By Rainer Krell, Italy
It does not matter to termites whether bee boxes are empty or full of bees. Having spent considerable money on your timber hive - in no country are they cheap anymore - you expect to use them for at least 5.10 years and longer if you paint them regularly. When termites are present it is common to find painted hive walls apparently intact but when you touch them your fingers go right through. Even frames may be reduced to paper-thin shells that crumble upon touch.
Well, you might say, I must have abandoned my hives for quite a while for this to have happened. You are probably right for most areas, but I have seen this happen in less than a couple of months.
Signs to watch for
The typical signs of termite activity are visible earth channels. Destroying these earth channels will not solve the problem. Using pesticides around the apiary is in no beekeeper\'s interest and would, like relocating hives, be only a temporary solution. Termite resistant lumber is expensive and is not widely available. Like treated lumber. its use for hive boxes and bottom boards is sometimes inadvisable, because of natural pesticides or feeding deterrents contained in the wood.
However, there are gentle, non-toxic and non-destructive ways of dealing with termites.
All termites live in dark cavities and are shy to daylight. Thus, most of their food exploration and foraging activities take place during the night. Once a good food source has been found, an earthen tunnel is built to protect the forager ants if no internal (subterranean or inside wood) access is available. These tunnels allow access to the food, in this case your hive boxes, also during daylight hours.
These tunnels are the obvious signs of termite activity, but they are not always visible. Sometimes termites have access through the inside of your hive posts.
Block all access
We can use the termites\' shyness to daylight and their need to travel through these channels to our advantage. It is difficult (if not impossible) for termites to build their tunnels around sharp edges such as the edge of a metal sheet. Access is prevented if a metal sheet is placed between the equipment and the soil or other access routes. Of course there must be no alternative access caused by the metal edge touching a hive stand. or if the interior of the wooden hive stand posts are in direct contact with the hive.
Figure 1 shows a single hive stand equipped with different types of anti-termite metal shields. A. S, C and D are alternative solutions. The edges of the metal sheets should always be bent slightly downwards to avoid any possibility of touching hive equipment and to prevent accumulation of rain water. Any old metal sheet, roofing. galvanised sheets, aluminium (soda cans) or tin cans will do the job. Even sturdy plastic sheets can be used temporarily, but they are hard to bend and often deteriorate with exposure to sunlight. Except for C, the sheets or cans must be fixed in place with a nail. This is the same principle as used to protect wooden houses against termites where metal sheets are placed on top of the foundation walls or posts.
If you use wooden hive stands, they too are subject to termite destruction. As an alternative to method C of Figure 1, placing tar around the whole base which touches the soil, including the tip or cut end, will retard termite attack and may even repel some ant species for a while. However, termites will eventually build their tunnels across the tarred surface to reach your hive boxes. This type of treatment is also not completely environmentallyfriendly as toxic portions of the tar will seep into the soil. Termite-resistant lumber or cement posts would be the better choice.
Hives on wires
Hanging your hives on wires gives an effective protection against termites as well as against most ants (frequent greasing will be necessary for ant protection), but is expensive in many rural areas and not always the most stable solution, especially for vertical, movable-frame hives. It is more practical for horizontal-type hives (Figure 3), but still makes management of the bees difficult.
Hives on tyres
A better alternative is to build hives out of the many available materials that termites do not like, for example, bamboo, palm leaves and trunks, and mud. During a decade of keeping colonies on old car tyres not a single termite attack destroyed equipment placed on tyres.
None of these protective methods works against the most ferocious and most effective tropical insect enemy of honeybees - the army, soldier or red ant, as they are called in different countries. Frequent checks, and a circle of two metre radius around each hive completely cleared of vegetation, are about the only suggestions available. An anecdotal suggestion by a beekeeper in Malawi was to attach the suspension wires for the hive support at least three metres above the ground: it had worked for him. Since I have observed army ants foraging on trees as high as five or six metres this method is probably not completely attack proof, but will certainly reduce the risk of invasion.
Since most of the suggested termite protectors do not keep ants away, do not relax your ant control. But once the metal sheets are installed, you will at least not have to worry about termites carrying away your boxes, piece by piece.
[Bees for Development Journal #43]