An update from Ken

Since then I have put the legs of the hive in bowls of oil, because I noticed a line of ants marching in and out of the hive.

That seems to work very well (stopping the ants), only drawback was it appears the bees either found the oil very interesting or something, there were quite a few drowned victims in the oil and sadly a few that tried to crawl out only to die in a “frozen” position on the legs. Next task is to put a screen over the oil in a manner that the bees are not able to fall into the oil, but the screen cannot be connected to the bowl so the ants do not have a bridge over the oil. Very complicated! I will take a picture when I have done it. Ants drive me nuts!

Anyway, on this visit, my goal was to have a look at the furthest back combs, the first ones they started near the follower board. I have never looked that far back in my previous inspections.

Here are some things that I noticed:

They are busy with propolis, but not nearly as much as I would have expected. I thought they might try to close up all kinds of gaps, but not the case. They were doing some inside near the roof line, but nothing out of the ordinary.

They are building new comb right on track. Last time I accidentally broke some comb that was sharing a bar, but the new comb is right on place without any coaxing on my part.

I did not use smoke this time, until I was closing it up. That seemed to be great. During the time I had the hive open, the bees were busy and a little disturbed that I was nosing around and brushing them, a few pinging off my veil, but I felt the situation was normal considering that I was all hands and cameras inside their home. THe only time I used smoke is when I was closing up the hive, putting the bars back and trying to push them together, the bees seemed to come up and congregate right in that space between the bars. I would try to brush them down, but they would just come back up to check me out. So I lit the smoker, gave them a puff, and sure enough, down they went, and I was able to push the bars back in place safely.

So attached is my photos of the two last (furthest back) bars. I was expecting (hoping!?) to see ripe honey stores, but not the case.

Things appeared very healthy and normal. I was much more calm and relaxed during this visit. I took my time and worked slowly and deliberately. I liked not using smoke. It seemed to distract me, and it seemed to annoy the bees. I did get one sting through my long sleeve tee-shirt. That is only my third since beginning.

One of these days I am going to slide out the bottom board and clean it. It seems dirty, and I should check for any “foul play”

Until next time,


52 Responses to “An update from Ken”

  1. Katherine Says:

    Might bowls of water deter the ants just as well as oil while not harming the bees at all? Also, when I dream of setting up a top bar hive, I dream of hanging it from a tree. This wouldn’t necessarily stop ants. But I’ve heard it deters mites. Do you have an opinion about that? Can one hang a hive? Would bees live in a hive that can swing? Or could you put a braced arm in a tree and fix a hive to that?

  2. kawayanan Says:

    I have heard a few ideas to keep ants away. The argument I have heard about water is that, depending on your environment, you may need to refill the bowls every day. The bees will probably be attracted to the water too, since they do have to forage for water.

    When my hives were just starting out, I noticed some ants too. I smeared a ring of marine bearing grease around each leg. I never saw a bee stuck in it, and it seemed to help with the ants. I only put it on once and it has since dried out. I haven’t had any additional problems with ants though so I haven’t reapplied it.

    As to hanging TBH’s, I remember seeing a picture of one on the web, but can’t find it. Bees for Development mentions hanging hives, so its is definitely done sometimes. I’m not sure how it would deter mites though.

  3. Nick Says:

    kawayanan, is it necessary to kill the ants? I have vertical top bar hives, and had lots of ants this year. I just let them be. My reasoning is as follows…ants have a high percentage of formic acid in their bodies. Formic acid deters and kills tracheal mites and varroa. If there were too many ants in my hives, the bees would kill them, thereby releasing formic acid into the hive body…resulting in some natural varroa and mite treatment.

    So, I left the ants to themselves. They have not been a problem, and in late summer, they disappeared. The bees are fine and the honeycomb looks good, no ants at all.

  4. Pat Says:

    Glad to see you keeping at it. The cups of oil are a good idea. Gotta agree with Nick though, a healthy hive will get rid of invaders and nusances – which ever they deem the ants to be.

    We just finished our first harvest of a top bar hive. Messy business. Found it works well to have two people – one to do the messy work and one to stay clean and work the lid on the collection bucket. Tools are a little different too – have had good luck with stainless steel spatula and other implements.

    Here are pictures:;action=display;num=1223329682


  5. Anny Says:

    I stumbled across your website while doing a little research for the hive I plan on getting this spring. I’m very interested in the top bar hive, I love your page, I hope you don’t mind to sticking around and learning as much as I possibly can from you.

  6. Mike Says:

    Just starting out. I worked with my father when I was 8-16 years old with the conventional 10 frame. We used queen excluders to seperate the brood chamber from the food. Is this a good idea for the top bar hive? I like your top bar design.

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  8. Rick Kelly-Crapse Says:

    Any new updates for this year? How did your bees do with this crazy winter and spring we have had?

    Fuquay-Varina, NC
    Building 5 TBH’s

  9. Chic Says:

    Try sprinkling ajax or comet powdered sink cleanser arround the legs of the hive….that will deter the ants! Learned that tip from people who live in Motorhomes here in Calif. they sprinkle it around the tires and electric cords/hoses to keep the ants out of their coaches!

  10. Doug Says:

    Had the same ant problem in humid Virginia. Brushed a band of Tanglefoot around the legs and had no more ants and no dead bees. I first used Tanglefoot to keep squirrels from tearing up wood shingles to get into my attic. It can also be used to keep birds from roosting where they are not wanted. Just makes for sticky feet which deters ants, birds and squirrels – probably humans too. Only had to make one application all year.

  11. olivetreesandhoneybees Says:

    I’ve had massive ant problems in the past. I’m in Vista, San Diego county, California and there are these tiny smaller than normal black ants which have invaded my hives and after a few days of hearing the bees angrily buzzing in the hive they gave up and left. The most hives I’ve had at one time is only four, so i’m just dabbling with bees, all wild swarms that I’ve collected. So the next time I saw a massive ant invasion in progress I sprayed the ground below my hive ( set ontop of a few cinder blocks) with ant poison. Well the bees obviously don’t like bug spray either because they left faster than the first batch of bees. So the next invasion I sprayed a perrimeter circle ten feet away. Same results, bees hate the smell of bug spray, they are bugs after all, they left. I don’t know if these hives were sick and was the cause of attracting these tiny black ants, but the bees have always made an angry loud buzzing attempt at ridding the hive of these ants. I’ve never had any guidance or help so I’m on my own novice bee keeping journey for fun. So the nnnneeexxxttt time I saw these tiny little black ants making their invasion/assault on my hive I used my plastic picnic table and put the table legs each in a bucket of water and put the hive on the table. This has worked really good for about two years now and the hive continues to thrive. These were all langtroth frame type hives, now I have built a tbh and am looking forward to trying it out.
    The issues I have with the buckets of water is that bees do fall into them and drown so an “umbrella” attached to each leg over the bucket would save many bees. I was thinking of using some scrap plywood and cutting circles of wood a little bigger than the bucket diameter and attaching them to the table legs a few inches over the buckets. Also my dogs and other animals love to drink the water which is no big deal. Unfortunately birds also like the water and if the buckets are not kept full they get trapped and drown. Also debris, leaves and algae make the buckets a mess which takes a long time of blasting it clean with the garden hose on full blast, this irritates my bees(wild, AHB?) and I have been chased off more than once!
    With these problems in mind I want to replace the buckets with smaller/shorter stainless steel dog bowls which can be blasted out easier and faster and birds can hop out of.
    I love eating honey and harvesting it myself makes it taste soooo much better! That is why I keep trying and going back for more!


    PS: concerning axle grease… I found out that axle grease( now vaseline) also works great, in a harmless way, of keeping people from climbing over my fences. Brush some on the fence and voila!! they only try climbing once. The mess they get just isn’t something they want.

  12. Daniel Says:

    Ken, can you please email me the parts list for this project. I think I have it nailed down, im just not sure.

  13. Charlie Says:

    A little borax will solve all your ant problems if you don’t mind killing the whole ant colony. It tastes good. They collect it and share it with the other ants including the queen and they all die.

    Also I noticed people asking you for plans for your hive that they could print out. I’m an engineer and was totally impressed with your design, so I drew it up and would be happy to share. I drew it so that you could print it out on 8.5″ x 11″ paper and its in adobe acrobat format so it should be easy to share.

    Email me if you would like a copy at

    Thanks for the GREAT design and good luck with the bees

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