Friday, June 20, 2014

Ants, Begone!

Q. What did the Pink Panther say when he stepped on an ant?
A. Dead-ant, dead-ant, dead-ant, dead-ant, dead-ant, dead-ant, dead-ant

Ha! When I was in second grade, that joke just slayed me!

Speaking of slaying, today, I checked on the ant situation in the hives, and the ants are all gone! Hooray!

The thing about ants is that they can really wreak havoc in a hive to the point where the bees will just pick up and leave. (Sorry, I kept forgetting to take photos of the ants, but you can check out this post from Che Guebee Apiary to see a hive with a severe ant problem.) Plus, it's disgusting having ants climb up your sleeves as you do an inspection. So today, since ants are top of mind for me, I thought I'd do a quick post on how to deal with them.

Reduce ways for the ants to gain entrance
Hives have honey and sometimes feeders full of sugar syrup in them. Ants find them simply irresistible. The fewer places the ants can gain entry, the better. It's important that your top bars and any spacers you use form a nice tight seal over the hive. If you have a screened bottom, you might consider closing it up.

Personally, I don't have moats. However, these are probably the easiest/most proactive way to prevent an ant infestation.

To create a moat, put the legs of your hive into a container, like a coffee can, plastic bin, etc., and fill the container with a liquid like water, vegetable oil or automobile oil. Water works just fine, but oil takes longer to evaporate. Basically, the ants will climb up the can, but they won't be able to cross over to the hive leg.

Here is a basic moat:

Image from:
The downside of this type of moat is that putting the leg into liquid may cause it to deteriorate faster. A variation of this is to put a brick or something in the moat to elevate the leg above the level of the liquid. This way, the wooden leg is protected, but the ants still can't cross the liquid.

Petroleum Jelly
Another way to stop ants from crawling up is to smear petroleum jelly on the legs. You don't even have to do the entire length of each leg. Just make sure you have a nice thick barrier that goes all the way around the leg so that ants get stuck as they climb up.

Cinnamon & Used Coffee Grounds
Cinnamon and coffee grounds are both known to repel ants. You can sprinkle these liberally on the ground around your hive (try getting containers of cinnamon from a warehouse store like Costco, BJs or Sam's Club). I've had good success with these when I had ants on the ground but not in the hive. However, this year, I had ants making nests on the top bars, and I needed to use them in conjunction with another control method.

Orange Oil
This is what did the real trick for me. Ants were located on top of my bars as well as in crevices around the bars. They weren't making a nest in the hive itself which was good, so I brushed off the ants on top of the bars and doused the ones in crevices with orange oil. I simply let the orange oil fall in droplets, like nuclear bombs, right onto the ants. However, I suppose it would have been more efficient (and more cost effective) to put it in a bottle with a spritzer top. I probably could have mixed it with a little bit of vodka or grain alcohol, too, to help it spray better.

If you're looking for orange oil, try a health food store or a Whole Foods.

Caution: If you use orange oil, do NOT use it full strength inside the hive. Orange oil works by dissolving the wax in the ants' exoskeletons. You don't want to use it full strength on your bees or comb.

Feed the ants cornmeal. Feeding ants sounds counter-intuitive, but cornmeal is the TNT of natural ant poisons. Basically, ants eat it, and then they need some water. However, the cornmeal in their bellies absorbs the water and swells until the ants basically explode from the inside out.

If you use cornmeal, sprinkle it away from the hives. You want the ants to find the cornmeal -- not your hives.

So those are the things that I've found to work. If you have any tips for dealing with ants, please, feel free to share!


  1. If I am completely honest I am a little disappointed by the moats. There's no drawbridge!

    1. LOL! I received the same complaint from the Ant-i Ant Discrimination League. ;)

  2. Thank you for all your tips on getting rid of ants. If I use the cornmeal how far away from the hives, this morning they were marching right in the back of the hive even with orange extract, lime slices, and because I didn't have Vaseline (Vicks). I was at a loss for how to stop them immediately. So next is cornmeal, do I create a path away from the hive?

    1. Sorry to hear about your ant problem, Mavis. Are there just a few coming in and out? (That's what I normally see in my hives, btw.) Usually the bees can take care of a few here and there. It's when there are large numbers of them that it becomes more of a problem for the bees. It's probably more of a concern now in the fall, too, since the bees are going to start clustering soon and will leave a large part of the hive unguarded.

      I don't think orange extract is the same as orange oil. Orange extract is mostly alcohol and water. Orange oil is 100%, well, orange oil. You can usually find it at a store like Whole Foods or a health food store. Amazon also sells it. I'm thinking that maybe the orange extract simply isn't potent enough. I only put orange oil on top of my bars because the ants were actually building nests on them.

      To answer your question, though, I just spread out cornmeal, cinnamon, and coffee grounds pretty liberally all over the place (like spreading grass seed). I don't worry about making trails to lead them anywhere. I figure a scattershot pattern is more likely to get more ants. Coffee grounds and cinnamon go right under the hive. If you have dry weather, you could also try diatomaceous earth (DE) under your hives. It works by cutting the ants up. I spread cornmeal further away from the hive -- maybe three feet away.

      If you don't have Vaseline (petroleum jelly), try making some moats. That's an easy way to keep ants from crawling up the legs of your hive. A friend of mine uses simple plastic containers from the deli section of his grocery store, puts a brick inside each one, and sets the hive legs on the bricks. The plastic container is then filled with water/oil. The brick keeps the legs dry so they don't rot. The ants, however, can't cross the water/oil from the plastic container over to the brick.

      Good luck getting rid of them.

  3. Thank you for all the good advice. Can you tell it's my first season. Moats won't work on my concrete blocks, but the coffee grounds and maybe DE would. Thank you for your wonderful site. Have been using you feed recipes too. Bee Tea is great.

  4. Ants can't eat solids such as cornmeal. Ants are liquid consumers... so Im not with ya on the Cornmeal trick!

    1. Thanks, that's a really interesting comment, Bill. I'll have to do more research on this. I definitely see ants carrying cornmeal away. Wonder what they're doing with it???


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