Archives for posts with tag: ants

I think I have mentioned a couple times the idea of “checking the bottom board.” There are two types of bottoms for a hive: a solid wood bottom or a screened bottom; there may be more, but these are the two of which I know. The names tell you quite a bit about their appearance. I am currently using a screened bottom, which consists of a wire mesh screen above a thick plastic base. The plastic slides in and out, allowing for complete removal to increase ventilation in very hot environments such as inland San Diego county, or for periodic review of the hive. A quick glance at the goodies accumulated on the plastic is a great way to “see” what is happening inside the hive without annoying the bees. It’s how I have discovered ants were inside even when they could not be seen entering the hive or how I’ve verified that baby bees were emerging from their capped cells. It can also be used to look for mites that the bees have removed. I check it at least once a week, sometimes more frequently if I’m wanting to do something “beekeeper-ish” but don’t want to bother the bees again.

A view of most of the bottom board. Pollen patty bits are in the two rows at the top left, which is approximately where the pollen patty sits on top of the hive frames.

Usually, the board holds a lot of pollen patty remnants and bits of paper from the patty, a few cell cappings, and some escaped pollen. Those were all present this week, including pollen in a new shade of pinkish-orange that I had not seen before. They may have found a new pollen source as we head into the Fall and different species begin to bloom.

Pollen remnants (the larger oblong bits) in a variety of hues from pale yellows to an unusual (to me) pinkish-orange in the bottom left corner.

There were also a couple new things that I was not happy to see: two adult wax moths and a wax moth larva. The fact that these were at the bottom may indicate that the bees are able to successfully defend against them, but their presence is worrisome and I’ll need to check more thoroughly for signs when I am next in the hive. I didn’t see any of the obvious signs of their presence during yesterday’s inspection, so I’m hopeful.

An adult wax moth is the elongated, gray shape in the middle of the board.

The wax moths burrow through and eat the wax (shocking given their name, I know!) and the larvae eat the bee larvae so they are certainly not something I need in there. I have a couple frames that have some old comb on them and this may be how they were introduced. It’s not really a problem I expected yet since there is so little comb in the hive. I discovered another problem during my inspection yesterday that needs to be rectified soon (burr comb) and my solution includes removing those old frames so I hope I will have caught the problem before it gets too large.

Wax moth larva at the middle top of the board. Yuck!

I did not see any mites on the board, so that’s good news! But I still need to start thinking about a more rigorous method to check the hive for them. I’m leaning towards a sugar roll, which doesn’t kill the bees like the alcohol method does, and just gives them a dowsing in powdered sugar. More about that and the burr comb in the future. Thank you for following along and learning more about honeybees with me!

This is our second week away from our home, and away from the bees and myriad other critters in our yard and I find that I miss them deeply. It’s just not the same only seeing them here and there when I have the time to go over. What I attempted as a vegetable garden this spring is also showing distress signs from the lack of attention and water. I stopped by yesterday late morning and it was already too hot to water so I knew I needed to go back this morning. Despite the lack of attention the towhees are still hopping around and chirping, the Allen’s hummingbird buzzed me perhaps to say “good morning, where have you been?”, I heard quail below the wall in the lemonade berry so I threw out a couple handfuls of seed for them to munch on (and hopefully not too much for the squirrels). I think the orioles have moved on for the year as their syrup feeder was still fairly full. Happiest of all sightings were two juvenile fence lizards, each no longer tail-included than my pinky. There were butterflies galore passing through: whites, sulphurs, blues, Monarchs, and a fritillary. Besides my honeybees, I saw a carpenter bee and some rather tiny green bees that I think were metallic green bees in the Agapostemon genus.

A metallic green bee harvesting from the oregano.
Blue butterfly on chocolate mint

The bees have gone through about 32 ounces of syrup in the past week so I am now curious to see what the results are within the hive. Whenever I peak under the top cover, they are busily working at the container. I’ll need to replenish the syrup next weekend.

The ladies enjoying some sugar syrup.

The ants had finally found a way through the Tanglefoot barrier and there were quite a few of them on the bottom board. After cleaning the board of all the ants, I applied a perimeter of diatomaceous earth around each of the legs of the hive stand. I could have applied more Tanglefoot, but this seemed a bit quicker and will possibly last a bit longer.

The hive’s new diatomaceous earth “moats” to help with ant control.

Dust and debris gets kicked into the Tanglefoot, which makes it less effective since the ants are then able to find a path across it. When I checked the board again today, I couldn’t find any ants on it so I think my repairs were effective. See you next week when we peak inside the hive again!

This was probably inevitable, but I had hoped I wouldn’t need to address ants for a little while. However, I discovered on Monday morning that ants were trying to invade my hive, likely because we had added that frame with brood, which also had some uncapped honey, there is the top feeder holding about a gallon of sugary sweet syrup, and we had shifted the bricks around when changing the bottom board. That evening, I reinforced the diatomaceous earth moat surrounding the hive, hoping it would be sufficient.

Now, there is some debate as to the efficacy of diatomaceous earth in the battle against ants. Some biologists say the science isn’t there. Regardless, I’ve used it since we first moved here, mainly in the moats for my hummingbird feeders. They are intended to be filled with water, but here in southern California, water evaporates too quickly and diatomaceous earth is a simple alternative. Wherever I’ve used it when the ants have attacked my hummingbird feeders, they quickly cease and desist. So that was what I first turned to when I needed something to protect the hive, and I now have a fairly solid white area around and under it. Yet the ants are still finding gaps to get through, as evidenced by a few of them around the entrance and a number of them on the slide-out bottom board. Bonus from my checks of the bottom board this week has been evidence of baby bees from the caps that are removed and land on the board as the new bees emerge.

Along with the diatomaceous earth, I also use a bait gel called Optigard, which I place along any trails and the ants take it back to the colony. I like it because it is ant-specific and doesn’t affect the other insects. I’ve been using that for the past two years, mainly in the front yard, and have seen the ant numbers drop. Unfortunately, it’s so effective that I haven’t needed to use it much this year until now and need to restock.

I decided to just do a fairly simple check on the status of the bee food at the end of the week, since my beesuit and, more importantly, hat and veil have yet to arrive. This involved removing the inner cover and feeder so I could see the frames. I took out a couple empty frames on the east side, then decided that I might be pushing things when I had neither a smoker to calm the bees, nor protective clothing to properly shield me should I anger them. I was happy to see that the bees are still in the middle of the hive, and there now is much more activity on two frames instead of just one.

I had checked the feeder a couple times this week already, and in the process crushed a few of my already limited number of bees. So I was particularly careful this time in my technique of removing and replacing the inner cover. I left it open for a bit while I prepared more syrup, and came back to the bees having cleaned the remnants of their compatriots from the frames and moved back down inside. For the few that were still loitering along the top, I lit a sage branch and turned it into an improv smoker. I don’t have many bees, so it was adequate for my needs.

My husband, who has been kind enough to photograph and video this whole adventure, captured a great image of the bees as they gathered near the opening on the inner cover. I sent the picture to my beekeeper friend who agreed that there appears to be at least one fuzzy-headed youngster in the picture. Can you find her?

Can you spot the new-bee?
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