlings that could grow tall and eventually touch too. These plants are thoroughfares that ants can and will use to get onto your hive. You may want to take preventative steps to suppress plants from growing near your hives by spreading DG or gravel below your stand.

Know your ant season and about the ant species living near you.

Do some light research about ants in your local area. Knowing just a little can go a long way. In Southern California, ants peak during certain seasons and with summer approaching that time is drawing near. Ant problems can also flare up during heat waves. So, what kind of ants are in your area? Do you have the dreaded Argentine ants? What patterns have you noticed? Asking yourself these questions may lead to strategies for protecting your bees from potential any invasions. You may also find out that ants in your area aren’t a problem at all, lucky you!

Can you borrow ideas from like-minded industries?

Who else in your area needs to control ants to protect their projects? Ask other eco-friendly professionals what they do. We heard about an ant bait station from a California Native Plant Society meeting. The mammal-safe, borate-based trap the speaker talked about helps protect vulnerable native plant seedlings in gardens where Argentine ants had previously wreaked havoc. We would recommend this option to a desperate beekeeper over an exterminator any day!

HOW TO PROTECT YOUR BEES FROM ANTS

Try Some DIY Ant Protection

We’ve tried pretty much everything when it comes to ant control and have found that none of these solutions are perfect. Here’s a list of practical DIY techniques you can try and some of their pros and cons.

Raid, Borax, and other poisons may be effective, but have some strong cons. The obvious one is the worry that spraying or applying a pesticide so close to your hives is worrisome. The second is that these products are fighting a battle that cannot be won. You will never be able to kill all the ants or even dent their populations with these products so it’s better to focus on deterring them in my opinion.

Diatomaceous Earth or Cinnamon can be used to create powder barriers around your stand legs and may be a solution that works for you. Their main advantage is that they are natural, but they can still harm your bees, especially DE. Try to limit the area where you apply these  and do not put them inside your hives. A simple ring around each stand leg is enough. Aside from overzealous application, the biggest problem with this method seems to be longevity. Wind, rain or even just fallen leaves (which may create ant bridges) can render these powder barriers useless.

Tanglefoot is a sticky glue often used on fruit tree trunks to keep ants at bay. It can be effective when used on the legs of your hives. However, it’s terribly messy, must be reapplied monthly and tends to catch bees in it.

Dirty Motor Oil or Grease when applied to stand legs will keep ants from crossing. This is nasty stuff, but at least it is a byproduct. I find this method to be very effective against tough Argentine ants. I paint a ring of the used oil around each leg with an old toothbrush. It soaks into the wood and lasts about a month. When using it, be careful not to spill any on the ground. The advantages are that it’s free and that it doesn’t kill klutzy bees, but it is pretty unpleasant to work with.

Moats are in my opinion the most secure way to protect your hive from ants. However, they can drown a lot of bees and must be refilled often. To avoid or reduce these pitfalls, make sure your moats are not oversized. The bigger they are, the more bees they will drown. To avoid having to frequently refill them, try using vegetable oil instead of water. It evaporates much more slowly, though it may attract wildlife. If you do choose to use water, you may want to put some detergent in it. Some ants can walk across water and soap will break up the surface tension.

We are always on the lookout for better ways to protect our bees from ants since none of these solutions are perfect. At the moment, most of our colonies are outfitted with modified moats that we call “ant bowls”. The moats are designed to replace the stand legs completely and consist of two metal bowls with a gap between them. The lower bowl is filled with veggie oil and acts as a moat, while the upper bowl holds the table and helps to prevent klutzy bees from falling in and drowning. This is a low maintenance, inexpensive solution, but still has its flaws. The main problem is that sick or old bees taken out by undertakers still end up crawling into and drowning in the bowls, which creates a nasty, smelly buildup over time. When this happens, it is difficult to clean the bowls out.

Want to give our moats a try? If you have a pipe cutter in your tool box and a knack for bargain shopping, you can complete the project for less than $30. Read on if you’re ready for a tutorial on how to make them!

HOW TO PROTECT YOUR HIVE FROM ANTS

Ant Bowls Tutorial

Supplies

For a 4-leg table. Cost estimate: $30-$50.

Gorilla Glue Epoxy, $10

2-inch diameter ABS Pipe (about a 2-foot piece), $4

pipe cutter, $25

HOW TO PROTECT YOUR HIVE FROM ANTS

Instructions

  1. -Cut the ABS pipe, so that you have four pieces of equal length. Measure a length that will keep the bowls from touching each other (typically we leave a 1-2 inch gap).
  2. -Make sure the bowls are clean, if they’re dirty, the epoxy might not stick.
  3. -Set up all the bowls and pipe pieces in an assembly line. Once you mix the epoxy, you’ll be happy you took the time to do this because it has to be used quickly!
  4. -Follow the instructions, including safety directions, on the gorilla glue epoxy package, and mix your first small batch (about a tablespoon) of glue.
  5. -Work quickly, dabbing the glue around the entire rim of the pipe, either with the applicator from the package or a disposable plastic spoon.
HOW TO PROTECT YOUR HIVE FROM ANTS
  1. -Center the pipe, glue side down, in the middle of a bowl. Dab glue around the other rim, and set a second bowl on top. Leave the bowl undisturbed for at least 30 minutes.
  2. -Repeat steps 4-6 three more times.
  3. -Allow your creations to fully dry for at least 24 hours before using them.
  4. -When dry, install the ant bowls by putting them under your table legs. Check for balance and make adjustments. Hopefully, you are doing this before you’ve placed any hives on the table, so you don’t have to move a heavy hive!
  5. -Fill the bowls with vegetable oil, using the funnel.
  6. -Check the oil periodically. We recommend doing oil checks after colony inspections.
HOW TO PROTECT YOUR HIVE FROM ANTS

Many have expressed concern regarding the stability of these moats, pointing to the slippery nature of the metal. Often I get suggestions for adding additional features for grip, but I have so far found them not to be necessary. Though they may look unstable, the weight of the hive(s) seems to be enough to keep the bowls solidly in place. After three years of using these, I have yet to have any incidents.

This post was co-authored by Sara Everett.

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12 Comments

susan rudnicki

I stopped using moats all together after the motor-oil soaked dead bees proved to be a tasty treat to all the ‘coons and ‘possoms. They would dig out the goo, eat it all and leave the moat dry so ants could cross. Tanglefoot, HIGH UP on the legs of the stand, is the most persistent barrier for me in Manhattan Beach, overrun with Argentine ants.

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Rich Veum

I appreciate your article on ant control – our hives are in the Big Sur, California at a hermitage, and last year we had at least one hive abscond due to ants. We’ve tried DE and cinnamon with some success. Lately we’ve put our hives on wooden stands and placed the legs in small bowls, pouring vegetable oil in them. We too noticed bees were drowning, which disturbed us. So currently we are keeping the bowls dry and placing a ring of petroleum jelly on the inside lip. So far this is working well – no drowning bees and the jelly keeps the ants from crawling down into the bowl, and it doesn’t evaporate or soak into the wooden stand legs. It’s only been a month, so the test is still ongoing. It will be interesting to see how this stands up in hotter summer weather with a full onslaught of ant season.

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steve Schmitt

Hello, I’m glad to see this post. I’ve actually been actively researching the best way to prevent ants in my hive as I saw them within the first two weeks of setting up my hive probably due to the top feeder loaded with sugar water. I built a wooden stand and placed the legs in plastic paint cups with hand made half cut out milk jugs stapled over the top to prevent water from diluting the veggie oil. I found this to deter most ants until it was eventually diluted with water or the live ants were using the dead ones as bridges. Ironically my mom told me she uses used coffee grounds on top of her ant piles in Florida to prevent the fire ants from building in her yard and stinging her. She says it works great and the ants leave. I have done a little research about the use of this to see if it causes any harm to the bees and all I can find is that bees actually clean it up and use it but know one actually knows what for. I was wondering if anyone else has heard of this before and if so does it hurt the bees? Thanks sincerely Scuba Steve

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Barry

I am assuming I have Argentine ants on my property. A lot of ants, and when I put out new hives in the Spring I know it will be a problem. Recently I started another ant farm in a large plastic tote, sitting on a few blocks of 6 x 6. Within a day the ants were into it. I got about 15 lbs of coffee grounds from a local stand and spread that thickly around the base of the set up. The ants could have cared less–hey, free coffee on the way to work!
My next approach was to wrap a band of good duct tape around the base of the tote–first sticky side down, so it won’t fall off, then a half-twist and another loop, stretched tightly, sticky side up. I thought the ants might build bridges over it, but so far nothing! And there is a highway of ants a few feet away, so I guess they either don’t like the smell of the sticky, or are too lazy.
Obviously you can’t wrap a band around the base of your hive, but you could do this with the legs if you build a stand. I would suggest doing it close to the ground so avoid getting bees stuck.

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John

I have found that using stands with legs is a must to control ants. I have been using a product sold for the protection of Hummingbird feeders from ants. It is called Nectar Fortress from Sapphire Labs. This has been 100% effective in repelling both Harvester and Argentine ants, as well as other small insects. It is long lasting and weather resistant. It does not have a very complex formula and can created making a Agar Agar paste with cinnanom bark oil (Cinnamomum verum, not cassia oil).

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Dave Anderson

Although here in the UK we don’t have the predatory ants found in hotter climes, I have afforded some protection to my hives by coating the legs in a generous coating of petroleum jelly.

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santiago

Hi there!! Im from Argentina and let me tell you something about these argentine demon ants. We have a little farm where we plant lot of trees. 600 hundred trees. The vry first enemy were the ants. more than rain, warm days,or whatsoever. We have tried all methods you´ve listed above, including the famous pieces of rice taht ants will fetch them home. The only effective method if you dont want to use chemicals is the pine resin. I dont know what tanglefoot stand for, but is seems similar efect to the resin pine. It resist rain, hot days, etc, have to be filed every 2 months depending the ammount of product used. First time at middle spring and last time starting autumm.Was the ONLY way to keep argentines away!!!!!
good luck, and an excellent article.
Santiago

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Barry Wayne

Tanglefoot, which is OMRI certified, is a mixture of plant resins (25%), carnauba wax and castor oil (75%…combined percentage, I guess). Works well. If you don’t want to apply it directly to the bark, make a collar and apply it to that. Wake sure it is at least two inches wide, and not within a foot of the ground if possible. If it is wide enough the ants will give up trying to bridge it. Cheers

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