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Any beekeeper that is conscious about the welfare of their honey bees leaves nothing to chance when it comes to ant-proofing their apiary. Using an ant proof beehive stand is one great way of doing so.
Ants are a top predator of honey bees. They might look small and harmless but their power of demolishing entire colonies is unmatched. Let us face it, apart from larger predators such as bears, raccoons, rats, and birds, ants stand out as the most dangerous. They are particularly opportunistic in nature; mainly targeting weaker colonies. How they identify a weak colony is perhaps a mystery. They will target the honey and bee larvae. All these are a rich source of energy and protein for their voracious colony mates back in their homes.
Ants may not damage the beehive, but their impact can be disastrous, since they attack the adult bees and larvae. They will deprive the colony of its food reserves making it extremely difficult for them to survive the harsh winter months. In fact, ants can be a major factor why honey bees absconds their hive. Fortunately, you can keep off ants by employing some practical counter-measures that shall be covered in this article, where we’ll discuss how to make an ant proof beehive stand.
Reasons Ants Attack Beehives
Ants largely depend on sugary plants and water for survival, and the beehive is one main source that offers food. Ants have high sense of sweet and sugary smell and will track it until they find the source. Therefore, the main reason ants invade beehives is primarily because beehives contain honey. The ants are after this sugar-rich food. In most cases, ants invade bees due to weak hive construction and poor materials. If there are a few guard bees, ants would penetrate inside a hive and invade the colony. Concentration is needed in order to make a robust beehive stand that would not allow penetration of any pesticides.
How Ants Harm Honey Bees
In between the lid of a beehive, there is warmth and ants are friendly to such environments. The ants will feed on young bees that are maturing gradually in honeycomb. The brood is useful to ants since they are rich source of protein. Ants are also capable of attacking adult bees that are weak. Larger ants can sometimes cause harm to the larvae by destroying them and later use honeycomb as their living home.
The invading ants join forces in destroying honey bee colonies. Subsequently, defeated bees escape and find secure places outside of the hive. Furthermore, dead bees are a delicacy to ants. They will also feed on the colony’s food and this jeopardizes the wellbeing of the bees. Two common beehive intruding ants are Argentine and Carpenter ants. Argentine ants are mainly found in South America and Southern United States. They are known to be extra large as they feed on both honey and brood. On the other hand, carpenter ants tend to destroy material that makes up a beehive. They can damage any soft wood and they also feed on honey.
Purpose of a Beehive Stand
There are two types of hive stands, depending on their design and purpose: single and shared hive stands. Single hive stands hold only one beehive, while shared hive stands can hold multiple beehives. A single hive stand is important ,because it guarantees a strong centralized support compared to shared stands which offers support to several stands. Also shared stands are suitable since it can handle large number of hives but it is not durable as compared to single one.
Hive stands are useful during rainy days because they prevent water from flowing into beehive, hence increasing beehive life span. They also protect the beehive from rotting by raising it from ground which protects the wooden surface. An ant proof beehive stand aids in mitigating the predators.
Steps to Make an Ant Proof Beehive Stand
Ant attacks should be approached from many angles before resorting to employing any control measure. As mentioned earlier, ants tend to attack weak honey bee colonies. They instinctively know when a colony is most vulnerable and will attack. But does that imply that stronger honey bee colonies are self-sufficient and should not be protected from ants? Well, that is not so far from the truth. Strong honey bee colonies are well-resourced to keep ants out of their way. In some exceptional cases however, they might be attacked by ants, implying they are weakening.
Fortunately, you can apply any of the methods below to protect your honey bees from ants:
1. Hive Stands with Legs
One of the most effective to counter ant attacks in honey bee colonies is the use of actual legs on hive stands. A common sight in most apiaries is the use of cinderblocks for placing hives. The use of fortified hive stand legs is the best bet when it comes to controlling ants in colonies.
While building hive stand legs, it is crucial to think about the future of your bees. Since the most popular hives such as the Langstroth and the Warre hives expand vertically, it is only wise to keep the stand within reasonable height. The ideal leg height for keeping off ants is between 4 to 5 inches for these boxes. You will also find the height convenient to lift later when the hives have expanded and are heavy.
Hive stand legs should also be of reasonable thickness. Thin and sturdy legs are preferred instead of thick and bulky legs that make your work more challenging. A popular hive stand design with legs is one with wooden frame and legs made of metal.
2. Moats on Beehive Stand Legs
This is perhaps one of the easiest strategies to employ with an expected success rate of 90%. You can do this using locally available materials and it will not take much of your time to complete. Most beekeepers prefer the use of moats since it is not only effective but also a convenient and practical one.
You can utilize 4 tins that can comfortably fit into the beehive stand legs. Place the stand legs into the tins, while ensuring they can fit and still leave some space from the edge of the tin to the stand legs. The main aim of this design is to ensure no single ant is able to climb up the stand legs. The ants have to swim in the moat before even thinking of climbing the stand legs.
The use of soapy water in the moat makes it extremely difficult for the ants to get access to the hive. Conversely, plain water should not be used in the moat since it offers the required buoyancy that makes it easy for the ants to swim on the surface and climb the stand legs. You may also use motor oil or vegetable oil in the moat. The latter is a better choice since it is environmentally friendly in case it spills out during rainy days.
Caution should however be exercised when using moats. They often lead to drowning of a lot of honey bees and require constant refills. It is only prudent then to choose reasonably sized moats since larger ones causes more drowning of honey bees. Vegetable oil will also be the best choice for refills since it doesn’t evaporate quickly like soapy water.
3. Grease Paint Strips on Hive Stand Legs
Inexpensive motor oil can come in handy when ant-proofing your hives. You can simply paint the hive stand supporting beams using cheap oil. This should act as an ideal put-off for ants for an extended period of time. It will however wash off since it is exposed to the elements. If that happens, then you have to repaint the beams afresh.
4. Slippery Hive Stand
This might sound like a no-brainer, but it works when it comes to preventing ants and other crawling creatures from accessing the hive. You have plenty of options to choose from that can create a slippery surface making it difficult for the predators to get into the beehive. Some common examples include Vaseline, cling film with lubricant, vegetable oil, and many others.
5. Eliminate Potential Bridges
Ants make best use of any potential objects that provide a pathway into the beehive. This therefore means any potential bridge to the hive should be eliminated. This includes wild grass or shrubs near the hives. Trees and fences can also provide an easy access to hives and therefore hive stands should be positioned in open areas and away from these potential bridges.
The beehive area should be kept free from grass and any undergrowth by clearing the area and then covering it with gravel.
6. Other Solutions
In addition to hive stand guards, it will be helpful to employ other strategies that can help prevent ants from accessing your beehives. First off, remove fallen combs and clean up spilled syrup at the beehive area. Ants are attracted to these substances given their sugary taste. If you need to feed your bees with syrup then exercise some caution to avoid spilling it into the ground close to hives. Any unintended spillage should be cleaned up after feeding. Additionally, any unusable combs should be safely disposed. You can carry them in a bucket for disposal somewhere away from the hives.
Secondly, the use of Tanglefoot on the hive stand legs can help trap the ants. This sticky substance is commonly used by beekeepers but can catch a few bees. The substance is also used in fruit trees and helps trap ants. You should however reapply the product on a monthly basis since it loses its stickiness.
Thirdly, regular inspection of hives and hive area can help the beekeeper know what action to take before things escalate. This will include checking whether there are any trails of ants heading through the hive stand and into the hive. It will also entail finding out if there are ants on the roof, top of frames, above the inner cover, or inside the hive walls. Once ants are identified, you will know what action to take. This might mean clearing and cleaning the hive entirely in cases where the hive is absconded. It might also mean transferring your bees into another hive if they have been weakened by the ant invasion.
A fourth remediation involves the use of spices to keep off ants. This is an environmentally friendly way of eliminating ants from beehives. Examples of commonly used spices include ground cinnamon.
Finally, consider the use of AntCant, a product that helps control ants in bee colonies. The product is rain and windproof and will work best on clean and slick surfaces. The product’s working mechanism is by making the hive stand surface slippery thus preventing the ants from gripping and climbing into the hive. It can be applied into the legs of the hive stand and is non-toxic for humans and honey bees.
Honey bees have survived for years in the wild and that means the many years of struggle have helped them develop some defense mechanism to their predators. Domestication in a way interrupts how they live and thrive and the need for the beekeeper to lend a helping hand to the colony.
Predators can decimate honey bee colonies and these calls for some serious interventions on your part as the custodian of the honey bees. Ants are particularly serious predators, showing no mercy on any soul when they land on a hive. They will kill the worker bees, the queen, drones, and brood. All these are carried back to their colony as spoils after a successful attack.
You will come across plenty of strategies that beekeepers have employed when it comes to keeping ants at bay. Who can beat beekeepers when it comes to making their own stuff? Ranging from use of Vaseline, cinnamon, engine oil, and many others, there seems to be nothing that cannot be subjected to the test by beekeepers. The bottom line is to keep any potential enemy of your honey bees out of sight. Our strategies laid down above will hopefully help you counter ants in your apiaries.